MilkyTracker Tutorial

MilkyTracker [docs] is a chiptune music app for Linux, Mac and Windows. Playing and editing xm, s3m or mod files e.g. from modarchive is a good way to explore tracking [bassoon].

After apt-get install milkytracker, start the app and be greeted by a somewhat overwhelming screen.

MilkyTracker start screen
MilkyTracker start screen

Apart from the command section top left, we have instruments/samples on the top right, a live waveform bar in the middle, and the tracks at the bottom. Hit Sub two times to get from 8 to 4 channels, then hit Config→Misc and set Edit mode to MilkyTracker because all hotkeys will depend on it. Also use Config→Layout and to the right, choose a Custom pixel resolution of your liking.

1 Your First Note

Ok, so how do we make sound? We load a wav sample (e.g. say "wow" into a recorder app) by going top-right to Samples→Load and naming instrument 1 in the panel left to it accordingly. Or we add another instrument with Ins→+ and, left in the command section, press Smp. Ed. (Ctrl+Alt+S) aka sample editor, which opens at the bottom.

Sample Editor
MilkyTracker sample editor

RMB into the empty space, and choose New with 64 samples to create our "sound canvas" with time (x-axis) and volume (y-axis). More samples will stretch the wave and thus make the sound lower. Then RMB again to Generators→Sine with 1 period. Lastly, in the bottom middle, choose Forward to repeat the tone from the beginning.

To actually play a tone, press one of Y or the keys right from it, until M: This our cdefgab, and the half tones are on SD and GHJ in the row above, mirroring what a piano does. Note: German keyboard.

Piano to MilkyTracker key mapping
Piano to MilkyTracker key mapping; base image courtesy of Wikipedia

Also try Bi-dir instead of Forward, to go back and forth instead of repeat, and notice how the sound becomes "dirtier". And for a third instrument, instead of RMB→Generators→Sine, you could try Generators→Sawtooth for a more percussive sound, maybe with 1024 samples and 10 periods. Then press the Rng all button aka select all, plus RMB→Advanced→Volume Fade from 100 to 10.

To further refine the sound, you could press the Ins. Ed. (Ctrl+Alt+I) button for the instrument editor. Activate checkbox On, then button Add for more control points to the left, then move them by mouse for fine-grained volume shaping. And Ctrl+Alt+X to get back to the main screen.

2 Your First Track

Now that we can make a tone, next up is composing. At the top, hit Shrink two times to get a manageable first recording time. Pressing Rec (Space) makes the gray cursor bar turn red, and from now on every tone should go into the first track. Key 1 records as "stop tone", and cursor keys navigate elsewhere for larger pauses. Shift+cursor selects tones for delete (Del), copy (Ctrl+C) and paste (Ctrl+V), with Shift+Alt+cursor to extend the selection.

Track Editor
MilkyTracker track editor

Hit Space again to get out of editing, Play Sng (Enter) to start replay, and Stop (Esc) to stop; alternatively Shift+Space for tone-by-tone debugging. The middle bar shows waveforms, and you can LMB on any of them to (un)mute, useful for listening to track decomposition. While editing, you can also Tab through the tracks and Shift+M (un)mute them.

Now to the notes: Something like "C-5 2" means C on octave 5 (on 0..7, reachable by F1-F8), with instrument 2 (cyan), here "sine64" in the instrument panel top-middle. Each detail can be edited: Note down (Shift+F1) or up (Shift+F2) by a half tone, as well as instrument down (Ctrl+Shift+ß, right of 0) or up (Ctrl+Shift+', two right of 0).

Combined with copy&paste, you can duplicate the first track, then change the instrument or octave (12x note up or down), or transpose to the fifth like in a power chord (7x note up/down). Tricks like these can make the sound appear "fuller" in our ears.

3 Effects

You might have noticed the columns are not quite full: We are missing volume and effects [png] yet. Volume (green) goes into the column after instrument and effect (pink+yellow) in the column after that.

Volume and Effects
MilkyTracker volume and effects

Effects [docs] are e.g. 3 for "fade from previous tone" [docs] and have parameters, e.g. 05 for fade speed. Note that I removed the stop tone so there is actually a tone to fade from. Volume is a number from 0 to 40, with default 40, and can be set either as absolute number or +/-, with +F the maximum increase; also usable as volume effect [docs].

The (muted) track 2 shows a copy of most of track 1, but with different instrument and transposed by +7 half tones. At the end, a second effect is 4 for vibrato [docs], with the parameters 55 defining weak or strong vibrato.

4 Sheets

A musical piece contains a lot of sheets (patterns), and so far we have had only one sheet of 0x10 or 16 notes, with the default 0x40 notes. At the top left is the sheet management, where you see sheet 0 with id 00. Use Ins to add another entry 1 and +/- to define which sheet will be played there.

Sheets aka Patterns
MilkyTracker sheets aka patterns

For editing, use the top middle Patn. +/- buttons to change which sheet you are on. Within the sheet in edit mode, press F9-F12 to jump to first to fourth quarter of a sheet, and Shift+F9-F12 to play from that quarter.

And if you are this far, consult the docs again to see what else is possible...


MilkyTracker is quite a fun way to create or just listen to music while letting the notes dance in your eyeballs. Have fun, and happy composing!

EOF (Jun:2022)