History of Sequencers

DAW: “A digital audio workstation or DAW is an electronic device or computer software application for recording, editing and producing audio files such as songs, musical pieces, human speech or sound effects.”

  • Wikipedia

A DAW in the modern sense is also used to arrange, compose, mix and master and many different programs offer different ways and techniques to do this.

Step sequencer: A device with instances or sequences to enable an event to be played in a rigid pattern. broken down into patterns of 16.

Drum Machine: A drum machine is an electronic instrument designed to imitate the sound of drums, cymbals, basslines and other percussion instruments

Synthesizer: an electronic musical instrument that generates electrical signals which are then converted to sound through amplifiers and loudspeakers or headphones. Synthesizers were initially meant to imitate instruments such as the piano, Hammond organ, flute, vocals; natural sounds like ocean waves, etc.; or generate new electronic timbres.

  • 1700 – Music Box


Mechanical in nature, these devices opened up the possibilities of creating a device that could be built or “programmed” to play a specific sequence of musical notes. Constructing these required exclusive expertise and didn’t have much to do with music but it was the first step towards towards something accessible

  • 1863 – Player Piano


A self-playing piano. Operating mechanically, this instrument receives instructions via pre-programmed music recorded on perforated paper. Modern incarnations of keyboards use MIDI technology.

  • 1931 – Rhythmicon


The world’s first electronic drum machine. Was able to play compositions involving multiple rhythmic patterns impossible for one person to perform simultaneously on any acoustic keyboard or percussion instrument at that time. Completed by Leon Theremin in 1931. Paved the way for drum machines and step sequencers.

  • 1940s – Raymond Scott’s “Wall of Sound”


one of the first and largest electro-mechanical sequencers spanning over thirty feet in length and stretched from his apartment floor to ceiling. Operated via mechanical relays that triggered solenoids, control switches and tone circuits. Had sixteen individual oscillators. Inspired further work with synthesizers and analog sequencers.

  • 1957 – Chamberlin Rhythmate / RCA Mark 2 Synthesizer

“The RCA3 Mark II Sound Synthesizer designed by Herbert Belar and Harry Olson at RCA was created in 1957 and installed at the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center. The synthesizer was the first analog electronic sequencer and used paper tape to automate playback by sending instructions back to the synthesizer.”


  • 1959 – Wurlitzer Sideman

First commercially produced drum machine. “Electro-mechanical” drum machine that offered a choice of 12 electronically generated predefined rhythm patterns with variable tempos. Paved the way for further drum machines and step sequencers.

  • 1968 – Moog 960

Robert Moog created this sequencer as a module for his modular synthesizer. The 960 was one of the first analog step sequencers released for the commercial market, containing three rows of eight value knobs and allowed for a three-value sequence of up to eight steps controlled by a clock.

  • 1975 – ABLE Computer software sequencer

The first software sequencer and part of the ABLE computer created in 1975 by New England Digital. The ABLE computer served as the predecessor for the Synclavier I created in 1977, which was one of the earliest digital music workstations complete with a multi-track sequencer.

  • 1980 – Roland TR-808

introduced by the Roland Corporation in 1980 and discontinued in 1983. It was one of the earliest programmable drum machines with which users could create their own rhythms rather than having to use presets. Received poor reviews at launch for its unrealistic drum sounds and became a commercial failure. Roland discontinued the 808 and it was succeeded in 1984 by the TR-909. The 808 attracted a cult following over the course of the decade among underground musicians for its affordability, ease of use, and idiosyncratic sounds (particularly “booming” bass drum). Its influence on hip hop in particular has made it one of the most influential inventions in popular music.

  • 1983 – MIDI

Musical Instrument Digital Interface. A digital interface (binary) that allowed various electronic musical instruments to communicate or “speak” with each other. MIDI carries event messages that specify notation, pitch and velocity, control signals for parameters such as volume, vibrato, audio panning, cues, and clock signals that set and synchronize tempo between multiple devices. Changed the game because instruments could now “talk” with each other. Eventually computers would be able to talk with instruments too.

  • 1985 – Atari ST


First computer with built in MIDI ports in the IO. Could be used in conjunction with a very early Cubase to arrange and compose music provided one had the instruments to play with.

  • 1987 – Ultimate Soundtracker

First tracker software. Written by Karsten Obarski and released for the Commodore Amiga. Supported only four channels of 8-bit samples and stepped through samples numerically using a vertical orientation. Although criticized at release, it eventually inspired more like it and effectively spawned the new generation of music sequencers on computers.

  • 1990s+ – Modern Sequencers

Improvements and evolutions of tracker software began to pop up and audio companies invested time and money to bring us the biggest DAWs in the industry. Logic, Reason, Cubase, Pro Tools, Pre Sonus, Fl Studio just to name a few. Sequencers today are streamlined for intuitive use and come with many samples in the bank to play with and use.








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