21st-Century Sequencing Tools

Mike Lawson • Technology • August 15, 2013

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Sequencing is the quickest and easiest way to involve students in their own music. Without years of training, sequencing introduces students to the elements of music: melody, rhythm, harmony, form, texture, and tone-color. It also ignites musical intuition through discovery of learning activities, in turn giving authentic first-hand experiences that strengthen performing skills. What was once only available to professional musicians is now in the hands of educators and students thanks to exciting new technology available with few budgetary restraints.

The Evolution of the Sequencer

Onboard sequencers built into MIDI keyboards are the oldest variety of sequencer, made popular 30 years ago before computers took over. Some keyboards today, with onboard sounds, allow students to record and store a performance (entirely with MIDI data), along with basic editing features like quantizing. Most of these even allow you to “layer” sounds, sometimes called “combinations,” or multi-timbral sounds. These types of keyboards are often referred to as arranger keyboards, and work quite well for those who regularly perform live on stage, without a computer, and need a “backing track” to perform with. Usually, the sequence produced can be stored as a MIDI file and later exported to a computer, usually via USB. In the old days, this was done by floppy disc drive. This style of sequencing has generally been overshadowed by newer techniques.

Hardware-based sequencers have been around for almost 30 years and started with drum machines like the Emulator, the Roland TR-808 and Alesis SR16. Performers wanted to store more than just drum patterns they could use on stage but they didn’t want computers on stage. Many manufacturers developed stand-alone boxes with less likelihood of a crash due to software conflicts or instability. These kinds of sequencers tend to be highly portable, and are suited to audio recording only. On the entry level, Zoom has an excellent range of affordable hardware-based sequencers, and at the higher end, sound engineers often record whole concerts these days, using such devices along with their computer-based DAW. The most famous example of this was the ADAT (now known as the HD24), but a many high-end manufacturers have recording devices that can either capture stereo signals or multi-track performances with high fidelity multiple microphones. Some high-end mixing boards have built-in hard drives for capturing a concert, allowing an engineer to simultaneously mix a concert, play it back through a PA system, and record it in HD.

Software sequencing has been the dominant platform for the past 10 or 15 years. This type of sequencer was written originally for Atari computers in the 1980s and later for Mac and then Windows. As computers have become faster and more powerful, sequencing software added more features and sound possibilities. A computer-based sequencer is a DAW (digital audio workstation) that allows three kinds of media to be created: MIDI (using virtual instruments embedded in the software), audio (recorded loops provided by the software or the user’s own recording), and video; and users combine MIDI and audio data to create the final mix. Most sequencers also have a wide range of effects that can be added. It is rare these days to need a MIDI keyboard with its own set of sounds, since virtual, synthesized sounds, are now included in any software. The most popular brands of these kind of sequencers are GarageBand, Pro Tools, Mixcraft, Logic, Cubase, Sonar, Reason, and Ableton Live, among others. Audacity, which is quite popular, and free, only allows audio recording, with some effects.

Cloud-based sequencing is the new web-based method of sequencing that can be used just like any other cloud software. Work is stored online, and standard sequencing features are cloud-based, meaning that they can be accessed from any computer connected to the internet. Soundation is one good example of this. 

Teaching Applications for Sequencers

Don Muro is the godfather of electronic music and a music education pioneer in MIDI sequencing. He says, “Within the past 75 years there have been two inventions which have dramatically changed the way we create music: the multi-track tape recorder, designed by Les Paul, transformed the recording industry as well as the art of recording; similarly, the sequencer (and ultimately the music workstation) has transformed not only the recording industry, but music education, music production, and music performance as well.”

Muro suggests eight basic ways teachers can incorporate sequencing:

  • Create original compositions
  • Accompany ensembles
  • Use as interactive rehearsal tools
  • Teach composition at all levels
  • Teach arranging concepts at all levels
  • Teach the properties of sound and the elements of music
  • Teach transcription skills
  • Produce class-wide and school-wide projects

For more insight from Don Muro on MIDI correlating sequencing with the original 10 MENC National Teaching Standards, go to www.kuzmich.com/muro.pdf.

Don has seen huge advances in sequencing; the most recent being free sequencers in the cloud along with free cloud data storage, which provides 24/7 instructional possibilities that are endless, with few budget or time-restraints and little need for IT support. This is bringing technology to the mainstream of music education at a time when budget cuts and course offerings are an increasing concern.

Free Cloud-Based Sequencing Tools


JamStudio.com is a web-based sequencer for mixing and songwriting, similar to Acid, Acid Pro, Garageband, and Sony Acid. It is an Adobe Flash-based website that allows users to create music with an amazing GUI interface. JamStudio.com allows users to mix different instruments (guitars, drums, bass, etc.) with simple clicks to create music. Created music tracks can be saved as MP3s or saved online on the site. It is available for only $4.95 a month per user, and there are a limited number of grants for schools that provide this application totally free. Simply click on the grant icon inside the “In The Classroom” icon and apply. For a host of YouTube videos demonstrating this app, go to bit.ly/YfbMlV and you will find many videos representing different levels of composition. jamstudio.com 


UJAM is a free online music-making application that allows anyone to create professional sounding songs easily and quickly. UJAM is cloud-based, with no software to download. It is organized in three sections: “composition,” “select a musical style,” and “share it with others.” Add customized soundtracks to videos, greeting cards, and slide shows within minutes. Or, create customized multi-track playbacks within your software faster than ever before. ujam.com 


Soundation is a powerful free online audio recorder and voice recording software. This sequencing tool can be used directly from a web browser without registration. And you will be required to sign up once you have recorded your voice and want to save it in the cloud. This free application functions like a recording studio: you can use it to record tracks and add effects to your recordings. This easy-to-use freeware contains features that even advanced users may find useful, including an intuitive interface with easily recognizable tabs and buttons. Also, edit settings in the application before starting a recording and alter the buffer size and add plugins to the app for easy recording. Record directly from the microphone input on your computer into a highlighted channel in the freeware studio and enjoy. soundation.com 


AudioSauna is free music software for making  songs  online. You can even jam with your computer’s keyboard to play and record melodies with Audiosauna. It sets a high standard for the quality of audio synthesis in the cloud with various types of filtered instruments in LPF and HPF as well as multiple effects including distortion, chorus, bitrate, reverb, and delay. The presets are well thought out with soft strings, fat basses, vintage organs, and screaming leads. Its sequencing abilities include a microstepping sequencer with advanced editing features, and synthesizer sounds offer quality audio synthesis in the cloud. audiosauna.com

 Online Sequencer

Online Sequencer is a simple and free online music sequencer that allows you to make tunes online and share them or export a MIDI file. This product is a good entry-level cloud sequencer because of its simplicity and user-friendly interface. No downloads or installation required. Just pick the tempo and key, and then select instruments from piano, acoustic guitar, percussion, synth, electric guitar, and bass. There’s even an online keyboard to create rhythms and pitches. onlinesequencer.net


More Powerful, Free, Non-Cloud Computer Sequencing Tools

Looking for more powerful and versatile sequencing applications? The one disadvantage of the more powerful sequencing apps is that they need to be downloaded, installed, and configured on each computer, unlike cloud sequencers. Nevertheless, if power and more advanced features are what you’re looking for, here are some good choices to consider.

Audacity is one of the leading freeware players in this market. It is free, open-source software for recordings and editting sounds. It allows users to record live audio, convert tapes and record into digital recordings or CDs, and edit Ogg Vorbis, MP3, WAV, or AIFF sound files. Audacity lets users cut, copy, splice, or mix sounds together. Built-in effects remove static, hiss, hum or other background noises. The new version 2.0 features are better than ever.

Power Sound Editor Free is a visual audio editing and recording software solution, which supports many advanced and powerful operations with audio data. Use Power Sound Editor Free to record music, voice, or other audio files, edit it, mix it with other audio or musical parts, add effects like reverb, chorus, and echo, burn it to a CD, and post it on the web or e-mail it.

mp3DirectCut is a fast and extensive audio editor and recorder for compressed mp3 files. No need to decompress your files for audio editing when you cut, copy, paste, or change the volume. Using cue sheets, pause detection, or auto cue lets you easily divide long files. The built-in recorder creates MP3 files on the fly from your audio input.

Music Editor Free (MEF) is an award-winning music editing software tool for recording and editing audio recordings. MEF lets users make and edit music, voice, and other audio recordings. When editing audio files cut, copy, and paste parts of recordings and add effects like echo, amplification, and noise reduction. Plus, it includes its own CD burning tool.

Wavosaur is a free sound editor, audio editor, WAV editing software for editing, processing and recording sounds, wav and MP3 files. Wavosaur has all the features to edit audio (cut, copy, paste, and so on), produce music loops, analyze, record, and batch convert. Wavosaur supports VST plugins, ASIO driver, multichannel WAV files, and real-time effect processing. Of note, this program has no installer and doesn’t write in the registry. Use it as a free MP3 editor for mastering, sound design.

Traverso DAW is a GPL-licensed, cross-platform multi-track audio recording and editing suite, with an innovative and easy-to-master user interface. It’s suited for both the professional and home user, with a robust and solid DAW. Add and remove effects plugins, move audio clips and create new tracks during playback with perfect safety, plus receive instant feedback on your work.

Ardour is a digital audio workstation. Record, edit, and mix multi-track audio and produce your own CDs, mix video soundtracks, or just experiment with new ideas about music and sound. Ardour capabilities include: multichannel recording, non-destructive editing with unlimited undo/redo, full automation support, a powerful mixer, unlimited tracks/busses/plugins, timecode synchronization, and hardware control from surfaces like the Mackie Control Universal. If you’ve been looking for a tool similar to ProTools, Nuendo, Pyramix, or Sequoia, you might have found it.

Rosegarden is a well-rounded audio and MIDI sequencer, score editor, and general-purpose music composition and editing environment. Rosegarden is an easy-to-learn, attractive application that runs on Linux, ideal for composers, musicians, music students, and small studio or home recording environments.


Closing Comments

Sequencing in the cloud facilitates a creative environment full of intuitive, spontaneous, first-hand discovery learning experiences without theoretical restrictions, plus immediate authentic “real-time” feedback of newly created compositions. With this leap forward in music technology, music classes will continue to be the most exciting learning environments, especially as these tools continue to become more affordable and user-friendly. I only wish this had been part of my education back in the day!

Dr. John Kuzmich Jr. is a veteran music educator, jazz educator and music technologist with more than 41 years of public school teaching experience. He is a TI:ME-certified training instructor and has a Ph.D. in comprehensive musicianship. As a freelance author, Dr. Kuzmich has more than 400 articles and five textbooks published. As a clinician, Dr. Kuzmich frequently participates in workshops throughout the U.S., China, Europe, Australia, and South America.

For more information, visit www.kuzmich.com.

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