Updated: May 31st, 2005
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So there.


The Best of TraxWeekly

Once upon a time, long before Static Line and Scene Zine, there was the mother of all tracking scene newsletters: TraxWeekly. For nearly three years, this weekly publication covered the tracking scene in a way that others have been trying to imitate ever since. Interviews, humor, tracking culture... it was all there. But most importantly were the tracking tips articles, written by the true giants of the oldskool tracking scene: Necros, Leviathan and many others.

Though many of the other articles in TraxWeekly are old, outdated and of little use to today's trackers, the tips are still useful today. Tracking programs are more advanced now in 2005 than in 1995, but today's tracking software still shares many of the same basics. This means many of the tips are still relevant.

My goal with this page is to resurrect the tips of yesterday for today's trackers. These were the tips and articles that taught me how to track, and hopefully you'll find them useful too.

"Samples! Get good samples!" by Necros - added May 31st, 2005

(Originally published in TraxWeekly #15 on June 23rd, 1995.)

Most of us have been in this biz a long time, and we've probably heard every shitty sample that exists. What's worse is that people keep ripping from the same stupid sources over and over. Remember that one of the things that can make your song stand out from the rest is to find unique sounds to make your arrangement that much richer. And please don't give me that 'well i don't have a keyboard' crap, I've been living with a 386sx-16, GUS, cheap Sony rack CD player, and a bad stereo system, and i've done quite well for myself. Here's how:


Never, ever, rip from the Second Reality soundtrack. Those samples are so over-used it's not even funny, especially that lead synth. If you are going to demo rip, get some class and at least rip from Crystal Dreams music or something.

NEVER EVER use a sample with 'ST:' in front of the name. Those are the old, old, old, Amiga sample sets, and they sound so bad it's not even funny.

IF you rip from other people's work, MAKE SURE it's OBSCURE. Don't rip trademark instruments, people can tell.


Get obscure AMINET mods and rip samples from there, nobody's ever heard of about 90% of them, and it's a good way to get keen stuff.

Sample from the CD's you own. Most CD's have at least one clean sample, somewhere. And don't give me that 'i don't know how to sample' stuff. NOBODY is that moronic. Just boot up FT2, plug your CD line-out or even headphone jack into your GUS or SB line-in jack, set the samplerate to 22khz, turn up the volume if necessary, and sample away.

(Note from Novus: I'd sample at 44.1kHz myself. Remember, Necros wrote this in 1995. Computers are a lot more powerful now.)

Credit everyone you rip from, at least if they're still around. Perhaps they ripped too, but you don't know that.

Use shielded cables if you can to sample with. They cut down on a lot of RF noise which comes from your monitor, your CD player, your power supply, etc.

Try sample sites. A couple of good 16-bit libraries can be found at ftp://ftp.mfi.com/pub/keyboard, and there are many more. Try reading newsgroups to find them.

(Note from Novus: Yes, surprisingly, that FTP site is still there, even 10 years later.)

-Written by Necros for TraxWeekly

"Blech, not C, Dm, F, G again" by Necros - added May 29th, 2005

(Originally published in TraxWeekly #15 on June 23rd, 1995.)

When writing a song with harmony, you have two choices. You can either:

A) Pick a cheesy over-used chord progression but orchestrate it well, making it seem significantly less cheesy and more innovating.

B) Pick a fantastically intricate and diverse chord progression, and keep the rest of the stuff simple so that the listener doesn't get overblown by the radical melodic shifts.

C) Pick a moderately innovative progression, and put a good groove behind it.

These are the only three ways (unless you're doing hard-core industrial or something that doesn't use progressions) to get a decent song. I can't tell you how many times I've gotten tunes from IRC, listened to them, and been terribly saddened by the sheer boredom which I got from listening to them. Most often the problem is this: People try to do a melodic tune, usually something with that horrible piano+strings patch, and plunk down a bunch of bad chords, and even worse, it has NO groove, it's just someone smacking down piano notes on rows 0,16,32,and 48. BLECH! Be more original.

Here's my list of top five progressions to avoid, along with actual note-readings at the end if you need them:

#5. Cmin | Bb | Ab | Gmin (yuck, it sounds like a bad romance movie)

#4. C | F | Am | G (be there, done that, heard it before)

#3. C | F | C | G (can it get any worse??)

#2. Cm | Ab | Fm | Bb (i've even used this one, you have to orchestrate it damn well to get it to sound decent)

#1. C | F | G (ACK ACK ACK this is like every lame 50's song put together)

In case you need them here's a chord ref table:
Cmin = C - D#- G
Ab = G# - C - D#
G = G - B - D
Bb = A#- D - F
F = F - A - C
Fm = F - G# - C

Remember: Either get a good progression, or get a good groove.

The secret of a good groove it to make it less chord-oriented, and more riff-oriented. Think of a catchy phrase which will fit within in the chords, imagine it as sort of a rhythm section. Use the drum track to help.

-Written by Necros for TraxWeekly

"Melodic Structure" by Necros - added May 27th, 2005

(Originally published in TraxWeekly #15 on June 23rd, 1995.)

The Intro to Nothing
It's tough to analyze your music quantitatively, even I have a hard time doing it, but it's something that's fun to do every once in a while to examine the flaws in your technique. One of the most common problems in tracked music is song structure. Most modern music is composed of many parts:

The Intro - Usually something that alludes to the main melody, it contains rising dynamism and a gradual rise in the musical level.

The A Part (Verse) - This is usually the verse or melody part of the song, most often it contains a lead instrument of some sort. This is where the verse vocals would be in a traditional song.

The B Part (Chorus) - All songs need some sort of chorus. This is the part of the music which everything else points to, the change in musical tone which tells the listener, "Hey! Check this out!".

The Bridge - This is an intermission-type part, it can be anywhere from really soft and mellow, to horrendously overpowering. Usually it contains something in a completely different chordal sense than the A or B parts, but it doesn't have to.

The Resolution - This is the end of the song, usually it's a modified version of the B part, which leads into some sort of ending phase.

Most songs that you hear on the radio tend to go:

Intro / A / B / A / B / Bridge / A / B / Resolution

...or something similar. The point here is that, even if you mess with the structure a bit, there is still some sort of structure. The reason that it's important to know this is that your listeners have probably been brought of on Top 40 radio for most of their adult lives, and since 95% of all radio-style songs follow this structure, it should be something your music possesses, at least in part. To do otherwise is to create something which your average listener cannot identify with, and the general feeling is that a song without at least some sort of traditional structure is 'incoherent' or 'random'.

You get the idea.

Peaks and Valleys
A song is not just a collection of melodic riffs, it is an emotional statement. The best of songs give you that special kinda feeling inside (no, not the feeling like when you touch Mr. Happy, this is something different). When writing a song, a lot of people never even bother to think about what it sounds like, as a whole. This is something you really need to do once in a while, since your listener does it everytime he or she plays your song. It's hard, believe me I know, to appreciate your song as a coherent entity after you've spent so many hours sitting in a tracker, agonizing over little details and precise pattern structures. My advice is this, however: Make sure that you know where your peaks and valleys are.

Ideally, a song should contain both elements of high melodic tension, and low melodic tension. No listener wants to sit through a totally high-energy 180 BPM non-stop 6-minute ride through synth mania unless they are already busy grooving madly on some dance floor in a smoky club somewhere. Also, unless your listener is on heavy sedation, he or she will not enjoy your sparse 18-minute ambient tune which consists of the same languid piano riff repeated over and over again.

The point here, folks, is impact. Start off slow, develop your riffs, and gradually bring the listener along the musical ride you intend. Don't try to immediately shock them with sensory overload, it won't work. Start with a nice catchy A section, maybe. Then build into a more exciting chorus. Then another A section but with more instrumentation and a higher energy feel. Then another big chorus. Then go into a HUGE orgasmic bridge. Bring it back down to another A section, into a less energetic but more melodic chorus. Then end it with a nice slow finale.

This is just an example, but you see what I mean about emotional impact. Think about it next time you start a song. It helps. :)

The Melody
There is only one way to compose a melody that your listeners will think is memorable. Pretend like you are standing in front of a crowd, with a kick-ass band behind you, and sing that melody like your life depended on it.

If you can't hum it, sing it, whistle it, or play it... and it doesn't come out catchy-sounding.. it sure as heck isn't going to sound good when you play it with that disgusting FC-SINER.SMP sound you stole from Second Reality.

Other than that, yer on your own. I've found that playing an instrument of some sort helps TREMENDOUSLY in learning what harmony and melody is all about.

Groove? What Groove?
Drum tracks. People are decent at these as far as I've seen, but they could still use some help. One of the most common failings is repetition. Nobody wants to hear that same stupid 16-line bass-snare pattern throughout the WHOLE song. Didn't your mother ever teach you that variety is the spice of life?

When writing a drum track, pretend that you are the live drummer, reacting to what your band is doing on stage. Are you leading into a high-energy chorus? Well then act like it! Put a nice rising fill-in at the end of the pattern before. Reached a high? Even in the middle of a measure? Put a cymbal crash! Got a hip-hop thing going? Experiment with soft snares dancing around the 'and' beats of the pattern. Don't be afraid to try new drum ideas. Listen to a bit of Rush and try that keen 7/4 groove. Or do the jazz thing and do a lot of ride cymbal work with brush drums. It all depends on how the song feels to you, the drummer.

-Written by Necros for TraxWeekly

"Using Envelopes To Reverb Drums" by Pinion - added May 26th, 2005

(Originally published in TraxWeekly #81 on December 19th, 1996.)

Using envelopes to create good reverb for drums...

Step 1: Pick a sample with good reverb applied to it already.
Right now you may be thinking, "if the sample already has reverb applied to it why do I need to do this trick?" Well, the longer the reverb decay, the more sample data is needed; sample_data=file_size. Also, when the sample is played at different speeds the reverb will be foreshortened which sounds bad. The reverb area of the sample doesn't even need to be all that long.

Step 2: Loop the reverb part of the sample.
I have found the best results with ping-pong loops, but forward loops can be used as well. You want to be sure that the looped area has a fairly consistent volume so that the loop is as smooth as possible. After you get a good loop it's probably a good idea to hit ALT-L to get rid of the excess sample data. Hell! If you can save even one or two kilobytes that's less time people have to spend downloading your song.

Step 3: Give the sample a good volume envelope.
When played as a standard sample the loop will sound like crap. This is why you'll want to give the sample the right decay in instrument mode. The best vol. envelope I have found for this job is something similar to:

|o----o                                |
|         o                            |
|             o                        |
|                 o                    |
|                        o             |

What can I say... I'm no artist! :)

You'll also want to set the instruments NNA to 'continue' so that there is no clipping when another note is played after it. Also, don't let the note ring out too long, because along with having the possiblity of sounding wierd and unrealistic, it could possibly eat up virtual channels in a scarry way.

Footnote: I assume that these ideas could be used in FT2 as well, but I can't really vouch for that seeing as I don't really use it. Also, if you don't want to use the reverb effect on the sample all the time, you can always give it a sustain loop instead of a standard loop, then all you need to do is place a '===' after the note to turn it off.

-Written by Pinion for TraxWeekly

"Lead Lines" by Basehead - added May 25th, 2005

(Originally published in TraxWeekly #15 on June 23rd, 1995.)

When choosing a lead instrument, make sure you've fooled with it a bit, and have made sure that it has a "range" big enough to handle the leadline you want. If it doesn't, make sure you have a few samples, at intervals of 5ths, or octaves, or whatever is needed to give you the ability to incorporate the sound(s) into the melody line.

It's a good idea to lay down the main melody notes (or what is referred to as the "stems-up" notes for all you sheet music people) first, and then fool with them to create the exact phrasing.

People often forget about phrasing when they are tracking a melody.. Necros has touched on this, and it is a very good point.. i too, have seen alot of nice melodies that are just in dire need of some LIFE.. some effect enhancement, maybe a few notes are misplaced rhythmically, or need to be volume slided/changed, etc..

The following is an example of a few main melody notes that are ok by themselves, but need some enhancement (lets say we're dealing with a synthy lead):

        Track 1

01 | A-4 01 64 A08 |
02 | ... .. .. .00 |
03 | E-5 01 64 .00 |
04 | ... .. .. .00 |
05 | C-5 01 64 .00 |
06 | ... .. .. .00 |
07 | D-5 01 64 .00 |
08 | ... .. .. .00 |
09 | B-4 01 64 .00 |
10 | ... .. .. .00 |
11 | G-4 01 64 .00 |
12 | ... .. .. .00 |
13 | E-4 10 64 .00 |
14 | ... .. .. .00 |
15 | A-4 01 64 .00 |
16 | ... .. .. .00 |

Now, the general musical idea is there but it's done so blandly, that is makes the line quite boring..

The following is an embellished/enhanced version of this melody:

        Track 1

01 | A-4 01 32 A08 |
<-- Speed 8, Start the line at vol 32
02 | E-5 .. 40 G50 | <-- Bend up to the E at G50 and raise the volume
03 | C-5 01 25 D0A | <-- Make the C stacatto with the fast vol. slide
04 | C-5 01 32 .00 | <-- Start the C->D bend at vol 32
05 | D-5 .. 40 GF0 | <-- Bend to the D at a fast speed and raise vol.
06 | ... .. .. H82 | <-- throw some light vibrato on the held D note
07 | ... .. .. K03 | <-- combine the H82 with a D03 volume slide down
08 | A-4 01 32 .00 | <-- start the A->B bend on the upbeat of Beat 4
09 | B-4 .. .. G10 | <-- Bend to B at a medium speed
10 | ... .. .. E02 | <-- throw in a light porta down descending to G
11 | G-4 01 40 .00 | <-- Start the G->E->A riff at vol 40
12 | E-4 .. 30 F0A | <-- make the E vol a bit lower and porta up to A
13 | A-4 .. 40 GF0 | <-- fast bend up to the A with a higher volume
14 | ... .. 15 E05 | <-- lower the vol. and bend down for a good effect
15 | A-4 01 25 .00 | <-- echo the note in Row 13 at a lower volume
16 | ... .. 08 E05 | <-- echo the porta down in Row 14 at a lower vol.

As you can see, this type of phrasing really brings out the full potential of the melody line that was outlined so plainly before.. now, of course the level of effect that you use depends on the sample, so what i've shown above is a guideline.. these exact numbers and note phrasings may not sound as good with certain samples... it was just meant to give you an idea of how to fully express a musical thought, using the full capability of the tracker.

Some miscellaneous shit about leads:

When doing a long run of notes, be sure to find the notes you want to accentuate most, and make the volume higher on those notes than on the ones inbetween.

Of course, as usual.. if you want to add a more ambient/realistic feel to a leadline, you use a tracker's version of echo: copy the entire leadline to another track, move it ahead a few rows with the + key, highlight the track with Alt-L, and move the volume down by 2/3 with Alt-J.. or however low you'd like to make the echoing track (everyone knows this trick but i'm just reinforcing it)

Certain styles call for a more sparse appraoch melodically, whereas some require an almost constant, driving melody. fast demo music is a good example of the latter (read: Hypercontrol), but slower, and less mind-boggling grooves call for less notes in your melody line. For instance, don't begin a nice piano/drum groove around speed 8 or 9 and try to incorporate some synth lead or something that goes nutso for like 20 rows straight. choose a few well placed notes and phrase them so they fit into the groove that you have going on underneath it.

Try not to repeat the same leadline twice. if your first instinct is to go back to a previous pattern in your song and repeat it, try something else instead: copy that pattern to a new pattern, and change it around a bit.. possibly make the lead double in octaves or fifths, maybe throw in a key change, or try the same background with a variation on that original lead that you wanted to repeat.

Don't let your melody/lead for a certain part go on forever. a listener only has so much attention span for a structured song. i am a big believer in a song structure.. such as an A - B - A - B - C - B structure, or variations on that. I like to have defined parts that melt into each other nicely, but provide a bit of a different shade of the same mood. the same "A" part droning on for 25 patterns and then stopping after 3 and a half minutes really bores me. Multipart songs are much more interesting.

Don't be afraid to take melody out once in awhile.. sometimes, nothing suits a track more than a breakdown drum solo, or just your rhythm section going.. or sometimes maybe just the outline of a progression using piano or pad chords. melody is not a necessity in every pattern. fuck the original definition of music. we're not playing this shit on harpsichords anymore =)

Don't use overused lead samples. i moan and groan every time i hear the famed purple motion siner come in.. try to find something that people aren't used to hearing, because nothing is more disheartening than hearing rehashed styles and samples over and over again.

Make sure you don't make your leads too loud.. phrase them so that they are loud enough to stand out from the rest, but strangely fade into the mix in addition to being heard. this can be done by finding the perfect volumes for all your instruments, and panning effectively.

-Written by Basehead for TraxWeekly

"Fun with NNAs" by Pinion - added May 24th, 2005

(Originally published in TraxWeekly #82 on December 25th, 1996.)

New Note Actions (NNAs) are you friend!
New Note Actions really are one of the coolest features of Impulse Tracker. It used to be that to get a piano sample to sustain out you had to spread it out over multiple (sometimes up to four or five!) channels. While this isn't that big a problem, it's not asthetically pleasing, and can use up most of the display.

Now through the wonders of technology we can do better! By simply giving the default NNA of 'fade' to a piano sample a nice keyoff sustain can be accomplished in all of a few seconds. Also, if the note fade setting is set correctly then very few virtual channels need to be used. To do chords you will still need another channel, but it's much more convienient to use a single channel for runs and the like.

Be careful with NNAs of continue.
REMEMBER: if you have a sample that rings out continuously you will want it to stop eventually. If it doesn't, not only will you probably make you song crash, but you will annoy the listener into deleting you song. I find that the use for NNAs of continue is with drums, or other short-ish samples that don't have loops. Of course there are exceptions, but this seems to be a good rule of thumb.

You are not forced into using any particular NNA.
Don't forget also that you are not required to use the default setting every time that sample is played. The beautiful thing about instruments is that they take up very little file space. You can create multiple instruments with different fade setting, default NNAs, volume envelopes, or one with no NNAs settings at all, and it won't make a song file that is huge like adding sample data will. Of course, you can also effect NNAs within the pattern itself. Just use these simple commands to do the following:

S73 = NNA cut
S74 = NNA continue
S75 = NNA note off
S76 = NNA note fade

Keep in mind that these effects will be seen only when the next note in that channel is played. Hence:

000 | C-4 03 .. S74 |
001 | A#4 03 .. S73 |
002 | ... .. .. ... |
003 | C-5 03 .. ... |
004 | ... .. .. ... |

The note in row 00 will ring out until you do a ^^^

The note in row 01 will sound out until the note in row 03 is played where as it will be abruptly and uncerimoniously clipped.

Anyway... NNAs are a bit intimidating at first, but once you start using them they are the bomb.

-Written by Pinion for TraxWeekly

"Getting Into the Swing of Things" by Necros - added May 23rd, 2005

(Originally published in TraxWeekly #12 on June 1st, 1995.)

Sometimes you'll be tracking a song, and you realize that you need something other than the robotic constant 4/4 pulse that seems to be a very common feature of tracked music. One of the better ways to get away from that is to use a swing beat.

A swing beat consists of making the downbeat notes slightly longer, and the upbeat notes slightly shorter. For a really good example of this, see my song "Realization 2." It gives a jazzy, fluid feel to the beat of a song.

There are two ways to do this, let's look at the old Amiga-style one first.

It is possible to make strange beat structures by varying the global tempo every line. This is used in a lot of Amiga 4-channel funk stuff to get that swing feel. It is commonly known as 'floating tempo'. The basic trick here is to put down a stream of Axx commands and make the length of the rows varied.

Normal rows move at a constant rate:

|----|----|----|----|----|----|----|----|-- ...etc   time
1    2    3    4    1    2    3    4    1          ------->

Floating tempo makes them do this:

|-----|---|-----|---|-----|---|-----|-- ...etc
1     2   3     4   1     2   3     4

The first and third rows still line up, but the 2nd and 4th rows are delayed. An example of how this would look, tracked, is this:

00| C-4 01 .. A08 |
01| ... .. .. A05 |
02| D#4 01 .. A08 |
03| G-4 01 .. A05 |
04| C-4 01 .. A08 |
05| ... .. .. A05 |
06| D#4 .. .. A08 |

Keep alternating speeds 8 and 5 to make the odd rows longer. The true overall speed ends up, in this case to be 1 / ((1/8 + 1/5) / 2) = a bit slower than A06.

This works, but is very inaccurate. It's hard to get the precise amount of swing you want, while maintaining the overall speed you want. A better way is to use fine tempo (Txx). It's the same basic technique, just substitute T values for A values. In my "Realization 2" tune, I used Txx effects to get a nice slight swing feel. Usually you want to do groups of T60 / T90, or T70 / T9A, etc... the first one should be about 2/3 of the second one for a medium swing effect.

The best way to figure out good values, though, is to experiment, of course. :)

-Written by Necros for TraxWeekly

"IT Percussion Tips" by Zinc - added May 22nd, 2005

(Originally published in TraxWeekly #75 on October 25th, 1996.)

Tired of out-dated tracking tips? Well, in this issue I hope to give some advice using the new-ish Impulse Tracker. Everything mentioned in this article is referring to Impulse Tracker 2.06, but most of them will probably be useful with earlier versions, and even in other trackers.

You may disagree with much of my advice. I will concentrate on percussion, but some tips will cover other instruments. I usually track various techno styles, so that will have an impact on my opinions here. Ready? Let's go!

i. Panning!
The difference between a mono tune and a stereo tune is huge. You have two ears, why not use them both? (so to speak :] ) Most likely you DO use panning, but there's always room for improvement.

First of all, everybody knows that the kickdrum should go in the middle. (If you didn't know that, or don't agree, perhaps you should write some of this down!) Most other percussion needn't be right in the middle all of the time, though, and there are several ways to make your samples appear to be in stereo. By the way, A and B work great with many samples, not just percussion.

Double up your channels, with each channel an equal distance from the desired panning position. Then:

 A) Use two samples sounding slightly different. If you don't already have two samples that are slightly different, you can always take a sample, edit it a little in Cool Edit (or whatever you use) and save it under another name. Play both samples at once.

 B) Use the same sample, but play one just SLIGHTLY after the first, using offsets or delays.

 C) Use the same sample, but with two different notes playing consecutively.

Secondly, panning envelopes can come in very handy in giving the appearance of stereo sound. Many people make mistakes though. These are a few things you may want to take note of:

 A) If your instrument is panned to the 00 position, there's no point in making your envelope start, or go over to the upper side of the envelope. That would be trying to make the panning position less than 00, which won't actually do anything (correct me if I'm wrong here). The same is true with your envelope trying to go over 64. This is obviously just common sense.

 B) Panning evelopes for beatloops can be very useful when used properly. The first thing you should do is tune your beatloop (to match the BPM you want to use) to a C-5, and play it while on the panning envelope screen. Alter the length of the envelope so that your sample will end exactly at the end of the envelope. Now you can change your envelope so that it pans back and forth. When you do this, take note of where the kicks and snares are, so you don't accidentally put them in a completely illogical position in your envelope. A neat trick I came across was to take two slightly different loops, and make them cross each others paths, back and forth, with envelopes. This gives a nifty stereo effect. Don't overdo it though!

 One last thing on this topic. A properly tuned beatloop at C-5 will play twice as fast when you play a C-6. This is obvious, you can use it to your advantage when making a transition. (play part of a common beatloop at half-speed for half the time, for example)

 C) Don't forget about your ` feature in the pattern editing (in the volume columns). This can always be a saviour when you need to change a panning position AND add that vibrato effect.

Your samples farthest from the center should always be at 00 or 64. Some people have speakers closer together, or far apart. Some people use headphones. You see, unless you are tracking strictly for personal use, you should track _as if_ your speakers are side by side; do not worry if the sound seems as if it's coming from too far on one side. This is all relative, of course, but my point is this: Separation default is 128. Anyone with speakers far apart, or with headphones on, can simply turn the separation down. I hope you understand what I'm talking about. ;) This applies to your entire song, not just percussion instruments!

Finally, don't forget to take advantage of the neat extras Pulse has put in Impulse Tracker. Sure you might normally keep your hihat at 32 for the entire song, and would never bother changing every individual note to be slightly different, but with the Panning Swing, you can create a hardly noticable effect that will actually improve the sound. And.. USE PANNING DEFAULT!! You will probably change samples in a single channel several times, but you don't need to change the panning every time. For samples that are mainly at one position throughout, use the panning default. That's what it's for.

ii. Tuning!
I'll keep this one short and general. Instead of finding the correct NOTE to play your percussion samples at, change the C-5 speed to make it sound exactly how you want it, and only use that note (there are exceptions of course). This will simplify your tracking, and also allow you to achieve that perfect sound. Also, if you decide your sample is too low after you've tracked the whole song, you can easily change the speed without changing a note.

iii. Volumes!
With the same idea as the panning separation thing in mind, you should keep the sample volumes from 00 to 64 relative only to EACH OTHER, and change them relative to other instruments with the GLOBAL volume. This is also to make it easier to change once you discover the song's bass sounds way too loud on a different system - whatever.

As far as percussion goes, volume envelopes aren't exceptionally useful, but volume swing comes in very handy :) Even if you've already changed your hi hat volumes to go 64 - 24 - 32 - 20, it will make the song less mechanical if you put in a small volume swing.

iv. NNAs!
I have a feeling I don't need to, and shouldn't, go into this ;) I will just comment that even though NNAs are very handy for many things, try to control yourself. Don't cram your instruments into one or two channels: spread them out.

v. Pitch Envelopes!
I've hardly seen any songs yet with pitch envelopes. They can be useful, but not usually with percussion. The odd effect can be created using the Dxx effect, if desired.

That covers the basics of the technical aspects as far as percussion tracking goes in Impulse Tracker. I know that's slimming it down, but I didn't want to just release another vague tracking tips article. And if you remember just one thing from this article, remember this: Don't overdo it!*

(* unless you happen to be basehead)

-Written by Zinc for TraxWeekly

"Drumtracks" by Basehead - added May 21st, 2005

(Originally published in TraxWeekly #15 on June 23rd, 1995.)

ok, well.. i have always thought i was a pretty good percussion guy. some people on #trax will tell you i do the best drumtracks in module music, but well.. they can think what they want. i wouldn't go that far =) The following is an example (still in ST3 pattern format), of a boring drum track.. i will then try to spice it up a bit, and show you how you too can make sure your drums stay interesting.

Sample 01 = Kick
Sample 02 = Snare
Sample 03 = Snare 2/Rimshot
Sample 04 = Closed HiHat
Sample 05 = Open HiHat
Sample 06 = Hi Tom
Sample 07 = Low Tom
Sample 08 = Tambourine
Sample 09 = Crash Cymbal

       Track 1         Track 2         Track 3         Track 4
01 | E-5 01 64 .00 | ... .. .. A08 | E-5 04 32 .00 | ... .. .. .00
02 | ... .. .. .00 | ... .. .. .00 | E-5 04 16 .00 | ... .. .. .00
03 | ... .. .. .00 | E-5 02 64 .00 | E-5 04 32 .00 | ... .. .. .00
04 | ... .. .. .00 | ... .. .. .00 | E-5 04 16 .00 | ... .. .. .00
05 | E-5 01 64 .00 | ... .. .. .00 | E-5 04 32 .00 | ... .. .. .00
06 | ... .. .. .00 | ... .. .. .00 | E-5 04 16 .00 | ... .. .. .00
07 | ... .. .. .00 | E-5 02 64 .00 | E-5 04 32 .00 | ... .. .. .00
08 | E-5 01 32 .00 | ... .. .. .00 | E-5 05 40 .00 | ... .. .. .00

What you've witnessed is a sad attempt at a good drum track. Kicks on 1 and 3.. snare on 2 and 4, and your standard HI->lo HI->lo volume closed hihat riff, with an open thrown in to end the measure.

Altho this works for Top 40 cheeze rock, it just doesn't cut it for good tracked music.. let us witness a 2-bar sequence, spiced up using some of the same drum samples:

       Track 1         Track 2         Track 3         Track 4
01 | E-5 01 64 .00 | ... .. .. A08 | E-5 04 32 .00 | ... .. .. .00
02 | ... .. .. .00 | ... .. .. .00 | E-5 05 40 .00 | E-5 08 32 .00
03 | ... .. .. .00 | E-5 02 64 .00 | E-5 04 16 .00 | ... .. 05 .00
04 | E-5 01 48 .00 | ... .. .. .00 | E-5 05 40 .00 | E-5 08 32 .00
05 | ... .. .. .00 | ... .. .. .00 | E-5 04 32 .00 | ... .. 05 .00
06 | E-5 01 64 .00 | E-5 02 16 Q04 | E-5 04 16 QC4 | E-5 07 48 .00
07 | ... .. .. .00 | E-5 02 64 .00 | E-5 04 32 .00 | E-5 09 50 .00
08 | E-5 01 32 .00 | E-5 03 32 .00 | E-5 05 40 .00 | ... .. .. .00
09 | ... .. .. .00 | ... .. .. .08 | E-5 04 32 .00 | ... .. .. .00
10 | E-5 01 48 .00 | ... .. .. .00 | E-5 04 16 .00 | E-5 08 32 .00
11 | ... .. .. .00 | E-5 02 64 .00 | E-5 05 40 .00 | ... .. 05 .00
12 | E-5 01 25 SD4 | ... .. .. .00 | E-5 04 16 .00 | E-5 08 32 .00
13 | E-5 01 64 .00 | ... .. .. .00 | E-5 04 32 .00 | ... .. 05 .00
14 | E-5 01 48 .00 | ... .. .. .00 | E-5 05 40 .00 | ... .. .. .00
15 | ... .. .. .00 | E-5 02 64 .00 | E-5 04 32 .00 | E-5 06 48 .00
16 | ... .. .. .00 | ... .. .. .00 | E-5 05 16 QC4 | E-5 07 32 .00

In this version... you have a more funked-up kickdrum line.. a snare roll frill at ROW 6 leading into the snarehit on beat 4.. a fusion-esque highhat line with the open hat on the 2nd half of beats 1 and 2.. a few off-beat tamb-hits, a crash on 4 which is a rock drumtrack technique that is not used often enough, and a Hi->Low mini tom run on Beat 4 of the 2nd bar (Row 15-16).. Now let's look at a way to make it swing a bit:

While rock is 1 2 3 4, with the eighth-notes all completely even.. a nice fusion or funkier beat has a bit of swing to it.. where the eighth notes are treated like the 1st and 3rd note of a triplet (where there are 3 notes to a beat rather than 4). To make your drum track swing, you can: change the Axy or Txy (speed/tempo) rapidly, or put a sufficient amount of SDx (note delay) on all of the notes coming in on an upbeat. The easiest way is a continuous speed/tempo switch, demonstrated here:

        Track 4
001 | ... .. .. A08 |
002 | E-5 08 32 A06 |
003 | ... .. 05 A08 |
004 | E-5 08 32 A06 |
005 | ... .. 05 A08 |
006 | E-5 07 48 A06 |
007 | E-5 09 50 A08 |
008 | ... .. .. A06 |
009 | ... .. .. A08 |
010 | E-5 08 32 A06 |
011 | ... .. 05 A08 |
012 | E-5 08 32 A06 |
013 | ... .. 05 A08 |
014 | ... .. .. A06 |
015 | E-5 06 48 A08 |
016 | E-5 07 32 A06 |

First ya pick a track where no effects are used, such as Track 4 of the drum sequence that i did above.. Now, you insert the Axy or Txy effect in the effect column of all the rows in the sequence (2 bars are shown here) .. Axy is the more commonly used effect, but Txy gives you the ability to create a perfect swing, one identical to the rhythm you're hearing your head.. For a fusion-esque rhythm, let's say we alternate 8&6, because 9&6 swing is a bit hard for a driving beat.. The farther apart your speed/tempos are, the "harder" the sequence will swing, that is, the closer the upbeats will be to the next downbeat. You always put down the higher Axy/lower Txy *first* so the downbeat will be long & upbeats shorter. (this is commonly referred to as "floating-tempo")

So, now, if you were to insert this track back into the drum sequence that i typed in before, you would have a swinging fusion rhythm.. far more suited to a driving rock-styled song, than a generic sequence (which i demonstrated at the beginning of this section).

As a general rule for myself, i tend to pan the tracks that are part of my drumtrack into the center.. somewhere between S87->S89 or so. Having drums hard panned or in the middle of nowhere in a mix is really a no-no.

A few miscellaneous notes about drums:

Try putting crashes on 2 and 4 following a snare roll at 1 or the upbeat of 1, instead of the same old crash on the 1 beat.. it's especially good after a long suspension/bridge that leads back into your main theme.. because it is unexpected, and yet sounds so good. Throw crashes in on random snare hits for an interesting touch.

Try retriggering your highhats occasionally, for a more realistic-drummer touch. often a drummer will play a few hits of the hihat in doubletime to spice things up a bit.. the most natural sounding retrig, is to use a retrig speed of 1/2 your playing speed.. so a normal retrig command for a sequence played at Speed 6 would be Qxy=Qx3.. generally, hihats would be hit in doubletime while raising the volume. So say you wanted the volumes of the hihat hits to rise by 8 for each hit during the retrig.. then Qxy=QC3 at Speed 6.

Don't overuse ride cymbals, but when you use them.. make sure you retrig some of the hits for a more realistic feel.

Keep in mind that at speeds such as 3 and 4, retriggering is unnecessary, and the retrig "feel" can be incorporated manually:

At Speed 6,

| E-5 01 16 QC3 |
| E-5 01 64 .00 |

...is the same thing as the following at Speed 3...

| E-5 01 16 .00 |
| E-5 01 24 .00 |
| E-5 01 32 .00 |
| E-5 01 64 .00 |

...and so on.

Try to do something other than Kick on beats 1/3, Snare on 2/4 .. or if you MUST use this type of rhythm, be sure to throw in alot of various things to make the drumtrack less tedious.

Make sure you're not using over-reverbed drums when doing an uptempo song, because it will sound like shit.. and by the same token, try to lean more toward reverbed drums when doing slow or ballad-style tracks.

Experiment with all sorts of floating tempos.. sometimes the strangest combinations of speed and tempos will create some exciting new rhythmic feels.

-Written by Basehead for TraxWeekly

"Effective Panning" by Necros - added May 20th, 2005

(Originally published in TraxWeekly #12 on June 1st, 1995.)

One of the biggest things that influences how your song sounds is panning. Unbelievably, most people still refuse to use any sort of panning in their music, and the result is either something that sounds very muddled, or something which ends up weak because of the lack of stereo presence. What's even worse than no panning at all is doubling channels so that tracks end up on both left and right channels at the same time (effective middle panning). This is horrible, as it both doubles the channels in your song for no reason, and makes the song even harder to mix properly on non-chip mixing soundcards (SB,SBPro,PAS,etc).

The moral of this story is LEARN HOW TO PAN! :>

There are two types of panning which can be used, channel panning, and instrument panning. Channel panning is the art of making every note on a specific channel be played at a certain stereo position. Instrument panning makes every note by a certain instrument, no matter what channel it's on, be played at the same position.

My personal choice in this case is channel panning. Instrument panning is nice for drum tracks, but its costs outweigh its gains, especially for melodic samples which may have to be used in many roles, as lead, effects, echoes, and chords. Thus in this section, we'll keep ourselves constrained to using channel panning.

The ScreamTracker panning effect is S8x. Only versions 3.2 and up will play the effect correctly, and only so on GUS cards. If you have an SBPro (like I used to), you can enter the effects blindly and use an external player to test them out... it sucks, but I did every song before 5/95 like that, and so can you if need be :>

Here's the values and what they mean.

S8x (16 step, GUS hardware pan)
S80 = Full Left
S88 = Middle
S8F = Full Right
(and of course all values in between)

Xxx (128-step, software emulated)
X00 = DMP/IPlay Full Left
X40 = Middle
X80 = Full Right
XA4 = DMP SBPro Surround Emulation

(Note from Novus: I left both of Necros's charts in, but if I remember correctly the Xxx command works correctly for Fast Tracker 2, Impulse Tracker, and every major tracking program that came along afterward. Xxx also gives you much more precise control over the panning than Sxx does, although Sxx will still work.)

The Xxx effect is useful if you want 128-step panning instead of the 16-step available with Sxx. ST3.2 will not play this effect in the tracker, although it will save it in the file. If you have a Dolby-capable reciever, and an SBPro/SB16, try using XA4, it routes the channel to the receiver's surround channel.

Now that you know what they mean, what's the best way to use them? It's quite simple actually.

Drum Tracks
Each drum channel should be panned near the center, perhaps slightly offset from each other if you are using more than one drum track. I usually put bass kick + snare on S87 (slightly left of middle), hi-hats and tambourines on S8A (a bit to the right), and crashes somewhere in the middle. You can also get interesting effects by using S8x effects on every row to make a hi-hat sound pan around your ears as it plays.

Your main lead should be near the middle, I usually use S86 thru S8A. If you do an echo track, pan it the same distance, but on the other side. For example, if your lead is at S86, try putting the echo at S8A or S8B. You can get nice effects also by putting the echo all the way to the same side as the lead (maybe S81 in the above example).

If you layer them, spread them out. If you only are using one at once, keep it in the middle. If you are making your own chords with multiple tracks of single-note instruments, spread the panning out for each instrument.

-Written by Necros for TraxWeekly

"Beyond Time Limits" by The Pope - added May 19th, 2005

(Originally published in TraxWeekly #50 on March 7th, 1996.)

While much of tracked music is 4/4 with a vengeance, there is good reason to venture beyond the perceived [time] limitations of the modern tracker and to go forth and multiply [or divide, as the case may be] with abandon.

This, the first in perhaps a series of articles for TraxWeekly, will try to help you out of this conundrum with handy tips and tricks. While geared towards Scream Tracker 3.x, they can most certainly be applied to other trackers, some with even more success.

First, let us examine the perceptual barrier known as the pattern...

The Pattern
From the early days of moddom, the pattern was 64 atomic units in length; no more, no less. Given that one wanted to write 4/4 pop music, this neatly worked out to equal four measures allowing the use of sixteenth notes. [16*4=64]

While Scream Tracker still imposes this strict fragmentation, others like Impulse Tracker go beyond, allowing variable size patterns; to a point.

The point is, however, that regardless of the format's patternization, small miracles can be achieved if you just go linear, and ignore pattern boundaries. Your mind may not thank you (conventional tracking's much easier) but your listeners probably will.

We'll be working towards this, however, so let's start off by seeing what improvements can be made within the confines of the 64 note pattern and the beat itself.

The Beat
Even sticking to 4/4 time signatures, not many of us really use the beat, at lease with our melodies. Trackers (the people, not the tools) who are rhythmically inclined like to alternate speed, say between 06 and 02 for shuffle feel, etc. Problem being, what if you only want one channel to shuffle? Enter our friend, note delay and his trusty companions.

The Triplet
Note delay lets us break the tracker atom to a great extent, bringing things such as triplets to life. Along with note cut, note repeat and arpeggio, we can bring some feeling to our music.

Let's start off with the triplet, then.

The value we set for speed will determine the number of divisions possible. For mixing eighth note triplets with sixteenth notes, the default 06 will suffice. It's a good idea to decide before-hand on the smallest quanta of your piece.

Below, we have one beat:

     Track 1         Track 2         Track 3

| C-4 01 .. ... | C-4 02 .. ... | C-4 03 .. ... |
| ... .. .. ... | C-4 03 .. ... | C-4 03 .. SD2 |
| ... .. .. ... | C-4 03 .. ... | C-4 03 .. SD4 |
| ... .. .. ... | C-4 03 .. ... | ... .. .. ... |

Assuming these are rhythm tracks, lets let track 1 be our four-on-the-floor bass drum, track two our sixteenth open-closed hi-hat, and track 3 our triplet ride cymbal. It really doesn't matter, however.

Notice that using this technique, we only use the first three beats for our eighth note triplets. The first occurs squarely on beat one. The second is delayed 2/6th (1/3rd) of beat 2, and the third, 4/6th (2/3rd) of beat 3. If you want a run of triplets, just lay in SDx effects, copy, paste, and enter your notes over-top.

Probably the best way to start grasping what is possible would be to try entering some classical sheet music. Look for the smallest quanta needed: perhaps there is a 7:4 run in an otherwise smattering of eighths. Some university level big band jazz charts would also be a good bet in your search for rhythm.

The Swing
Note that jazz charts (expect perhaps the most elementary) will not explicitly notate swing feel; it's to be added by the performer. Basically, every odd eight note in a measure is to be played for about 2/3rds of a eight note triplet, while every even eighth is to be played for the remaining 1/3rd.

Try entering the following four bars of eighths (excerpt from Miles Davis' Serpent's Tooth) into one channel using your favourite tracker:

Bar 1: G-4; E-4; D-4; C-4; C#4; E-4; A-4; G-4;
    2: F-4; D-4; F-4; A-4; D#4; F#4; B-4; A-4;
    3: G-4; E-4; G-4; C-5; G#4; C-5; F-5; E-5;
    4: D-5; C-5; D#4; F-4; E-4; D-4.

Now go and add note delay to every second eighth-note. Initially, use a value of four, which would be technically correct given a speed of six. Swing is a feeling, however, so try adding some using other values. Smaller values will bring you closer to straight-eighths, larger will add more swing: to a point. At moderate tempos, I like delays of two.

If you want to be accurate, use a Bb-tuned (B-flat tuned) instrument like a trumpet, perhaps muted. I've got a bunch of swing tunes coming which should demonstrate this style (p3-vierd et. al.)

The Pattern Break
If you want to get going on alternate time signatures early, chances are that your patterns no longer end up with 64 prime divisions. Consider using the Break Pattern [c00] effect on your last 'beat' to jump ahead to the next pattern if you come up short. Alternately, switch to a tracker that allows a definable pattern length.

The Motive
My chief motivation, I must admit, for writing this little diddly was to get more trackers thinking about time and rhythm. A lot of excellent tracked music has been released over time, however I can probably count the number of modules in time signatures other than 4/4 that I've come across on one hand.

Even sticking to standard time, though, we can have some fun with our music.

Tracking removes instrumental talent from the equation, allowing us to concentrate solely upon composition. The tracker can serve quite nicely as an learning tool in this respect, allowing us to comprehend initially difficult polyrhythms with relative ease.

-Written by The Pope for TraxWeekly

"Surround stereo, sorta." by Necros - added May 18th, 2005

(Originally published in TraxWeekly #1 on June 1st, 1995.)

Let's say you just found this set of wonderful chord pad samples, and you want a way to get them to sound nice, in full stereo. Perhaps you are sick of using five or six channels of chords just to get a nice full sound. One of the nicer ways to get a very spacy-sounding chord effect is to use sample offset to create stereo interference. (This sounds VERY cool over headphones!)

       Channel  01     Channel  02
000 | C-4 01 .. O01 | C-4 01 .. ... |
001 | ... .. .. ... | ... .. .. ... |
002 | ... .. .. ... | ... .. .. ... |
003 | etc... .. ... | ... .. .. ... |

Simply take the exact same chord sample, at the exact same note, and play it both on left and right channels, with one channel receiving an offset command.

This makes the sound waves reach your ears at slightly offset times, yet somehow your brain remembers that the sounds are the same and assumes that the sound is being echoed off of some distant wall. The result is a very surround-sound-ish feeling. Note that to get this to work, the channels have to be panned fairly far apart. Hard left and right pans will work, or a medium amount may be used (S82, S8D maybe). Give this a try and tell me how it works.

-Written by Necros for TraxWeekly

"The Importance of Music Theory" by Future Assassin
 - added May 17th, 2005

(Originally published in TraxWeekly #7 on March 12th, 1995.)

Just how important IS Music theory, anyway? That's a question that has been probing my mind for quite some time now. I never used to think about it when I was fooling around in music class, or generally humming or whistling a tune, but now it seems to be more important to me than ever before.

When I was younger, I was the type of kid who actually WANTED to take piano lessons. I wanted to learn every inch of music theory because I had a LOT of original music swimming in my head that I always wanted to get down on paper. Unless I knew what note was what, how would I go about doing that? Unfortunately, my parents never really payed attention to my liking for music, and my constant begging to be taught everything about it. So I'm now an 18 year old who's just trying to play things by ear. You might think that this is fine when it comes to computer music, because you can generally hear everything that you're marking down, right? Who knows. I sure as hell don't.

What I DO know is, there are musicians in the scene who have taken an extensive amount of theory, and by simply listening to some of their pieces, you can tell that they dominate from the rest. Even scarier is the fact that they can USE their knowledge of theory to compose a beautiful piece in a fraction of the time it would take someone like me to compose even an average sounding song. That isn't what depresses me, though. In order to explain my problem a little further, I'll tell you the exact situation.

For a while now, I was thinking of this gorgeous note/chord progression that mixed a panflute, toms, bass, trumpet, and a few other instruments together. In my head it sounded wonderful. Everything could fit into place, and I could hear a whole song coming to life in my mind. I had all the instruments ready in ST3, and I was about to plot down the notes when I realized that it wasn't working properly. I couldn't get what was in my head to come out onto the tracker. The toms were off, the panflute sounded rugged, and even the bass sounded a bit cruddy. With time I could have improved this, no doubt, but then I got a copy of Necros' NAiD winner, entitled "Ascent of the Cloud Eagle", and there it was. It wasn't the exact melody I was thinking of, but the exact same style, and almost all the same instruments. Necros, being a musician with 13 years of theory under his belt, had been able to think up the tune in his head, and recreate it onto the screen with little needed effort. On top of that, it sounded better than any other song of it's nature, so obviously I stopped the work on my song.

Why am I so hung up on this computer music thing and why don't I just get a life, you might ask? Well, I could easily say "Why are YOU?", but instead I'll just explain something. Whenever I was depressed, I'd think up a song that suited my mood. When I broke up with a girlfriend, I'd start thinking up new songs in my head just to keep my mind off the break-up. If I was stressed out at all with life, I'd start thinking of a new tune. It's just natural that when I heard about tracking on a computer, I'd be more than happy to take the songs from my head and recreate them digitally. I could play and replay a song over and over and others could listen too. I've always had music to fall back on during rough times. To suddenly realize that I can't get my thoughts down on paper without the help of music theory really gets to me. Hell, maybe theory has nothing to do with it. Perhaps I'm just naturally slower at composing and modifying music than specific others are. Maybe even if I DID know music theory, I'd still have trouble getting the songs from my head onto paper. Who knows? Is it too late for me to start on theory now? Some say yes, others say no.

The question still remains, is theory really THAT important when it comes to tracking? I personally doubt that I'll ever find out. There will be people who prove that it comes in handy, and then again, there will be others who prove otherwise. Whichever the case may be, there will always be someone, namely me, who deeply regrets never having taken a theory lesson in his life.

-Written by Future Assassin for TraxWeekly

"Workable Leads" by Necros - added May 16th, 2005

(Originally published in TraxWeekly #12 on June 1st, 1995.)

A lot of people seem to be able to make half-decent melodies with synth leads, but many lack that final realistic-solo touch, simply because they fail to add effects. When you listen to a live guitar/synth/sax performance, it is very rare for the performer to simply play a series of notes without any articulation whatsoever. Tracked music suffers from this problem particularly so because it is inherently sample-based. When you play a series of notes, it sounds even worse, because the sample remains static. The trick, then, to making a good lead is to add some of the little things that 'real' solo-ists do when playing a lead/solo.

Let's take a look at a small example solo, and see how it can be made better.

(Note from Novus: the notation Necros uses here is actually for Scream Tracker 3! The commands in the effects column may be different in the particular tracking program that you use, but Necros does a pretty good job of explaining what the heck he's doing, so you should be able to translate it for your favorite program. For more info, RTFM.)

000 | E-4 01 .. ... |
001 | ... .. .. ... |
002 | G-4 01 .. ... |
003 | A-4 01 .. ... |
004 | B-4 01 .. ... |
005 | E-5 01 .. ... |
006 | ... .. .. ... |
007 | ... .. .. ... |
008 | G-5 01 .. ... |
009 | F#5 01 .. ... |
010 | B-4 01 .. ... |
011 | C-5 01 .. ... |
012 | ... .. .. ... |
013 | ... .. .. ... |
014 | A-4 01 .. ... |
015 | ... .. .. ... |
016 | etc... .. ... |

Here we do a simple lead progression, using the normal tempo (A06 / F06). This is suggestive of a E minor chord pad in back, so that's what we would probably use on other tracks to fill out the solo. However, here we are solely concentrating on the lead line.

The first thing we notice is that all the notes are played with no effects whatsoever. This should be remedied.

The first thing we will do is add a bit of volume adjustment. It is very rare, in these days of modern instruments, and velocity-sensitive keyboards, for someone to play a solo where each note is at the EXACT same volume. Most often a performer will try to highlight certain held notes by making them a bit louder than the rest. Fast runs are usually either rising or falling volume, in order to lead up to the end of the run, usually a held note.

000 | E-4 01 40 ... |
001 | ... .. .. ... |
002 | G-4 01 40 ... |
003 | A-4 01 50 ... |
004 | B-4 01 60 ... |
005 | E-5 01 64 ... |
006 | ... .. .. ... |
007 | ... .. .. ... |
008 | G-5 01 60 ... |
009 | F#5 01 50 ... |
010 | B-4 01 40 ... |
011 | C-5 01 40 ... |
012 | ... .. 50 ... |
013 | ... .. 64 ... |
014 | A-4 01 50 ... |
015 | ... .. .. ... |
016 | etc... .. ... |

Ok, here is the version with volumes added. We start the lead note at a fairly loud volume, and try to ramp it up to the high E-5, which we play at full (64) volume. You don't have to get too accurate on the volumes you choose, I usually just use multiples of 10 to make the tracking quick. Note that, because of the sensitivities of the human ear, high notes tend to sound much louder than low notes of equal volume. Therefore make sure you don't play high notes too loudly unless on an accent, and always make sure to accent your low notes if you want them to stand out.

On line 011, notice how we rise the volume after the hold here, so that we get a rising effect. We could have done the same thing with a D20 volume slide effect, but it's a good idea to leave the effect row open for later. It sounds almost the same, anyways :)

000 | E-4 01 40 ... |
001 | ... .. .. ... |
002 | G-4 01 40 GF0 |
003 | A-4 01 50 GF0 |
004 | B-4 01 60 GF0 |
005 | E-5 01 64 ... |
006 | ... .. .. ... |
007 | ... .. .. ... |
008 | G-5 01 60 ... |
009 | F#5 01 50 G20 |
010 | B-4 01 40 ... |
011 | C-5 01 40 G06 |
012 | ... .. 50 GF0 |
013 | ... .. 64 ... |
014 | A-4 01 50 ... |
015 | ... .. .. ... |
016 | etc... .. ... |

Another nice technique for leads is the Portamento to Note command. This essentially switches from note to note without re-starting the sample. It sounds very nice for leads which resonate or change over time, since the entire lead is allowed to play over different notes.

We use the Gxx (Port.to Note) effect with speed F0, which is practically instant. This way we avoid the notes being pitch bended too slowly, which sounds bad in a lead, unless you are only moving a short distance. In general, use GF0 for jumps of more than 3 half-steps, and use smaller amounts (we used G20 and G06) for smaller or even single note portamentos. Notice how we used a G06->GF0 for the B-4 to C-5 slide about 2/3 of the way down. This is because a slow slide sounds nice for that small of a jump, but we put a GF0 command at the end of the slide to make sure that it makes it all the way up to the next note, since some players tend to play Gxx effects too slowly.

000 | E-4 01 40 ... |
001 | ... .. .. ... |
002 | G-4 01 40 GF0 |
003 | A-4 01 50 GF0 |
004 | B-4 01 60 GF0 |
005 | E-5 01 64 ... |
006 | ... .. .. HA1 |
007 | ... .. .. HA2 |
008 | G-5 01 60 ... |
009 | F#5 01 50 G20 |
010 | B-4 01 40 ... |
011 | C-5 01 40 G06 |
012 | ... .. 50 GF0 |
013 | ... .. 64 HA2 |
014 | A-4 01 50 ... |
015 | ... .. .. ... |
016 | etc... .. ... |

Next, we finish off the run by adding a select amount of vibrato. Vibrato is great on long sustained notes for adding a bit of melodic depth. Yet, be careful not to overdo it. Realistic vibrato, in a medium-tempo lead, starts out very soft and gradually fades in. Only in very up-tempo hard-hitting tunes can you get away with really wild vibrato.

Here in line 007, our effect of choice is HAx, which is a medium speed vibrato. We use speeds 1 and 2, so that the vibrato doesn't become the main focus of attention.

Make sure, if you sustain a very long note, and use Hxx, to either drop the vibrato back down to zero or fade out the note eventually. Nothing sounds worse than a heavily oscillating note which just refuses to die... :)

Well, that's about all that this track needs to sound great. I would strongly suggest an echo on this track though, since any good lead needs a bit of effect processing to sound really good. Copy the track, and use ALT-J to drop the volume to at LEAST 1/3 of the original (22). I hate leads where people copy the track, move it down, and forget to drop the volume. It makes the lead very muddy and cluttered to have a delay volume that loud. Also make sure that your echo is moved down a proper amount of rows. For this track, I would suggest two, or maybe even three rows.

The usual rule is, at speed 06, use two or three rows of spacing on the echo track; at speed 03, use four or six rows. This ensures that the delay is synched to the beat you are using.

Another cute trick that you may want to use is the Drop-Off, made infamous by Purple Motion and other siner junkies. When your lead hits a big high note, sustain it, vibrato it, and at the VERY END, do a downward porta combined with a downward volume slide. It's very tricky to get this to sound right, but it's great if it works, and sounds phenomenal with an echo track.

000 | B-4 01 50 ... | Here's an example of the technique.
001 | C-5 01 64 G05 | <- hit the big note, sliding upwards to it
002 | ... .. .. GF0 |
003 | ... .. .. HA1 | <- bring in the vibrato
004 | ... .. .. HA2 | <- deepen it
005 | ... .. .. H00 | <- continue it
006 | ... .. .. HA1 | <- lessen it
007 | ... .. 50 E04 | <- start downward fall-off
008 | ... .. 30 E06 | <- fall-off rate increases, lower volume
009 | ... .. 10 E10 | <- very low volume but high fall-off rate
010 | ... .. 00 ... | <- kill note

Make sure to start the fall-off slowly, and make it increasingly greater as the note dies away.

-Written by Necros for TraxWeekly

"Modal and Chord Theory" by Leviathan - added May 15th, 2005

(Originally published in TraxWeekly #1 on March 12th, 1995.)

While on IRC, I discovered that a lot of the self-taught musicians out there were really only composing by ear, and didn't know much about chord theory, and even fewer knew about modal theory. These two aspects of theory, especially chord theory, are extremely important to good composing, and they make it a lot easier.

Here is the modal chart:

(Note from Novus: read these lines from left-to-right.)

1  2  3  4  5  6  7
C  D  E  F  G  A  B
C#  D#  F  F#  G#  A#  C
D  E  F#  G  A  B  C#
D#  F  G  G#  A#  C  D
E  F#  G#  A  B  C#  D#
F  G  A  A#  C  D  E
F#  G#  A#  B  C#  D#  F
G  A  B  C  D  E  F#
G#  A#  C  C#  D#  F  G
A  B  C#  D  E  F#  G#
A#  C  D  D#  F  G  A
B  C#  D#  E  F#  G#  A#

Major Modes:
Ionian: No Change
Lydian: 4#
Mixolydian: 7b
Minor Modes:
Dorian: 3b,7b
Phyrgian: 2b,3b,6b,7b
Aeolian: 3b,6b,7b
Diminished Mode:
Locrian: 2b,3b,5b,6b,7b

(Note from Novus: Leviathan used a lower-case "b" to represent a flat symbol. A flat is the opposite of a sharp: a half-step down instead of a half-step up. For example, C-sharp (C#) and D-flat (Db) are actually the same note. It's a half-step up from C and a half-step down from D. Every tracking program I've ever seen shows all flats as their equivalent sharps instead for simplicity, which means that if you want to do a D-flat (Db), it shows on the screen as a C-sharp (C#) instead.)

(Another note from Novus: in TraxWeekly #3, Kneebiter wrote in with some slight corrections to Leviathan's modes chart, and my research shows that Kneebiter was correct. The mode chart shown here is Leviathan's chart with Kneebiter's corrections.)

You might want to print that out for reference. Basically, all of the scales listed at top are the Ionian, or standard mode. These are the scales you usually learn first. Below that are the other modes, listed by category. They show changes you need to make to the scales listed at the top to get the other modes. For example, Dorian is shown as 3b,7b. To get C dorian, take C D E F G A B (from the top) and flatten the 3rd and 7th notes, to get C D D# F G A A#.

You may ask, "What's the point? How can I use modes?" Well, if you make all the chords in a chord progression in the same mode (that is, all of the notes of all the chords stick to one scale) then it sounds much better, and writing leads is easier since you only have to use notes from the mode to make it fit. A well-planned chord progression that fits a mode eliminates the "trial-and-error" style lead writing that a lot of us need to do when we have an odd chord progression.

Now on the chord theory:

These chords are all taken from the ionian modes listed in the top diagram of the modal chart:

Major: 1,3,5
Minor: 1,3b,5
Add2: 1,2,3,5
Sus2: 1,2,5
Sus4: 1,4,5
Fifth: 1,5
Minor7th: 1,3b,5,7b
Major7th: 1,3,5,7
Diminished: 1,3b,5b

For example, to get a Cminor7th, you take the 1st, flatted 3rd, 5th, and flatted 7th note from C D E F G A B, or C D# G A#.

Experiment with the chords and get to know their sound. Each chord has a different tone and feel to it, and can be used to give a song different emotions.

-Written by Leviathan for TraxWeekly