Sequencer for writing harmonies

Does anyone have any recommendation for sequencer that is especially good for crafting harmonic movement?

Sheet music is still the best tool I have for thinking about music vertically. I can see the movement and the shape. But I’d love to use interactive software or hardware that gave me some explicit understanding of the music’s shape over time.

Any sequencer I’ve used that stacks notes kind of does it incidentally. I don’t feel like I have real programmatic control over the progression of the music over time.


Caveat: I have never used this, but it is on my list of things I want to try. The NDLR sounds in the ballpark of what you are looking for.

Dang, there was one on reverb UK today for good price, but I was too slow checking out.


I’m not a big fan of piano rolls in general but seeing harmonic structure is one thing I do like about them. Better if they can filter notes to the key like Live 11.

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Are you looking to work in a specific environment/platform? There are a few techniques in modular land to generate harmonies and, in-the-box there are some interesting max for live devices, or even the multiple clip editing in Live (if that’s your environment) which gives you that stacked approach.

Wow. Just so different. I really want to try this.

It seemed that it couldn’t be combined with a keyboard. That’s a bit of a shame. But there is a real focus on harmony here. I didn’t see enough of the demo to understand how it handles accidentals… will need to take a closer look.

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I’m actually very open. Hardware or software. I would be curious about any leads on Max patches.

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Excellently phrased question to something I really like out of sequencers but have never been able to parse out loud before.

I anticipate some dope answers after that ndlr vid.

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NDLR will take MIDI input, from the manual:

MIDI Keyboard Control (Using NoteOn/Off): The NDLR also listens for NoteOn/Off messages on the MIDI Control channel (Settings 1 menu) on any port (5 Pin or USB). White keys (C5-B6) map to the Chord Degrees in this order: C=I, D=II, E=III, F=IV… Black Keys (C#5-D#6) map the Chord Type buttons in this order: alt1 – alt2, triad – 7th – 6th, sus2 – sus4. NoteOn/Off messages can be generated by keyboard keys, sequencers, arpeggiators, etc so have fun attaching whatever gear you have to The NDLR.


Something that I have enjoyed doing is using Squarp Pyramid’s midi effects to sequence harmonic movement but without pre-set melodic content - just using them as fx.

Any midi track can have up to 5 midi fx layered onto it. So, far instance, you can add a “harmonizer” effect that gives you 4 additional notes offsets from the initial midi note(s). You can then run those notes through scale fx that will quantize them to a scale. And, if you like, you could add arpeggiation, chance, ratcheting, etc.

Where it gets interesting is that you can then sequence all the parameters of those fx (the pitch offsets, the scale, the style of arpeggiation, etc).

What I really like to do is to delete the initial midi content used to compose the sequenced fx and then play through them “live” (I like to play a monophonic controller like a Midi wind controller) through the track that has all the sequenced midi fx. You then can really feel that you are designing a melody to move through the “vertical” pitch movement sequencing.

Sort of like David Behrman “for dummies.”

I’m sure you could do this with max4live or other things, too.


The Keystep Pro Mk. 3 has a pretty useful harmony feature that I really like called Mutate- you set a note in the sequencer and can mutate it to be harmonically related based on probability, and this can be done per step. You can’t choose which note it picks, so it takes a little dialing in sometimes, but it often sounds great when used subtly. Check it out here:


For the sake of discussion - and not an indictment on these helpful suggestions - I’ve never found filters or randomizers very useful when applied to rhythm, melody, or harmony.

There are certain genres of music where they really shine. But I’ve wanted more control than any random music generator has been able to give me. I can see how something like the Keystep Pro or the filters on the Squarp Pyramid could help dial in a sound. But there is always the case where I want to reach in and move that one note a step sharper.

This also seems do-able in some of the aforementioned sequencers, but the thing that is so intriguing about he NDLR is it looks like it gives a lot of control over more than just 4 bars. Looks like you can jam for bar after bar and really think about the harmonic progression you’re building, not the notes you’re subtracting or randomly generating.

This thread is also helping me articulate what exactly I’m trying to do with a sequencer - so I appreciate the patience.


Stochas might fit the bill.


I have no experience myself, but I believe the plugin RapidComposer might be what you’re after. I’m looking forward to trying it out once my computer is built

On Mac or Windows, Cubase or Nuendo 11 are worth a look: Chord track with circle of 5th and harmonic/inharmonic suggestions. Scale locking. Scale filtering, transformation, randomization chord drawing, inversions etc. etc. And many of those features are applicable not only to midi, but audio as well. Chord track and scale lock can even be used live. And since you mentioned good old scores, it can do those too. It is so old and overkill in most cases that it is often overlooked :wink:

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I think for what you’ve describe, it is hard to beat a piano roll / DAW interface. Specifically with Ableton Live you have the piano roll, the built in MIDI effects (chord, scale, etc.), a huge number of Max4Live device, and the Max environment itself. In my experience hardware sequencers are great for improvising a monophonic sequence, but I’ve never personally used a piece of hardware that is as usable as a DAW is, for writing longer polyphonic pieces.

I love that you recommended this. Cubase has long had some great options in this regard. Going all the way back to the IPS (Interactive Phrase Synthesizer) in the Atari ST version of Cubase.


The original IPS didn’t quite do it for me, but I’ll see what they offer these days. Again - not enough features to control harmonic progression over time.


Ableton Live’s stock midi plugins can do these :slight_smile: I like to add a m4l skip midi note plug in for more randomness

When playing with randomness or midi devices it is super useful to have another channel recording the midi so you can edit it later. Nothing like getting something cool generated and not being able to do it again. Or getting something that is almost right if you could push one note into place.


Have you checked out the Bach project for Max? It might be interesting as it has some sophisticated notation oriented tools. But I haven’t used it, only glanced at it, so I could be off base. It’s on my summer to-do list! I agree that if you’re used to reading staff notation (ie can tell a chord instantly), the piano rolls are much slower.

I’m building a sequencer toolkit in Scheme For Max that I will be releasing the core of free, and my intention for similar stuff is to try out Bach for displaying on the staff.


Not sure how much interest there is but I’ve been generally exploring and getting a deeper understanding of music theory through programming. I actually bought the Crow because I couldn’t find a Eurorack module that would help me easily sequence chords and quantize the scales at the same time.

I’m currently working a Crow/Druid script that procedurally generates 4 chord loops that are heavily based on this chord map. (Heres a potato quality video that demonstrates the idea with my daughter helping me out as always…). I’ll post the script when I get through some cleanup—algorithm is fairly simple, so maybe someone would like to adapt it.

I previously wrote a script that took a stream of random notes in a 16 note buffer and wrote an algorithm to identify chord intervals (posted over here with video if anyones curious). This created more “experimental” chord progressions, but the quantized output is weighted so the previous chord effects which random notes are played, which will feedback in determining the next chord.