How Ringtones Work

First, let’s begin by learning what ringtones are and what they do. Your phone probably already has a dozen or more “tones” within it that you can choose from to be the sound that alerts you to an incoming call. These tones can be either monophonic (mono meaning “one,” indicating that single note is playing or trilling like your house phone probably does) or polyphonic (meaning “more than one,” with different notes playing at once). Many phones now offer polyphonic ringtones that you can program yourself or download with your phone’s WAP (wireless application protocol) browser.

Programming a ringtone is the more complicated way, but is the only method some phones use, and looking at programming is the simplest way to explain how exactly ringtones function. Many are made using a programming language called Ringing Tone Text Transfer Language (RTTTL), which was created by Nokia and is most often seen on Nokia phones. Composing in RTTTL may be difficult, but programming a ringtone using someone else’s composition is simple, if time-consuming.

You would enter each note into the phone’s memory, accompanied by information about its duration, scale, and tempo. Since the phone has a large range of sounds already stored inside it, these directions simply instruct the phone what pattern to play which notes in. Some older phones, in particular Motorola models, use a similar method which almost anyone with a set of sheet music can program themselves, using notes A through G, rests, sharps and flats, and one of three octaves and speeds.

Fortunately, if you’re not composing your own songs, the process of getting a ringtone on your phone can be greatly simplified with the help of the Internet. Your provider may have a great selection available already right on their website, and often you can listen to the tone on your PC before downloading it onto your cellular. This method is optimal because you are able to choose the songs you want and download them for a small price–the profits of which are split between the copyright holders and your provider, supporting the industry and the artists themselves.

And what about songs that are not so readily available, such as TV themes, video game music, or other non-mainstream interests? There are many ringtone sites, either free or for a small fee, that will allow you to choose from thousands of tones, if your phone is compatible.

Many phones are now capable of playing MIDIs (Musical Instrument Digital Interface), which can be composed of an electric keyboard or are easily found online. MIDIs allow for tones that synthesize many different instruments playing at once, supplying background music, “vocals” (in the form of more tones, for now), and harmony. It seems as though it won’t be too long before perfect music recordings are available for ringtone use.

The tone, when you download through a website, is transmitted through SMS (Short Messaging Service), which you may be already familiar with as text messaging. It is the same concept–the tone is sent to your phone along with a message, similar to how you would “attach” a file to an e-mail.

Alternately, connecting via WAP as mentioned above allows you to download directly from the website if your phone recognizes the file type. Games, wallpapers (in a format such as .jpg or .gif), and ringtones can all be transmitted in this way.

Once the tone is on your cell phone, simply choose it as your main ringer, or if your phone allows, assign it to be an alarm sound, specialized caller ID sound, incoming voicemail/text sound, or anything else. Most phones can store dozens or even hundreds of tones that you can keep for future use.

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