Cheat Sheet: How to play notes (and chords) on the Launchpad

A tutorial for using the Novation Launchpad Pro as a synth keyboard.

What this is about

Last summer, I borrowed a Launchpad to take along on my holiday, and fell in love with it. The Launchpad is a new instrument; you have to relearn the movements of your fingers. These considerations and patterns are supposed to make learning easier.

Launchpad Pro sitting on top of my piano

I am not much of a musician, nor do I know that much musical theory. The few musical skills I use these days are mostly self-taught. When I started discovering synthesizers, I got myself a table of the basic minor and major chords and their inversions. This helped me produce the first harmonies, just like someone learning the first chords on a guitar.

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V2.0: A Teensy-based MIDI Controller

Building my own wheels for the Launchpad Pro – once again, with style.

Two weeks ago, I started a little sunday afternoon project, sucessfully building my first own MIDI controller – a pitch bend/mod wheel/midi merge device to serve as a companion to my new Launchpad Pro. Using an Arduino, a prototyping board by SparkFun, and community-made code, I succeeded with surprisingly little effort – the most time-consuming part was finding and fixing the errors I had clumsily soldered into my pathetic excuse for a MIDI interface. But it worked!

Launchpad Companion Controller in actionAs they say, the worst thing that can happen is that you succeed. The quick and easy success made me hungry for more – I started a MIDIfication project for my JEN SX-1000 monophonic synth, based on a Teensy, another microcontroller board that can be used within the Arduino development eco-system but is much better suited to MIDI/USB applications.

V2.0: A Teensy-based MIDI controller

This is actually a side project to that. I looked at my self-made controller and noticed that it is usable but not very playable – I wanted real wheels for the Launchpad, not sliders. So I decided to redo a V2.0 of the controller, based on the Teensy.

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Homebrew MIDI Companion Controller for my Launchpad Pro

I have bought a Launchpad Pro, and am still trying to figure out how to play a synthesizer with this thing. (More on this in another post.) It’s like starting over with keyboards, only with a better understanding what this is getting at. Simply great.

One thing I don’t like about the Launchpad is that it may give you velocity and per-note pressure sensitivity – provided your synth is capable of interpreting it – but takes away the traditional performance controls of a synth keyboard: the good old pitch bend and modulation wheels we have seen as our goddamn right as keyboard players ever since they were introduced with the Minimoog.

So I decided to build my own simple Launchpad Companion Controller, based on an Arduino.

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„We apologize for the inconvenience.“

Ford Prefect and Arthur Dent - still from the BBC series

You may know these two gentlemen. If not, grab your VHS player, rent out the BBC’s „Hitchhiker’s Guide“ series, watch. Hurry!


If you have tried to send a message, or use the shop, you may have noticed that it did not work in the last two days – or, you didn’t notice, and are still waiting for an answer. A conflict between the Contact Form 7 plugin, which I have rediscovered, and the WP Cerber security plugin made some readjustments necessary. It should all be fine again now.

On the plus side, I had the opportunity to overhaul my shop pages, so if you are interested in an update for the Akai AX-80 or Kawai SX-240, it is easier to find and order. Concerning the Matrix-6, there is news: A very old bug in the firmware has finally been found and eliminated; it made it impossible to set negative DETUNE (parameter 12) values. Oddly enough, nobody except Gregor from Stereoping ever seems to have noticed, so there is no harm in continuing to use the firmware V2.14.

There is a new version V2.15 though – Bob fixed the bug – so if you feel that you need negative detune values, you may order that. Or you may take the opportunity to buy one of the V2.14 firmware PROMs extra cheap – while stocks last.

Gut zu wissen, Thomann! TIL… dass man die Luftkissen auch zerreißen kann

Wer einmal etwas bei Thomann bestellt hat, (und haben wir das nicht alle?) kennt die Luftpolster-Kissen, mit denen die wertvollen neuen Spielzeuge verpackt werden. Da Thomann aus gutem Grund übervorsichtig ist und gerne riesige, halb leere Kartons versendet, bekommt man meist eine ganze Menge davon.

Die nehmen zu viel Platz in der umkämpften Mülltonne ein – also bedeutet jedes Paket Fronarbeit: Um es mir mit mit den Nachbarn nicht zu verscherzen, bringe ich die Beutel immer alle zum Platzen, damit ich sie problemlos wegwerfen kann. Nun ja, flache Hand -> Stirn: man muss sie nicht zerstechen – die sind offensichtlich so hergestellt, dass man sie auch einfach in der Mitte zerreißen kann, alle auf einmal.

Fiel mir heute beim Entrümpeln eines Synthesizer-Kartons aus dem Keller auf – und ist ganz klar in der Kategorie „Nutzloses Wissen“: Das mit dem Platzenlassen der Luftpolster übernehmen schließlich in der Regel meine Kinder.

An Unreachable Quantum of Waldorf

Yes, it’s there. The first ever Waldorf Quantum can be admired at Musikmesse Frankfurt. Admired from a distance, that is, because they put the prototype under cover. „It’s our only one, and it still has to reach Superbooth, so we are a bit reluctant to have end-users play it“, the developers told me when I asked whether I’d be allowed to touch it.

Waldorf Quantum prototype, spotted at Musikmesse Frankfurt 2017

So what can you gather from some minutes of unabashed gloating in front of a Plexiglas shrine, and a few friendly words with the developers, that hasn’t been said yet? (Sort-of-super-Wave with granular synthesis and resonator banks on top of the standard wavetables, 8 voices, analog filters, destined to be ready in time to be bought for Christmas, for something around $3000, etc.?)
Here are some observations:
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Blofeld encoder fix revisited – a correction. (And apology.) 

In which I have to admit that I have been wrong: the encoders in my Waldorf Blofeld synth do need a special lubricant; by cleaning all the grease from them I might have done more harm than good.
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What the digital Prophet missed – iPad control for the Creamware Pro-12 ASB

Wouldn’t it be nice if you had a controller for every aspect of this thing?

Creamware Pro-12 ASB Synth Module

A brilliant virtual-analog recreation of Sequential Circuit’s Prophet-5 – unfortunately, some important parameters can not be reached from the hardware.

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A love letter to Jenny: Tremolo and Key Tracking Mod

This JEN SX-1000 belongs to Stéphane in France, who wrote to tell me of the three mods he did. I have never seen two of them before – a Tremolo control, and variable filter tracking. Which would make Gordon Reid very, very happy.

So here is Stéphane’s letter:

„Hello, here are some modifications for the Jen synthetone SX1000. Nothing is disconnected. Components are added.“

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Serious GAS warning: Stereoping is building a new Matrix controller!

Stereoping Matrix 1000/6/6R controller, preliminary visualization Oct 2016. Source: stereoping.com
Ah, yes, GAS, Gear Acquisition Syndrome. It happens to the best of us. So if the thought of a new hardware super-controller by Stereoping is giving you sweaty palms, especially as you learn that it will also be available for Microwave, MKS-80, and Rhodes Chroma, you’d better not read on. The specs I’ve got for you would only make you GAS much, much worse.
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