Pattern Guide 03: What Is Pbind

Pattern-based musical sequencing with Pbind and cousins

What's that Pbind thing?

Some of the examples in the last tutorial played notes using Pbind, and you might be wondering how it works in general and what else you can do with it.

In the most general sense, Pbind is just a way to give names to values coming out of the types of patterns we just saw. When you ask a Pbind stream for its next value, the result is an object called an Event. Like a Dictionary (which is a superclass of Event), an event is a set of "key-value pairs": each value is named by a key.

e = (freq: 440, dur: 0.5);    // an Event\freq)        // access a value by name
e.freq        // See IdentityDictionary help for more on this usage

e.put(\freq, 880);    // Change a value by name
e[\freq] = 660;
e.freq = 220;

e.put(\amp, 0.6);    // Add a new value into the event
e.put(\dur, nil);    // Remove a value

A Pbind is defined by a list of pairs: keys associated with the patterns that will supply the values for the events.

Things get interesting when the names associated with Pbind's sub-patterns are also SynthDef arguments. Then it becomes possible to play new Synths with Pbind, and feed their inputs with different values on each event.

Building an event, one key at a time

We can look at the return values from a Pbind by calling next on the stream. Note that it's necessary to pass an empty event into next, so that Pbind has somewhere to put the values.

p = Pbind(
    \degree, Pseq(#[0, 0, 4, 4, 5, 5, 4], 1),
    \dur, Pseq(#[0.5, 0.5, 0.5, 0.5, 0.5, 0.5, 1], 1)
).asStream;    // remember, you have to make a stream out of the pattern before using it
);    // shorter:

// Output:
( 'degree': 0, 'dur': 0.5 )
( 'degree': 0, 'dur': 0.5 )
( 'degree': 4, 'dur': 0.5 )
( 'degree': 4, 'dur': 0.5 )

The return events show us what Pbind really does. Each time the next value is requested, it goes through each key-pattern pair and gets the next value from each pattern (actually streams, but Pbind makes streams out of the sub patterns internally). Each value gets put into the event, using the associated key.

For the first event, the first key is 'degree' and the value is 0. This is placed into the event before moving to the next pair: the event in transition contains ( 'degree': 0 ). Then the next key supplies 0.5 for 'dur', and since there are no more pairs, the event is complete: ( 'degree': 0, 'dur': 0.5 ).

// User does:;

// SuperCollider processes:

  1. \degree stream returns 0
  2. Put it in the Event: ( 'degree': 0 )
  3. \dur stream returns 0.5
  4. Put it in the Event: ( 'degree': 0, 'dur': 0.5 )
  5. Return the result event.
NOTE: Dictionaries in SuperCollider are unordered collections. Even though Pbind processes its child streams in the order given, the results can display the keys and values in any order. This does not affect the behavior of playing Events, as we will soon see.

Event, .play and event prototypes

So far we haven't seen anything that produces a note, just data processing: fetching values from patterns and stitching them together into events. The notes come from the difference between Events and regular Dictionaries: Events can do things when you .play them.

( 'degree': 0, 'dur': 0.5 ).play;

The action that the event will take is defined in an "event prototype." The prototype must include a function for the 'play' key; this function is executed when .play is called on the event. Also, optionally the prototype can contain default values for a wide variety of parameters.

Pbind doesn't do much without an event prototype. Fortunately, you don't have to write the prototype on your own. There is a default event, accessed by Event.default, that includes functions for many different server-messaging tasks. If no specific action is requested, the normal action is to play a Synth. That's why playing a Pbind, as in the previous tutorial, with only 'degree' and 'dur' patterns produced notes: each event produces at least one synth by default, and the default event prototype knows how to convert scale degrees into frequencies and 'dur' (duration) into note lengths.

When a pattern is played, an object called EventStreamPlayer is created. This object reads out the events one by one from the pattern's stream (using a given event prototype as the base), and calls play on each. The 'delta' value in the event determines how many beats to wait until the next event. Play continues until the pattern stops producing events, or you call .stop on the EventStreamPlayer. (Note that calling .stop on the pattern does nothing. Patterns are stateless and cannot play or stop by themselves.)

- To sum up so far : A Pbind's stream generates Events. When an Event is played, it does some work that usually makes noise on the server. This work is defined in an event prototype. The Event class provides a default event prototype that includes powerful options to create and manipulate objects on the server.


Rests may be indicated in three ways.

A more complete discussion is found in the Rest help file.

Useful Pbind variant: Pmono

Pbind plays separate notes by default. Sometimes, you might need a pattern to act more like a monophonic synthesizer, where it plays just one Synth node and changes its values with each event. If Pbind normally corresponds to or /s_new, Pmono corresponds to aSynth.set or /n_set.

Compare the sound of these patterns. Pbind produces an attack on every note, while Pmono glides from pitch to pitch.

p = Pbind(\degree, Pwhite(0, 7, inf), \dur, 0.25, \legato, 1).play;

p = Pmono(\default, \degree, Pwhite(0, 7, inf), \dur, 0.25).play;

Articulating phrases is possible with Pmono by chaining several Pmono patterns together in a row, or by using PmonoArtic.

Connecting Event values to SynthDef inputs

Most SynthDefs have Control inputs, usually defined by arguments to the UGen function. For example, the default SynthDef (declared in defines five inputs: out, freq, amp, pan and gate.

SynthDef(\default, { arg out=0, freq=440, amp=0.1, pan=0, gate=1;
    var z;
    z =
   + [0, Rand(-0.4,0.0), Rand(0.0,0.4)], 0, 0.3)),
  ,5000), Rand(2500,3200), 1)
        ) *, 0.01, 0.7, 0.3, 2);,, pan, amp));
}, [\ir]);

When an event plays a synth, any values stored in the event under the same name as a SynthDef input will be passed to the new synth. Compare the following:

// Similar to Synth(\default, [freq: 293.3333, amp: 0.2, pan: -0.7])
(freq: 293.3333, amp: 0.2, pan: -0.7).play;

// Similar to Synth(\default, [freq: 440, amp: 0.1, pan: 0.7])
(freq: 440, amp: 0.1, pan: 0.7).play;

This leads to a key point: The names that you use for patterns in Pbind should correspond to the arguments in the SynthDef being played. The Pbind pattern names determine the names for values in the resulting Event, and those values are sent to the corresponding Synth control inputs.

The SynthDef to play is named by the 'instrument' key. To play a pattern using a different Synth, simply name it in the pattern.

SynthDef(\harpsi, { |outbus = 0, freq = 440, amp = 0.1, gate = 1|
    var out;
    out =, gate, doneAction: 2) * amp *, 0.25, 0.75);, out ! 2);
}).add;    // see below for more on .add

p = Pbind(
        // Use \harpsi, not \default
    \instrument, \harpsi,
    \degree, Pseries(0, 1, 8),
    \dur, 0.25

It's actually an oversimplification to say that the Pbind names should always match up to SynthDef arguments.

Don't send or load SynthDefs; use .add or .store instead

To send only the relevant values to the new Synth, the Event needs to know what controls exist in the SynthDef. This is done by a library of descriptors for SynthDefs; the descriptor is a SynthDesc, and the library is a SynthDescLib. The normal methods -- .send(s), .load(s) -- to communicate a SynthDef to the server do not enter it into the library. As a result, SynthDefs sent this way will not work properly with Pbind. Instead, use different methods that store the SynthDef into the library.

// Save into the library, write a .scsyndef file, and load it on the server

// Save into the library and send the SynthDef to the server (no .scsyndef file)
// Make sure the server is booted before doing this

.load(s) --> .store

.send(s) --> .add

"Rest" events

Beginning with version 3.5, rests may be indicated using the Rest class. Advantages:

Ligeti's "touches bloquées" technique could be written this way (see Pattern Guide 06e: Language Control for an explanation of the conditional Pif):

// first, pitches ascending by 1-3 semitones, until 2 octaves are reached
var    pitches = Pseries(0, Pconst(24, Pwhite(1, 3, inf)), inf).asStream.all,
        // randomly block 1/3 of those
    mask = pitches.scramble[0 .. pitches.size div: 3];

p = Pbind(
    \arpeg, Pseq(pitches[ .. pitches.size - 2] ++ pitches.reverse[ .. pitches.size - 2], inf),
        // if the note is found in the mask array, replace it with Rest
        // then that note does not sound
    \note, Pif(Pfunc { |event| mask.includes(event[\arpeg]) }, Rest, Pkey(\arpeg)),
    \octave, 4,
    \dur, 0.125


Prior to 3.5, the convention to include a rest in the middle of an event pattern is to set the \freq key to a Symbol. Commonly this is \rest, but a backslash by itself is enough to suppress the note on the server. (This usage is still supported in 3.5, but not recommended.)

If it's the \freq key that determines whether the event as a rest or not, why does it work to use it with \note? As noted, keys like \degree, \note, and \midinote are automatically converted into frequency. The math operations that perform the conversion preserve Symbols intact -- e.g., \rest + 1 == \rest . So the \rest value is passed all the way through the chain of conversions so that \freq in the event ends up receiving \rest.

Note that it doesn't matter if the SynthDef has a freq argument. It's the event, on the client side, that looks to this key to determine whether to play the note or not. If it is a rest, the server is not involved at all.

Writing SynthDefs for patterns

SynthDefs should have a couple of specific features to work well with patterns.

Synths should release themselves

The default event prototype relies on the synth to remove itself from the server when it's finished. This can be done in several ways:

Argument name prefixes

One other subtle point about synth argument names. In a SynthDef, argument names can have the prefix t_ to indicate a "trigger control," or i_ for an "initial rate" control (meaning that it holds the value set when the Synth is first played). This is described in SynthDef help. Pbind and its cousins should leave out the prefixes, e.g.:

SynthDef(\trig_demo, { |freq, gate = 1, t_trig = 1|    // t_trig here
    var    env =, 0.01, 0.1),
        sig =, 0, env)
            *, 0.01, 0.1, 0.1, doneAction: 2);, sig ! 2)

p = Pmono(\trig_demo,
    \freq, Pexprand(200, 800, inf),
    \trig, 1,    // note that this is NOT t_trig -- just \trig
    \delta, 0.125


Previous: Pattern Guide 02: Basic Vocabulary

Next: Pattern Guide 04: Words to Phrases