Sequencer (music)

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A modern hardware step sequencer

A sequencer [ zeˈkvɛntsər ] is an electronic device or software that records, plays, and manipulates data to create music .


The core of a sequencer is the storage and transmission of a score to a sound generator. The score is available in a machine-readable format and transmits the pitch, duration and possibly other aspects of the notes to be reproduced to one or more voices in their chronological order to a device that generates the corresponding tones. Both functions can be combined in one device. As a rule, a sequencer enables notes to be entered using suitable methods , e.g. B. by importing on a master keyboard or entering notes on the computer . In contrast to this, a concrete, physical sound image is electronically reproduced during sound reproduction.

By recording the notes and their parameters instead of recording the complete waveforms, there are a number of advantages:

  • the amount of data stored in the music is comparatively small;
  • Transposition and tempo changes are easy to do;
  • different instruments can be controlled with the same data.

By reducing it to grades, certain aspects cannot be reproduced or can only be reproduced to a very limited extent:

  • the sound of individual instruments;
  • the individual expression of a musician.

The sequencer can be used to control information other than sounds. For example, controller data can be sequenced to e.g. B. to control filter envelopes or other controllable events using midi control numbers.


Homemade sequencer by Marcel Schmidt, engineer at the Cologne University of Music, 1980

The term sequencer was coined in the 1960s in the course of the development of electronic music and describes an electronic device that was initially built in an analogue manner and is now mostly digital device or corresponding software. The historical forerunners of the sequencer can be seen as the mechanical musical instruments that mechanically stored the notes of a composition (e.g. on a pin roller) and passed them on to the appropriate tone generator.

Sequencers have mostly been known as MIDI sequencers since the early 1980s . No actual tones are recorded or played back with a MIDI sequencer, only the control data (MIDI data) with which various sound generators ( synthesizers ) can be controlled. The data stored in a MIDI sequencer contain information about the pitch of individual notes, their velocity and duration. Furthermore, the sound generator can be instructed with which instruments the notes are to be played, which is particularly useful for multi-track arrangements. Entering notes may have a master keyboard done in real time or entered via an editor such. B. on a computer by drawing with a computer mouse .

Step sequencer

The history of the sequencer begins with analog step sequencers for controlling the sound generation of synthesizers with adjustable voltages. The name comes from the fact that each sound event is programmed step by step ("step by step") with its properties such as pitch, duration, etc. Initially, only between 8 and 64 tones were possible. This type of sequencer mainly generates repetitive pitch and sound patterns ("loops"), which can be changed during playback. They are a typical stylistic device of the electronic music of the Berlin School ( Tangerine Dream , Klaus Schulze ) in the mid-1970s to early 1980s. During the rediscovery of the analog synthesizer in the early eighties, the call for step sequencers grew louder again, as no such devices were available on the market at that time. In the meantime, step sequencers are being produced again by some, mostly small, companies. On the one hand, these are analog devices (without storage option), but predominantly digital versions with memory and MIDI outputs.

The advancement of step sequencers are pattern sequencers. These can play several step patterns in song structures one after the other without interruption.

In the early 1980s, popular step sequencers from Roland ( TB-303 , SH-101, MC-202) and Casio ( VL-1 , Casiotone MT-70, Sampletone SK-1) came out, which quickly made their way into found the music charts .

MIDI sequencer

The next development step was the digitization of the game data, which made it possible to save it first on tape cassettes and later on floppy disks . This was followed by real-time recording through direct import using a keyboard. Finally, in 1983, MIDI was introduced as the universal language for electronic musical instruments. Today's sequencers are predominantly devices for recording, processing and playing back MIDI data.

This type of sequencer is also called real-time sequencer to distinguish it from step sequencers. With them, there is no mandatory division of the tone data received mainly via midi according to patterns or steps. This means that this sequencer can be used as a recording device like a multi-track tape recorder . At the end of the recordings of all tracks and their possible processing for error correction or arrangement, all tracks are then played and the sound data contained therein is output to the sound generator via midi. The outputs of the tone generator are then recorded either on tape or directly in the computer. Nowadays, all physical sound generators are often omitted because software sound generators ( VST ) can generate the sounds in the computer.

Sequencer in tape machine mode

With sequencers in tape machine mode, control data can be arranged and processed as required on a time axis. Today they are the classic tools in studio productions, step and pattern sequencers are more likely to be found in the live area.

MIDI / audio sequencer

Since the mid-1990s, software solutions have been offered that enable hard disk recording in addition to pure MIDI sequencing and are known as MIDI / audio sequencers. The range of functions has been further expanded so that a modern MIDI / audio sequencer is practically a complete virtual music studio with an integrated mixer, interfaces for the integration of effects and virtual instruments (software-based sound generator).

Tracker sequencer

Renoise , a graphical , tracker-like music sequencer:
top right : sample list
top middle : channel curves
top left : general piece of music properties (BPM etc.)
middle left : master list
middle right : pattern editor, command list for the channels (along the line) and the course of time (along the columns), the white bar cursor marks the current point in time
below : Sound effect selection and parameterization

In addition to software sequencers developed in the classical music environment, there are also so-called trackers , which were developed in the mid- 1980s in the Amiga environment . In this computer environment, pieces of music for computer games were created with them , e.g. B. Pinball Dreams or Unreal . In the 1990s, trackers and the associated file formats were perceived and further developed by the demo scene . The tracker concept with compact file sizes and good quality of its music pieces was attractive for the creation of computer demos , which at that time still had to fit on floppy disks . In the 2000s, trackers et al. a. used in the electro scene as well as for music and sound on mobile devices with limited hardware equipment , such as B. the Game Boy Advance .

In a tracker, in contrast to other sequencers or notation, the passage of time is displayed from top to bottom (instead of from left to right). The grades are entered in a table, with a column specifying the regular meter . Another difference to other music sequencer software is the usual export in editable tracker formats instead of non-editable WAV or MP3 files. The technically open accessibility of the original materials and the sequence programming in the tracker formats corresponds conceptually roughly to the open source concept in computer science for program code .

The original file format of the trackers was Mod . Formats with extended properties (e.g. more channels, compression, etc.) were later defined. B. XM , IT , S3M and many more . Modern variant is the XML -based and under the GPL standing XRNS format, introduced with the Renoise tracker.

The differences between trackers and other music sequencer software are now becoming increasingly blurred; For example, in 2007 the British Computer Music Magazine presented third generation trackers such as: B. Renoise or Jeskola Buzz , as a professional and inexpensive alternative to other music studio software.

A technical overview of current and historical tracker music sequencers can be found on the list of trackers .


Another variant of the sequencer are the so-called composers or arrangers . These programs combine the capabilities of classic MIDI sequencers with a style-oriented way of working. A sequence of harmonies is linked to different musical styles, the styles. The software composes a piece of music from this. The harmony sequences are usually entered into the software with chord symbols. Most programs contain a number of styles in different musical genres. But you can also create your own styles, which can then be used in any number of pieces.

Common programs of this genre are:

On the hardware side, there is also the genus of groove boxes such as B .:

  • Electron Monomachine, Machinedrum
  • Korg Electribe, Korg Karma
  • Radikal Technologies Spectralis
  • Roland MC-303 , 505, 606, 808, 909
  • Yamaha RM1X

Grooveboxes often claim to be an "all-in-one" production machine. However, this formulation seems slightly exaggerated, as you can usually not fully live out your creativity by being limited to such a device.

List of hardware sequencers

  • Akai MPC
  • Doepfer A-155 Sequencer, A-154 Sequencer Controller, A-156 Quantizer, Dark Time
  • Genoq's Octopus, Nemo
  • Jazz Mutant Lemur
  • manikin pacemaker (see picture above)
  • Sequentix P3
  • Sequentix Cirklon
  • Quasimidi style drive
  • MIDIbox SEQ
  • Yamaha Tenori-On
  • Arturia Beatstep, Beatstep Pro, Keystep
  • Korg SQ-10, SQ-1, Electribe
  • MFB SEQ 01, SEQ 02, SEQ 03, STEP64
  • Electron octatrack

List of software sequencers

See also


  • Thomas Görne: Sound engineering. Fachbuchverlag Leipzig in Carl Hanser Verlag, Munich et al. 2006, ISBN 3-446-40198-9 .
  • Hubert Henle: The recording studio manual. Practical introduction to professional recording technology. 5th, completely revised edition. Carstensen, Munich 2001, ISBN 3-910098-19-3 .

Web links

Commons : Sequencer  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Claudio Matsuoka: Tracker History Graphing Project ( English ) November 4, 2007. Retrieved January 29, 2011: " Tracker History Graph "
  2. Information about IT files and Unreal games - Alexander Brandon, (1999, English)
  3. Sean Davidson: Trance Mushrooms to Infect Pune ( English ) In: The Times of India . January 3, 2003. Retrieved May 16, 2010.
  4. Andy Jones: From a Distance: The Virtual Collaboration that Helped Score The Sims 2 DS / GBA ( English ) In: Gamasutra . January 10, 2006. Retrieved May 16, 2010.
  5. Andrew Leonard: Mod love ( English ) In: . Salon Media Group. April 29, 1999. Retrieved May 17, 2010: " [Tracker musicians] ... see an affinity between the" seeing the music "aspect of tracking and the code accessibility of open-source software. [...] free music, free software, free advice. I think it's [the tracking scene] a close cousin of the Linux scene. The parallels are striking. "
  6. Top Trackers . In: Future Publishing Ltd (Ed.): Computer Music Magazine . No. 113, June 2007. Retrieved in 2007. “ Tracker! The amazing free music software giving the big boys a run for their money. "
  7. Pascal Joguet: Jazz Mutant. (No longer available online.) Archived from the original on July 23, 2017 ; accessed on July 24, 2017 . Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /