The first thing you probably want to do with Synfire is to get more phrases into it to work with. The quickest way to do this is to import them from MIDI files. 

This video shows an older version of Synfire. The current version looks different and is more streamlined and advanced today, but the functionality shown here is still available.

First off, you need to keep in mind that import is not a means for loading current work into Synfire for further editing. Synfire isn't a MIDI file editor. It is a tool to help you create new music from phrases, which you can also create by importing MIDI files. Since figures are relative to harmony, which is estimated from uncertain and incomplete information, imported phrases will never recreate exactly the original music as in the file (unless you import as static pitches, which is pointless, except in a few cases outlined below). But this is a non-issue, since you want to create something new, right?


This tutorial discusses a few basics first, then explains these typical workflows step by step:

  1. Importing files, skim them, take them to pieces and collect parts for later re-use. This could be your own previous work, or any MIDI file from other sources.
  2. Importing a song as  a whole (not recommended).
  3. Importing a melody to find chords for (harmonize) and build a song around.
  4. Importing a track that follows harmony (e.g. a bass line).
  5. Importing a number of drum patterns into a library.
  6. Importing a number of instrumental phrases into a library, each from a separate file.

Below we will have a look at each of these workflows, step by step. First however, please read the next section "Basics", which is important for all workflows in common.



Import Settings

This is the import dialog window that pops up when you open a MIDI file.


Select a Track For Import

By ticking the box Import Track, or double-clicking on the track name, you select a track for import. If the track contains melodies, chords, or other tonal content (as opposed to percussion, or drums), please tick the box Harmonic Content. This makes Synfire consider the track for harmonic analysis, even if you do not import it. The more harmonic content, the better your results.


If you don't want the imported phrases to dynamically follow harmony, you can import them as static pitches. Tick the box Static Pitches on All Tracks. This is only useful for drum patterns and other static MIDI notes that must not change while you are editing your arrangement. Usually, you will want the opposite: Have phrases intelligently adapt to the changing harmony of your arrangement.

Assign a Sound to Each Track

In order to monitor a MIDI file's contents and for Synfire to know how to interpret the notes inside, you must verify each track is assigned an appropriate sound before you can start the import. 


Import requires you have a Global Rack open with sufficient sounds to render the MIDI file. Unless you are using a basic multi-timbral General MIDI (GM) synth, which will do it for most files, we recommend you set up a global rack with sounds needed to render the MIDI files you want to import. Save the rack together with the MIDI files. This way you easily find a working rack next time, when you want to import more similar files.

Synfire attempts to assign sounds to all tracks automatically where possible. If the file complies with the GM standard, enabling the option General MIDI Standard is all you need to do. Otherwise you will need to check each track and assign a sound manually, if necessary. 

Select a Figure Recognition Preset

Synfire analyzes each track's contents and suggests a suitable preset for figure recognition. Provided there is sufficient information contained in the file (which is the case for GM compliant files), this default selection usually works fine. 


Even if you disabled Create Figures, this setting will be retained for the instrument in the imported arrangement. Note how the settings are identical to those of the Take parameter, which is used for both import and recording. In fact, import and recording are very similar procedures. Find more on recording in the Recording tutorial.



1 - Importing a MIDI File And Harvesting Phrases

Arrangements with a long duration and/or many instruments can take a very long time to process. Especially when they contain lots of rhythmic polyphony. You can save a lot of time, if you import a song as static pitches first and do the figure recognition later after the import, track by track. Or you postpone figure recognition altogether, until after all phrases are nicely collected in a library.

As most songs consist of repeated elements, you will only want to import parts that are unique and interesting and skip the rest. You can conveniently collect those interesting parts in the library that's embedded with the imported arrangement: Select a span of the phrase and do Command-E (Windows: Ctrl-E), short for Extract

When done with harvesting the song, you can open a copy of the embedded library in a standalone editor and refine them for later re-use (Cogwheel menu: Edit a Copy).

This video shows an overview of this very efficient workflow:

In short:

  1. From any arrange window, go to File >> Import >> Standard MIDI File (will create a new arrangement)
  2. Import a MIDI file with Static Pitches on All Tracks (keeping takes)
  3. Collect interesting and unique parts into the embedded library (Command-E)
  4. Open a standalone editor on a copy of the embedded library (Edit a Copy)
  5. Edit and refine phrases in the library, drag to other libraries, etc

How you label and organize your libraries is entirely your choice and depends on musical style and your creative habits. Only make sure your libraries don't grow beyond 1000 items each, or roughly 25 MB. Bigger files load slowly and are no longer comfortable to browse and handle.

For insights on how to edit and refine your imported phrases, please see the tutorial Optimizing Figures.

Tip: You need not keep the imported arrangements around for long after you completely dismantled them and added all interesting content to your libraries. Since importing without figure recognition is fast, you can redo it at any time, if you needed so in the future.

Tip: To make a standalone library appear in the menu of the embedded library view, you need to move its file to the folder where these libraries reside. You can find out where with "Reveal in Finder" (or: "Show in Explorer") from the embedded library view's menu.


2 - Importing a MIDI File As a Whole

If you want to import an entire song unchanged, e.g. to work on it and then re-export it, this is not recommended, as it might not meet your expectations. 

Keep in mind that, since MIDI files do not contain the required information, figure recognition is only an approximation.  As a result, the imported song will always sound slightly different (and with music, "slightly" can make a huge difference!). 

Therefore we strongly recommend you import and select the unique parts of a MIDI file, as explained above, and use these phrases to build a new song with Synfire and then keep it your main editor where you make all subsequent changes. Moving a song back and forth between a DAW and Synfire is cumbersome and possibly frustrating, since so much information is lost on the way. There are better ways for linking your DAW to Synfire (Find more on this topic).

If you still want to import an entire song, be sure you import the tracks using the preset Input for Harmonizer (static), if you you don't want Synfire to modify their contents. This will keep all notes unchanged. However, these notes will also no longer automatically follow the chord changes of your song.


3 - Importing a Melody to Harmonize

In your existing arrangement, select the instrument you want to import to. Then go to Phrase >> Import and select the MIDI file and track you want to load into the arrangement. 

If you want to import a melody and keep it 100% unchanged, select Input for Harmonizer (static) as the figure recognition preset. This will keep all notes untouched, so your melody is not interpreted, but taken as is. No other settings need to be made. Start the import and find your Take and Figure parameters set for the instrument in your arrangement. Switch to the Harmonizer tab and select this instrument for input. Proceed as explained in the Harmonizer tutorial.

Tip: The imported static notes may or may not work with the sound of your instrument. Since all notes are static, the only option you have to adjust for a different pitch range is to transpose the Figure by octaves (12 steps), or use the Transpose parameter respectively.

If you want to import a phrase that is supposed to follow your song's harmony, select a suitable preset for figure recognition and Synfire will create a Figure. You may need to refine it, as shown in the tutorial Optimizing Figures.


4 - Importing a Track That Follows Harmony

This works as above, but here you need to import the desired track as an instrumental phrase. On the import dialog

  1. Select the desired preset for figure recognition
  2. Select the sound of your arrangement's instrument, if not already pre-selected (spyglass icon)
  3. Tick Create Figures, Keep Takes and Recognize Keys, Chords and Scales

Start the import and find your Take and Figure parameters set for the instrument in your arrangement. If the results need fixing, you can repeat the figure recognition by selecting the Take parameter and tweaking recognition settings. Find more on figure recognition in the Recording tutorial.

For insights on how to edit and refine your imported phrases, please see the tutorial Optimizing Figures.


Importing Into a Library

In order to import one or more MIDI files into a new or existing library, you need to open the standalone library window (File >> New >> Library, or: File >> Open).

Embedded Library

This image shows the embedded library, which is a part of the arrange window. Note that importing into this embedded library is not possible. You need to open a standlone library editor, as shown in the next paragraph.


Standalone Library Editor


Running File >> Import >> Standard MIDI File from the standalone library editor, Synfire will create one phrase pool for each track in the file. 

If you untick Create Phrase Pools, the entire track's content is imported into a single phrase, not split into smaller chunks. Unless you want to import drum patterns (see below), be sure to enable Recognize Keys, Chords and Scales, so subsequent figure recognition will have the required harmony information available to work on. As with the import of entire files, you need not enable Create Figures from the beginning, but can postpone this until final editing in the library editor. Be sure to enable Keep Takes, though. Take is the input needed for figure recognition.

For insights on how to edit and refine your imported phrases, please see the tutorial Optimizing Figures.

Tip: Batch import of multiple files with instrumental phrases only makes sense, if the files comply to the GM standard. That is, Synfire will know which sounds (instruments) to select automatically without user interaction. Otherwise you need to import each file individually to verify sound selection. 


5 - Batch Importing Drum Patterns

Before you start, copy or move all MIDI files you want to import in one batch into a single folder on your hard drive. Open a new standalone library with File >> New >> Library. Batch import of multiple files is only possible with the standalone library editor. 

Open the import dialog with File >> Import >> Standard MIDI File. Select the first file you want to import. Be sure you make the following settings:

  1. Tick the box Static Pitches on All Tracks. Individual adjustments per track are not necessary.
  2. If the files contain multiple tracks for individual drum and percussion instruments, tick the box Merge All Tracks Into One
  3. Tick Import All Files in Directory. This will make Synfire import the selected file and all other files in that folder.
  4. Tick Put in a Single Folder, if you want all MIDI files imported into a single folder of the library. Otherwise each file will go into its own folder.
  5. If the file is GM compatible, tick General MIDI Standard
  6. Select how you want to label each phrase pool. 
  7. Tick Create Figures
  8. Tick Create Phrase Pools and select the average pattern length ("Pool Chunks" in older versions of Synfire). This will slice the drum tracks into patterns of that length. Identical patterns are skipped.
  9. Disable Keep Takes. You don't need them, as all figures contain identical, static notes.
  10. Disable Recognize Keys, Chords and Scales. If you don't, Synfire may be trying forever to figure out harmony.

Now start the import and edit the imported phrase pools as needed.

Tip: Be sure you don't import more than a few hundred patterns into a single library. Large libraries are no longer comfortable to browse and handle.


6 - Batch Importing Other MIDI Files

While importing large numbers of MIDI files may sound tempting, batch import is only useful for files that are very closely related, sharing a common structure, e.g. drum patterns, bass lines, solos.

If you import a batch of different songs, you will not only wait a long time for the import to finish, you will also end up with a library full of seemingly random snippets that aren't well prepared for composing.

Keep in mind that, even if you imported many files in one go, you still need to visit the imported phrases in the library to select and refine them. You can as well do that selection immediately during import of each file, as explained above (Importing a MIDI File And Harvesting Phrases). This avoids clunky mass data from cluttering your libraries, only bloating them beyond reasonable sizes. 

Class, Not Mass

You don't need thousands of phrases, which are only marginally different. Only a few high quality and distinct phrases can be enough to build a dozen unique songs! Also keep in mind that Harmony and Interpretation will add a lot of extra variation anyway.


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