klystrack tutorial - the basics

In this first tutorial we'll be looking at the basics. It's all a bit obscure at first, especially if this is your first foray into trackers and chiptunes, but a few quick bumps on the head with a hammer should provide you with the sufficient brain damage necessary to get around easily. I will go over the building blocks of a song, how they relate to one another, and then go over all the stuff you can find on the main screen. Once you are done reading this, I suggest you go take a look at kometbomb's video tutorial where he sets up a basic little song and annotates the video every step of the way. 

Klystrack is a classic tracker, with a few twists here and there. Songs are built out of patterns, which are played in channels at a certain speed, and are arranged in a sequence. By pressing play, patterns start scrolling up and every note that comes across the middle bar is played. It's a very visual system, with more spaces between notes meaning more time between them as the song plays. Every pattern in every channel is always aligned with the others so that if two notes are on the same row, they will play at the same time when they come across the middle bar. It's as simple as that. To see it in action, visit the media section and watch the confusing chaos that is tracking. Now let's look into the individual elements.

The channels are basically how many "voices" you will have playing at the same time. Historically, the number of channels available was limited by either how many simultaneous voices the sound hardware could produce, and later by how many of them a cpu could mix together in real time. By default, klystrack opens with 4 channel but this number can be set to anything between 1 to 32. Depending on your screen resolution, not all channels will be visible at the same time and that is why you'll see a scroll bar at the bottom. Channels are represented by those big columns on the lower part of the main screen. Each one is a separate voice in which an instrument can be played.

For every channel there is a information bar at the top which shows, in order:
- Channel number
- Pattern colour (not shown in current screenshot --will update, promised)
- Channel pan position
- Channel volume
- Mute 

A single channel column with a pattern in it.
The patterns are where the actual music is composed. They can be any length you desire, but there are some standards lengths which are just more practical to use. If your patterns are too short you will end up having to create tons of them, and if they're too long they will become impractical to compose in. The standard length is usually 64, which is enough to put a significant amount of data in, but short enough that you can easily find the 25/50/75% marks easily (which really helps to know where the hell you are in the song.) You can have patterns of any length simultaneously, but if you want to remain sane you would do well to keep them all at the same length or you will quickly need a steady supply of bunnies to murder to quell the rage and confusion you will be victim of.

Each patterns consists of six separate columns: position, note, instrument, volume, control bits, and effects.

The first column is simply the row numbers so that you can keep track of where you are. Very quickly your songs will start looking like massive walls of weird data and this column will be invaluable to locate where the hell you are in this mess.

The second  shows you which note is played, at which octave. For example "A-4" means the note to be played is A at the fourth octave, and "D#5" would mean D sharp, fifth octave.

The third column shows you which instrument will be used to play the note. By default when you are editing, these two columns are filled together. If you have instrument 04 selected and press the Q key, it will enter the note (C) and the instrument (04) at the same time. You can later edit the instrument number by hand if you wish, but that is rarely necessary.

The fourth column is the volume. Note that since tracking is a very geeky hobby, a lot of things are written in hexadecimal just to ensure mass confusion and general chaos. Values in this column range from 00 to 80 (which means 0 to 128 in normal-people numbers) and this can be used to set the volume at which a note is played. If you leave this blank, which is the default, then the instrument's volume will be used instead. More on that later.

The fifth column represents the control bits. You turn a bit on by input a 1 into the appropriate space, and you turn it off by putting a 0. The first bit is legato which will play the new note without resetting the envelope from the last note played. The second bit is slide, which will play the new note, starting a the pitch of the last note played, and slide up/down to the new pitch. The speed at which it slides is unique to each instrument and is set in that instrument's settings...again, more on that later. And finally the third bit is vibrato, which plays the note with a vibrato effect. Again, the speed and depth of the vibrato is unique to each instrument and set in the instrument's settings.

The final column is the effects column. There are many many effects you can use but to go into details about them will require an entire tutorial on its own. For now though, know that this is where you can do cool stuff like "chip arpegios" and portamentos.

A single channel in the sequence editor showing
which patterns will be played at which position.
Once you have a couple of patterns, it's time to decide in which order they will be played. Again this is a very visual thing. Each column in the sequencer represents each channels you have, and the rows represent which patterns will be played at what time. Think of it as placing "blocks" of music on a grid that will be played from top to bottom. It really is the same concept as the patterns. Each of these blocks has two bits of information in them. The first one is the pattern number to be played in that position, and the second one is the transpose setting. Transposing is useful if you want to play the same basic pattern at a different pitch. Let's say you have a bassline in E and you want to play it in A, then instead of making an entirely new pattern for it, you can just enter the relevant pattern number and put the transpose setting at +5 which will shift it five semitones up. Note that this will NOT be visible in the actual pattern however. In this example, your pattern would still show the notes being in E and yes, it can get confusing. Since you have up to 255 (FF) patterns, you can probably go ahead and actually make a new pattern instead if you want to avoid confusion. But if file size matters for your project, you will save some data by using transpose.

the main screen 
Now lets take a look at the main screen and the information you can find there.  

Menu opens the menu, what a world we live in.
The first button opens the menu, where you can perform some functions such as file i/o and setting general options. Feel free to muck around in there, it's all pretty much self-explanatory anyways. The second button will replace the sequence panel with either a spectrum analyzer, or the groovy cat-o-meter. You should always test your songs with the cat-o-meter to make sure they are feline-approved. The third button toggles fullscreen mode on and off, while the fourth one quits the program and should never be used unless you are prepared to return to the normal world, and nobody's got time for that.

I have nothing particularly relevant to say here.
Len is how many pattern rows your entire song is, in hexadecimal. If your song is made up of 1 pattern of 64 rows, then Len would be set to 40 (40hex = 64dec, because fuck you). Note that using the up/down arrows will increase/decrease this number by the amount indicated in Step. For simplicity's sake, I suggest you always use 64 rows patterns and put Step at 40 and leave it at that.

Loop is the position at which your song will be...well, looped, once it reaches the end of the sequence. This is a setting normally used for in-game music. For more traditional songs that have an actual ending, you can leave it to 00 to have the entire song restart, or make it loop on an empty pattern at the very end of the song so that it doesn't restart. It's also very useful when you are editing. Since you will almost always be editing on "the last pattern" in the sequence, you don't want your song position to jump all the way back to the beginning of the song once you reach the end of your current pattern. So you set your loop to only a few patterns before where you're editing and avoid pointless scrolling back down to where you were. The loop is clearly indicated by brackets in the sequence panel.

Finally, Step is the length of each sequence block. You will almost always want this to be the same length as your default pattern length, but if you feel like tracking isn't complicated enough for you, you can change that and make your life generally miserable. For example if you have a Step of 40 and all your patterns are at 20 (32 rows) then you will only have music in the first half of every sequence block. If your pattern is longer than the Step then they will be cut short.

Another image with a boring caption.

The next three settings, Spd, Rate and Time, control how fast the song is played, and whether or not you want some shuffle in there as well as how certain rows are highlighted to help you located where the beats are in the patterns.

Spd is the speed, represented by the number of "ticks" per row. Ticks are always the same length so if you have more of them per row, then the song will play slower. The tracker default is 6 ticks per row which means that the software cycles six times on that row (and applying whatever is in the effects column six times) before moving on to the next row. At speed 6, if you put a note every 4 rows, you will get roughly 120-ish bpm. A lot of people, me included, prefer to work at speed 3 and put beats at every 8 rows instead. This means you get twice the amount of data between each beat, which is essentially a precision of 1/8th notes instead of 1/4th notes. You'll notice that there is two settings for speed. The first is for even numbered rows, and the second for odd numbered rows. For example a speed of 6/3 would play 6 ticks, then 3, then 6 again and so on. This is useful to create shuffled beats but it really only works if you are in 1/4th note resolution. If you want to work at higher resolutions, you'll have to use a flat speed setting, and instead use the effect column of a pattern to create your shuffle.

Rate is a more straightforward speed setting. Back in the old days of 8/16 bit computers, clock speed was often dictated by whether you were in a PAL (50hz AC) or NTSC (60hz AC) region. By default klystrack is set to the PAL standard of 50hz, but you can adjust this setting to basically anything you want. The higher the Rate, the faster your song will play. You will use this to get more precise tempos than what the coarse Spd setting can offer.

Time is only a visual thing. It will basically highlight certain rows according to what time signature you choose. It will have a bright highlight for every measure, and a dimmer highlight for every beat. Again however, this only really works when you are using speed 6. It does remain useful at any speed setting but it will not represent actual measures anymore. 

Used to summon demons, mostly.

Octave and Chanls are fairly self-explanatory. Octave is the octave at which your editing is being done while Chanls is simply the number of channels you want for your song.

Shamelessly using my own song for this. Pfah!
Song is obviously used for your song name and it will also be the default file name for your song when you first save it. You can however save it under a different name if you want. 

Inst is the instrument you currently have selected. I strongly suggest naming your instruments to something meaningful so that you don't end up having to scroll through a ton of them to find the one you are looking for. Also, if you leave it empty, you might think it's an empty 'default' instrument and overwrite it like an idiot and hate yourself a wee bit.

Nobody knows what these do.

Play/Stop/Volume are very obscure functions that nobody really understand. It's a complete mystery, but last I heard, a team of top scientists were working on figuring it all out. 

The left button is miniature Pong.
The Collapse button is used when you are running out of screen space and want to show more channels at the same time. By default all six columns of data for each pattern is displayed, but you can reduce what is displayed by pressing the Collapse button. What columns are displayed when collapsed can be customized by going into the Show > Visible Columns menu.

When the Zoom button is clicked, only the pattern you are working on will have its six columns visible, while the rest are collapsed to show only the note column. Some people prefer to always work this way, and other use it only when running out of screen space. It's your call, I never use it.

And finally there is the bottom bar. The large black bar is the online information. Basically where ever your cursor (not the mouse pointer, the actual edit cursor) is in the pattern editor, relevant information will appear there. It is very useful for all kinds of things and will be of great help to you until you know everything by heart. It also works in the instrument's program editor. 

The six buttons at the very bottom are the different screens available in klystrack, which will be explored in other tutorials, eventually, someday, in some future-related time frame of an indefinite nature. By clicking them with your electronic rodent, they will transport you to fantastic places.
Magical buttons of screen selection.
1- Full-screen Pattern Editor (sometimes useful, but mostly pointless)
2- Full-screen Sequence Editor (useful if you need a view of the complete song structure)
3- Classic Editor (which is probably what you will be using the most)
4- Instrument editor (where you use dark wizardry to create your own sounds)
5- FX editor (there are four units available, each with a bit crusher, chorus, and delay effect)
6- Wave Editor (where you can tweak samples, or generate waveforms)

In the next installment of these highly educational tutorials, we will be looking at either the instrument screen, or do a quick tour of the pattern effects...I haven't decided yet. It could also be about my world famous lemon-cranberries scones recipe, or just a picture of a goat. Who knows?