cmus, a really quick guide
Reading a post about the demise of Songbird's Linux client, one comment stood out. Its author complained that Songbird was too bloated and slow and, as such, was better off dead. This commenter recommended a terminal-based player called cmus. I decided to take a look. I'm glad I did.
cmus is efficient, functional, and friendly. To ease your switch to cmus, I've written this page. It has a few reasons why I think cmus excels, as well as instructions on getting cmus up and running quickly.
Selling points for cmus
There are many reasons to use cmus:
- cmus is light. On my old netbook cmus used 15 megabytes of RAM to play one mp3, while Banshee used 135 megabytes. cmus is also fast to start and has few dependencies.
- cmus respects your files. Unlike some other music players, cmus won't automatically download album art, create hidden folders in your music directories, or change your ID3 tags in any way. In fact, it can't do any of these things.
- cmus has a clean interface. Just look at the screenshot above. Software hipsters won't call it "beautiful" but it is simple!
- cmus has really strong, easy to use search
features. Some music players let you search the name of a song
or an artist. With cmus you can do way more. Let's say that you need to
view songs shorter than 2 minutes and 50 seconds long (pretend you're
making a mix CD and only have three minutes of space left). Just type
:filter duration<170. Or perhaps you want to see Norwegian black metal songs from the early 90s? Type
:filter date>1989&date<1996&genre="Black Metal"&comment="Norway". (That works only if you store an artist's country of origin in the comment field, like I do.) Or let's say you just want some heavy music? Try
:filter genre="Doom Metal"|genre="Stoner Metal". Filters like these can be saved and accessed quickly from the filters view later on.
- You control cmus with the keyboard alone. You'll quickly come to appreciate this efficient way of interacting with your music player. But this is a bit of a hurdle for new users, so this page will cover what to press to get cmus working well.)
Getting cmus up and running in 90 seconds
Start cmus by typing
cmus at the command line. Once it's
running, you'll need to add your music to its library.
We use the keyboard to bend cmus to our will. cmus uses vi-like
keybindings. Simple commands require a single key press, while complex
directives like adding music from a directory demands a bit more typing.
To begin such a complex command, type :. Notice that a colon
and a blinking text-input prompt appear at the bottom of the screen. The
program is waiting for a command. To add your music, type
:add followed by the path to your music, e.g.,
/home/username/music/albums, and press enter.
The time it takes cmus to import your music depends on how many files
you have pointed it to, since cmus reads -- but never alters -- the
metadata for each track. If you make changes to songs' metadata, do
:update inside cmus. If I've added new files, I typically
:add /home/username/music/albums followed by
:update. This is much better than waiting for Rhythmbox or
GNOME Music to eventually, hopefully, notice the new music you've added
to your watched folders. (And that kind of inconvenience is just the tip
of the iceberg. The last time I made the mistake of opening Rhythmbox,
it reverted the metadata of hundreds of songs back to what was stored in
its months-old cache, even though the changes existed because I had
spent many hours carefully tweaking this metadata.)
Once your songs are imported you probably would like to play them. Doing so is as simple as using the arrow keys, vi-keys, the page up and page down keys to navigate through the list of artists. When you find an artist, press space to open up a list of albums, or press tab to switch to the list of tracks for the selected artist. Use enter to play a track. To change albums or artists, just press tab to switch back to the artist / album pane and begin the process again.
That's really all there is to using cmus in a basic way. Still, you can and should do much more. So let's start by looking at some more keys you can use to command cmus.
I use these keys most times I run cmus. They're configurable, but these are the defaults.
v - stop playback
b - next track
z - previous track
c - pause playback
s - toggle shuffle (read about the m key below if you're going to use shuffle)
m - toggles the "aaa mode." aaa stands for artist, album, or all. Controls whether cmus shuffles between songs from an artist, album, or from all your songs. You can see the currently set "aaa mode" in the bottom right, next to where the display of the continue, repeat, and shuffle settings.
x - restart track
i - jump view to the currently playing track (handy when in shuffle mode and follow is off.)
f - toggle follow. When follow is on, the selection bar will jump to the next playing track. For example, in shuffle mode, this controls whether the selection bar jumps between artists or not. You can manually focus on the playing track by pressing i, as noted above. If follow is on, an 'f' appears in the bottom right, in the area where continue, repeat, and shuffle are displayed.
/ - searching cmus works as in many Unix programs. Typing /, a string, and enter will find the first instance of that string in your current view. Press n to go to the next string, N to go to the previous. cmus's search isn't case sensitive and is quite smart. For example, a search for damned insurrection will return Bulldozer's "Insurrection of the Living Damned".
- - reduce the volume by 10%
+ - increase the volume by 10%
Conclusion: further guidance
There's more cmus to discover. cmus incorporates a file browser, a playlist view, and some other neat stuff.
Because cmus lacks menus and icons, at first it's more involved than
using a GUI program. Fortunately, cmus is well-documented. New users
should consult the excellent cmus tutorial, only a bit of which is
replicated here. This tutorial will walk them through the process of
setting up cmus and explains the basic use of most features. This
tutorial can be accessed in a terminal by typing
The cmus tutorial is also available online. Fuller documentation is
found in cmus's man page, which again can be read by typing
cmus. The cmus
man page is also available online. Between these two documents, new
users should be well on the way to learning how to use a music player
that's ultimately easier and more feature-rich than most
P.S. Want something similar to cmus, but even simpler? Try siren: a text-based audio player.