Welcome to SuperCollider! 

This is SuperCollider 3 (SC3), also occasionally called SC Server. It is a powerful programming language for audio synthesis. 

Let's warn you up front of a few points. When learning this language, you will find:

1) The stupid computer will only accept syntactically correct statements in this language.

2) You need to become aware of standard mechanisms of computer languages, like iteration, conditional execution, messaging and containers.

3) It's frustrating if you have a specific musical task in mind to have to deal with this computer language stuff

4) There are a few different versions of SuperCollider around. 3.6 is a cross-platform version, but on a Mac 3.5 or earlier is a different environment. 

BUT the payoff is:

1) You can explore musical tasks that standard software doesn't give you as an option

2) You can learn the programming parts 'on the side' as you practise with the language, and I hope you'll hear inspiring outputs quickly in this course

3) You are working with free software which is easily extendable

You need to know three specific things before you dare to run any code: 

(Mac version: there are keyboard shortcut variations for Linux/Windows)

1. You must select and evaluate code, or at least put the cursor on a given line of code, for it to run. Depending on your version of SuperCollider, the key command may vary. 


For SC3.5 or earlier on Mac, use Enter, not Return. Enter is at the base of the numeric keypad on some keyboards, on the bottom row of some older laptop keyboards, or obtain it with shift+return or ctrl+return. [windows- ctrl+return]

For SC3.6 or later and the sc-IDE, use shift + return or cmd + return. 


2. Before doing any sound synthesis, make sure the synthesis server is on. 


For SC3.5 or earlier, you should see some grey server boxes, with 'Boot' buttons. Turn on the localhost server, by pressing 'Boot' on the grey localhost server graphic. 

For SC3.6, select boot from the menu option under language, or cmd+B


3. To stop running sounds, use command+period (apple key and .) [win: alt+.]

Here are some warm up examples:

2+2   //run me by the evaluate code key command with the cursor anywhere on this line - a four should appear in the posting window 

"I am SuperCollider 3".speak //run me (Mac only, 3.5 or earlier)

{,0,0.1),0.0)}.play //similarly, concert A sine (works only if server booted)

//one powerful feature of SuperCollider is the ease with which you might bring in interaction: here I substitute a Mouse controller for frequency rather than having a constant


//another traffic moment, more involved example (don't worry if you don't understand everything here yet!). Double click on the initial bracket to select this whole block of text, which needs to be run at once. You can't use evaluate on a single line of this example since it's a program consisting of more than one line. 



var n = 11; //try changing me to 34, or 3, and then re-running... 



var freq=rrand(50,560.3); 

var numcps= rrand(2,20);,6.rand,1.0.rand,1.0.rand,freq ,freq, 1.0.rand, 1.0.rand, numcps,,0.2), 0, numcps/2, numcps/2), 0.5/(n.sqrt)), 1.0.rand2) 





SuperCollider is very powerful and much loved because it is easy to do real time synthesis, interaction and algorithmic composition, within one package.

SC3 has the same operating freedom as Max/MSP or Pd, but with the power of the SuperCollider language for UGen Graph generation (connecting up a flow graph of sound generators and processors), and more besides.

On the down side, the visual display of graphs is more limited or non-existent: I hope you aren't surprised at this in a text based interface. I promise that you will grow to be familiar with this, the structures existing in your mind, and if you're worried at any point, try drawing out a diagram of what you're trying to build on good old fashioned paper as an aide memoire. SuperCollider does have graphical user interface facilities though, so we will see ways to create visuals later on.     

If you see this, I hope you're already in the SuperCollider environment (make sure it doesn't say TextEdit in the menu bar on OS X). We write code as text (on the Mac stored as .rtf files before SC3.6, or sometimes .sc or .scd = plain text), and when we instruct the code to run, SuperCollider compiles and executes it immediately.

SuperCollider has similar control structures to programming languages you may already know, like conditional execution and loops. It is an object orientated language based on Smalltalk and C, and has a very strong set of Collection classes like Arrays. 

In this course we shall try to get you to pick up the syntax as we go along, and get on to making sounds as quickly as possible! 

//this is a comment

/* this is also a comment */

//comments are very useful to annotate programs so they make sense to other people or when you return to them yourself six months later on! 

To do audio synthesis, we give SuperCollider a list of instructions for building a Synth, that is, a valid network of Unit Generators, or UGens. 

{,0,0.1),0.0)}.play //This code plugs a sine oscillator into a panner; don't worry, this will be further explained as we go along!

//A hint as to the plugging together: frequency 440  ->  SinOsc -> Pan2 -> output

//Plugging in SuperCollider appears through nesting brackets, e.g. means that the number 440 is plugged into the first input (first in the brackets) of the SinOsc

(If you run this code, note that the localhost GUI will show important runtime information -- like CPU load and number of Synths playing/UGens used -- when synthesis is underway)

( //double click on the inside of any bracket to highlight the code contained within


( //select this code within the outer parentheses 

//then press the evalute key command





A selection is either a whole highlighted area, or the current line of the cursor.

Types of Parentheses 

(  )  //most often, for grouping expressions together

{  }  //function (package up some reusable functionality)

[  ]  //array (list of data)

SuperCollider code can get full of nested expressions: you look at the selections within brackets to check on the scope (level of nesting) of code fragments. Try double clicking around any of the brackets in the following code:


if(4==4, {

if(3==3, {





How do I find out about strange new code objects?

Use Cmd+d on its own to bring up a general help window (F1 on Windows)

or on selected text (that has an associated help file)

LFSaw //select and use Cmd+d

You can also use Cmd+j (3.5) or Cmd+i (3.6) to go to source code to find out more:

LFSaw //select and use Cmd+j (3.5 or earlier) Cmd+i (3.6)

You will use this more later on, but start with reading help files. 

All generated text will appear in the posting window. On SC3.5 or earlier, you can bring the posting window to the front with cmd+\. For 3.6, the post window is an explicit part of the environment, usually docked on the left of the screen.

You'll often see the postln and Post instructions, which are useful for checking on the running state of variables and particularly debugging. 

Run these lines of code with the cursor on each line


Post << [2,3,4,5] <<nl; 

The reason you see more than one thing posted is that when you execute some code, SuperCollider always posts the last object it dealt with. This is the object '2' in the first example and the special 'Post' operator in the second. If you run this:


var freq;




You'll see something posted about a Synth (the object that represents the sound synthesis asked for in the last line). You'll get used to all this, don't worry! 

What happens when it all goes wrong?

This will crash:


So will this:


(A nil is like an empty object; it represents missing information, so no wonder it doesn't work in the expressions above!)

Don't be scared!

You get a trace of the stack (execution order of functions in SuperCollider code). You will learn to read this better in time. For now, look to the top line in the crash report, and you should see something a bit more human-readable. 

The crash backtrace is very helpful in telling you what caused the error. Don't be intimidated by it: everyone's code crashes, especially when you're developing it.

Occasionally, you may crash the entire program. This happens most often when programming big loops, where your instructions cause the computer to get locked in repetitions of some task. There is no cure for this, and SuperCollider is not doing anything wrong: it is faithfully following your instructions. But if you did not anticipate the consequences of your program, such an error may occur. This happens to everyone at some point, we can't anticipate every aspect of every line of code we program! 

How do I start exploring?

If you type Cmd+O you can open files. SuperCollider comes with an examples folder, plus lots of examples in particular help files. 

It is best probably to begin by running examples, and perhaps tinkering with a few numbers in the patches.

Listen to what happens to the sound. 

For some of you, you'll be learning about sound synthesis and processing as you explore; others will be familiar with the theory, but it may take some time and effort to come to grips with the way things are implemented in SuperCollider. 

If you have internet access, go to, from where you can get hold of various websites which have SuperCollider examples and extensions. 

Now run through this tutorial file again if you're unsure, and start to try a few examples out. There is also a 'getting around in SC3' file which summarises some useful shortcuts. Also have a look under the application menus above. 

(cross platform notes: 


Virtually all code should run on any operating system.  

However, one area of difference is the GUIs. Under the surface, things run differently, especially prior to SC3.6. On SC3.6 there is unified Qt GUI system. 

MouseX and MouseY should now work on all platforms. But for older SC versions, or just in case they don't work for you, the Mouse UGens can be simulated via SwingOSC, using a GUI mouse area for controlling patches:

JMouseBase.makeGUI //run me first, you only need to run this part once and can keep using the window which is created

then in any code with a MouseX or MouseY UGen, add a J in front, i.e.

{,800),0,0.1)}.play //now move the mouse in the Java window you created

rather than