Creating Great Content for Synthesia

A little extra goes a long way.

Synthesia works with any MIDI file, but if you follow a couple quick and easy steps, you'll be able to take advantage of a few extra features to really make your songs shine!

Tips for preparing your MIDI file

Hands should be split using a different track, channel, or instrument.

Synthesia will split anything that differs in those three respects (track, channel, or instrument) into separate parts on the song setup screen. So, if you'd like to make sure the left and right hand parts in your song are able to be played independently, you just need to vary at least one of those things.

Some editors don't make adjusting the track or channel very easy, so I'll be making a tool available soon (hopefully as part of the 0.8.5 release of Synthesia) that will be a simple visual MIDI editor designed specifically to aid splitting tracks in two. In the meantime, changing the instrument is a viable alternative. The first few GM instruments are all piano variations. Bright Acoustic Piano is usually similar enough sounding to Acoustic Grand Piano that you could use them to "split" the left and right hand parts.

Quantize your recordings.

The MIDI file format stores notes at an incredibly high time resolution: microseconds. When you record your songs live into your MIDI editor by playing your MIDI instrument, if you don't have it set up do at least a little quantization -- that is, "snapping" your notes to the nearest half or quarter beat -- their start and end durations won't match nicely with the measure or other notes. A chord might sound like each note starts simultaneously, but they'll each really start at different microseconds.

Having a nice "clean" set of MIDI events is important in Synthesia for a few reasons:

If you enter your notes into your MIDI editor by hand, you're already all set. Otherwise, if you record live from a MIDI instrument, most MIDI editors can quantize either during the recording process or afterward. There are generally options you can adjust to control the "strength" of the quantization. Be careful not to set it too strong or it might do something like snap a run of 32nd notes into pairs of 16th notes.

Telling Synthesia which parts belong to the left and right hand

Set both parts using the small 'hand' icon in the advanced view of the song setup screen.

The simple song settings view where a user is able to choose which part they want to play and the mode -- melody, rhythm, or recital -- is a great time-savings and convenience. With the new song progression metric introduced in 0.8.3 that works with the simple view to track how far a user has progressed in a song, there is even more motivation to set your song up to work with the simple view.

If your song only has one or two tracks (along with any amount of percussion), Synthesia should already be able to guess which hand is which. There is no work to do. Your song should appear using the simple view to begin with.

Otherwise, if your song contains a few other background tracks, you'll have to tell Synthesia which one or two are the important ones that the user will be interested in. On the advanced view (which should appear by default if you've got more than two tracks), there is a small hand icon near the instrument name for each track. Click that and assign which hand that part belongs to. Once you've assigned both a "Left Hand" and "Right Hand" (or a single "Both"), the next time you enter that screen it should pop up in the simple view instead. You can test this by tapping escape and selecting your song again.

Adding finger hints

Press N to start editing, drag from notes to fingers to add hints.

TIP: Use the 1-5 and 6-0 keys on your keyboard to assign hints to the left or right hand quickly!

Finger hints are a great way to help beginners learn the correct hand positions and movements required to play a song. You can add finger hints to notes directly during song playback. Just click the finger hint toolbar icon (or press the default keyboard shortcut: N) and you're ready to add them. Place your mouse over a note, then click and drag to one of the fingers that appear near the note. Release over the finger and you're done.

Like finger hints in sheet music, it's best to keep them minimal, only showing when a hand position or finger changes for a particular note. If you're building a lesson for more advanced students you can even leave hints off for common motions or repeated sections where they should already know the fingering.

Introducing the Synthesia Metadata Editor

Your one-stop shop for enhancing the experience of your songs in Synthesia.

The Synthesia Metadata Editor is an official, supported, free tool that makes taking advantage of everything Synthesia offers as easy as possible. The next few sections all refer to features available in the metadata editor.

Download the Synthesia Metadata Editor

Rather than modify your MIDI files in any way, Synthesia takes a different approach: it checks for an accompanying ".synthesia" file that contains extra information useful to Synthesia. This file lets you add important details to your songs like the composer's name or copyright information. More than that, it's a portable container to capture the finger hints and hand parts you've already entered for a song and make it easy to share with others.

The Synthesia Metadata Editor helps you create .synthesia files. So long as a .synthesia file is in a folder being watched by Synthesia's song library it will be loaded automatically.

Adding a title and extended information that is shown when a song begins

Drag songs into the editor, fill out the information boxes.

When you first open the metadata editor, you should notice a large, empty Songs box. Find your MIDI files in Windows Explorer (or OS X's Finder), highlight them, and drag them to the song box. Their names should appear in the list.

Now you can start adding details. Selecting a song should enable all the boxes on the right. Here is a brief description of each:

TIP: Hold shift to select more than one song at a time. Now bulk-editing things like the composer's name is much faster.
TIP: Most metadata fields are searchable text. When a user types something in the song library search box, it will search things like composer and tags too.

Of course everything here is optional. If you're only interested in adding something like finger hints, leave these boxes blank and skip to the next section.

Importing finger hints and hand parts

Choose "Import data from Synthesia" from the metadata editor File menu.

When most users assign hands to parts or enter their own finger hints, they don't intend to share them with anyone else. For convenience, those things are saved completely automatically in the Synthesia data directory. This doesn't make it very easy to share them.

The solution is that the metadata editor can extract the data entered locally into your own copy of Synthesia and save it in a .synthesia file that can accompany your MIDI files. This is tremendously easier to share and is a nice portable solution.

To do this, follow these steps:

  1. Be sure all the songs you want hints and hands for are already in the metadata editor song list.
  2. Click the top-left corner File menu and pick the "Import data from Synthesia..." menu item.
  3. In the dialog that appears, make sure both checkboxes are selected and click OK.
  4. A message should appear showing how many of each type of data was imported. Hopefully this matches the number of songs in your list.
  5. Click through a few songs in the song list to make sure the "Fingers" and "Hands" boxes contain data.

Now when you save your metadata file, it will also contain that information.

Song groups: provide the best song library experience

Use the "Grouping" button in the metadata editor to arrange your songs into logical groupings

You may have noticed the blue "G Major Music Theory" and "Ash's Exercises" groups in the Synthesia song library. You can create groups for your own song sets, too! Here's how:

TIP: Hold shift and click to multi-select songs to be added to groups. (Groups cannot be multi-selected.)
  1. Be sure all the songs you want to assign to groups are already in the metadata editor song list.
  2. Click the "Grouping..." button.
  3. Right-click in the large, empty "Song Groups" box and choose "Create new top-level group".
  4. Now type a name for the highest-level group that will be displayed in Synthesia's song library. This group is analogous to the G Major set or Ash's Exercises. It will appear when users click the first "Songs" entry from the breadcrumb trail at the top of the screen. A good choice might be your organization's name or a name to describe all of your lesson packs.
  5. If you want to organize further, continue right-clicking groups and creating groups underneath them.
  6. Once you've got the structure laid out the way you want, you can add songs to each by selecting it on the left, finding the songs on the right you'd like to add to that group, and clicking the "< Add" button.

Groups are also optional but give users a nice centralized place to find your content. Once you (or your users) have saved your .synthesia metadata file in a folder that Synthesia's song library watches, your groups should appear automatically.

Share your songs easily with synthesia:// URLs

Use the link generator tool to quickly and easily create links to your songs.

After the first time a user runs Synthesia 0.8.3 or later, it will register itself on their system as the handler for synthesia:// links. All the major web browsers know how to interpret this registration so that when a user clicks a synthesia:// link it will launch Synthesia automatically, download the song from your website, and be ready to play immediately. This is a great way to offer your users an incredibly convenient way to play your songs.

Here is an example of a synthesia:// link in action. Click the following to open Synthesia automatically: Bach Chorale.

The fastest way to get started is to jump over to the Synthesia Song Link Generator page and enter the (typical http) location to your MIDI file on your server. Then just fill out the rest of the options and copy the link.

For now synthesia:// URLs only support direct MIDI file downloads. In the future they will also support .synthesia metadata files so you'll be able to share entire groups of songs in a single click.