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The Interpretation Parameter

Author juergen

This content is for an older version of Synfire. The current version is more streamlined and advanced, but most of the functionality shown here still exist.

The parameter "Interpretation" plays an important role at the conversion of the figures of an instrument (the parameter "Figure") into MIDI notes. It is responsible for the voice leading. It is able to resolve harmonic conflicts between the instruments automatically and thereby it can avoid unwanted dissonances. But "Interpretation" means more than that.

The algorithms of that parameter also recognize, what musical function a note has. For instance, a note can be interpreted as a chord note or as a nonchord tone ( such as a transitional note or an auxiliary note. By the interpretation the pitch of each note is automatically adjusted according to its musical function.

Special about the parameter "Interpretation" is: Although it's a very important parameter, you usually don't need to deal with it. It is active by default and in most situations you can get by just with the default settings. You have to engage in its settings only if you are not satisfied with the musical results or if you want to create special effects.

It should be noted that the effects of the parameter "Interpretation" are not visible in the figures. So if you play around with the settings, you have to listen carefully to evaluate the results.

Since the parameter "Interpretation" is part of the Artificial Intelligence features of Synfire, the effects which are produced by this parameter are not always easy to predict. Therefore, the video that is presented here is only intended to give an overall impression of the general principle of operation at some test examples. 


The video is structured in the following parts:

1. (Up to 05:00): Introduction of the Parameter and its general way of operation. It is shown how it modifies pitches to avoid dissonances.

2. (05:30 to 07:45): Demonstrates, how a simple figure this may be varied, when individual notes are interpreted as nonchord notes such as intermediate notes or transitional notes. 

3. (07:45 to 10:15): Demonstrates the effect of the checkbox "Cooperative". If this option is turned on, the individual instruments "cooperate" in a way that dissonances can be avoided.

4. (10:45 to 12:50) The different settings for "Strategy".

5. Some of the settings under the "Form" tab.  

  • (13:15 to 14:40): "Priority" determines how the pitch relations between neighbouring figure segments are interpretated.
  • (14:40 to 19:15): "Range" determines how notes that exceed the playing range (as it is defined in Synfire's Audio&Midi setup) should be handled.
  • (19:20 to 19:50): Auto Chords. If this option is on, the instrument plays sustained chords instead of figures.

6. (19:55 to the end of the video): Example of use of the "Strategy" settings to create subtle voice leading variations at certain points of an arrangement.

The video does not address every available setting option. For instance, the "Auto-Split" and "Chord" options are not covered. 



Fri, 2013-03-29 - 10:29 Permalink

Thanks Juergen. To paraphrase Mr Eno "if a parameter can be set, it should be set".


It would be good if it were possible to drag the parameter to the "default for all" and change them all at the same time.

Fri, 2013-03-29 - 14:11 Permalink

Hi all

Juergen;Thanks for your great effort to make this detailed,deep and thorough tutorial.

Many of the descriptions of the Synfire´s manual are very ambiguous,abstract.

Especially for people that we find it hard to understand the English.

You have an amazing ability to us understand what's hard to understand through your tutorials.

Examples are a vehicle much more powerful than words to understand things and you are wise in this art.

The only thing I disagree after watching the video is the concept that dissonance sounds ¨horrible¨.

I think they sound ¨different¨.

Music, like painting, colors, fashion .... are matters of personal taste.

In the West our ears are educated to say that the different sounds horrible.

In classical music there are examples of musicians who have broken this limitation:shostakovich,stravinsky,bartok,prokofiev…..

Indian traditional music(Hindustani and Carnatic) Arabic and Turkish traditional music use intervals less than the semitone(microtonal music) and for me and for many people sounds beautiful.Is melodic music,not harmonic but sounds magical.

Thanks Juergen 



Fri, 2013-03-29 - 15:19 Permalink

The only thing I disagree after watching the video is the concept that dissonance sounds ¨horrible¨.

I think they sound ¨different¨.

Music, like painting, colors, fashion .... are matters of personal taste.


Yes of course, you are right. I didn't mean that dissonances generally sound poor. It depends on the piece. Dissonances sound mostly bad if the whole piece is actually composed consonant and thus the dissonances don't fit into the concept of the piece. Then dissonant notes will simply sound wrong. That was the case in the example in this video.


It is important that you don't use dissonances haphazardly. The application requires a bit of planning, so it does not sound wrong.

Fri, 2013-03-29 - 22:19 Permalink

Thank you, Juergen ... your videos are wonderful.


I would love to see a similar study on Variation. It seems an even more 'mysterious' tool that could be used more powerfully if it were clear how it worked ... similarly to your illustration on 'pitch' and 'intervals' here.


The main thing that is not clear to me is 'Cooperative.' Cooperative with what? The harmony or other instruments?


'Cooperative' suggests to me that there must be a hierarchy of priority among the instruments such that one (or more) is dominant and others bend to 'cooperate' with it.


If I am correct, then it would be good to know what establishes this hierarchy of priority. Could it be the order of instruments in the arrangement with the first instrument being dominant? Or, unchecking 'cooperative' on one instrument so all others bend to it?


I'd love to know an answer to this.


Thanks again.



Fri, 2013-03-29 - 23:33 Permalink

The main thing that is not clear to me is 'Cooperative.' Cooperative with what? The harmony or other instruments?

According to the manual it means cooperative with other instruments. Your question about the hierarchy of priority is interesting, but right now I can not answer that. I'd have to do more tests. The order of the instruments in the arrangement certainly has no impact.

Sat, 2013-03-30 - 00:47 Permalink

Your question about the hierarchy of priority is interesting, but right now I can not answer that.


What! No 'instant gratification' for me?


Yes, it is a good question I think ... and I must suppose some additional 'hidden power' when we know the answer.


If you imagine a piano sonata, the orchestra cooperates with the piano, but the piano doesn't cooperate with the orchestra. There must be AI prototyping principles/ strategies encoded in SF.


It is possible that this is addressed in the 'monophonic melody/ solo/ improvisational' instrument parameter. Perhaps if a single instrument is set to this, then all others 'cooperate' harmonically to support this 'lead' instrument?


But the manual definition of the instruments cooperating with other instruments seems inadequate ... there must be organizing principles in order to cooperate.



Sun, 2022-01-23 - 06:28 Permalink

The videos seem to be no longer viewable (YT private). How can I watch them?

Sun, 2022-01-23 - 11:13 Permalink

Sorry, now that video (and some others) is available again.

Please note that the video is quite old and the user interface of Synfire has largely changed since then. That's probably why I had set these videos to "Private". I considered them obsolete. But maybe they are still a little helpful. At least as long as Synfire 2 is not yet released.

Mon, 2022-02-14 - 22:08 Permalink

I think the interpretation parameter is absolutely key to making Synfire work.

the scale setting is great for non-western music. As you move towards the strong setting, it increasingly picks notes that facilitate counterpoint and harmony in the classical (European) sense.

did you know you can set the interpretation for an entire container, thereby not having to set interpretation for each instrument within it.