Could you explain to me sequencer resolution?

I can’t get my head to understand sequencing. I’ve tried looking for tutorials but could not find what I am looking for.

Particularly, resolution: I don’t know why but sequencer resolution is rarely mentioned in gear reviews. It seems that most hardware sequencer have a 96 ppqn resolution.

But, a lot of gear seems to have a 16 step sequencer, which - if I got it right - means a resolution of 4 ppqn.

Which seems ridiculous. How do I access the “additional slots” to input notes? Are those slots only accessible through linear sequencing? Are they only used for swing/groove settings?

Does this have to do with the micro-steps/micro-timing function that some machines have?

Sorry if this is a bit confusing, I am having troubles to explain.

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16 steps on a sequencer normally correspond to one 4/4 measure, i.e. 4 quarter notes. To put it the other way round: each step on the sequencer corresponds to one 1/16 note.


Step sequencers and the so-called linear sequencers are rather different things.

If your music is most easily represented by 1/16-note resolution, like much dance music of the last 40 years, then a step sequencer is a very fast means for creating it. (Some set sequencers like Elektron’s have micro-timing for adjustment of when the step events are triggered.)

If your music needs finer resolution, broken chords, more rhythmic nuance etc, then an old high-resolution hardware sequencer or a modern DAW is required.


Think of the resolution as the number of times per quarter note the “recorder” moves forward. With 16 ppqn the maximum note is a 16th note. Anything smaller than that is recorded as being part of with the last or current quarter note (depending upon which the current note is closest to).

16-step sequencer doesn’t mean 4ppqn, (unless it’s a very basic sequencer). There are ‘invisible’ divisions between the sequencer steps. As you suggest, they are used by swing/groove settings. They are used by micro-timing on the Elektron devices (if you haven’t used them, it’s very easy to nudge a step forward or back from the ‘base’ step.) They’re also used if you record notes into the sequencer unquantized, either from the unit’s triggers or from a keyboard.
So in practice this is usually enough resolution. It can be an issue with, say, rolling notes in a chord, where you have multiple notes, on the same track, so close together that have to ‘live’ on the same trigger but with slightly different timing, which is not possible on the Elektron sequencer. How much of a problem that is depends on your music really, and might demand a different kind of sequencer.

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A picture can sometimes help - this visualises the potential from micro-timing which is linked to the various ‘clocks’

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Just record unquantized on a device like the Digitakt, the “additional slots” as you’re referring to the microsteps will be used automatically when notes are placed. Make sure quantization in the quantize menu is set to 0. Then you can use the microtiming menu to see exactly where the notes were placed, and adjust. There is enough resolution that the unquantized recording will be a very reasonable approximation of your original timing. It’s very simple in practice. If you use track divisions/multiplications then resolution is increased or decreased accordingly.

Do you have an Elektron machine? Check the manual, it has good detail.

A little overview about sequencers with a short description.

We have (at least AFAIK) the following different types:

  • Step Sequencer
  • Linear Sequencer
  • “Stage” Sequencer

Step Sequencer:

  • Those provide a fixed amount of single event-steps.
  • This means, we can have exactly this number of events at maximum. If there are 16 steps we can’t have 17 events or more.
  • Microtiming gives us the opportunity to move an event away from the exact timing of a hard quantization. This allows us to create an arbitrary groove.
  • Even with microtiming we can’t put more then one event per step.

Linear Sequencer:

  • Linear sequencers allow us to record and play back many events per second nearly in “parallel”.
  • 96 ppqn is 96 pulses per quarter note. That means in the duration of one quarter note we can have 96 events.
  • If quantization is set to off, we can play much more notes/events per bar compared to typical step sequencers.

The term “time-resolution” indicates to be like a physical unit, but IMO this is hard to apply for step sequencers and linear sequencers as well. Depending on the speed of the “play-head” (90 bpm - 200 bpm) we will have quite different numbers of “events per second”.

As an example: Playing and recording grace notes, trills, and human touch groove live on a linear sequencer is no problem, as long as the ppqn value is not exceeded. On a step sequencer this can be hard to accomplish or even be impossible.

The common characteristic of step and linear sequencers is that we have fixed numbers of events in both cases. The difference between a linear sequencer and a step sequencer is that the linear sequencer allows many more different events per unit-of-time compared to a step sequencer.

Stage Sequencer (just to have it mentioned)

  • Similar to a step sequencer, but provides “stages” of a limited fixed number.
  • Each stage can not only handle one event, it allows to define its duration as well.

Example: A note or rest on a stage sequencer can be of any technically supported duration like 1/64 or a full note.

Hope this was not confusing and shades some light on your questions.

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