The Song Track Window

To play a song, the Salsa Rhythm Machine asks either Windows Media Player or QuickTime to play the song. Then it constantly badgers it; asking: “What time is it?” over and over. Once it has the current time of the song playing, it looks in the song track to see what it should be doing at that moment.

If there is a 3 in the Beat column, then the program will turn the 3 red on The Count window, and make sure that all the other numbers are black. If there is some text in the Note column, it will show it next to the 3. If there is some text in the advice column, it will show it in the Advice section at the bottom of The Count window.

So, every beat of the song must be scripted. And while that is several hundred beats to worry about, in practice, most of them are handled automatically. When the song is playing at a steady speed, it is easy for the program to automatically calculate where each beat is. It’s when the music speeds up, slows down, shifts, or skips beats that you have to go to work.

When you first add a song on the Setup Songs window, there will be no song-track data. When you then click the “Edit Song Track” button, the program will open up the “New Track” window. On that window, the program instructs you to use the “Measure a Song” window to figure out how fast it is.

Once you have measured the song, filled in the length, and clicked the “Make Track” button on the “New Track” window, the Song Track window will open up with a blank song track. Now you will want to play the song to see how well it matches up. If there is some silence at the beginning of the song, you will need to shift the song track forward so that it will start playing a bit later.

Before we go further, if you are working on Windows, you will want to use QuickTime instead of Windows Media Player. Go onto the “File” menu, and then to “Settings” and read what it says there. QuickTime comes with iTunes, so you can install it by following the instructions on this page.

Count – this number is automatically filled in when the program makes a new track. It isn’t used for anything important, so if you need to delete counts in the middle of the song, you don’t need to worry about a gap in the numbers.

Time – this is the most important number since The Count window uses it to synchronize with the song. You can type over this number, but normally the program will calculate it for you.

Interval – this is the number of seconds between each count.

Speed – this is the speed of the song in beats-per-minute. The program uses this number to figure out what the interval is. The interval is then added to the time to figure out what the time of the next count should be.

You can type over the interval and the speed, but normally the program will figure out the interval for you. If the program thinks you have made a mistake, and there is too much, or too little, time between two of your counts, it will turn the interval red.

Beat – this is the number on The Count window that will be turned red at the time of the count. You can type over this also, but normally the program will calculate it for you.

Comment – in this column you can type notes to yourself. For example, if you think the song is speeding up, you can type: “going faster here?” The program does not show these comments anywhere else.

Note and Advice were discussed above, however, make your notes short enough to fit into the space next to the numbers on The Count window. And once you have typed in some advice, you will usually want it to be erased when it is no longer appropriate. To do that, type in “clear” for the advice without the quotes and in all lower case. For example, if on an earlier count, you typed in “listen to the piano as it keeps the rhythm”, you may want to type in “clear” on the count where the piano stops. Or you could type in some new advice.

Shift Counts – use this to shift counts forward or backward. It will change the time of each of the counts you have selected. You can use fractions, and you can shift the entire track if you want.

Selecting Multiple Lines – since clicking in a “cell” of the list will usually put the cursor there, if you want to select multiple lines, click-and-drag in the Count column. You can also shift-click and control-click to select multiple lines.

To edit a cell – click once to select the line, and then click again to get a cursor in the cell.

Navigating With the Keyboard – once you have clicked into a cell, you can use the up-arrow and down-arrow keys to move up and down the column. You can use the tab key to go to the next column and shift-tab to go to the previous column. The program saves things as you go, so there is no Save button to click.

Add Counts and Delete Counts – use these controls to add or remove counts. The program will only allow you to add counts where there is a gap, or at the end of the song. Be careful when deleting because you cannot undo it.

Change Speed – this will use the number you enter for speed to re-calculate the time of each count you have selected in the list. For example, many songs start off slow and then speed up. So, suppose you have your initial track set to run at 180. Then as you watch it playing, you see the numbers on The Count window lagging behind. Click the stop button and then try to zero-in on where the song sped up. Once you have the spot, select all the counts following it and change their speed to what you guess the new speed is. After a while, you will get pretty good at guessing this. Normally, you will be working from the beginning of the song and going forward, so even though you don’t know the speed of the song later on, you will probably still want to shift the rest of the track forward and then let it play again to see if it stays in sync. You can change the speed of only one section in the middle of the song; just make sure to look at what happens on the count following that section since you will probably have a count that is too close or too far away from the last one you changed.

Reduce Beats – this simply subtracts one from the beat of each count you have selected. There is no “increase beats” control because if you keep clicking the button, it will wrap around. So, when a 1 beat is reduced, it becomes an 8 instead of a 0. Use this when the band pauses a count, or jumps from the 4 back to the 1 instead of continuing on to the 5, etc. If you think it is easier to follow a song by ignoring the 5-to-1 shifts, you can do that. The beats can be whatever you think is best.

Advice – it will take a while to get good at scripting songs. As you may have guessed, some songs are a lot easier than others. Once you have done a few, you can expect to spend about two hours making a good, detailed script. Much of the time is spent staring at the computer as the song plays to see if it stays in sync. There really is no way to speed that up. The best approach is to be very careful as you go, because if you miss something like a speed change early in the song, then fixing it will force you to very carefully check the rest of the song to make sure you haven’t thrown it off.