Review: Cognitone Synfire

Do you need to get a bigger picture or idea of your songs with arrangements and progressions? Then Synfire might be what you're looking for. t explains how it works.  

Don’t you at times just wish that your music software would give you some pointers as to where you could go next when you’re composing your tracks? Digital Audio Workstations are great tools for recording, mixing and mastering our songs, but sometimes DAWs can feel more technical than creative. A solution to this is what’s called music prototyping software. An example of this type of software is Synfire. The concept behind this music software is very different to your DAW software. In its most basic form, it could be called a composer’s assistant. What it does is it incorporates music theory into its operation such as melody, harmony, chord progressions, voice leading, etc. And through this, it gives you the building blocks for creating a song with these music theories in mind. Let me expand a bit more on this, and let’s look at what this software is capable of. 

What Is Music Prototyping

Synfire, developed by Cognitone is very different to your standard DAW software. It allows you to record in your ideas through MIDI, but it works with the MIDI data in different ways. Synfire incorporates music theory into its operations and uses notations such as phrases, melody, harmony, chord progressions and voice leading principles into the core of its use. You can request a demo version of the software to try out before you buy and see how this tool can possibly assist and change the way you compose and produce music.

Arrangement

There are some basic principles that are same as your DAW. You have different music tracks/instruments and you can record MIDI parts to these tracks. But that’s where it ends. The idea is that the parts you record in are considered phrases (if you come from a music theory side, you will be familiar with this term). Then with these phrases you can create chord progressions and harmonies around them to build up your song.

Song Arrangements

Synfire provides you with all the tools you need to build up these phrases. Under the Progressions tabs, you can build up your chord choices through the use of the Circle of Fifths diagram. Also included in this area are details on the song key and scale, chords in relation to each other, and possible extensions on the chord. Synfire uses the word container as a way of containing your chord progression ideas. So you can create containers to build up arrangements for your song.

Progression Page

Musical Tools that Synfire Offers

In the Palette section, the chord options go into even more detail. Drag and drop functionality has been built into the software so that you can simply drag chords choices from the lower area of the Palette view up into the Chord progression to change which chords are used. This way Synfire allows you to explore different musical ideas within the chord progression. 

The Palette Section

This works the same when you are writing your melodies. You can take the melodies and change their phrasing, but it will still lock in with the key of the song and the chord progressions. That’s how intelligent it is. This way Synfire assists you in experimenting with your song, and how it can evolve harmoniously and melodically. When you write your melodies they will play over your base chord progression, and if you change the chord progression pattern, the melody will remain in the song key and adjust to fit melodically within the new edited chord progression.

Writing Melodies

The beauty of this software is that it is a tool to help beginners learn how the music theory of melody and harmony work together to create songs, plus helps the beginner with principles on voice leading in arrangements. For the advanced music theorist, they can use the software to go further with the melody and harmony of the arrangement using the tools provided within the software for a real in-depth look, and really fine-tune their songwriting skills.

For the Beginner and Advanced Musician

I can imagine that Synfire will be extremely helpful to music producers and composers in the film music and game music fields. In these fields, there is quite tight turnaround times on composing the music, and Synfire can be used to help you get your creative ideas down faster. Like I said, it’s an extremely useful tool for all fields and levels of experience.

There is a form of AI (artificial intelligence) built into the music software that allows you to copy phrases between instruments and build up quick harmonies (or even counter harmonies) that fit within the style, key and chord progression. This allows you to build up arrangement ideas like this very quickly within a matter of minutes. To do the same thing in your DAW could take a few hours or maybe even longer, where it can be done quite quickly and easily in Synfire.

Editing Phrases

There is also a library of template phrases that comes bundled with Synfire, that can get you up and running with building up musical themes and ideas for your songs. Drag and drop phrases right onto your timeline. Maybe you want to add a I-V-iii-VI progression to your arrangement. Simply select the template, and it’ll adjust your chord progression.

Using Templates

You can use your own collection of VST and AU software instruments within Synfire. So instead of using the internal GM MIDI instruments that it defaults to, you could load up instances of Kontakt, Sylenth, Massive, etc. and compose with your preferred instruments.

Export, Sync and ReWire Options

And Synfire works great as an accompaniment to your DAW. Once you’ve finished your song arrangement, you can export it out as a MIDI file and bring the MIDI into your DAW to finish off the mixing and mastering there.

Export Options

Alternatively you can export your MIDI from your DAW and import it into Synfire to make use of Synfire’s music artificial intelligence to read your MIDI file and pick out the song’s key, chord progression and melodies and harmonies. From there you can edit these phrases in your song and change it into something quite different. It still retains your musical vision, but uses Synfire’s tools to alter the musical ideas and phrasing. It also supports ReWire, so you can run Synfire in conjunction with the DAW of choice. And there is also an option to export out for notation software that supports Music XML, plus you can export out for LilyPond notation.

Conclusion

This is really just touching on the tip of the iceberg on what Synfire is capable of. You could also go in and choose different modes, switch the key, use the Chord Detection, Chord Progression recommendations, or even edit musical ideas on the fly with the Live Chord Detection mode. But I’ll leave that for you to explore.

To conclude, what Synfire really allows you to do is to get a bigger picture/idea of your songs with arrangements and progressions. So if you want a tool to help you step up your songwriting with a theoretic sensibility, then try out Synfire.

Pros: Great timesaver for music producers and composers on a tight deadline. Useful for both beginners and advanced users.

Cons: Quite expensive, but there’s nothing else like it on the market.

Price: € 996 / $1155 (Synfire Pro), € 449 / $521 (Synfire Express)

Gary Hiebner is an enthusiastic South African Sound Designer and Apple Tech Head! Gary has been involved in the South African music industry for the decade, and in this time has also been involved in the sound design and music production for many advertising agencies and media houses. Gary is a devoted Logic and Ableton user, but he al... Read More

Discussion

Mister
Always been interested in this but its just too expensive. Almost twice the cost of my DAW.
Logic Pro & Logic Environments
you make no comments about how complicated it is and it's obtuse logic of use. This is powerful software with an extremely steep learning curve
lasvideo

Joined: Fri Apr 15, 2016 7:27 am
Posts: 1
Lots of potential. Steep learning curve. Great customer support. As challenging as learning a real instrument to make music
lasvideo
Lots of potential. Steep learning curve. Great customer support. As challenging as learning a real instrument to make music
JimGr
Actually there is software just like this, called RapidComposer. I just bought RapidComposer and it seems like crap, but I have not yet dug into it and I am doing that now. I should be able to figure it out and create phrases and chord progressions to make it better. Right now it's wait and see, and at this moment having bought it last night, I can't recommend it -- certainly not yet.

Want to join the discussion?

Create an account or login to get started!