CNTRLR Modules Drum Steppr

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Drum Stepp:r

Drum Stepp:r with Drum Rack


Co-designed with Richie Hawtin and the [M-nus Record Label] the Drum Stepp:r is a fully interactive step sequencer designed for sequencing drums in a Live Drum Rack.

The CNTRL:R's 4x4 button grid represents not only a sound in the Drum Rack, but a sixteen-step sequence for that sound. Press a button in the 4x4, and the sound's sequence will display in both the Live user-interface (UI) and, more importantly, on the controller's bottom row of sixteen RGB buttons.

Additionally, the twelve dials in the UI will display the current settings for the selected sound. The CNTRL:R's 12 encoders will also update with these values.

The top two rows of dials are used to control parameters of the instrument that is used in the Drum Rack, and the bottom row of dials provides some control to alter and edit the sequence.

The top row of the CNTRL:R's 16x2 array matches up with the "Sequence mute" buttons in the UI. These are global controls used for muting individual sequences, and therefore not updated or changed when a sequence is selected with the 4x4 grid.

This top row can be switched to control the sequence "Rules" instead, in which case, the LEDs will update with those values when a sequence is selected.

The device's UI provides some additional controls that are not linked to the CNTRL:R to offer more detailed editing of the sequence for fine-tuning the pattern and sound, such as preset storage, velocity control, timing, and playback direction.

Synth Stepp:r controls map

Video Tutorials

Here are some links to informative videos:


This Max for Live patch for the CNTRL:R requires Live 8.2.2 or above, and MaxMSP 5.18 or above. Please make sure that both are installed before proceeding with installation.

The current version of the DrumSteppr (v2) has been modified to work with Max 6.05 and Live 8.3.2. Although it should continue to work with Max 5.19, it is recommended that you update to the most recent version of Live (v 8.3 or above).

In addition, the DrumSteppr v2 REQUIRES that the CNTRL:R MIDI Remote Script be selected as a control surface in Ableton Live's MIDI Preferences in order for the parameter section of the patch to work correctly.

Download the sample Live Project. This has a complete example setup of the Drum (and Synth) Stepp:r and a properly organized DrumRack. Load the CNTRLR Ableton Live Remote Script in Live's preferences, and you will be able to use the project with the CNTRL:R. If you want to move the Livid-DrumStepp-r.amxd file to your Live Library, you are free to do so!

Alternatively, you may run the CNTRLR Combined installer for Mac or Windows which will install all CNTRLR modules and the CNTRLR Live Remote Script.

If you are using OSX 10.8 or newer, it may be necessary to copy the contents of the installer's DMG file to a local drive in order for it to work properly. We are working on a fix for this.

Quick Start

  1. Create a new MIDI Track in Live
  2. Drag and Drop a Drum Rack into the MIDI track (or create a new one)
  3. Make sure the Drum Rack is properly configured
  4. Drag and Drop the DrumStepp:r from the Live Browser into the track
  5. Press Play and start Making a Sequence

The Interface

The Stepp:r device's user interface (UI) has the following elements:
Drum Stepp:r interface

  • A. Module ID -->
  • B. Sequence ID and Pad Instrument name
  • C. Sequence/Sound Selector -->
  • D. Selector Mode -->
  • E. View/Edit Selection Menu -->
  • F. Direction Menu -->
  • G. Time Division Menu -->
  • H. Sixteenths or Triplets Toggle -->
  • I. Sequence Mutes (mute whole sequences) -->
  • J. CNTRL:R to mutes or rules toggle -->
  • K. Rules -->
  • L. Step Enable Buttons -->
  • M. The Sequence UI
  • N. Note Number -->
  • O. Sound and Sequence Control Dials -->
  • P. Transpose Buttons (encoder pushbuttons) -->
  • Q. Sequence Modify Buttons (encoder pushbuttons) -->
  • R. Sequence Presets (for current sequence) -->
  • S. Version Number
  • T. Link to Help

Setting up a Drum Rack for Drum Stepp:r

While the Drum Stepp:r tries to make every accommodation to make it easy to integrate into any Live Set, there is some considerations that the user must make to ensure that everything works as expected. The Live Drum rack is a great way to organize sounds and instruments to let different notes trigger different sounds, but for perfect integration with DrumStepper, we need to be sure of some simple rules.

The Drum Stepp:r sequences output MIDI notes to the DrumRack ranging from note numbers 36 (C1) to 51 (D#2). While the sequence's note output can be changed in the UI, it's easier to just arrange the Drum Rack so your sounds occupy the pads for notes 36-51. You can do this by drag-dropping sounds in the drum pads, or by changing the values in the "Receive" column of the chain:

Organizing the Drum Rack

The other consideration is the order of the instruments in the Chain view. The 4x4 pads match the sequences to sounds by using the order of the instruments in the chain view. This is, unfortunately, the ONLY way to do this in a Max For Live device. (If you know of another way, let us know!). Once you have confirmed that your instruments in the Drum Rack occupy notes 36-51, order the instruments in the chain with the lowest "Receive" value at the top. Look at the above picture to see how the pads match up with the order of the instruments, and it should be obvious what to do.

Starting with a Blank Kit

When you first drag the Drum Stepp:r into an empty MIDI Track in Live, you'll see something like this:

No Drum Rack Error Message

because the Drum Stepp:r needs some drums to play! Here's a tutorial on creating your own Drum Rack in Live, starting from a blank kit. To create a new Drum Kit in Live, you'll first want to drag "Drum Rack" from the Live Browser's Instruments:

Drag Drum Rack from the Browser

into a MIDI Track that has a Drum Stepp:r in it. This will create an empty Drum Rack:

Empty Drum Rack

We'll start by adding a kick drum. You can find one you like, but for this example, I'll use the Kick-606 from Instruments/Simpler/Drums/Kick

Kick 606

I'll drag this to the bottom left pad in the empty drum rack, which matches up with note C1 and the bottom left button in the 4x4 on the CNTRL:R:

Drag to the first pad in the Rack

From there, it's the same steps. Make sure you put the sounds in order of the pads, leaving no gaps, otherwise the dials won't latch correctly:

Rack ordering

Just select sounds from the Live Browser and drag them to the pads in the Drum Rack. Keep going, in order, until you have filled all 16 pads. Once they are all filled, you can press a button on the CNTRL:R 4x4 and the error message will disappear. You can even right click on the Drum Rack title bar, and give your rack a name, and even save it as a preset so it can be easily loaded into other sets. Here's what it looks like when it is all ready to go.

Drum Stepp:r with Drum Rack

Now you're ready to make some beats!

Making a Sequence

Select A Sequence

Drum Stepp:r Sequence selectors

Use the CNTRL:R's 4x4 grid to select a sequence and make it visible in the UI. The dials will be assigned to the sound's parameters and the sequence properties will populate the UI.


Drum Stepp:r Step enablers

The 16 gray buttons enable steps at each point in time. Click on one to enable the step, and it will turn orange to indicate the sound will play when the sequencer is at that step. Click again to turn it off. Simple! Click in the 4x4 array in the left to select another sound, and enter in a sequence for that sound.

Of course, the best way to do this is to use the CNTLR:R. The bottom row of buttons in the 16x2 array is used to toggle steps on and off for a sequence, and the 4x4 grid is used to select sequences to edit.


Drum Stepp:r Rules UI

Each step in a sequence can have a rule. Just click the area beneath the step enable toggle buttons. The 7 rules are:

  1. always play, (off)
  2. play only on the 2nd measure (white)
  3. only on the 4th measure (cyan)
  4. only on the 8th measure (magenta)
  5. skip every 2nd (red)
  6. skip every 4th (blue)
  7. skip every 8th measure (yellow)

This is AWESOME, because you now have more (non-random) variation within a 16-step sequence. For example, you can set some steps on your kick and snare to play only on the 4th cycle of the stepper, and even set some to skip every 4th, such that the 4th measure can provide a fill or some other such variation. As a result, it could be a totally different pattern than the other 3 measures.

CNTRLR and Rules
Drum Stepp:r Rules or Mutes toggle

This toggle will re-assign the top row of the 16x2 to control the "rules" rather than "mutes". This makes it really easy to program and change your rules. Just press a button on the CNTRL:R repeatedly to cycle through all 7 possible rules/colors.

Mode: Select, Add, Play

Change the mode of the selection grid

If the 4x4 selection grid is in select mode, then pressing a button will simply make the sequence visible and active for editing.
In add mode, pressing a button will enable a step for that sound at the current time. This allows interactive, real-time editing of sequences.
In play mode, pressing a button will trigger the sound at that location in the Drum Rack, without adding it to the sequence.
NOTE: While play mode may be convenient, some users may find the inherent timing disruptions of playing through the Live Control Script somewhat distracting. It is also possible to use MIDI input to play the drum rack. Details can be found at the CNTRL:R To Drum Rack Ableton Live Effect page.


Drum Stepp:r sequence direction menu

The direction menu lets you choose how the sequence plays. Forward, backwards, back-and-forth, and random will change the character of your sequence. There is no automatic mapping for this to the CNTRL:R, but it can be MIDI-leaned in Live.


Drum Stepp:r loop controls

The sequence loops from step 1 to step 16 by default. You can move the small triangles in the UI to change the start and end points to shorten the loop.


Drum Stepp:r sixteenth note or triplets toggle

A toggle button can change the timing (and length) of the sequence. Triplets are awesome, so it's nice to be able to make a sequence play in "three" and drop that into your set.

Time Division

Drum Stepp:r time division menu

This menu can slow down the sequence to 1/2, 1/3, or 1/4 speed. Why not?


Drum Stepp:r preset controls

If you like the way a sequence sounds, go ahead and store it to a preset by holding down the Shift key on your computer keyboard and clicking on a preset number. This stores all the important data for the sequence: the step toggles, the the pitch, duration, velocity, chance, and 16th/triplets.

You can easily recall a preset simply by clicking on a number.

Presets are saved to a JSON file, in a folder called "Presets" in the same folder the the Drum Stepp:r. There are separate preset files for each sequence, and these files are read when the Drum Stepp:r device is loaded into a Live set. All instances of the Drum Stepp:r device share these presets on load, but changes while using your Live set are not shared.

The Dials

Drum Stepp:r dial controls

Twelve dials in the device UI correspond with the twelve encoders on the CNTRL:R. These are conceptually divided into two groups: The Sound parameters and the Sequence Parameters.

IMPORTANT: It is necessary for the CNTRL:R MIDI Remote Script to be selected in Live's preferences in order for the Dial section of the patch to work correctly, even if a CNTRL:R is not physically connected.


The middle encoder buttons can transpose the sequence to a new Drum Rack pad (chain) instrument. By transposing to a new note, the sequence can play a different sound. Furthermore, when this transposition happens, all the Sound Parameter dials will re-map to the instrument loaded at that pad. The result is that the DrumStepp:r can access all possible pads of a drum rack. Transposition can happen in a single step (that is, to adjacent pads) or in 16 steps, transposing to the sequence to the next group of 16 sounds, but keeping the same position

Sound Parameters

The top eight dials provide controls over the sound whose sequence you have selected with the 4x4 grid. The actual function of these knobs adapts to the type of instrument that is loaded in the chain. For the sake of documentation, here are how these dials map to parameters for each possible type of instrument loaded into the Drum Rack chain:

Instrument Group - Macro Knobs 1-6, Pan, Volume
Operator - Oscillator A Level, Oscillator B Level, Oscillator C Level, Oscillator D Level, Transpose, Filter Frequency, Pan, Volume
Analog - A, D, S, R, Pitch, Filter, Pan, Volume
Simpler - A, D, S, R, Transpose, Filter Frequency, Pan, Volume
Sampler - A, D, S, R, Transpose, Filter Frequency, Pan, Volume
Electric - Force, Release, Tone Decay, Tone Volume, Semitone, Distance, Pan, Volume
Tension - Positon, Excitation Force, Excitation Friction, Excitation Velocity, Semitone, Filter Frequency, Pan, Volume
Collision - Noise Attack, Noise Decay, Noise Sustain, Noise Release, Resonator Tune, Resonator Brightness
Impulse - Start, Envelope Decay, Stretch Factor, Global Time, Global Transpose, Filter Frequency, Pan, Vo

Sequence Parameters

The bottom row of dials map to parameters that alter or augment the sequence. Some of the CNTRL:R's encoder buttons add additional manipulations.

repeat - The dial value changes the tempo of the repeat. Press the encoder button to repeatedly play the selected sound at this tempo. You can rotate the encoder while pressing the dial down for rhythmic variety while repeating.
groove - Groove delays the 16th notes in the sequence, adding a classic drum machine "groove" to the playback. The values are more extreme than most drum machines, so enjoy your experiments!
random - This overrides the influence of the "chance" settings in the sequence. If this dial is at 0, then all chance settings are respected, and every step that has a chance level will have it applied when played. If this knob is turned, then a global "random" setting is applied to every step, with the highest setting of the knob making it extremely unlikely that an enabled step will play.
rotation size - The encoder buttons for the bottom right two encoders will rotate (move) the sequence pattern to the left or right. The "rot size" dial provides some esoteric control over how this rotation occurs by creating rotation sub-groups. The size refers to the size of the group that the rotation takes place in. If the size is 16, then the entire sequence is rotated when the buttons are pressed. However, if the size is 8 then the sequence is broken into two parts, and the rotation is performed within each part.

The concept of rotation and rotation is possibly still confusing. Here is visual example:

Rotation and the Drum Stepp:r

View/Edit menu

The Drum Stepp:r view/edit menu

The view/edit menu changes what and how the data in the sequence window is displayed. Using your mouse, you can access a variety of different parameters to change the feel of your sequence. You can even make it so the sequence triggers different sounds in a Drum Rack, rather than a single sound.

View all
This is the default view. You can see the pitch blocks, as well as the values for velocity, duration, and chance, ghosted behind the pitches.
View pitches
Pitch view is largely meaningless in the DrumStepp:r. Let's just leave it at that, ok? :).
View velocity
Velocity view provides sliders for each step for editing the velocity values. Making changes to velocity can radically change the feel of even the simplest of rhythms.
View duration
The Duration is generally the least valuable a parameter when editing a drum sequence, however, if you are controlling a synth sound, it may be worthwhile to provide some dynamics for duration in the sequence.
View chance
The brave musician will leave some of the playing up to the computer's whim using the Chance value. If the chance slider is below a maximum, then, sometime, the step will not play. Even if you only set one step to have some chance variation, this can provide some break in the repetition. When combined with the "Rnd" knob in the Sequence Parameters, you can create some really dramatic effects on your sequence.

Creative Ideas

In closing, all of this control can provide a radical way for you to create and alter rhythms on the fly, whether generating loops for sampling, or using live in a remix, or even experimenting with polyrhythm and machine-based composition. There's a few other things you can try that will really increase the power of the step sequencer.

Use Your Mutes

You can create "groups" of rhythms using the 4x4 grid and using some of the same sounds in the drum pads. If you put the same sounds in each column of the 4x4 drum rack, for example, a kick drum, you can create 4 different sequences of kick drums, and use the mutes to bring in different sequences. This creates a matrix of rhythm that you can mix and match for endless variety, just by using the row of mute buttons.

Rules Rule

The Rules provide a simple way to provide a massive amount of variation in the loop of 16 steps. If you need a fill on the fourth or eighth measure, or you need some variation on every other cycle, you can very easily program this in with rules. No longer are beats specific events in time, but now, a matter of relationships!

Swap Your Patterns

The transpose buttons can shift a sequence to a new sound. One implication is that you could move your kick pattern to the hi-hat, the kick to a snare, the snare to a kick, etc. The result is the same rhythmic information, but with a very different feel.

Grab that Pitch Knob

Put a synth in a drum pad. When you create a sequence for it, it might seem a bit boring - the same note, over and over. But grab the pitch knob (and the filter knob, while you are at it) and start turning! This will liven up any mix.

Don't forget the Faders

When you are using the Drum Stepp:r, the rest of the sliders and knobs are still mapped where you left them in session view. You can mix up your tracks and effects while you are modifying your sequence

Use more than one Drum Stepp:r

The CNTRL:R gives you four slots for modules. Use the Drum Stepp:r in a couple of them. This gives you 32 sequences, and two faders to bring them in and out. You may never look at Ableton Live the same again!