SunVox for beginners: the basics
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Русская версия
2022.04.25

SunVox is a music program that combines a powerful modular synthesizer and tracker. The modular synthesizer allows you to create complex sounds from modules connected by wires to transmit audio signals. The tracker presents melody and rhythm as letters and numbers arranged on vertical tracks: it's like a word processor or spreadsheet editor, but for music. More about trackers

The app is great for experimenting with electronic music, searching for new sounds and new styles. SunVox supports a large number of systems and devices (even very old and slow PDAs), which makes it possible to write music anywhere and on anything. You can start a new track on a cheap phone and then continue on your studio PC. And the sound will be the same on both devices.

Listen to some examples written in SunVox

Check out the system requirements and installation instructions

Download SunVox or install it from Android/iOS store

Run the program.

You will see something like this on the screen:

SunVox interface (compact view without timeline)

or this (if the device screen is big enough):

SunVox interface (advanced view with timeline)

The interface is divided into several sections (windows). They can be resized on the fly by moving the separator bars:

Separator bars

Brief description of the interface:

Brief description of the interface

  • main menu - a button in the upper left corner: here are the program settings, saving / loading the project, setting the tempo, etc.;
  • pattern editor (top) for editing melodies, rhythms and automation commands;
  • musical keyboard - it can be used to play the selected module or to edit a pattern;
  • record and playback buttons are located on the separator bar next to the volume control:
  • module editor is a signal exchange scheme between the modules;
  • timeline editor (bottom; sometimes hidden) - layout of patterns in time; if you select a pattern here, its contents will be displayed in the top editor.

When the program starts, the default project will open. It already has a minimal set of synthesizers and effects, which is enough to create a simple composition. BUT this is not a mandatory static set. You can add up to 65534 custom modules and make any connections between them to get different unique sounds!

The entire composition (including the modules, patterns with notes, timeline, and samples (sounds)) is called a project. The project can be saved to single *.sunvox file.

If you load a module/sample from disk, then all the loaded data will be stored in the SunVox project - you can delete the original module/sample file from disk, and this will not affect the project in any way.

Modules

A module is a block for building sound in SunVox. Each module is displayed as a rectangle, with its sound wave animation inside. The modules are interconnected by lines (signal wires) that carry sound or commands. The direction of signal transmission is shown by running dots and color.

There are synthesizer modules - they take notes and produce sound at the output.

There are effect modules - they receive sound, process it and produce a modified sound signal at the output.

In any project, there is always an obligatory Output module - this is the sound output of your computer. To hear the sound of the modules, they must chain their signal to the Output. If nothing is connected to the Output, then there will be silence, although other modules can still work, generate and process a signal.

Modules

In the starting project, select one of the synthesizer modules. For example Keys1. You can now play this synthesizer in one of the following ways.

  • By pressing keys on a regular computer QWERTY keyboard (make sure the English layout is enabled). The order is: Z - note C, S - note C sharp, X - note D, D - note D sharp, C - note E, V - note F, etc. The Q2W3ER keys work similarly, but an octave higher. Use the F1...F8 keys to switch the octave.
  • By pressing keys on the on-screen music keyboard.
  • By pressing keys on an external MIDI keyboard. Set it up in Main Menu -> Preferences -> MIDI.
  • By selecting any pitch in the "Touch Theremin" window (opened from the Main Menu).
  • By sending commands from the patterns - we'll talk about this later...

To create or load a new module, double-click on the empty area between the modules. A dialog box will open with a list of the base modules built into SunVox. If you need to load a module or sample from a disk, click the "Load" button.

There are three ways to connect/disconnect two modules:

  • click on the source module; press the button with two squares (next to the module editor menu button); click on the receiver module;
  • click on the source module with SHIFT pressed and drag the line to the receiver module; release the mouse button and SHIFT;
  • for multitouch devices: with one finger we press the source module, with the second - on the receiver module.

The reconnection acts like a disconnection.

Patterns

Patterns control the modules (send them notes and other commands in a given order). If you only play live, using the SunVox as a synthesizer, then you probably won't need the patterns and timeline. Otherwise, patterns are what you need if you're going to record your song directly to the SunVox.

A pattern is a piece of a score in the form of a table. The columns are called tracks. The pattern is not tied to a specific module or to any type of score. Tracks are also not tied to anything. That is, any combination of commands is possible in the pattern, in any order, for any modules. Patterns can be edited very quickly, like typing text in a text editor. To enable/disable the manual pattern editing mode, press the space bar or the LOCK button in the upper right corner.

Pattern editor

Each track contains a sequence of musical events (command + parameter): notes, controller automation, effects, etc. The pattern plays from top to bottom. Parallel tracks play simultaneously. For example, you can make two tracks: one with bass synth notes and the other with drums. You can also place the same notes on a single track, if the notes don't interfere with each other.

Let's try to write something. Turn on edit mode. Press a note on the keyboard - it will be recorded in the pattern. The length of a note is determined by the number of empty cells between its start and end. Scroll down a few lines and add the note ending command "==" (Note OFF) by pressing the on-screen OFF button, or CAPSLOCK or '~' on an external keyboard:

Each track cell is a command (event), which is divided into even smaller columns: NN VV MM CCEE XXYY.

  • NN - command code or note code, where the letter is the note (small letter is sharp), and the number is the octave number;
  • VV - velocity (00..80); usually this is the volume of the note; an empty value is equivalent to the maximum (80);
  • MM - module number (00..FFFF);
  • CC - module controller number (01,02,03, ... 7F) or MIDI controller (80,81,82, ... FF);
  • EE - special effect code (smooth transition, vibrato, arpeggio, etc.); see detailed list here
  • XXYY - parameter of the specified effect or controller (0000 - minimum; 8000 - maximum).

All numbers in the pattern are presented in hexadecimal form (to save space on the screen). You can read more about hexadecimal numbers here

Each pattern has a name and a 16x16 pixel icon that is automatically generated or drawn by the user.

Timeline

The timeline editor is located at the bottom of the program interface. If the screen is small, the timeline may be hidden - then use this button to switch:

Button to switch to the timeline editor

Timeline defines the layout of the SunVox project. It describes how to play the patterns and how to repeat them. Any pattern can be cloned: changes to the parent (original) pattern will be instantly reflected in its clones; this is very convenient when the composition is built from many repeating elements.

Timeline editor

If you click on one of the patterns, its contents will be displayed in the editor at the top.

Double clicking on a pattern will open a window with its properties (name, number of tracks, number of lines, etc.).

To create a new pattern, just double-click on the empty area between the patterns, similar to creating a module.

The vertical bar on the timeline shows which part of the song is currently playing. The song playback speed is set by two parameters: TPL and BPM. These parameters can be changed either for the entire project in the Main Menu -> Project Properties, or dynamically from any pattern using the 0F/1F commands in the EE column.
TPL (Ticks Per Line) - the number of ticks in the pattern line. A tick is a quantum of time in SunVox. Tick length in milliseconds = 60000 / BPM / 24.
BPM (Beats Per Minute) - the number of beats per minute. One beat is equal to 24 ticks. Number of lines per beat = 24 / TPL.

Next: writing a track from scratch

Don't forget the official documentation