DRUM TRIGGER SEQUENCER

The Drum Trigger Sequencer is a 16-step trigger/gate sequencer with eight independent channels. It can store up to 32 patterns in a bank, and also includes a song mode for chaining patterns into complete songs - essentially a complete standalone drum machine, minus the sounds. It also includes some very useful features such as per-row step accents, adjustable swing, and pattern/song loading and saving. And though it bears a resemblance to a familiar vintage drum machine, it’s far easier to use.

We’ll start by going over its controls, beginning at bottom left:

Rows A-H Step On/Off Buttons- Use these to turn steps on and off. Enabling a step sends a +5V gate to the row’s output jack at a duration corresponding to the Gate Length knob setting. Multiple adjacent step buttons can be turned on or off by clicking a button and dragging the mouse across adjacent buttons - this is particularly convenient for quickly creating 16th-note high-hat patterns (make sure to start the click-drag movement on a button, not a blank panel area).

Gate Length- Sets the length of the +5V gate signal for enabled steps from 1ms to 250ms. Depending on Gate Length and tempo settings, sometimes the gate can be long enough to extend to the next step. If you have multiple adjacent steps enabled, and you’re not hearing some of the drum hits, check that the Gate Length knob setting isn’t too high - if you’re using the Drum Trigger Sequencer with Misfit Audio drum modules, the Gate Length setting won’t affect their sound anyway, so use a a short Gate Length setting. However, if you’re using the Drum Trigger Sequencer to trigger VCA’s or mod inputs, the Gate Length control becomes very useful for defining note or mod durations, and you can make use of “overlapping” steps to create long note values.

Gate A-H Output Jacks- “Normal” CV output jacks for each row.

Gate A-H Accent Output Jacks and Enable Buttons - Each row includes a separate accent output. These are disabled by default, but clicking an Acc button enables accent mode for a row. When enabled, the row’s step buttons now cycle through three positions when clicked - off (no illumination/no gate out), on (medium illumination/gate out to “normal” out jack), or accent (bright illumination/gate out to Acc out jack).

Moving up to the top row area:

A-D / E-H Row Select- Though only four step rows are visible, the Drum Trigger Sequencer actually contains eight independent rows with the A-D / E-H Row Select button toggling the currently visible set. The step button background color turns beige to indicate that rows E-H send gate signals to the jacks at the far right of the panel. Toggling the view has no effect on active steps, it just changes which set is visible.

(We decided this was a nice compromise, as opposed to stuffing 128 itty-bitty buttons on one screen. Besides, big flashy buttons look cool.)

Stop/Start Buttons and CV Jacks- Use these to externally control the stop and start buttons with +5V pulse or gate voltages. The Drum Trigger Sequencer defaults to stop mode, but patches saved in play mode will save that way - i.e., they’ll begin playing as soon as the patch is selected.

Ext Clock In Button and CV Jack- The Drum Trigger Sequencer has its own internal clock, but it can be externally clocked by plugging a clock source into the Clock In jack and toggling the Ext button.

To sync to a DAW clock, see the Syncing The Drum Trigger Sequencer To A DAW section below.

Play Trigger- This sends a +5V pulse signal when play mode is initiated. This useful for resetting synced sequencers (or any other module with a synced clock) when initiating play with elaborate patches.

Clock Out CV Jack- Sends clock CV. One step = one clock pulse.

Pattern CV In Jack- Allows selection of pattern numbers via CV. The 32 patterns are mapped across 0 to +5V. This is useful in conjunction with sequencers, or for some real fun, route the output of a DC module to to the Pattern CV jack and map a hardware knob or slider to the DC Amount knob via the Performance Control knobs for continuous real-time pattern selection.

Reset In- This resets the Drum Trigger Sequencer to step one when it receives a +5V pulse voltage. It’s useful for multi-sequencer patches and/or when the the Drum Trigger Sequencer is being externally clocked. (If you’re syncing to a DAW, plug the I/O Panel Play out jack into the Reset In jack for more consistent sync.)

Song and Pattern Modes

Much like a classic drum machine, the Drum Trigger Sequencer operates in two modes: Pattern and Song mode. In the default Pattern mode, it simply loops the currently selected pattern over and over. If Song mode is selected, the left LED number display becomes a song step number indicator. For each step, a pattern number can be selected in the right LED number display. A song can have a maximum of 99 steps.

Note that step row buttons can be turned on and off in pattern or song mode and when stopped or during playback.

  • Play Mode- Toggles between Pattern and Song mode.
  • Number of Steps / Song Step #
    • Pattern Mode- This display and its up/down buttons globally set the number of pattern steps from 1-16 for all rows. Number of Steps is independently set for each pattern; this makes it easy to create songs with varying time signatures (in case you’re doing an electro tribute to Rush or ELP). Step button on/off status for buttons beyond the current Number of Steps setting will be retained, so experimenting with pattern lengths won’t mess up existing patterns.
    • Song Mode- When the Drum Trigger Sequencer is set to song mode, the display and up/down buttons become Song Step #. With the Drum Trigger Sequencer in stop mode, simply a select a pattern for each step number using the Pattern Select LED number display. A song may have up to 99 patterns steps.
  • Pattern Select
    • Pattern Mode- With the Drum Trigger Sequencer in pattern mode, use this LED number display and its up/down buttons to select the current pattern.
    • Song Mode- The Pattern Select display and buttons select the pattern that plays at the currently selected song step number. The pattern number can even be selected while a song is playing, but it’s much easier to choose patterns with the Drum Trigger Sequencer in stop mode.
  • Song Mode “Stop” and “Loop” Patterns- There are two special types of patterns available only in Song mode:
    • Stop- If pattern number 0 is selected, the Drum Trigger Sequencer stops playing - this is intended for song endings.
    • Loop- Clicking the down arrow one step below pattern 0 selects LP, which is short for “loop.” This makes the entire song loop indefinitely (Because your jam is so totally wicked, everyone will want to hear it forever. We understand.)

About song and pattern memory: An instance of the Drum Trigger Sequencer module remembers all 32 patterns and all song step data as long as it’s open. It will also store this pattern and song data when saved into a preset. Existing song and pattern data will not be retained when a new Drum Trigger Sequencer instance is opened. If an instance with pattern or song data is open and an additional instance is opened, the newly opened instance will be blank, but the Save Bank and Load Bank menu buttons can be used to store, open, and transfer patterns and songs. (More about saving and loading banks below.)

Tempo- This handsome knob adjusts tempo from 30-240 BPM. This should cover the entire tempo range anyone could need, but you can always externally clock the Drum Trigger Sequencer if you need something really nutso (or want to perfectly lock to another clock source). The blinking LED shows a quarter-note visual tempo indication.

Swing- Also known as “shuffle,” Swing adjusts the feel of beats by delaying every other 16th note a small amount. Originally heard in blues and jazz, swing has been heard more recently in house music and “New Jack Swing” (made popular in the late 80s by Bobby Brown, Bell Biv Devoe, and others who wore pants resembling drapery). The easiest way to hear its effect is to set up a high-hat module, enable all 16 steps in the row triggering it, and turn up the Swing knob. Note that the Swing setting is global; i.e. it affects all patterns simultaneously. Swing setting is stored with presets and saved banks.

Storing and Loading Song/Pattern Banks

The Drum Trigger Sequencer can store and load banks of patterns and songs. Bank files will have a .dtsbank extension. Here’s what’s stored in a bank:

  • 32 patterns (including accents and accent mode status for rows)
  • One song
  • Tempo setting 
  • Swing amount setting

All of the above data is also stored with saved patches, so you may not need to use the bank load/save functionality, but it’s useful for certain situations, such as loading a new song and patterns into an existing patch setup, or trading songs and patterns with other Voltage Modular users, or transferring files to another computer (the bank file sizes are very small, BTW).

Load Bank- Use this to open existing bank files from your computer’s hard drive.

Save Bank- Use this to store a bank file to your computer.

Copy Pattern- Click this to open a pop-up menu for copying any pattern to any other pattern location. This is useful for creating variations of a pattern. The source pattern remains unaffected when copying.

Pro Tip- The Copy Pattern function can be used to quickly clear a pattern location number. Just click the Pattern Select up arrow to choose an empty pattern, then use Copy Pattern to copy the empty pattern to the location you’d like to clear.

Copy Row- Click to copy any button row to any other row. Particularly useful for copying pattern rows from the A-D page to the E-H page (because you can’t see buttons rows on the separate pages).

Syncing The Drum Trigger Sequencer To A DAW

If you’re running the Drum Trigger Sequencer as a plug-in virtual instrument within a DAW environment, it’s likely that you’ll want to sync to the song project’s master clock. This is what Voltage’s Sync Divider module is used for.

Sync vs. Clock Voltages, A Primer- Sync signals are rapid, constant pulses (specifically, 96 pulses=one quarter note) that only change rate in accordance with tempo. When Voltage is used as a virtual instrument in DAW software, the sync signal is constantly output from the IO Panel Sync jack - it does not start and stop with DAW play and stop commands, and it doesn’t know where the beginnings and ends of bars and notes are. You could route this directly to the Drum Trigger Sequencer’s sync in, but it would cause it to run at super-fast 1/96th-note divisions of the master tempo. By design, sync signals are intended to be subdivided down to musically useful clock signals.

Clock signals are +5V pulses that equate to musically relevant note values. A single sync pulse is equivalent to one sequencer step in any module that accepts step increments. Glancing at the Sync Divider module above, the relationship between sync and clock signals should be clear: a rapid “master clock” sync signal is routed to the Sync In jack, a note value is selected with the rotary knob and triplet/dot buttons, and a slower clock signal is output at the selected rate at the clock jack. This is what you’ll route to the Drum Trigger Sequencer’s External Clock In jack (don’t forget to enable the Ext button).

Be sure to check out the Drum Trigger Sequencer DAW Sync Template patch in the Drum Templates folder to better understand the relationship between sync and clock signals.

DAW Sync Patch Setup

The image above shows what the patch should look like. The orange cable routes the IO Panel Sync signal to the Sync Divider’s Sync In. The Note Value knob is set to 16th-notes (this can be set however you like). Clock Out is routed to the Drum Trigger Sequencer’s Clock In with Ext clock mode enabled. You’ll also want to route the IO Panel’s Play and Stop outputs to the Drum Trigger Sequencer’s Start and Stop inputs, respectively; this locks the Drum Trigger Sequencer’s start and stop controls with your DAW’s transport controls.

At this point, the Drum Trigger Sequencer will start and stop with the host DAW and play at the correct tempo, but the timing of beats will likely be “shifted” from the correct beats. This happens because sync signals are dumb; that is, they don’t know where bars and notes should fall on their 1/96th-note “grid.” This is the purpose of the Sync Divider Reset CV in jack. If you look closely at the patch diagram, we’re routed a second cable from the IO Panel Play jack to the Sync Divider’s Reset CV in. When DAW play is engaged, this forces the Sync Divider to begin playing the selected note value at that instant, causing the clock CV to output in perfect synchronization with the host DAW (and everyone lives happily ever after).

Advanced Tricks and Applications

Nifty Uses For The Accent Trigger Out- Though this was included to let users trigger the Misfit Audio drum module accent inputs, it can be routed to any trigger or gate CV input.

  • Open and closed high-hats- The accent jack is a convenient way to create an open and closed high-hat pattern without using two rows. Typically you’d route the normal trigger out to the closed high hat trigger in, and the accent out to the open hat (though there’s no reason you couldn’t do it the other way around).
  • To rapidly create a 16th-note high-hat pattern with occasional open hats, enable Acc mode for that row, click on a step button, and drag across the entire row to turn on all “normal” steps, then individually click the steps you’d like the open hat hits on.
  • Multi-Pitched Toms, Congas, etc.- As in the high-hat example above, the accent out can be used to conserve a row any time two of the same percussion instruments at different pitches are used (provided you don’t need them both to hit on the same beat). This is no-brainer for instruments typically used in multiples, such as toms or congas, but this can be done with any percussion instruments with a pitch knob.

Slaving Multiple Drum Trigger Sequencers- If eight trigger channels aren’t enough (that’s a 70s television show, right?), multiple Drum Trigger Sequencer can be slaved together. Use one as a master clock, and route its Clock Out to the slave Clock In (remember to toggle the Ext clock button on the slaves). You’ll also want to route the master’s Play Trig out to the slaves’ Start CV inputs so all will start simultaneously.

VCA and Filter Control- Here’s where the rabbit hole can get crazy deep: gate outs can be used to open VCAs or filters (to rhythmically allow a pitch or noise through), and of course can be combined with “conventional” drum module triggering for some really far out rhythmic sequences.

Effects Control - Along the lines of the previous VCA and filter control example, gate outputs can be used to control effects as well. Set up a snare or clap on a channel and route its dry output to mixer as normal. Mult its audio output to a separate VCA, and route the VCA’s audio out to an effect such as a Digital Reverb or a radical feedback-heavy delay. Route the effect’s outputs to the master out (or mixer inputs). Route a separate trigger row CV out to the VCA CV inputs to “open up” the effect signal for emphasis on particular beats.

Sequencing Pitches- Unlike a traditional step sequencer, the Drum Trigger Sequencer outputs +5V gate voltages only, with the intention of triggering unpitched percussion sources. But you can alter its 5V outputs by combining them with a DC module’s output (set above or below 0V) and use these voltages to adjust pitch when routing to an oscillator CV in. Going one step further, a clocked Eight To One module with multiple DC module outs routed to each of its inputs can be used to create a rudimentary pitch sequencer. (Check out the "Follow The Beat" presets in the "Full Sequences" folder for examples of this.)

Additive Oscillator Mod - If you’ve installed the Cherry Audio Additive Oscillator (and you should, because it’s awesome), its eight harmonic partial levels can be “sequenced” by the Drum Trigger Sequencer’s eight channels. This is a super fun and easy way to create complex classic “computer music.”