Course 1: Surface Music Kit Basics

1. About the Surface #RemixProject

The Surface Remix Project is an exciting new initiative by Microsoft that allows fans and creators to interact with music in an entirely new way. Coinciding with the launch of the latest line of Microsoft Surface 2 tablets, the Surface Remix Project is an overall vision to make the concept of remixing more accessible to people around the world.

The centerpiece of the Surface Remix Project is the Surface Music Kit - which consists of the Surface Music Kit application that runs on the Surface and a special Surface "Blade" custom designed to create music within the app. Up until now, Surface blades have only replicated standard computer keyboards - this is Microsoft's first initiative to create a blade for a specific creative purpose

At the core of the Surface Music Kit app is a vast library of musical content that comes with the app. Containing loops and samples from major artists as well as independent musicians, the Surface Music Kit provides inspiration for remixes and new creations in any genre.

2. Hardware vs. Software

The Surface Music Kit is a unique application that has both hardware and software components. To utilize its capabilities, one must begin to understand how they interact with one another.

Surface Music Kit (SMK) is the software application, or app, that stores audio and timing information, allowing you record and save your remixes.

The SMK Blade is the specially designed attachment to your Surface that allows you to play and record arrangements, loops, and audio events within the Surface Music Kit.

First, notice the 16 numbered squares on the right side of the blade. By adding audio to the corresponding Tracks in the software these playable Pads become the main way of creating music with the SMK. Next to the Pads are three strips labeled A, B, and C. These are the Blade’s touch-sensitive Sliders, used to control effects and volume levels. Above the Sliders are eight buttons composing the Blade Transport. We will go into more detail about these and the Sliders later.

The app and blade go hand-in-hand, so the SMK Blade needs to be attached to the Surface in order to make music with the Surface Music Kit app.

TERMS: SMK (Surface Music Kit), App, Blade, Tracks, Pads, Faders, Blade Transport

3. Attaching the Blade

Place your SMK Blade on a flat table with the numbered pads facing up. Now lift your Surface and open its stand, and gently place it on the table so that it rests with its bottom on the metal pins at the top of the Blade. When the Surface and the blade are close enough, they should snap together due to a magnetic attraction. If you need to separate them, simply lift the Surface and pull the Blade off.

4. Installing and Opening the App

Install the latest version of the SMK app by searching for “Surface Music Kit” in the Windows Store, located in the Apps section of your surface. You will need to sign up for a Microsoft ID to install SMK.

After installing the SMK app from the App store, tap the Surface Music Kit Icon on the Start Page, or swipe up from your home screen to the Apps collection where you will be able to launch the Surface Music Kit application.

5. Launch Page/Viewing Templates

This is the Launch Page. Here you can create new projects, load your saved projects, or open any of the SMK Templates.

Templates are premade projects that contain loaded sound banks and arrangements. You can use templates as a place to start your projects or simply as a learning tool before creating a project from scratch. SMK comes packaged with several pre-made song and sound templates, with many more available for download. Some templates are viewable on the right side of the SMK homepage, and if you’d like to see all your available templates tap the “show more >” button at the bottom right corner of the screen. Now, drag your screen from right to left to scroll over all your available templates. Want more? Scroll back and look at bottom left corner of the screen. There you will find a “Download Content” button. Tap it to view and download more templates from the cloud. NOTE: you must be online to see content in the Download screen.

TERMS: Launch Page, Templates

6. Song vs. Sound Templates

You might have noticed that some templates are made from songs you may know, while others have more generic titles like “Rock Vol. 1”. This is because SMK templates are divided between Song Templates and Sounds Templates. Both treat audio the same way and music can be mixed and combined between them, but there are some key differences.

Song Templates contain source audio from commercially available songs. These come usually come with one bank of 16 preloaded sounds and have an arrangement preloaded. Tap on the “Lewis - Hunter (Original)” template to check one out.

Welcome to the Song View! We’ll be getting more in depth into this screen shortly, but for now look around a little and, when you’re ready, hit the Play/Pause button on your SMK Blade. Notice the Position Marker starting to move? When it hits the blue and green colored bars on the screen, known as Notes, the song will begin playing. Listen carefully as it plays through, can you tell how the changes in the on screen arrangement translate to the changes in sound? When you’re done listening press the Play/Pause button again to stop playback. Tap the Home Arrow in the top left corner of the screen to return to the SMK Home page.

Sounds Templates resemble song templates in their setup, but instead of music from commercial artists Sounds Templates contain original samples designed for Surface Music Kit. Each Sounds Template contains two banks of 16 preloaded samples and an arrangement demonstrating the idea and genre of the template. Open up “French Electro Vol. 1” to check one out.

Looks pretty similar to the Song Template, right? But this arrangement has less recorded Notes! Don’t worry, that’s just the intro. Let’s zoom out to take a look at the whole arrangement. Place a finger on the left and ride side of the screen with several inches between them. Now slowly drag your fingers together and you will see the screen zoom out. Zoom out till you can see the whole arrangement, ending at measure 64. Now place your fingers close together and slowly move them apart to zoom in on a specific section of the song. Once you’ve zoomed in, place your finger on a blank part of the arrangement and swipe left or right to scroll through it. Zooming and scrolling is a great way to quickly move throughout your arrangement. Go ahead and hit play and take a listen. When you’re done listening tap the Home Arrow to go back to the Launch page, then open the “Lesson 1 - Getting to know SMK” template to explore how SMK differentiates between different types of audio.

TERMS: Song View, Song Template, Sounds Template, Position Marker, Notes, Home Arrow

7. Stems and Oneshots

Audio in SMK is divided into two categories, Stems and Oneshots, referred to collectively as Clips.

Stems are loops that can be played together to recreate a full song, like a lead local part, a guitar solo or a complete drumbeat. In the Song View Stems are represented by long colored rectangles called Notes. To play a Stem simply tap its associated pad on the SMK Blade and it will play all the way through. Try tapping pad 1 on the blade, you will hear the Synth Lead Loop play for four measures. With Stems, by default, it does not matter how hard or soft you tap the pad, it will always playback at the same volume.

Oneshots are short, non-repetitive single sound events that can be played like a drum machine or MPC. In the Song View Oneshots are also represented by short colored rectangles called Notes. Common Oneshots are drum hits or single notes on a bass or piano. To play a Oneshot simply tap its associated pad on the SMK Blade. Try tapping pads 13 and 14, one after the other. You will hear a kick drum play when you tap pad 13, and a snare drum when tapping pad 14. You may have noticed that, unlike Stems, by default a Oneshot will play back at a different volume depending on how hard you play the Pad. Try playing dynamic drum fill using the kick and snare.

So how can you tell the difference between a Stem and Oneshot? Simply check the name. All Stems end with word ‘Loop’ while Oneshots simply state their instrument. For example, track 5 has the audio “FrElectro Guitar Loop” while track 10 has the audio “FrElectro Guitar 1”. If you tap pad 5, you will hear a four measure guitar loop, If you tap track 10 you will hear a short guitar lick.

Typically, templates have tracks/pads 1-8 dedicated to Stems and tracks/pads 9-16 dedicated to Oneshots. There are different ways to play each audio type, we’ll get into that soon. For now, scroll back to the start of the template.

TERMS: Stems, Oneshots, Clips

8. Song View

The Song View is the main window for playing and recording arrangements and patterns. It is divided into three parts: The Transport, Kit, and the Timeline Editor. There is also a hidden fourth part to the Song View View, the Project Bar.

The Transport is strip at the top of the screen containing, from right to left: the Home Arrow; Project name; current Track Selection; display of Filter Cutoff, Echo Amount, and Volume level; Playback Position; the Metronome Toggle and the Loop Toggle. If you want to rename your project, simply tap the project name in the Transport. The onscreen keyboard will pop up, allowing you to edit the project name.

The Filter, Echo, and Volume displays show the value of each for your selected track, shown in the Track Selection. Playback Position shows the current bar and beat of the Position Marker. The Metronome Toggle turns the metronome on and off, the Loop Toggle turns the arrangement loop on and off.

The Kit is at the leftmost side of the Arrangement View. The Kit displays the Track and Pad assignments of your audio descending 1 through 16 from top to bottom. Look at Track 10, ‘FrElectro Guitar 1’, and tap Pad 10. Notice the number light up when it is played? This will happen whenever you play the Track’s corresponding Pad or if the Track is playing a recorded Loop or Note during playback.

All Sounds Templates have more than one kit, and all projects have the ability to have up to four. To access your alternative Kits in a project place your finger on the Kit and swipe up. This will bring up your second Kit and its corresponding Timeline Editor. When you access another Kit the pads on the Blade switch to the new sounds, but the recorded material in the other Kits will still playback. Swipe up again and you will pull up your third, then fourth Kit, both left blank for customization. To go back up to the first Kit, place your finger on the Kit and swipe down until back to where you started.

The Timeline Editor takes up the rest of the screen. It allows you to see and edit the timeline of your remix. Tracks in the Timeline Editor lineup horizontally and match colors with the Track numbers in the Kit while lining up vertically with the numbered measure markers above. Recorded material is displayed as rectangles along that line. Hit the Play/Pause button to listen and watch how the remix arrangement is displayed in the Timeline Editor, and notice the Track numbers in the Kit lighting up whenever played. Pause the track and scroll back to the start of the arrangement. To place your Position Marker back at the beginning of the song, simply tap the first measure marker.

Place your finger at the bottom of the black outer edge of the screen, left or right of the Windows button. Now swipe up and you will bring up the App Bar. The App Bar is the control center for your project. On the right side you have buttons to Export your remix, save your project, or change the tempo of your project. On the left is the Sounds Button, which will take you to the Sound Collection.

TERMS: Transport, Kit, Timeline Editor, App Bar, Track Selection, Filter Cutoff, Echo Amount, Volume Level, Playback Position, Metronome Toggle, Loop Toggle, Sounds Button, Sound Collection

9. Metronome and Looping

When turned on the Metronome ticks out quarter notes during playback to help you play in time. Turning Looping on will highlight the Timeline Editor in grey. Zoom all the way out and you will see a bar above the measure numbers book ended by blue lines. This is the Loop Period, it sets where your arrangement will loop and how long it will loop for.

When first turned on it automatically loops the entire project. Touch the right end of the Loop Period and drag it inwards to make it shorter, then touch and drag the Loop period from the middle to set its location. Playback will now automatically loop within this section so you can spend some time trying out ideas and getting it right.

TERMS: Loop Period

10. Adding Content to a Song

Now it’s time to add some music to this bare bones production. If the App Bar is still up, tap the Timeline Editor once to dismiss it, then make sure you’re Position Marker is back at the first measure. This arrangement starts out with a four measure piano part on Track 4 before it repeats a second time. Hit play to listen, then pause and bring the Position Marker back to the start. How would guitar sound with that? Let’s find out! The guitar loop is located on Track 5, tap Pad 5 to have a listen.

Now let’s try playing the bass with piano and the guitar. Hit the play button, but this time tap pad 5 on the downbeat of measure 6, the start of the second piano loop. You will see a new Loop be created on Track 5 when you hit the pad, but it will fade out once it finishes playback. This is because we were not recording. SMK allows you to play and perform during playback without recording, useful for live performances, jam sessions, and trying things out. Now that we’ve made sure the guitar part is good, let’s record it.

Bring the Position Marker back to the start and hit the Record Button, located just to the left of the Play button, and tap the bass pad the same as before, then pause playback. This time, the Loop on Track 6 remains after it has played through and will playback with the other Notes in the arrangement from now on. If you got the timing a little off, don’t worry! Hit the Undo Button on the leftmost side of the Blade to undo your recording, then take another pass at it. The Redo Button in between the Record and Undo buttons will come in handy if you accidentally Undo a good recording. If you have trouble playing the part in time, try turning on the Metronome using the Metronome Toggle in the Transport. Once you’ve got it, add a vocal part from Track 2 or 3, coming in with the guitar at measure 6.

At measure 10 the bass and drums come in, but the transition is a little lack-luster. Let’s play in a drum fill using the Oneshot Pads. Oneshots are usually located on Pads 9-16, and drums in particular usually occupy Pads 13-16. Try playing them to get a feel for the drum sounds. Now let’s set the Position Marker at measure 6 and play through till measure 11. At measure 9, try playing a drum fill. Repeat this process to you have a drum fill you like, then record it.

TERMS: Record, Undo, Redo

11. Editing the Arrangement

In retrospect, it would be much better to have the vocal come in at measure 10. To do this we can either delete the Loop and record a new one, or move the Loop we already recorded. To do either of these, tap the Loop with your finger.

When you tap a Note it will change from a colored rectangle to a colored waveform and the App Bar will pop up at the bottom of the screen. The App Bar, when called up by selecting one or more Notes, will include additional buttons beyond the original four. Notice that there is now a Delete Button on the left next to the Sounds button. Now tap one of the piano Loops, notice that it displays its waveform now as well as the vocal loop, this means that you currently have both Notes selected. If you want to deselect one of the Notes, tap it again. You might also have noticed that next to the Delete button there is now a Clear Selection Button. This button will deselect all the Notes that you have selected in the Timeline Editor. You can delete multiple Notes at once by selecting them then hitting the delete button. Select the vocal loop at measure 6 and delete it. But wait, didn’t we want to move that Note? Hit the Undo button on the Blade to bring the Note back.

To move a Note simply tap it, then drag it with your finger to its new location. When playing or dragging a Note, SMK will automatically quantize it to the closest 16th note so that you play in time. If you play a note late or feel like your Note gets quantized incorrectly, you can drag it to where you want it. Drag the vocal loop so that it begins on measure 10, then zoom out to look at the whole arrangement.

At measure 10 the bass and drums come in, but the drums repeat quite a bit. We could delete the drums by selecting all the Notes in Track 7 and deleting them, but there’s a faster way. Tap Track 7 in the Kit, now all the Notes in Track 7 are selected. Notice the Project Bar has come back up, and this time has three new buttons. On the left next to the Sounds button is the Clear Notes Button, which will delete all the Notes in the track. To the right of that button is the Edit Button, which we will cover in the Topic 16. To the right of that button is Create pattern Button. Let’s add some variation to the drum part, tap the Clear notes button to clear out all the Notes from track 7.

TERMS: Clear Selection, Edit, Create pattern

12. Creating Patterns

The Create Pattern button allows you to create a new Stem using samples in your Kit, then play it back like the Stems on tracks 1-8. Tap Track 8 in the Kit, then tap the Create Pattern button in the App Bar. This will bring up the Pattern Editor.

The Pattern Editor is a blank Timeline Editor that automatically loops, allowing you to create your own Stems to add a personal groove to your remix. Start by renaming this pattern ‘Drums 2’. The default loop time is four measures, but if you zoom out and resize the Loop Period you can create a pattern of any size. Play and record in the Pattern Editor like in the Timeline Editor, testing out ideas by playing them before you record. The end result should be a series of Notes that create a new original Loop, but it can be helpful to record a temporary accompanying part to play along to (say, the Bass Loop), then delete it once the pattern is finished.

Now that you have a second drum part, take some time now listen to the other loops and one shots in Kits 1 and 2, then add parts to fill out the arrangement.

TERMS: Pattern Editor

13. Volume, FX, and Faders

The SMK provides control over the Volume of your remix as a whole as well as control over the dynamics of individual tracks. To control the volume of the entire project, move your finger on the slider assigned to control volume while no track is selected. To control the volume on an individual track, select the track and tap the Track Volume button in the App Bar.

SMK’s three built in FX (Low-pass Filter, Echo, and Reverb) are likewise controllable globally and on individual tracks. The three Sliders on the left side of the Blade are assignable to one of the controllable parameters. With the default setup Slider A controls filter cutoff, Slider B controls Echo Amount, and Slider C controls Volume level.

To change the slider assignments, pull up the App Bar and tap the Hardware Sliders button. This brings up the Slider Assignment Page. Swipe a slider on screen up or down to change which parameter it controls, then hit ‘Save’ to return to the project. This will change the slider assignments for the project and for every track.

When no Track is selected, the Sliders control the volume and FX level for the entire project, but if a Track is selected the Sliders will control the volume and FX level for that Track only.

To select a Track, tap its Track Number in the Kit. The Track will become highlighted, the Track Selection in the Transport will display the number of the track, and the Project Bar will pop up. Select Track 5 and hit Play, then try controlling its FX as the project plays. To deselect the track tap it again, or tap the Timeline Editor twice. Now play the project again, this time controlling the whole track.

After you have experimented and gotten some good ideas, it’s time to record. Recording Slider automation is the same as recording Notes, simply hit record and then play the Sliders in real time. When you start recording Slider automation, SMK will show the Automation Display over the Timeline Editor. The Automation Display shows the level of each Slider so you can see the curves as you draw them. Record FX and automation on individual tracks to balance how they mix together, and record FX globally to make a big impact.

TERMS: Automation Display

14. Using the Blade Transport

The Blade Transport is divided into two rows, the bottom one we’re already familiar with containing Play/Pause, Record, Redo, and Undo buttons, and the top row we have not yet touched.

At the top left of the Blade is a button with 3 lines, this is the Automation Display Button. It will show the Automation Display view, allowing you to see what FX and Volume automation you have recorded for the project or your selected track.

To the right of the Automation Display button is the Solo Button. Hold the Solo button, then tap a Pad to solo its associated track. This will mute all other track so only the soloed track will be heard. You can solo multiple tracks my holding the Solo button and tapping multiple tracks. When you no longer want a track soloed, hold the Solo button and tap its Pad again.

To the right the Solo button is the Mute Button. Hold the Mute button, then tap a Pad to mute its associated track. This will mute the selected track while leaving all other tracks playing and playable. You can mute multiple tracks my holding the Mute button and tapping multiple tracks. When you no longer want a track muted, hold the Mute button and tap its Pad again.

To the right of the Mute button is the Select Track button. Hold the Select Track button, then tap a Pad to select its associated track. This will select a tack for FX and Volume automation.

TERMS: Solo, Mute, Select Track

15. Adding Samples to a Kit

Pull up the Project Bar and tap the Sounds button. This will bring up the Sound Collection. Here you can view, edit, and import audio into your project.

The center window is the Clip Viewer, a list of the audio available to import into your project. Swipe up and down to scroll the Clip Viewer. To preview any audio clip, tap its artwork to bring up a play button, then tap the play button.

On the left side of the screen is the Filter Bar. Use the buttons here to choose different ways of organizing your available audio so you can find the right clip quickly.

On the right side is the Kit Builder. Drag the Kit Builder up and down to switch between Kits, then hold an audio clip with your finger and drag it to a box in the Kit to assign it to a track and pad. Clips that you drag into a Kit will automatically be time stretched and pitch shifted to match the key of your project. If you are starting with a blank template, the first clip you drag in will set the pitch of the project. Tap any clip in the Kit and the Project Bar will pop up. Hit the Edit button to open the Import Editor.

For Lesson 1, tap the Kits Filter in the Filter bar and select “Bosley - LADFSongKit”. Scroll down to a blank Kit in the Kit Builder and drag LADF Vocals Chorus to Track 1 and LIADF Piano Chorus to Track 2. Now go back to the Song View and try playing your new Kit with your current arrangement. You’ll notice that the Vocal part lines up perfectly, but the Piano part might be playing in a different key. Tap Track 1 and hit the Edit button in the Project Bar to open the Import Editor and examine how SMK imported it into your project. Notice that it has been automatically harmonized by adjusting its pitch +1 tone. Save the Vocals and now edit the Piano part on Track 2. This Track has also been automatically harmonized to match the project, check to make sure that it has also been adjusted +1 tone. If it is not, uncheck the “Harmonize to match project” box. This will allow you manually adjust the pitch. Set it to +1 tone like the Vocal Loop and save the clip. It should play in tune with the project now.

Note that when you edit a clip in the Kit it does not affect the original audio file, but instead edits how that file acts in that Kit.

Once you’ve imported a few more clips into your project, tap the Sounds button in the Project Bar to return to the Song View and play your new Kit.

TERMS: Clip Viewer, Filter Bar, Kit Builder, Import Editor

16. Importing Audio Clips

If you’d like to import your own audio into SMK, go to the Sound Collection and hit the “Import File” beneath the Filter Bar. This brings up a file browser. Navigate to the folder where your audio is kept, select the file you’d like to import, and hit open.

The SMK Import Editor is where the parameters for your clips are set. Listen to the clip and set its tempo, harmony, and playback parameters. Control how it is recorded and shown in the Timeline Viewer on the left, the pitch and harmony in the center, and how it responds while being played live on the right.

To edit audio that has already been imported, select it in the clip view or Song View and tap the Edit button in the Project Bar. This will take you the Import Editor where you can update the parameters of your audio or create a copied version with edited parameters.

*Downloading additional sounds

There are two ways to download additional sounds to use in SMK. From the Launch Page, simply tap the “Download Content” button on the bottom left to access all the Templates available for download.

From within an open project, pull up the Project bar up and tap the Sounds button. This will take you to Sound Collection view. Tap the “Download Content” button on the bottom of the left sidebar.