Running Sonic Pi From VSCode

Tasks and keybindings in VSCode to play sound from Sonic Pi

June 26, 2020

While Sonic Pi's editor is great, I prefer VSCode for everything code-related. Unfortunately, there is no Sonic Pi VSCode extension (yet).

Using custom tasks and keybindings, we can make our own "extension".

1. Install sonic-pi-cli

gem install sonic-pi-cli
 
# On Mac you may have to use sudo:
sudo gem install sonic-pi-cli

Once installed, open the Sonic Pi app and enter the following in your Terminal to make sure it works properly:

sonic_pi play 50
ERROR: Sonic Pi is not listening on 4557 - is it running?

If you get this error, it means the Sonic Pi is not open. Open the app, then try the command again.

2. Use sonic-pi-cli to play music from a ruby file

Create a file with the .rb extension with some Sonic Pi Ruby code, for example:

music.ruby
play :E4

In your Terminal, enter the following command to play the file with sonic-pi-cli:

cat music.rb | sonic_pi

To stop music, run

sonic_pi stop

At this stage, we can already use VSCode. However, it is quite inconvenient to type sonic_pi stop and cat music.rb | sonic_pi every time we make a change.

What does the '|' character mean?

| is the pipe operator. In short, it passes the output of one command (cat music.rb) to another (sonic_pi). Read more here: piping in Unix or Linux.

3. Configuring keyboard shortcuts

VSCode makes it easy to create to run sonic_pi stop and cat music.rb | sonic_pi using tasks and keybindings.

Tasks

All VSCode tasks are stored in tasks.json. Top open this file, enter the command ">Tasks: Open user tasks" in the command palette, and you should see a file like this:

tasks.json
{
  // See https://go.microsoft.com/fwlink/?LinkId=733558
  // for the documentation about the tasks.json format
  "version": "2.0.0",
  "tasks": []
}

We need to add two tasks:

  • One to start playing the current file with sonic-pi-cli: cat <current file> | sonic_pi
  • One to stop playing: sonic_pi stop.

Both are of type shell. We also have to give them unique labels so we can reference them in keybindings. I'm going to use sp-run and sp-stop.

Add the tasks like this:

tasks.json
{
  // See https://go.microsoft.com/fwlink/?LinkId=733558
  // for the documentation about the tasks.json format
  "version": "2.0.0",
  "tasks": [
    // PLAY MUSIC
    {
      "label": "sp-run",
      "type": "shell",
      "command": "cat ${file} | sonic_pi"
    },
 
    // STOP PLAYING
    {
      "label": "sp-stop",
      "type": "shell",
      "command": "sonic_pi stop"
    }
  ]
}

Keybindings

We need to add keybindings to run these tasks.

Open keybindings.json with the keyboard shortcut cmd-K cmd-s. Click the button on the top right () to open the file in JSON. It should look something like this:

keybindings.json
// Place your key bindings in this file to override the defaults
[
  // ..
  // all of your keybindings
  // ...
]

To bind a keyboard shortcut to a task, we have to set its command to workbench.action.tasks.runTask. We also want to limit this keyboard shortcut to Ruby (.rb) files, so we can set when to editorLangId == ruby.

I am going to use ctrl-alt-S to play (sp-run) and ctrl-alt-A to stop (sp-stop).

keybindings.json
// Place your key bindings in this file to override the defaults
[
  // ..
  // all your other keybindings
  // ...
 
  // for sonic pi
  {
    "key": "ctrl+alt+s", // customize the shortcut
    "command": "workbench.action.tasks.runTask",
    "args": "sp-run",
    "when": "editorLangId == ruby" // limit these keybindings to work in ruby files
  },
  {
    "key": "ctrl+alt+a", // customize the shortcut
    "command": "workbench.action.tasks.runTask",
    "args": "sp-stop",
    "when": "editorLangId == ruby"
  }
]

To make sure this works, add the following to your music.rb:

music.rb
live_loop :main do
  play :E4
  sleep 1
end

Use the keyboard shortcut you defined to start playing (ctrl-alt-S in my case).

You should see VSCode's terminal open up with a message like

> Executing task: cat /users/spv/music.rb | sonic_pi <
 
Terminal will be reused by tasks, press any key to close it.

If it works, try making a change. For example:

music.rb
live_loop :main do
  play :C4 # <- changed
  sleep 1
end

Use your keyboard shortcut to start playing again (ctrl-alt-S in my case). If the sound playing changes, try stopping it with your shortcut (ctrl-alt-D in my case).

Logs

Sonic Pi logs cannot be shown in VSCode yet. Use the Sonic Pi sidebar to see them.