RP-8 User Guide

RP-8 is a Pico-8 demake of Propellerhead Software’s ReBirth RB-338. Like the original, it provides two synth voices, drums, pattern-based sequencing, effects, a pattern mode for immediate hands-on control, and a song mode for recording music. Unlike the original, the audio output is crunchy 8 bit 5.5kHz mono sound, and the user interface is rendered in 16 colors at a chunky 128x128 resolution.

Thanks for trying RP-8, and let me know if you have any thoughts!To download RP-8, check out the RP-8 page on Itch. For feedback, get in touch with me on Twitter, or check out the Itch page for other methods.

Getting Started

Your First Song

This section will walk you through writing a simple song in RP-8: everything you need to know to make your own music. There are two main things you’ll learn: how to compose music in pattern mode, and how to arrange it in song mode. This workflow closely resembles how I begin new tracks in RP-8, and it might be a good starting point for you too.

If you have never used ReBirth before, I highly recommend you follow this tutorial, as it introduces several important ideas that are foundational to how RP-8 works. If you have used ReBirth, it’s still probably a good idea to at least skim the tutorial, since RP-8 does not function identically to ReBirth.

Let’s begin!

Pattern Mode: Composing and Experimenting

In RP-8, you compose music by writing patterns, which are sequences of up to 16 notes that you can play back in various orders to make songs. RP-8 starts up in pattern mode, which gives you direct control over every aspect of what RP-8 does, and is perfect for basic composition tasks and experimenting with sound design.

Make A Drum Pattern

Drums are never a bad place to start, so let’s make a drum pattern. The drum machine is at the bottom of the screen and looks like this:

The drum machine

At the bottom of the drum machine are the step buttons, which control what kind of sound (if any) plays on each step. Click a few step buttons - you’ll see that they light up - then click the play button at the top-left of the screen. You should hear a bass drum playing the steps that you clicked.

Different drum step colors

You may have noticed that the buttons can light up in different colors. For the drum machine, red and yellow are different variations of the sound, and the intensity of the light indicates the volume of the hit (brighter means louder). You can click a button multiple times to cycle through the options.

You have probably also noticed that the BD button on the drum machine is lit. There are 5 other similar buttons, each representing a different drum. If you click one, you’ll see that the steps get cleared: this is because you’re now editing a different drum in the same pattern.

TASK: Make a drum pattern using all 6 drums.

Make A Synth Pattern

You should be all set for drums at this point, at least for one bar. How about a melody or a bassline? For this you’ll probably want to use one of the two synths, which look like this:

A synth

Like the drum machine, these have step buttons, but below the step buttons are note controls, which control what pitch the synth plays at each step. You can drag up and down on the note controls to change which note plays on each step.

TASK: Try making a one-bar melody.

Like the drum machine, the step buttons light up in different colors, but the meaning of the red and yellow colors is different. Red steps play notes as normal, but yellow steps are slides. Slide notes are longer and allow you to smoothly slide between pitch on adjacent steps. Dimmer steps are played normally, brighter steps are accented.RP-8 tries to approximate the accent behavior of the TB-303, but it’s a loose resemblance at best.

Name and Save Your Song

Now that you’ve done some work, it’s probably good to save your song so you don’t lose it.

TASK: Press n to bring up the song naming screen. Enter a name for your song, and then press s to save it. You’ll see that the song has been saved to your desktop.

You can also press p to quicksave your song to the clipboard. This is useful for quickly checkpointing your work. RP-8 does not have undo, so use this feature often, especially before you make changes you’re not sure about! You can press o to quickload from the clipboard.

Check Out the Integrated Help

By now you have probably noticed that RP-8 uses hotkeys for many features. You can press h at any point to view a help screen with a list of hotkeys (and the URL to this user guide).

The RP-8 help screen

You can also press t in the main view to toggle tooltips on and off.

TASK: Try turning on tooltips and checking out some of the control labels.

Change the Sound

Ok, let’s get back to making music. You’ve made a couple of loops, but you might find that the overall sound is a little … uninspiring. The good news is that you can make it better! RP-8 is packed with sound design controls.

All of RP-8’s sound design controls, highlighted

Both the synths and the drum machines have tons of knobs that affect the character of the sounds that they make, and the section at the top of the screen lets you mix and apply effects to these sounds. Use can use tooltips for more information on what each knob does.

TASK: Play around with the sound and dial in something you like!

Make More Patterns

RP-8 supports multiple patterns to allow for variations and longer phrases. You can switch between patterns using the pattern and bank selector buttons:

Bank selector and pattern buttons. The current pattern is highlighted.

There 8 banks (A-H) of 6 patterns each. You can drag on the bank selector to change banks, and click the number buttons to pick a pattern in the bank. If RP-8 is paused, the pattern will change instantly, if it is playing, then the pattern will change at the beginning of the next bar.

If you get lost and can’t figure out which bank the current pattern is in, you can press b at any time to jump each bank selector to the current pattern’s bank.

Pattern copy (left) and paste (right) buttons

If you want to make a new variation of a pattern, you can use the pattern copy/paste buttons on the synths and the drum machine to duplicate a pattern to a new slot for further editing. You can copy patterns between the two synths, but not between the synths and the drum machine.

TASK: Make a few more patterns: maybe a bassline on one synth, a few bars worth of melody on the other synth, and one or two drum loop variations on the drum machine.

If you’re having fun - keep going! It’ll be helpful to be fairly comfortable in pattern mode before moving on to arrangement in song mode.

Song Mode: Arranging and Automating

Sometimes one bar of music just isn’t enough. That’s when it’s time for song mode, which allows you to arrange multiple bars of music and record control movements. You can switch into song mode using the mode selector button, or by pressing m.

Pattern/song mode selector button

The most important change from song mode to pattern mode is that you are no longer in direct control of the sound design or of which patterns are playing.Note that this does not include pattern contents (notes and steps). These are shared with pattern mode, and changing them still works exactly like pattern mode.

Instead, the RP-8 sequencer controls these, and any changes you make will be lost until you take special steps to record them. The sections below explain three different recording methods you can use.

Don’t worry if this doesn’t make total sense yet. Let’s start arranging our song, and everything should become clearer in the process.

Choose A Loop Length

In song mode, you’ll find song position and loop controls at the top of the screen. Each control’s value is measured in bars:

Transport controls (from left): song position, loop enable, loop start, loop length. Drag the numbers to change them.

These controls are essential in song mode. Not only do these controls let you choose which part of the song you are play back, but the loop controls also act as a “selection” in the song: there are many operations in RP-8 that perform an operation only on the bars contained in the current loop.

TASK: Since we are starting a new song, let’s set our loop to start at bar 1It’s okay to start at bar 1 even if we think we might want to add an introduction, there are ways to move bars around later.

and be either 4 or 8 bars long.If you forget which control is loop start and which is loop length, you can turn on tooltips with t for a reminder.

Copy A Loop From Pattern Mode

You’ve probably noticed that, in song mode, all your sound edits from pattern mode have been lost. Instead of recreating them manually, let’s copy them over. You’ll that there are copy/paste buttons not just on each device, but also near the top of the screen:

Sequence copy (top) and paste (bottom) buttons

We can use these buttons to copy information about all the sound controls.

TASK: Switch back to pattern mode (by clicking the mode button or pressing m) and click the copy button, then switch back to song mode, and click the paste button. Your loop should now be filled with the same control configuration you had in pattern mode!

Recording, 3 Ways

We’re now going to use three different recording methods to build up some changes and structure in your loop.

Change the Sound (Again)

This section demonstrates the first recording method: change-and-commit.

Try playing your new loop. (Make sure the loop enable control is turned on.) Now try changing some of the controls. You’ll notice that your changes look like they stay in effect … until you pause playback. Then all your changes are reset. You may also have noticed that the dark red record button next to the play button turns yellow when you start making changes. What’s going on here?

Record button states: disabled (pattern mode), no changes, uncommitted changes, recording

When you start making changes, RP-8 notices that you’ve departed from the recorded sequence, and turns the record light yellow to warn you. Any controls you have changed will stay where you left them, but any controls you have not touched will stay under sequencer control. When you pause playback, RP-8 puts all controls back under sequencer control and resets their values.

But what if you like your changes?

Change discard (left) and commit (right) buttons

Whenver you have uncommitted changes (i.e. the record button is yellow) the change discard/commit buttons will light up. The discard button clears your changes, just like stopping playback.If RP-8 is playing, control values will reset at the start of the next bar, if it is paused, they will reset immediately.

The commit button, on the other hand, will keep your changes: each control you have modified will now keep its current position everywhere in your loop.But only its current position - if you want more flexible recording, you’ll have to read on.

TASK: Try making some more changes to the sound in your loop. Then use the loop controls to select one or two bars within your loop, and change the sound only in those bars. Set your loop back to its original length again and listen to your new control automation!

Automate the Sound

This section demonstrates the second recording method: realtime recording.

The technique above is easy, but only lets you make changes in full-bar chunks. If you want a nice filter sweep, you’ll have to use realtime recording instead. When you turn on record mode, by clicking the record button or pressing r, the record button will light up bright red, and RP-8 will begin immediately recording all control changes you make to the song.

If looping is enabled, RP-8 will forget about all changed controls each time playback loops. This allows you to record automation for multiple controls in the same recording session, and means that you don’t have to quickly hit stop to avoid recording over the start of your loop.

When you pause playback, RP-8 will automatically exit record mode. You can also exit record mode by clicking the record button.

TASK: Press p to quicksave your song in case something goes wrong or you record something you don’t mean to.

TASK: Go to the beginning of your loop, enable recording, and hit play. Move the synth filter cutoff knobs. Each time the song loops is a new take, so keep trying as long as you like!

Sequence Your Patterns

This section demonstrates the third recording method: step recording.

We’re now going to record some pattern changes in your loop. You could do this using either of the previous two methods, but for pattern recording you often want to set patterns across many bars quickly. This is easy to do with step recording. When record mode is active, any changed controls are written to any bar you visit, even when paused. This means that you can enable recording, make some changes, and step forward or backward in the song to write those changes to each new bar.

TASK: Press p to quicksave.

TASK: Sequence all the pattern changes you want in your loop! Go to the first bar of your loop and enter record mode. Then select the patterns you want to play on that bar. Then use the the . key to move one bar forward and select the patterns you want to play on that bar. If you want to keep the same patterns for multiple bars, you can just skip through them, you do not need to click the pattern buttons again.You can also use the mouse to drag the song position control to navigate, but you need to be careful. Every control modified in the current recording session will be written to every bar you visit! You can easily overwrite many bars worth of sequencer data if you’re not careful.

If you make a mistake, you can backtrack with the , key to fix it, or if you make a big mistake, press o to quickload your last checkpoint.

Congratulations! You now have a fully-sequenced loop. Let’s finish this all off by copying your loop and making a variation.

Duplicate Your Loop

To make major changes to the arrangement, we need to use the song editing tools near the top of the screen. Two of these, copy and paste, should be familiar from earlier, since we used them to initialize our loop from patern mode.

Song edit buttons, clockwise from top left: copy, cut, insert, paste

All of these features use the current loop as their active selection.

TASK: Click the copy button to copy the current loop. Then click the insert button, which will insert the copied bars into the current loop, moving the current loop and all later bars back to make space. You have just created a duplicate of the loop! Keeping the loop length the same, advance the loop start to the end of the current loop, so we can start editing the duplicated content.

TASK: Use what you have learned so far to write a B section to this tiny song!

Create an ABA Structure

Let’s do one more sequence edit, to add a copy of the original loop at the end of your B section, for a very brief ABA structure.

TASK: Move the loop back to the beginning of the song, and copy your original loop. Then advance your loop point just past your B section and click paste.

Export To Audio

All right, we’re ready to finish this off! Now we just need to use the .WAV export feature to render your song to audio. There are two steps: first, prep your song for export by creating a few silent bars at the end. Then just enable export and play your song from the start.

TASK: Add some silent bars at the end of your song. Move the loop past the end of the song and use change+commit recording to disable all three instruments for this section (click the red circle on the left side of the instrument to toggle whether it is enabled). Leave this loop enabled at the end of the song - you want to “trap” the playback position here after export so you don’t get unexpected sounds at the end of your recording.

TASK: Go back to the beginning of your song, and, while paused, press e to enable export. Then play your song to the end, and press e when done. You’ll see a new .WAV file on your desktop containing your exported audio.

Closing Thoughts

Congratulations! You’ve just made a very short song with RP-8. Go make more!

For more information on how the devices work and what specific controls do, see the Reference section.Once I write it….

For quick reminders in RP-8, remember that you can turn on tooltips.

If you get stuck or encounter what seems to be a bug, please reach out via the BBS thread.

Reference

This section is extremely incomplete

Devices And Patterns

Sound in RP-8 is generated by its 3 devices: two identical 2-ocillator synthesizers loosely inspired by the Roland TB-303 and one drum machine that is even more loosely inspired by the Roland TR-808. These devices are explained in more detail in their own sections.

A synth
The drum machine

In general, you should use the synthesizers for tonal elements in your songs, like melody or bass lines, and you should use the drum machine for rhythmic elements. However, all the drums have a tuning adjustment knob, and many of the sounds can have a strong tonal character, so stay open-minded!TR-808 bass drums with long decay times are often used as bass sounds. The FM and percussion tracks of the drum machine can also easily be used as additional tonal voices.

Each device is controlled by a pattern sequencer, which plays back sequences of notes or drum hits from a user-programmable bank of patterns. Patterns are 16 step (1 bar) series of notes or drum hits, and are the building blocks of music in RP-8.

RP-8 also has a header section at the top of the display, which houses controls that affect the whole song or pattern: the song/pattern mode switch, song transport controls, effects controls, and the mixer.

The header section

Modes

RP-8 has two modes: pattern mode and song mode. All the same devices and sound creation machinery are available in both, however, they have different purposes. Pattern mode gives you immediate direct control of every parameter, so it is ideal for learning, experimentation, and coming up with new ideas. Song mode records enables several features for recording, editing, and replay of parameter changes, and so is best for when you want to start recording multi-bar sequences and complex automation.

Advanced Arrangement Editing

Song edit buttons, from top left: copy, cut, insert, paste
Copy sequence

Copies the current pattern and control settings (if in pattern mode) or loop, including all automation (if in song mode).

Cut sequence

Acts identically to copy sequence, except it removes the current loop’s bars from the song. Later bars are moved up to fill the empty space.

Paste sequence

Fills the current loop with the last copied sequence. If the copied sequence is shorter than the current loop, it is repeated to fit. If the copied sequence is longer, it is truncated. Sequences copied from pattern mode are treated as one-bar loops with no automation, and sequences pasted into pattern mode use only the first bar (and no automation).

Insert sequence

Inserts new bars into the song to fill the current loop, so that the loop’s old contents are now located just after the loop. The new bars are then filled with the copied sequence, just as with paste.

Audio Routing

The RP-8 audio architecture

The Synths

The Drum Machine

Web Compatibility

Keyboard Controls

key action
enter access the pause menu
h toggle tooltips on/off
space toggle play/pause
tab toggle pattern/song mode
l toggle loop on/off
up increase selected control one step
down decrease selected control one step