While the best instrumentalists in the world can play with incredible precision, none can approach the incredibly reliable timing of a sequencer. This is because music sequencers are fully programmable in the same way that you can program a computer.
In fact, modern sequencers ARE computers: incredibly complex digital machines that allow you to play virtually any musical or rhythmic patterns or “sequences” of sonic elements. If you have your sequencer set up appropriately, you can play your chosen combination of notes, rhythmic elements, effects, and articulations with the touch of a button or a click of a mouse.
There are many sequencer types and designs on the market today. Although some models are specifically geared toward beginners, even the simplest of sequencers can be quite intimidating, particularly to people who might be less musically and/or technologically inclined. But, by following the five tips below, even total newcomers to the sequencer can begin making a beautiful racket in no time!
1. Choose the Right Sequencer/Synth Connection
Fortunately, most music sequencers are compatible with most other forms of synthesizer-based instruments and computer hardware. In fact, users can generally choose among many different ways to connect sequencers to synth. Software sequencers that operated entirely on a computer or mobile device are generally quite easy to connect to any synth device. Depending on their age and specific brand, hardware sequencers commonly link to synths and other devices via MIDI, CV, or USB interfaces. While all of these interfaces allow you to faithfully carry pitch, rhythm, articulation, and other defining aspects of sequencer music creation, a 3.5mm CV jack can give precise voltage control to further modulate auditory signals.
2. Use Sequencer Knobs Rather Than Your Mouse
If a software sequencer has any knobs to speak of, they will be virtual in nature and appear only on your computer screen. Many hardware sequencers that connect to a computer allow you to choose between making adjustments on-screen or with a series of physical knobs, switches, and buttons. Most beginners tend to appreciate the tactile nature of turning a physical knob and find that “turning” knobs with a mouse and keyboard is far less intuitive. When you hear your musical sequences changing in real time under the influence of your fingertips, it can be quite creatively empowering.
3. Create Melody and Harmony with Pitch
Although different sequencers may come with radically different features, nearly all of them allow you to program them for pitch. The relative highness or lowness of a note, pitch allows you to create melodies and harmonies. Try placing different notes in different orders to craft a melody. Try programming two or more congruous notes at the same time to create harmonies.
4. Create Rhythmic Timing with Gate or Trigger
The related elements of gate and trigger are even more essential than pitch when it comes to sequencer operation. Applicable to both musical notes and atonal percussion, gate refers to the amount of time in any sequencer program that is “open” to a particular sound. Triggers are the specific points in time that various gates open. Every time you program a sound, your sequencer places gate and trigger signals to launch that sound and subsequently terminate it.
5. Create Sound Texture with Modulation
To create true works of music art, sequencer users must augment the primary elements of pitch and gate with secondary elements such as modulation. Without modulation, musicians simply can’t get the specific timbres, textures, and other sonic qualities that give music so much of its emotional import and primal power. Often controlled by a mod wheel, a touch pad, or a series of knobs, modulation changes sound with effects such as vibrato and phasing.