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Innovation Week II workshops day: Emlyn’s introduction to Sonic Pi and Live Coding

6th October 2015

We’re two days into Innovation Week II, and today’s been packed with interesting workshops covering a wide range of interests, from space travel to Photoshop 101, to learning the ‘cup song’! One of these workshops was a half day “Introduction to Sonic Pi and Live Coding” tutorial, by one of our software engineers, Emlyn. Emlyn is known for his wacky and experimental innovation projects, and this was no exception. This workshop taught a group of us (developers and non-developers alike!) how to make music on our laptop by coding. Emlyn explains more below.

It started with SwiftKey’s music night in July. A few days before that, I had been traveling alone on a plane and had a few hours to spare, during which I decided play around with Sonic Pi.

sonic-pi-logoSonic Pi is an open source programming environment designed for creating sounds with code, developed by Dr. Sam Aaron at the University of Cambridge. It’s straightforward enough to pick up that it is used in primary schools to teach children the principles of coding, yet powerful enough that it can be used for live coding dance music in clubs.

Based on what I learned over those few hours, I live coded a piece of music at SwiftKey’s music night, starting from a blank page, and building it up slowly in real time. You can hear what I made on SoundCloud (it takes a bit of time to get going, the first 90 seconds is just setting up the drum beat and typing out a fairly long chord progression by hand).

Several people expressed an interest in learning how to do the same, so I decided to put on a Sonic Pi and Live Coding workshop during this innovation week.

Five people came along (including two non-developers) and we went over a wide range of Sonic Pi’s capabilities, starting with playing simple beeps, to changing synths, playing samples and applying effects, and finally had a bit of a look at live coding.


As this was more of a tutorial, we don’t have any music to show off yet, but the participants will be practicing what they learned, and maybe soon they’ll come up with some music pieces that we can link to here. Stay tuned!

I’ve already been asked to put on a follow-up workshop at our next Innovation Week with some more advanced Sonic Pi coding. Our Chief HR Officer, Trecilla, gave the following feedback:

This is perfect for non-coders like me, it gave me an opportunity to explore coding and step out of my comfort zone and be a bit creative with music. It will be good to expand on this at our next Innovation Week and maybe do slightly more advanced things once I’ve mastered the basics. Can’t wait to show this to my daughter, she will be super impressed and I am sure like me will be hooked on it. Thanks again, great workshop!

Exposing ourselves to new ideas and sharing knowledge is a key part of innovation and our company culture at SwiftKey. Thanks to Emlyn and all the talented people who led workshops today! Can’t wait to see what topics we explore next time.

The Innovation Commandos

Want to learn more about SwiftKey’s Innovation Week? Start here!