What is a Sequencer – Keyboard Workstation

What is a Sequencer – Keyboard Workstation

08/04/2019 21 By Nigel

What is a sequencer? Well you can get standalone sequencers and sequencers integrated into a synthesizer and of course, a computer-based sequencer for your home recording studio. Let’s look at Hardware sequencers.

The Standalone Sequencer.

Picture of the The Yamaha QY700Picture of the Akia MPC60









The standalone sequencer or hardware sequencer is a separate piece of kit used to control Midi devices. It’s the ‘brain’ if you like. When you have programmed patterns and song the sequencer plays the notes and sets the sounds you require. Here are a couple of early versions from the 80s-90s. The Yamaha QY700 and the much loved Akia MPC60. MPC originally MIDI Production Center now Music Production Controller.

Much like a standard tape recorder the midi sequencer has separate tracks for each instrument or drum. It can control midi tone generators and sound modules midi keyboard synthesizers and drum machines.

Back in the 80s when I was working at The Lodge Recording studio we used standalone sequencers because computers were not yet powerful or fast enough to cope with the workload of a full song or music track.

Look at them now!Picture of the Akai MPC Touch Music Production Sequencer

Akai MPC Touch Music Production Sequencer.

This little Beaut’ is completely touch sensitive and allows you to create, sequence, and perform all from a compact and versatile unit. These units are mainly used for live performances. Here’s a great YouTube video.

Sequencers Integrated into a Synthesizer or Workstation.

A music workstation is an electronic musical instrument that gives you a sequencer, sound module and a musical keyboard all in one unit.

The first music sequencers originated in the late 70s but they were very expensive and only used in top professional recording studios.

My first workstation was the Korg M1 which came on to the market in the mid to late 80s. It had an 8 tracks sequencer lots of great sounds to play with and Effects – Digital multi-effects: reverb, delay, overdrive, EQ, chorus, rotary speaker, and more. In the early 90s I couldn’t resist my next workstation purchase an 88 note fully-weighted very big Korg 01/W ProX

Here is my Korg 01/W ProX from my studio in the 90s-000sPicture of Here is my Korg 01/W ProX from my studio in the 90s-000s.. This 88 note workstation is not only a fantastic fully-weighted keyboard (simulating the feel of a real acoustic piano) it’s also a 16 track midi sequencer. It uses a floppy disk drive to store the information and you need to save and then load the song data for each song or track you were working on. No data is stored in the workstation it’s all on floppy disk.


The sequencer is programmed using the LCD display panel

The sequencer is programmed using the LCD display panel and the A-H buttons. These buttons allow you to access pages to get to the functions you require.

Page 0 REC/Play – Record a track in real-time (as you play it) mute a track, playback a track while recording on another track, specify the program (instrument/sound) alter the volume or pan the track from left to right in the stereo image.
Page 1&2 – Track status, track protect, transpose, overdub.
Page 3&4 – Specify Midi channel for each track.
Page 5 – Edit the song choose between step recording record each note at a time, modify and insert control data. Event edit – edit the events of each track. Erase a track, bounce a track or copy a track. Erase a song or append a song.
Page 6 – Edit the measure. Quantize. This process results in notes being set on beats and on exact fractions of beats. Shift note, modify velocity (how hard it’s struck not volume). Delete the measure, copy the measure.
Page 7 – Edit Pattern – Real time or step time recording, event edit, set the time signature and length of a pattern, erase a pattern, bounce or copy a pattern.
Page 8 – Effects. Reverb echo chorus effect ADT (automatic double tracking) and much more.
Page 9 Song. Specify the song to be played next, set the song name, metronome settings.

Here is a picture of the display panel used in the Korg Pro X

Here is a picture of the display panel with the song title: ‘SnowGoose’ the *A00 is the track you are working on Recording or playback. A00 – A01 – A02 – A03 are tracks that are currently playing. The SNG0 = song number Tr01 the track you are working on, M001 the measure you are working on, 4/4 the time signature OVWR is overwrite you will over-write the A00 data if you press record d=144 is the tempo MAN is manual or real time record, Q:HI means the quantise is set to high M:off means the metronome is off and Edit:PRG is the program or instrument you are currently using.

If you press the A key you can select the song to play. Press the B key to select the track to record 1-16. Press C for the current measure location. D key gives you the Beat and displays the time signature. Press E for the record mode, this is OVWR = overwrite OVDB = overdub AUTP = Auto punch in MANP = Manual punch in LOOP = Loop recording mode. With this mode you can play a section over and over until you get the right take.

My Latest Workstation.

Here is my Roland FA-08 Master Workstation.

Here is a picture of my Roland FA-08 Master Workstation.

This is the workstation I currently use. This keyboard is made to integrate with my Logic Pro DAW.
The software on my Apple Mac. This keyboard is a 16 track sequencer and a sampler and has over 2000 very nice sounds built in.

Picture of the Roland FA-08 Sequencer section of the keyboard panel

Above is the Sequencer section of the keyboard panel. With this sequencer you have a studio set.

picture of the studio set used in the Roland FA-08As you can see it’s come along way since my Korg Pro X screen. Now all in colour. You can use a Preset or make your own tracks up using the 2000 sound installed! You can also edit those sounds to just how you want them to be. Very powerful!

The Roland FA-08 SequencerWhen you pressed the ‘Sequencer’ button you get all the tracks displayed. 1-16 tracks. You then use the dial to scroll down to the track you want to record on.

You can use Step-Time record which lets you enter notes one by one or just press record and off you go in Real-Time.

You can select Rhythm patterns and drum sounds also complete drum kits! You can of course change the tempo of the track.

There is also a really great Chord memory and Arpeggio settings this allows you to play chords and arpeggios with one finger! You can of course then record this into the sequencer to build up a complete ensemble!


So as you can see from this post sequencers have come along way since the early ones I used at The Lodge Recording Studio and in my home studio.

I hope you enjoyed this post and if you have any questions about sequencers, or you want to add to this post, please leave a comment below.