What is the quickest way to hear freshly installed Zynthian?

I was thinking about spending some time on an old project to write some audio PWM code for the Parallax Propeller, and experiment with making some oscillator code on top of that. (Retronitus is an amazing sound library for the propeller chip from a decade ago.) I then starting thinking of pi, and thought it might be a fun way to get into some ARM assembly code, started wondering why I would choose one over the other. One thing lead to another, and my mind was blown when I landed at Zynthian.org. Amazing how far Linux has come since I used it with the Yggdrasil Bible. With so many synth libraries and code out there already, and especially how Zynthian seems to bundle them all, who needs to write another low level assembly language PWM routine from scratch! (Maybe I should go even lower level and pull out the FPGA trainers and write the low level sound stuff in hardware from scratch in VHDL, but I digress.)

I happened to have a spare Raspberry Pi with 8GB that I had not yet setup as a server. So I decided this is the perfect time to try out Zynthian. Since I dont have a kit, (I want a 4.0 kit, and was trying to see if I could put together a list of all the parts that seem available in the shop and order that way, but wasnt sure what I might be missing), I want to simply use Zynthian as a headless server on this Pi.

I struggled through the download, got web.config on web port, told it I have nothing other than the raspberry pi headphones, and setup to allow VNC to my Mac (with Catalina MacOSX 10.15.5) (raspi-config last night was complaining the repo it was accessing didnt have libavahi-glibl, but trying again today it found the library), so I can see the main screen. i installed quartz, but I still cant get xwindows to work, when i do the ssh -Y root@zynthian.local i am asked for password, and then I just see a normal SSH login info for Linux Zynthian. I dont see any new xwindow opening. This happens whether i go from the quartz xterm, or from the web.conf Software → VNC Viewer and the xterm embedded on that screen. Still trying to figure that out, conflicting stuff out there says quartz not compatible with latest Mac OSX…

So on the VNC viewer screen, I can see the various screens of Zynthian. i saw there is one snapshot to load, “002-Fluid3 GM”. Saw all kinds of patches under that…

But how do I get the Zynthian to make some sound? Like play a demo or something? Be nice if one could hear a quick sample of each patch when browsing through the list…

i also have available to me a Korg microKEY AIR portable bluetooth/USB keyboard. Would love to hook that to the pi.

Put it another way: Logged in through my laptop in some way to Zynthian, can I have the same fun playing with all the synths installed as I could with Reason? Is Zynthian a great replacement for Reason, or Korg Gadget on my iPad? (Nearly total dearth of tutorials for that, a year or two ago, I couldnt hardly find any saved song setups to play with and copy ideas from.) What is the quickest way to get to that tweaking and making some sounds…

OK, here is another objective I have with Zynthian: How can i go from a royalty free midi file of a hymn, and have Zynthian playing that as a real cool arrangement of synths and instruments?

So again, how to take a naked pi, nothing more than headphones, and maybe a USB piano keyboard, and connect them to Zynthian on a fresh pi and make your first sound?

Great wiki! I will continue seeing if I can puzzle all this out from there, and eventually contribute some guides to help others. Appreciate your pointers in the meantime.

Thanks for your help!

Hi @TheGarnet and welcome to the Zynthian community.

Yes, you can connect your Korg microKEY AIR to one of the pi usb ports. Load the 002-Fluid3 GM snapshot and start playing sounds. Or you can also go to the Layer menu and select New Synth Layer. Then select a synth engine and a MIDI CH# and then pick a patch bank and patch.

There are a few things you can do to hear sound without hooking up a midi keyboard. You can go to the admin menu and select Test Audio. This will simply play an audio recording to help you verify the audio is working. You can also go to the Layer menu and the select New Special Layer and and then select PureData Visual Programming. Select MIDI CH#1 and then select generative. Then select generative relaxing. The general relaxing patch and the OuterSpaceZynth patch both generate sound without a keyboard.

You can load midi files using the web config tool. Just go to LIBRARY, Captures and highlight the mid folder, then click on the Upload button to select and upload a midi file. After the upload completes it will be available to select on the zynthian by selecting the MIDI recorder. You can load the Fluid3 GM snapshot before playing the midi file. You also need to be sure to go to the admin menu to make sure you are in multi-timbral mode instead of stage mode.

You can also hookup up a HDMI monitor or HDMI TV to your Rpi and a USB mouse and control everything without going headless.

You can also find many other features explained in the User Guide in the wiki.


Wow! i was that close, all i need to do was plug in the keyboard to USB. Wow, lots of instruments to try in that snapshot.

Thank you for those great starting points! All kinds of good things to try.


If you load the 002-Fluid3 GM snapshot , you should try the MIDI demo from the admin menu :wink:


I am unable to get xwindows to work with my setup. I have tried the ssh -Y root@zynthian.local from both the xterm window of xquartz on Mac, and also MobaXterm on windows, and I get a normal shell login on both. No new xwindows window comes up on either. I thought xquartz was broke, but it did seem to install ok. Now that MobaXterm also does not get the xwindow coming up (and it definitely has setting for xforwarding setup) now it seems it is my xynthian setup that is having problems.

Also, I tried the editing $geometry = “2048x1600”; into ~/.vncrc but it does not change the size of the vnc launch, I still get the default saize. So when I load the synths with GUI, no new GUI is launched in the VNC window.

So how do I get xwindows working? How can I make the vnc login window larger?

I was able to go to the linux command prompt in Zynthian and run vncserver, and this gave me the address zynthian.local:1 I can launch that in VNC, in addition to the first VNC session that only mimics the Zynthian Kit display, and I see a new VNC window that lets me see Patchage, uxterm, etc.

Can I run the gui for the synths from this second window?

And how to I resize the original VNC window so that the synth GUI can launch there. Although I really like the idea of having the synth guis launch in their own separate VNC windows.