By Fred Stesney

In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities,
but in the expert's there are few.

- Shunryu Suzuki

You'll get the most out of the Cookbook if you read the manual first, then read the Cookbook, and then listen to some ReBirth tunes that catch your ear. Watch what happens, take things apart, and figure out how sounds are created. Every trick is not included here because you won't find the techniques that you are going to invent. If you get to the end of this and don't find anything you don't already know, check out The Rebirth of Cool on the Keyboard magazine site by Kurt Kurasaki, a.k.a. Peff. Advanced, to say the least.

First, keep in mind that even though ReBirth is sold in the software section, it is still a musical instrument. However, unlike most instruments that can take years to master, you can know all there is to know about ReBirth in about a year of steady practice. Since ReBirth musicians don't have to compete on silly issues like dexterity (everyone can play really fast) imagination becomes the most important element. Still it helps to know your scales, even if you don't have to practice them.

There are no limits to ReBirth, there are only constraints. ReBirth has many constraints: It's pretty much useless in anything but 4/4 time; it can't change tempo mid-composition; it doesn't swing; you only have 64 patterns between both 303s; it won't play chords; the pattern control filter can only effect one machine at a time; the list goes on. In many ways, these constraints are a blessing, because they prevent what avant garde composer Elliot Sharp once described to me as "option anxiety".


This is the goal, isn't it? Usually songwriters will tell you about the importance of the lyrics, how big the chorus has to be, and to get to the hook faster. Much of that wisdom doesn't apply here. But some of it does.


Hooks, riffs, motifs, whatever you want to call them, a single riff can carry a whole tune. So where are you going to get these magic components? For the synths, try these suggestions:

Steal bass lines. You can't copyright them so plunder away. Don't feel guilty about it either. All great musicians rip each other off.

Steal guitar and keyboard riffs too. Try putting one of your favorite instrumental riffs into ReBirth note for note. Most likely it will sound like a bad electronic version of the original, but sometimes the peculiarities or ReBirth will put a fresh spin on it. This is the key to writing popular music - give your audience what they already know and like, but in a way they've never heard before.

Ripping-Off Other ReBirthers

It's pretty easy to swipe patterns from your fellow ReBirthers, and there's really not much they can do about it. Still there's no point in making enemies. Why not contact the original composer and ask for permission to use the pattern? The answer is going to be yes, 99% of the time.

Explore the edit pull down menu. Some of the best ReBirth features are here. Check out all the functions that randomize, alter, shift and transpose. You can use these to create riffs and parts that you probably wouldn't create methodically. You can keep messing around these features until you have quite a collection of riffs. You can find out exactly what each of these features does in the manual. What are included here are a few suggestions on how to get the most out of them.

"Randomize Pattern" makes the strangest sounds. It will put your 303s into spasms. "Randomize Accents etc" is much more useful because it won't change the pitches so you will have an easier time creating something new that still harmonizes with what you already have.

Try entering one or more notes that sound good together into one of the 303s, filling up every step of the pattern. You don't have to make any decisions about "Down", "Up", "Accent", "Slide" or whether the 303 will play the note or take it as a rest. Hit the play button. Now hit Command R. How does that sound? If you like what you hear, move on to the next pattern, if you don't, hit Command R again. Or try Command Y.

Often you will hear a groove that you like, but when you set it against a beat, it sounds clunky. What's happening is that when ReBirth plays a single riff as a loop, your ear finds the natural downbeat (that's the first note) of the riff . When you apply it to the drums you find that ReBirth has randomized the natural down beat to somewhere in the middle of the pattern. That's when you apply "Shift Pattern Left" and Shift Pattern Right". Just keep moving the beat either way until it lines up with the drums.

Transpose is not only a real time-saver, it's an excellent creative tool. As an experiment, set one of the 303s to play a single note bass line. Set the other 303 to play a three note melodic pattern, including the note that the bass line is playing along with a couple of others that sound good with it. Now use the Transpose function to drop the bass line by one step. Keep doing this through all 12 steps. Most of the results will sound dissonant, but you will find that a few sound great. Using transpose to reharmonize a pattern is a great way to get some variation out of a riff.

Here's where it pays to know a few things about music. You might find that the new harmony sounds good, but there's one clunker note in there somewhere. A bit of knowledge of chord construction will save time in figuring out what's wrong, and how to fix it.

Then there's the 808 and the 909. Like a good riff, the right beat can carry a tune. The 808 and the 909 play with quantized perfection, and can sound very much like drum machines. Your challenge is to find the groove.

The manual says you can use the shuffle to swing a beat, but that's not really true. Shuffle will put a gallop into a 16th note pattern, and is useful to loosen up a groove.

Some of the drums have tune knobs. That's where you'll find the pads, tones and chords on a lot of the mods. Those extra pads and samples can go a long way towards filling out a mix. But the tune knobs have a limited range, and you can't always tune a sound to the note you want. This is where it pays to write a composition around a mod, and harmonize the 303s to the 808 and the 909.

If you don't feel it, don't play it.
- James Jamerson


Think about what the overall effect the piece is going to have. Do you want to suck the listener into a suicidal funk, or do you want to create the kind of booty-quake that's going to tear the roof off the sucker?

You'll discover early on what the tempo of your piece should be. ReBirth can play inhumanly fast, and there have been some successful endeavors into the hundreds of beats per minute range. The 303s sound great slow too. Try setting the tempo to 60, but have the drums play double time, so the tune sounds like it's playing at 120 b.p.m.

I remember a quote by Bryan Adams - yes, that Bryan Adams - where he said that you should keep speeding up a song until just before it loses it's groove. Also, if you saw the documentary "Modulations" you heard Frankie Bones impart the wisdom that 133 b.p.m. is the perfect tempo to keep a dance floor full until dawn.

You might already know what genre you'll be working in. Many of the mods are designed to work in particular styles, like industrial, trance, drum'n'bass, etc. If there's a genre that you are most interested in, check the mod download page at the Propellerhead website and see what's in your crate.

You can cross genres as well. ReBirth comes from dance music, and anything you do in it is going to have a dance/electronica vibe. So why not mix it up with other genres? Country and western on ReBirth? We'd all like to hear it.

You might as well start at the beginning. You can do a 64 bar build, or jump right into the main riff. However, I'm mystified by composers who, in their song description on MP3.com, write things like, "It starts off slow, but the wait is definitely worth it." If you know that the start is a snooze, why not cut it? In his 5th Symphony, Beethoven wasted no time getting to the Bum-bum-bum-buuuuuum.

Think about structure. Is your tune going to build to a climax? To multiple climaxes? Is there going to be a chill-out bit in the middle? How about a key change, or modulation? You don't have to have it all worked out to begin with, and oftimes the answer will come to you as the tune develops.

Think about repetition and variation. Start with an idea and tinker with it, so that every time you return to it, it's a little different.

The tune knob on the 303s gives you a three-octave range (all the way left, straight up, and all the way right). You will usually use this to separate the 303 playing the bass line from the other 303. It's also helpful when you run out of empty patterns for the 303s. Try taking an existing patterns and tuning it down a few steps. The result can be a great harmonic variation on what you already have going.

The last thing you'll need to is work out your ending. You can fade out slowly, maybe one instrument at a time or stop the whole thing on dime. How about cranking up the feedback all the way and let it go on forever?

As you move through the process, keep your ears open for good ideas. ReBirth can get a lot of thumps and squeaks going on at once. You will occasionally stumble upon brilliance. Roll with it.

Ah, good taste! What a dreadful thing!
Taste is the enemy of creativeness.

- Pablo Picasso

Unlike the traditional way of putting a song together, you'll probably be adding effects and things as you create the piece rather than waiting to do it all at the end. ReBirth comes with a full menu of effects to bring your masterwork to life. The manual says what they all do and offers some good tutorials. Here are some more tricks.

On the automation tip, because you can record any knob tweak or switch flip in ReBirth, you're the mixer with a thousand fingers. If you are trying something really complex, you don't have to do it at tempo. Just slow ReBirth down until you can twiddle comfortably. When you go back to the proper tempo, the knobs will speed up along with everything else.

Automation also makes it possible for knobs to shift from one point to another with no steps in between. If you set one of the 303s to a tone you like and pan it hard left, then, at the top of a bar, tweak all of the knobs and pan it hard right, you can create the illusion of dueling 303s.

Use the waveform switch, cutoff, resolution, envelop mod, decay and accent knobs to season to taste. Just keep moving them until you like what you hear. Twisting these around can add interest to a repeating pattern. At other times -like with a bass line - it might sound better to set them to the perfect tone and leave them there.

Pan knobs add dimension. Moving the sounds from side to side has been a useful trick since the invention of stereos and psychedelic drugs. And even if the synths aren't moving, their placement in the stereo mix is important. Listen to your record collection with headphones on to get ideas on where to place instruments in the listener's head.

How To Make A $175 Copy Of ReBirth Sound Like $200,000

I've heard ReBirth on my home set-up and in a pro recording studio, and it sounds better in the pro studio. Really, there's no substitute for top gear. So how do you make your copy of ReBirth sound like $200,000? First, you get $200,000.

The Pattern Control Filter (PCF) takes some experimentation, but is worth the endeavor. It can make anything sound odd. The manual has a good tutorial on this feature, so check it out. ReBirth will be giving up the funk in a jiffy. You can also use the PCF more subtly, kind of like an EQ. Use it to fatten up a bass line.

Delay goes a long way to make a mix sound richer. It doesn't hurt to have a little bit of delay on everything. You can also use delay to create the illusion of multiple 303s. If you set the delay to repeat for many steps, you can build up a 303 chorus. If you program one of the 303s to play an arpeggiated chord - that is a chord played one note at a time - and give it a lot of delay, you can create the impression of chords.

Delay put on the 808 and 909 can create some intricate grooves that would be difficult, if not impossible, to create any other way.

And do you see the pan knob on the delay? Try panning the synth creating the sounds one way, and the delay to the opposite side. The whole sound will open up.

You already know what distortion sounds like, and it smells like teen spirit. On ReBirth it also makes things sound louder, and will push a lagging 303 up in the mix. On drums, distortion makes everything sound crunchy, dirty, and harsh. Maybe you like that sort of thing, you sicko.

Compression is an odd duck here, and many of the ReBorn think of it as the button that makes everything quieter. Compression is usually used to tame an instrument with a wide dynamic range. ReBirth's isn't that dynamic, but when you start putting effects on things, you can get some volume spikes. Compression will take care of those.

Compression can also be used to create special effects. Turning the threshold knob down to zero and the ratio knob to ten will make a beat "pump". This can be a sign of a bad mix, or it can make a beat come alive.


When you've got something cooked up, you can post it on the ReBirth website. Some composers post everything they do, while others are highly selective. Posting a new tune every day will certainly get your name out there. On the other hand, listeners will be suspicious of the level of quality. Also, some composers plug their new additions on the message board. Shameless self-promotion is a necessary evil if you want to make it big in the music biz. Just try not to irritate people too much.

There are places for you to show off your ReBirth creations other than the Propellerhead site. If you want to make your record available to people who don't have the ReBirth software, or if your songs have more than just ReBirth in them, you'll have to go elsewhere. The most popular site is MP3.com, but there are others like the IUMA, Garageband.com. and more, so check around to see which place is best for you.

A critic is a gong at a railroad crossing
clanging loudly and vainly
as the train goes by.

-Christopher Morley


I got turned-on to ReBirth in 1998 by Pete Nashel of the Duotone Audio Group when Pete used ReBirth in a track we were creating for a television commercial. If you want some assurance that I know what I'm talking about, you can download some of my tracks from the Propellerhead site. Look for my band name The Hittites (it's under "T"). Or, if you have an MP3 player, you can hear my work here at the IUMA.