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June 2017 Giveaway

Synth Tricks: 8-Step Program

Anyone who owns a monophonic analog synth quickly appreciates the value of a built-in arpeggiator. Play it through a delay, and it’s one of the fastest ways to get implied harmony from something that could previously only play melodies.

An analog step sequencer can provide the same type of arpeggiated melodies but adds the unusual freedom of being able to choose notes and frequencies that are not part of the standard 12-tone equal tuning scheme that has been the root of almost all popular music in the Western Hemisphere for hundreds of years.

Most of these analog sequencers have been far under the radar of the average musician, but Electro-Harmonix has released a fantastic foot pedal called the 8-Step Program that’s destined to allow many more musicians to play “between-the-cracks.”

The 8-Step Program consists of eight vertical sliders that let you set up to eight different control voltages (CV) that play one at a time at a specified speed. You can move any of these sliders in real time to create a repeating synth riff that evolves over time. By connecting the CV out to the pitch CV in of an analog synth, you can control the melody. But control voltages can be applied to many more parameters. If you send them to a filter, you get rhythmic tonal effects. Send them to an amp and you get rhythmic volume effects.

But that’s just the tip of the 8-Step iceberg. With the included cable, you can use the 8-Step to control many effects pedals that have expression inputs. This can make even the most basic pedals produce amazingly complex effects that lock to a desired tempo.

And the 8-Step has such a cool array of choices for setting the tempo. You can use the ninth “Rate” slider or connect an external expression pedal. You can use tap tempo or an analog clock pulse from another device to sync it up. You can even lock the tempo to selectable divisions of an external MIDI clock source, such as a drum machine, MIDI sequencer, or MIDI keyboard.

You can use MIDI to control every parameter on the 8-Step Program, including rate, glide, sequence length, sequence reset, sequence direction (forward, reverse, bounce, random), and depth.

You can play the sequence once, loop it, or step one at a time each time you press a button. When you’ve created a sequence you like, you can store it into one of 10 preset locations. If you’d like to have 100 of your favorite sequence presets instantly available, then you can add the 8-Step Program Foot Controller to make this a gig-worthy device.

If you own analog synths, effect pedals, or even digital keyboards with CV or expression inputs, the 8-Step Program is going to open your mind and your ears as soon as you plug it in.

Daniel Fisher

About Daniel Fisher

Sweetwater's synth guru Daniel Fisher is one of the most sought-after synthesizer sound designers in the industry. He graduated Cum Laude with a Bachelors Degree in Music Production and Engineering as well as Cum Laude with a Bachelors Degree in Music Synthesis from Berklee College. He is Sweetwater's Director of Product Optimization, having created dozens of libraries and synth programs for Kurzweil, Alesis, Korg, E-MU, Yamaha, TC Electronic, and many others. He is also currently an Adjunct Professor of Music Synthesis at the University of Saint Francis and teaches Music Synthesis and Sampling at Indiana University/Purdue University.
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