Mindset for tracking/composing

If this is the wrong category for this question i hope the Admin moves it.

I’m curious.
What kind of mindset do people that commonly compare in trackers have?

I mean, I have for many years (26) jammed away on my keys until something worth using came up. With trackers i find that i need to compose/imagine more stuff in my head before programming it down.
I’m not used to this and it’s kind of stopping me atm, as i usually try and Not think when I’m composing.
I’m sure i can adapt though, just need another kind of mindset for it all.
Thing is, i LOVE the fast workflow. I LOVE the instant overview you have of many tracks at once. I’m totally in for life now. No way back. :smile:

When i just put some random notes in, i can usually fiddle around with them until i like what i hear. It’s way different than how i have worked in the past though. However, new ideas, stuff I’ve never thought about, easily comes out this way. Compared to jamming, where i tend to just walk the same old paths over and over again.
It however might take a while to make it sound “human”, and not like random data. Hard to imagine where notes should be to get that “flow” you get while jamming. I’m sure it’s a learning process though.

I know i can record myself jamming away in Renoise too, but even if i will use this feature, I’m trying to get away from it a bit. New path ahead…

How do you approach your composition in Renoise?


Still curious! :smile:

Until I met Renoise I was a mouse composer. Drawing in the notes. Nothing wrong with that. Except it always felt like I was disconnected from what was happening on screen. Using my mechanical computer keyboard to control Renoise feels somewhat more tactile than using the mouse. Probably because it is slightly more involved with the shortcuts and all.

Anyway, for most my tracks I like my instruments and phrases/patterns to extend over the bar line. Or do poly metric stuff. I don’t think Renoise is as intuitive for doing that as doing that in a piano roll. And i dislike using the phrase-editor. So that was always a bit of struggle. But i learned to do it.

Recently I had to do a thing in a piano roll again…and I love that you can see the contours of the melody easily. Sure makes it easier to compose a counter line. But my brain is now so adapted to Renoise that I felt like a fish out of water in piano roll land. Looking at the distance between the notes it was hard to imagine what that would sound like. But reading notes names next to each other gives me a pretty good idea. Not to mention that horizontally scrolling notes have become really weird to me.

Different DAWs have their own strengths and weaknesses. And that has an influence on what I try to get out of that particular daw. But running into those limitations can be a fun challenge.

I love Renoise. It does many things right for me. It thought me to appreciate samples and the way you can manipulate them. Never did anything like that in any other DAW.

Interesting read, thank you for sharing!

Sounds to me you already did tracking before, but with the pianoroll.

I like that you can “hear” the notes easier with the tracker paradigm now, compared to the roll.
I’m not used to reading notes, I’m rather a “image thinker”, but I’m sure i can learn to look at notes as images of keys eventually.

I gotta say, i too share the new appreciation for samples. To the point that i have dug up my old sample cds again to use samples of synths. It actually works! There’s not always the need of the “real” thing.


I’ve been going through a similar process of adaptation to Renoise (started like 6 months ago). I was a Ableton Live and Bitwig Studio user for a while with a Akai APC Key 25, so I got used to record stuff on the go and then just quantize it manually. That gave me very interesting results, even though I’m not a keyboard player and my piano skills are lacking.

However, I felt that these DAWs aren’t very suited for the kind of drum programming I’m interested in. Placing drum notes in the piano roll didn’t work for me, specially because changing pitch and velocity, reversing sounds, chopping, etc in this view is an annoying and quite slow process (even more in Ableton Live, imo). I also don’t like working with audio files directly in the arrangement view. It’s too slow. The tracker view just makes so much more sense regarding this stuff - specially because of the sample commands such as dxx, uxx, rxx, etc… The workflow is incredibly faster, and it gets even faster the more you learn shortkeys (which I’m still trying to memorize).

I definitely recommend checking the Noodletrap and Auto Clone Pattern tools. They’ve been helping me a lot when it comes to recording stuff with a midi keyboard (which I’m slowing start to abandon, the more I learn the Renoise shortkeys), just like I did in previous DAWs. I usually make relatively long patterns with manually programmed drums and then use these tools to record pads, leads, etc. It’s not perfect, but it’s enough for me.

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I share you thoughts on drum-programming. I too walked that path. Though, one can do a lot of with the keyboard in arrange view in Live these days, its still way easier and faster to work in Renoise for this.
I tend to have a similar approach for basslines as well, which i not always want to have as audio. So again, Renoise makes this easier.

Thank you, happy to share.

I had to think about that for a minute. But I think you’re right, I probably was treating my piano roll kinda like a tracker.

Yup, it takes some getting used to. But I’m confident you’ll get used to it the more you use it. It took me a couple of months before I started to ‘get’ Renoise. Playing around with the demo, get frustrated and move back to Sonar. Eventually I decided to just buy Renoise so I would force myself to compose at least one tune in it. That was 4 years ago this December.

You know what was funny after not using a piano roll for 4 years? Thinking about the tune felt different. Like I’m using a different part of my brain. I’ve used Sonar and other Cakewalk programs before it for over 10 years, maybe more. So those shot cuts are still in my fingers without thinking about it. And I’m making similar melodies and drum patters as I would in Renoise. So I think it is the visual difference between piano roll and a tracker layout. It feels peculiar.

@untilde I hear ya. My friend makes this utterly bizarre complex breakcore / mathcore inside Reaper. And I have no idea how she does that. It seems like quite a struggle to make Reaper do this. Have a listen. This does not sound like something you expect to come from Reaper:

I’ve recommended Renoise to her numerous times. Even offered to buy her a license. But she needs that piano roll to do her thing.

Nearly 4 years in and my Renoise is pretty much just stock. I hardly have any tools installed. But these seem quite interesting. I’ll give them a whirl. Thanks for the links.


Damn, that sound is crazy! I would never guess it was made on Reaper, seriously. I’ll definitely listen to more stuff later.

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I’ve never had a problem with jamming away in Renoise. You can set the patterns to loop while you come up with new parts. Eventually, if you end up using a bunch of VST’s, you’ll have latency problems, but personally I’ve never run into any CPU issues while in the “live jamming/composing” phase.

That said, it’s not my favorite way to write. I have folders and folders of two or four bar loops that were written in that way, and I never go back to finish them. I just take some time every once in a while to go through and delete them, actually.

It’s better for me to write a song on guitar so I know the chords and everything, and then once I’ve got the basic parts programmed in, I can jam a bit to come up with some extra sounds here and there. It’s what works best for me, although it’s less exciting than jamming my way into happy accidents.

I agree, jamming leads to endless clips of happy accidents. I have 300 of them!
I’ve always adored those who can compose like you mention. Making up some chords and then program a song out of that.
Never really figured out today last part myself, I’ve more or less relied on my happy accidents to come through. (which they don’t anymore)
I do strongly believe that’s the way to go though!
To quickly sketch up a base, and then tweak on that rather than making one sound/part perfect with 80% of the song missing.
It’s also the hardest part in a way. Letting go, accepting it possibly sounding like crap at first, staying focused on the song.

Last night I switched on my hardware synths again, which I do way too little. Now it is important to know that I have the rhythmical timing of a window rattling in the wind. So I might hit few notes in time by accident… but most of them are tempo rubato at best.

The thing that struck me is how different my melodies are when I’m playing on a piano keyboard opposed to entering them via a computer keyboard. Everything is a lot slower due to lack of skill. But I use a lot more passing notes and play a lot more trills than I ever program. Passing notes I only program when avoiding perfect 4ths and 5ths. But when playing / improvising on a piano keyboard the passing notes are part of my flow.

Not sure if I would have noticed that radical difference in approach if it wasn’t for this thread. Now that I know I should probably do something with this new insight

I am definitely guilty of that. So much so that my tune becomes centered around the bass. That is usually the basis of my base. So end up making the bass melody way too interesting / attention seeking so the “lead line” has to play the supporting role. :upside_down_face:

Oh yes, that period where it is no longer just a cool idea. And nowhere near a full fledged track. Those are hard and scary times where doubt can creep in for sure. Many of my tunes have died there. Some of those haunt me. :ghost:

Same here, endless amounts of ideas that I will never revisit. But the idea of deleting them terrifies me. “what if I run out of ideas. what if something reminds of that one idea i had 6 years ago.” none of which happened. Or when I did go back it wasn’t as good as I remembered. So deleting them isn’t such a bad thing…still I can’t bring myself to do it. How do you it?

Yep, she has a crazy sound alright! Got word that her counterclockwise debut EP will come out on a Japanese label early next year. I’ve heard it already and it has some more crazy stuff on there. Stuff that makes you go “how on earth did you do that!?” and the answer is always “in Reaper”. :exploding_head:


Just a note saying i enjoyed your input. I get the feeling i’m not alone with these thoughts. :smiley:
I have opened up to the idea of not quitting my jamming around completely, but try my best on a combination of jamming/programming.

It helped me a bit to rearrange my studio. Now that i don’t have my midi key in front of me, but to the side, it helps on many levels.

Front/straight ahead - with the screen in front of me and computer keys it’s easy to get comfortable and program away - which leads to more actual production of a song.

Side - i face away from the screen so i don’t subconsciously get affected of what i see but only what i hear. More focused on the actual melodies and such. Perfect for jamming away while looking out the window.
But, as it’s a bit cumbersome and not as comfortable as the first option, i tend to stear more towards the actual work instead of playing around. Which is the goal i have in mind right now. (been playing around for 12 years already, with NO producing done at all)


I currently make beats just for fun and relxation - so I do not have any pro tips, but:

Try not to bend or break a sound in-to what you think it should ‘be’ - just listen to it - as it is, first. Then work from that.

That is - just enjoy the sample or the patch - as it is - even lo fi or slightly glitchy - with some minimal fx, can sound - fresh and exciting.

There is already enough same-same music on the planet - why make more of that…

I heard this advice from an interview with a famus pop star some long time ago - and that helped me alot to just chill and enjoy the process.

Is it true, that dub-step was discovered by accident when a jungle tracks tempo was mis-diled - and it went wabwabwaaaaw instead of tsdhtstsdh?


Like I wrote before - I was started with FT2 and now I am in Renoise
For me, compare to other audio programs, Renoise (like FT2) is like piece of paper and pencil. I have an idea. I heard some piece of song / melody somewhere and its interesting for me.
All I need is grab the Renoise. Put sample into Sampler and put two bottles next to me. One with cola, if I want drink and other bottle empty - if I don’t want drink.
Everything is easy and simple. Nothing disturb me or push me away from idea, like it’s happen in FL, for example.
Yes, I agree. FL is powerful software but it’s a 5-king difficult for me. To create simple idea, you must have scientist skill. While I looking for correct tool, I totally forgot, why I looking for it… All I can do in FL, is making some primitive beats.
I am not (am not?) a professional music maker. From all music instruments I can professionally play Tetris and Solitare.

So that’s why I like Renoise. It’s just for me. Instead of alcohol I use this software for fun. Just for me!


The Zen of Renoise


a bottle without cola or a bottle without water? :wink:

Well, you’ll adapt for sure. But you still can jamming on keys and then write it down, I see no problem here.

About imagining stuff in head - this is complicated. I’m trying to find good mood/riff/theme/melody/background just by trying in without anything in my head before. I have dozens of songs that contains only 1-4 patterns with just an idea and few VST. Then sometimes I load them and listen again after some time and if I find them interesting - I decide to continue them.

Writing down theme from my head was not always the best experience. Something that supposed to be interesting melody appears to be just bad when I wrote it down. Or too complicated (like if I need few male and female good vocalist who are not deaf and can sing). Sometimes (just sometimes) I have some theme in my mind - mostly some simply or funny one, and after long time I decide to made a song from that. It doesn’t always turn out to be a good idea because song may be completely different from the trends and expectations of the audience, but I do that anyway from time to time (rarely though). Small example - I had that theme in my mind that is completely not something people (or myself) do normally, but it stick to my mind so hard that I just must do that. And I don’t care that nobody writes like that and only small percentage of people may like it (someone even says that it reminds music from old czech cartoon). In this case idea was to begin with something very simple and then trying to develop it into something more complex.

So most of the time a melody invented in the shower or in the car, or when you want to whistle something when you play guitar, is not worth transferring to the notes. Jamming, or just working on something directly in Renoise (or other DAW) gives better results.

It’s still discussion about music with any theme. These days lot of music have no themes at all and are just complex background.


Something that informed me about my mindset when I use trackers - since I’ve used them since forever and didn’t have a handle on relatively where I am with respect to other musicians - was a collaboration I did for a game jam with a friend who comes from more of a rock guitar and keys background. We were working in Famitracker, not Renoise, but the writing workflow ended up being a kind of blend of things:

  1. My friend came up with some of the core harmonic and melodic structures
  2. I filled in detailed arrangements, added the effects and programmed the instruments
  3. Where we got stuck, I had brought my trusty Casio SA-46 and we both jammed parts over it: “we could do something like this”. At the start my friend was concerned about the percussion parts since he wanted to use a Latin rhythm but wasn’t super familiar with them, and I was like, “we could just recreate one of the preset rhythms on the Casio”. We didn’t end up doing that, but a toy keyboard, I’ve found, is a morale booster as well as a tool.

But the real differences in our approach came out in the details. I tend to rush towards brute forcing the harmonic structure and piling on polyphony as an extension of rhythm, a way of directing energy and building dynamics, so I would step through row by row slowly, picking away at the note data, which my friend got annoyed by: “play it from the start of the pattern”, he would say repeatedly. He was way more calculated about this aspect.

And then there was a moment where he got up for a restroom break and I was like “oh, I could put in this delay-fx part that sounds like something out of Mega Man” so by the time he came back I had an entirely new pattern in that ignored whatever his intended structure had been - surprise! He got excited and changed around the pattern ordering to make it less jarring, and then later figured out a part for the triangle oscillator - like, we switched roles just on that pattern and he was doing the arrangement tasks. And then in the evening I got back home and was like, “I’ll do a quick rework of the whole track to have a title theme”. The end result, plus SFX and vocals, can be heard in this demo video: https://youtu.be/fSnYfmH6Tl0

And I think that experience really set me on the road towards respecting the song structure a little more, because it felt like stone soup: the starting point was theoretically solid and grounded in functional harmony but grated my ears, and then it got better from there as we went back and forth, pulling it in different directions and adding the bits that broke more rules.

The tracker is a place that’s pretty agnostic to the notes being played - automation and timbrality is presented on an equal footing with note data, and the notes may not convey anything meaningful if they are used to trigger a loop - and so I now see it as a kind of space where you can “add the magic” that makes the music sound deliberately crafted in the small. At the entry level it’s a fancy drum machine, and then it gets more elaborate from there as you start programming in a more articulated, polished sound.


A panio roll is good for visualising melodies but is not that efficient for drums (lack of effects built in).

So it might seem harder at first to compose melodies with renoise, but you can always jam on your midi keyboard until you find something and enter the notes afterwards, or record and quantize (or not). There is the chord tool for a no brainer chord approach. But for sure you won’t have the flexibility of the Multi-track piano roll of bitwig for example.

My biggest issue with renoise is not having a visualisation of the whole track like you would in a daw with arranger view. The ability to see at one glance sample start and end, midi clips, automation can be nice. If you have a long “atmosphere” sample for example, you will only see the OFF in the tracker view but not visual cue of how long this sample actually is.

But we are in the process of doing artistic stuff, not engineering. So having those “limitations” is not necessary a bad thing.