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Music Tracker Tutorials

9/3/12 by dem0lecule
Updated 9/3/12

On previous post, I mentioned trackers as an alternative option for modern DAW. Many people find tracker is hard to use, skipspace & PIED3 talked about the hardness of tracker's learning curve. This problem urges me to create this tutorial.

Disclaimer: All the info from instruction are carefully researched by me. If you are a long time trackerhead and believe what I suggested is wrong, please correct me instead. All the melodies you will see in my examples are composed by me.

1) Introduction
2) Curiosity
3) Cracking the Shell
4) Creativity
5) References

1) Introduction

Tracker is a sequencer-ish uses letter notation to create/edit Module files. There are several types of module files, main ones are IT, S3M, MOD, XM, MED & MO3. (Note: MO3 only used to encode other modules to smaller size. It is unknown if ModPlug can save this file.)(Renoise CAN save XM, IT & S3M but it will not indicate to you)

Best to Worst Module files: IT > MO3 > XM > S3M > MED > MOD
(Don't flame me if you are old skool MOD dweller)

Trackers in the mag, Necros (Andrew Sega) speech

Current trackers I use: Renoise (ex), ModPlug (ex) & MilkyTracker (ex).

2) Curiosity

When I start out something unfamiliar I always ask myself What, How & Why. If I can't answer one question, I'll move on the the next one and find the clues. Examples:

= How do I use a tracker in simplest way?
= What is portamento?
= Why is this required Samples in order to play sounds?

The "difficulty of learning tracker" is an illusion. Normally I would let people do this themselves but since I realize not everyone is fond with asking question. Now I'll cut this short.

People, please be more curious. It'll save your angers and frustrating a lot. Leave rooms for creativity. Trial & error is in human survival instinct.

3) Cracking the Shell

Basic workflow of tracker:

1. Open/Make file of choice
2. Go to Sample Editor > Create New Instrument > Load Instrument or Go to Sample > Load Sample
2b. If you aim for Sample only > Go to Sample Editor > Create New Sample > Load Sample
3. Go to Pattern > Select Channel of Choice
4. Select Instrument/Sample of Choice > Start inserting Notes
5. Go to Mixer > EQ your stuff
6. When done, you can:
a. Save then exit.
b. Rant the crap out at Comment then save and exit.

Standard tracker has 4 section for music editing. Mixer, Pattern, Sample Editor & Instrument Editor. There is a fifth one called Comment is to insert comment and/or naming but in many trackers this is stay hidden.

Almost every variable in tracker, such as FX are Hexadecimal, base 16 numeric counting. 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 then A as 10, B as 11, C as 12, D as 13, E as 14, F as 15.

Mixer - Unlike sequencer, each channel you see is hard-linked. Channel is where you will input your notation of choices, in Pattern. Basic tracker's Channel has Volume, Panning, FX, Mute & Surround (ModPlug)
NOTE: Only tracker runs Impulse (IT) and non module tracker has full feature. Other old module files feature 1 or none of these.

Pattern - this is where you input your melody. It's a vertical sequencing-like workflow. Channel has Row (yup that's my name :P). Taxonomy of a Row:

Letter Note - Octave - Instrument (or Sample if no Instrument) - Volume - Effect Name - Effect Number

Ex: C-6 23 40 F00

I can see why people confused on this part. It actually took me a while to learn all the function properly. To the point that I only use keyboards to navigate.

= Notation input on keyboard is QWERTY. Depend on Global Octave set, Q, A and Z is C note; W, S & X is C#, and so on. The number is for Octave set of current note. Only First (Q...) row of key can input B note in ']' key so constantly switching the global/note octave is recommended.

= If your Sample is looped, in order to stop it from playing you must add Note Off = or Note Cut `.

= Maximum volume is 64. Tips: If you are using raw sample without editing its global volume, the ideal number is either 45 or 50.

= Notation FX is various. There are Tempo, Pattern Break, Portamento, Reverb, Panning, Arpeggio, Vibrato, Tremolo... All variable numbers are hexadecimal. However you do have an option of using a slider or dropdown to select by double click the FX space (modplug & renoise only, other older tracker do not feature this).

Instrument Editor - It's like a preset. Once you create a new Instrument, a Sample that liked to the Instrument is also created at the same time. There is a panel for you to edit/add envelop. Basic Instrument Editor has Global Volume, Fading, Panning, Plugin selector (if using VSTi supported tracker), Note Cut/Fade & Sample Mapping.
NOTE: Again, all these only features in IT file or non module tracker.

I cannot describe all detailed in here by just using words plus different tracker has different workflow.

Sample Editor - It is very similar to Instrument Editor. This is where you put your audio file such as WAV (MP3 is accepted but it will glitch sometime so not recommended).

= In some trackers you must have a sample inserted in order to 'draw' the waves.

= You can create Sample separately from Instrument.

= Ripping samples off other source is really normal for tracker users. Although older trackerheads do have a tradition such as taking samples already exist from other module files of other fellow composers (It is nicer to ask permission first AND credit them, or greet them).

Comment - well this is where all the rants happen. Only IT & XM or non module can have comment. For the rest, the Sample & Instrument Names are idealistic place! :)

4) Creativity

It doesn't matter what you use. It's all matter on how you plan to use and expand your usage on whatever you choose. Creativity leads the way. I had made some creative thing lately, such as:

= Make flutes play like real human flutter does. Trick: Vibrato, Portamento & Arpeggio plus a bit manipulation on Volume.

= Fake Delay, instead of using FX, copy the exact note(s) to the new channel and paste it lower than 1 to 2 row (depend on how slow your delay want to sound like) then lower the volume of it. Repeat this if want more delay! I'm sure all you old schoolers do this.

= Fake piano player, honestly, composing piano piece in in tracker is much faster and more efficiency than what you do point/click in FL Studio.

And much more!...

5) References

= Samples ostcount=1

= Stuff:
(if you are decided to go to Pouet, look for main topic and try to avoid 95% of silliness or else you'll get lost in flame wars) <<< TUT for 4 Channels tracking like a Boss! ers (blended with other demotools) << silly stuff... I miss that thread lol << XM lovers' talk .0 1.0

Question? :)


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sadly enough




10/17/12 dem0lecule responds:



I sense if you troll the 3rd time you will get perma ban :P.

10/17/12 dem0lecule responds:

O rly?

Won't lie, this is a super neat tutorial.

9/16/12 dem0lecule responds:

Want to add something, my oldskool waffle?

Wow, this is great, nice tut! Well-put-together, good advice, and plenty of resources. Nice! Wish I had this when I was starting.

9/6/12 dem0lecule responds:

Thanks, should have written this earlier. Just didn't figure out how many people would need a tracker tutor :/

I guess I waited until a bunch of them yelled "too hard". Lulz.


9/6/12 dem0lecule responds:

Yeah! :D

Haha wish I had this tutorial a few months ago!

9/4/12 dem0lecule responds:

I could just had written this before I left. Well... It's better be late than never. :)