1. Introduction

2. The RhythmMister interface

3. Sound playback on Macintosh and PC systems

4. Groove tutorial

5. For further reading


RhythmMister, the funtabulous new musical thing from A19, allows you to not only create your own rhythms (called 'riffs' in hip-RhythmMister-speak), but also choose the sounds ('samples') with which these rhythms will be played.

(Could it be more funky?

Well, we'll just have to wait for RhythmMister's big brother, RhetoricalMister, for the answer to that one. In the meantime, we continue...)

In case you're wondering about the gender-specific nature of RhythmMister's name, by the way, it is a tip-o-the-hat to the Sanskrit proverb which reads,

(translation: 'Melody is the mother, Rhythm is the father'.)

In any event, to right the balance, we're currently hard at work on MelodyMadame, RhythmMister's sequel. MelodyMadame will focus primarily on melody and harmony. But that will be then, and this is now.

So we continue...

RhythmMister Interface

RhythmMister has three sections:

  1. The Player, where you create your riffs.
  2. The Library of Samples, where you select samples to use in your riffs.
  3. The Riff Database, where you can store and retrieve your riffs.

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The Player

When you first start RhythmMister (called 'firing it up' in hip-Mr.-RhythmMister-speak), you will be in the section known as the Player. There will be a big thing staring you in the face that looks somewhat like this:

This is RhythmMister's rhythm-matrix. The rhythm-matrix has 8 rows and 64 columns, and is filled with tiny boxes. Each row is called a track. On the left side of the rhythm-matrix, you will notice a column of numbers from 1 to 8. These numbers refer to the tracks, so that the top-most row is called track 1, and the bottom-most row is called track 8.

Now, if you move your mouse pointer over one of the tiny boxes and click once, a check will appear in that box. Click on a box that already has a check in it, and the check will be erased.

What fun! You can make all kinds of neat pictures!

Don't get too excited (called 'gettin nutty' in hip-Mr.-RhythmMister-speak), 'tho, because there's more fun to be had.

If you look up in the top-right corner of the screen, you will notice a row of buttons like this:

If you click on the PLAY button (which looks like a triangle pointing right), RhythmMister will 'play' the rhythm-matrix. It does this by starting from the left-most column of the matrix, and then sliding right one column at a time until it gets to the right-most column, and which point it jumps back to the left-most column and starts the whole process again. There is a white line that sweeps through the matrix from left to right which shows you where RhythmMister currently 'is'.

The two important points in all this are that:

  1. RhythmMister moves from column to column in rhythm, which is to say that it takes the same amount of time for it to move between any two adjacent columns
  2. If there is a check in the column RhythmMister is currently 'on', then it will play the sample associated with the track that has the check.

The functions of the other buttons in this row are (reading from left to right):

Samples: Takes you to the Library of Samples screen, where you can select samples to use in your riff.

Riffs: Takes you to the Riff Database screen, where you can load, save, and delete riffs.

(Not-filled-in square): Clears the rhythm-matrix of all checkboxes. Only hit this button if you are really, truly, and actively disliking your current riff - there is no undo feature yet!

(Filled-in square): Stop playback.

So, basically, you add and remove checkboxes from the rhythm-matrix, and then listen to the riff, and then add and remove checkboxes from the rhythm-matrix, and then listen again, until you are satisfied that you have a Top-10 single.

What, you want more controls???

Here they come!


There are eight of these displays, one for each track. You can tell which track corresponds to each display by the large blue number (in this example, the display is showing information about track 1). The top-most part of the display shows the name of the sample that is linked to this track (in this example, the sample linked with track 1 is vc_01). You can hear what the sample sounds like by clicking on its name. The volume level at which the sample will be played back is indicated by the little yellow number (in this example, the volume level is 8); you can change this volume by moving the yellow bar up or down.


This display indicates the tempo (speed) at which your riff will play.

The range of allowable tempos is from 1 to 16, with lower numbers corresponding to faster tempos.

To change the tempo of the song, click and hold the yellow bar and then move it up or down.

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Library of Samples

Each track in the player has a sample associated with it. In the Library of Samples, you can select which samples to use. This is what the Library of Samples looks like. All cool and boxy, yes?

In the current demo version of RhythmMister, you have 60 samples to work with. You can hear each one by moving the mouse pointer over a sample name (the name will glow when you are on it) and then clicking once.

If you hear a sample you want to use in your current riff, you will need to link it to a track in the player. You can see which sample is currently associated with each player track by reading down the list of sample names at the left side of the screen; the top-most name (in this example, vc_01) is the name of the sample associated with track 1, and the bottom-most name (in this example, bd_01) is the name of the sample associated with track 8. (You can also click on the sample names to hear what they sound like).

If you want to change a sample, you will first have to make the track active. Do this by clicking on the red button beside the sample name. The button will then turn green. It is now safe to cross the street.

If you click on one of the 60 samples now, the sample you click on will become associated with the active track - replacing the sample previously associated with the track.

When you want to return to the player, click on the Return to player button.

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Riff Database

In the Riff Database, you can save, load, and delete riffs that you are working on. The demo version of RhythmMister also comes with some prefabricated riffs (composed by the resident groovies here at A19) for your listening enjoyment.

There are two displays here. The top-most display (the one that reads, Choose a riff from the list below) is where you can enter a name for your riff when you save it for the first time (when you click on the Save button, this box will read Enter riff name here. Click inside the box and then enter the name you want to give to the saved riff). You have to enter a name, or else RhythmMister will not save your riff. There will be no negotiating with RhythmMister on this point.

The bottom-most display (the one with all the riff names) lists all the riffs currently saved in the riff database. To select one of these riffs (so that you can load or delete it), simply click on the name. C'est facile, oui?

We don't really have to explain these, do we?

Load is load, Save is save, Delete is delete.

Make sure that you enter a riff name when you're saving,
and make sure that you have selected a riff before clicking on Load or Delete.

Another important thing to remember is that your riffs are being saved locally only (i.e., only on the machine you are currently on), so if you switch machines, *poof* like magic, no more riffs.

If you want to go to the Library of Samples or the Player, then click on the respective buttons.

No more need be said (or so I say...Subway to Venus).

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Sound playback (part I)

On the subject of sound playback, we say:

Mac 1, PC 0

(or, to be accurate)

Mac 8, PC 1 1/2

Sound playback (part II)

As there are more stringent restrictions when playing sounds through a PC than there are on a Mac (due to the minimum number of sound channels available), the same riff will sound different on each of these platforms. In fact, it will likely sound different on different PCs.

In a nutshell (where we spend a great deal of our time), sounds will be cut-off earlier on a PC than on a Mac, so PC-based riffs will sound more staccato, and the Mac more legato.

This will be especially noticeable with riffs that use vocal samples.

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Groove tutorial


It can mean many things.

From some perspectives, the passing of time can measure progress, evolution, the attainment of goals. Time can also be cyclical, however - the coming and going of the seasons, the rising and setting of the sun and moon, the passing of each generation through birth, life, and death.

Some rhythms are a fundamental part of being alive; heartbeats define a form of physiological time. Then, there is the cognitive perception of time - time flies when you're having fun, but sometimes a moment can feel like eternity.

Okay - but what does this have to do with making groovy riffs?

Patience, grasshopper.

Although music has a long history, around 1150 AD an interesting event occurred in Western music circles - and that was the introduction of the concept of 'evenly distributed metrical units'.

Hmmm? Evenly distributed metrical units?

Ever marched in a parade, or seen a Martin-Charlie-Emilio Sheen movie where someone had to go through Boot Camp? Someone is always yelling out, LEFT! RIGHT! LEFT! RIGHT!

Or, in simple musical notation:

1 - 2 - 1 - 2

If you keep counting this out, stressing the 1 and de-emphasizing the 2, you get the basic marching beat.

A fundamental aspect of how music defines time (even creates it) is through this concept of beat. In the West, beats are usually regular, although they can change within the boundaries of one piece of music. Beat can be slow, where the fundamental pulse is measured in seconds (as in Japanese gagaku court music), or they can be fast, like an Irish jig.

Although much of Western music revolves around regular, even collections of beats whose durations are written as (1 + 1 + 1 + 1) (1 + 1 + 1 + 1), this is not the case in many other cultures, where beats such as (1 + 2 + 2 + 2) (1 + 2 + 2 + 2) - Indian folk music - and (2 + 2 + 3 + 2 + 2 + 2 + 3) - Balkan folk music - are typical.

So, once again we ask, 'What does this have to do with making groovies?'

Okay. You've probably noticed that the rhythm-matrix is divided up by yellow and blue lines. You can use these lines to orient yourself in the matrix - let's call each yellow line a bar division and each blue line a beat. Load in some of the sample patterns in the Riff Database and examine how the tracks in these riffs repeat certain patterns. Often, these patterns will repeat once every bar.

Probably the best way to get a feel for creating riffs is to start by modifying some of the riffs that RhythmMister comes with. Here are the top 10 ways to experiment with the different levels of coolness in the Player:

  1. One by one, change the sample associated with each of the tracks, without changing the position of the checkboxes in the rhythm-matrix. See how this changes the 'feel' of the rhythm.
  2. Lower the volumes of some of the samples, while keeping the other samples high.
  3. Change the tempo of the riff.
  4. See how 'long' sounds (some samples, like the vocal samples, last longer than other samples) are changed if they are repeated several times in a row. Machine-gun vocal stylings are RhythmMister's claim-to-fame!
  5. Make a soft sound play one column before the main pulse of the riff to increase the feeling of tension - to foreshadow the main pulse.
  6. Fill the subdivisions of the beat with 'quick' sounds played at lower volumes.
  7. Cover yourself in grape jelly, and see how this affects your perception of time.
  8. Listen to the radio, or some pre-recorded tunes, and try to duplicate their rhythms in RhythmMister.
  9. Experiment with accents on the first, second, third, or fourth beats of a bar, and then try placing accents in-between the beats. Playing with track volumes can have a big impact on where the accent will be felt in any given riff.
  10. Tap along with RhythmMister, and experiment with some rhythmic ideas before entering them on the rhythm-matrix. This will help you develop your ability to 'hear' the rhythms in your head.


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For further reading

Copland, Aaron. (1957). What To Listen For In Music (revised edition). NY: McGraw-Hill.

Hall, Edward T. (1983). The Dance Of Life: The Other Dimension of Time. NY: Doubleday.

Reck, David. (1977). Music Of The Whole Earth. NY: Charles Scribner's Sons.

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