Digitakt, Synth, Keyboard, Midi - Noob Questions

Hey all,

I’m a total noob with making electronic music, so please be patient with me. Also, this post has evolved into a big rambling brain dump, so apologies in advance if it’s too long or jumbled to get through. All good if you don’t bother… just typing it out has helped me understand it all better, and any responses I do get I’m sure will be super valuable. :slight_smile:

I bought a Korg Monologue about a month ago, to start my tinkering with electronic music hobby. I quickly realised that the sequencer on that was not going to make it easy for me to make full arrangements, so I bought a Digitakt, which I’m loving. Getting to know how to use it as a standalone device has been heaps of fun.

I’m now at a point where I’m starting to look beyond the Digitakt a bit. Like how can I use my Monologue with the Digitakt. Or should I buy a Keystep or Keystep pro to expand my setup, and provide a better keyboard base to extend those skills?

Please note I’m working DAWless at the moment - just want to play with the hardware before I introduce a whole new level of DAW complexity to my workflow. I’m open to being told that this is actually make it more complicated than it would be to just introduce it, but for now I’m digging not having to use a computer outside of work hours.

Today I pulled out my only midi cable and had a play, and soon realised the following (please correct me if i’m wrong about anything):

  1. By routing from the Digitakt (out) to the Monologue (in), i could control when the Monologue plays it’s sequence (start/stop), the tempo, and (haven’t done this yet but assume I can) assign CC values to the parameter controllers in the Digitakt to control the corresponding values on the Monologue.
  2. Midi does not transfer sound at all (I kind of knew this, but was disappointed to confirm it), so if I ever want to hear the actual sounds being generated by both the Digitakt and the Monologue, I’ll need some kind of mixer (is this correct)? Is it at all possible to route the sound from the Monologue into the Digitakt, and have that come through on of of the tracks? That way I could kind of use the Digitakt as a mixer… is this possible without recording samples on the Digitakt?
  3. If I route the midi from the Monologue (out) to the Digitakt (in), I can control the Digitakt using the Monologue. Most useful here, I guess, is being able to play keys of the selected sound using keyboard keys instead of in Chromatic mode using the pads on the Digitakt. But then I lose all the oscillator and sound manipulation goodness of the Monologue.
  4. Is it possible to send midi to and from the same device (eg: Digitakt in/out to Monologue out/in) to be able to control devices in both directions?

All of this is what got me thinking about adding a keyboard (such as a Keystep or Keystep Pro) to my collection. I could then route that into the Digitakt, and the Digitakt into the Monologue. Again, will this workflow even work, and will I be able to use the sequencing capabilities of the Keystep alongside the Digitakt, and how would this look?

Can I do any of this without a mixer or DAW? Or is having one of these an absolute necessity? In which case, what’s the cheapest/ easiest way to get these devices working together?

I’m considering selling the Monologue and getting a Keystep Pro to replace it. The benefits that’ll offer me (from my perspective) are:

  1. Bigger keys to work with - I’m finding the tiny keys on the Monologue hard to use and it’s sucking my motivation to keep practicing learning to play the keyboard.
  2. A more usable sequencer to sequence melodies, drums etc
  3. I can use some soft synths (on computer or iPad) to replace the Monologue until I’m ready for a hardware synth again

Is my logic sound on this? I’m liking the idea of learning the basics of keyboard use, creating melodies etc, and some simple arrangements, so I think the Beatstep Pro would provide a great base to do this… then, when I’m feeling adventurous, I could either introduce the Digitakt back and start playing with samples alongside the Keystep sounds, or a synth (hard or soft) to create new sounds to add to my arrangements.

If you’ve read this far, I commend you, and thank you. Looking forward to seeing what advice you can offer to help me over this little hurdle/ knowledge gap.

Thanks heaps

Hi Greg, a lot of questions here, but I’ll take a quick try to answer.

MIDI is simply a communication protocol that sends information like clock (for BPM matching), transport (stop/start), notes (what notes will be played on the receiving device), and CC (continuous controller messages, what is used to adjust things over time). Like you mentioned, it does not transport sound.

With your setup, I would use the Digitakt to sequence all of the notes on the Monologue using a MIDI track on the Digitakt, and turn off transport receive on the Monologue or transport send on the Digitakt. This will effectively replace the Monologue’s sequencer and give you way more options. You can look at CC programming later, as that is more advanced.

On the Monologue, I would review the manual, but there may be a way for you to turn off MIDI CC sending but allow MIDI note sending, which would let you use it as a keyboard for note entry into the Digitakt’s sequencer. I don’t own the Monologue, but this is a pretty common task on devices. If it doesn’t, just don’t use the Monologue Out to Digitakt In connection, as it’ll simplify things.

A warning, you do not want to have both devices sending transport, otherwise you will get a MIDI loop that will probably cause the machines to crash and need to restart, and you probably don’t want both sending CC values, or you may find knob turns changing unexpected things on both devices.

Mixer -
The Digitakt does have direct monitoring, so that should delay needing a mixer/interface until you choose to add more gear. Check page 48 in the manual, basically just need to increase volume on direct monitoring. Note that it will make the audio mono and no effects can be applied.

Keystep/Keystep Pro -
This is my opinion, but the Keystep is a pretty good controller for entering notes, and simple enough when used as the keys for a Digitakt (using a Digitakt as the brain of the setup). I do not see the purpose of getting a Keystep Pro when you have a Digitakt though, as one of the best selling points of the Digitakt is the sequencer and ability to sequence up to 8(!) external devices with one of the best sequencers available. The Keystep Pro seems to be a better fit for Modular or non-Elektron-based workflows.

Overall -
My biggest recommendation is to read the Digitakt manual fully. The Digitakt is very, very capable of being the brain of an entire hardware setup, it is just a matter of learning how to set it up to work best for you. I assure you that you will be surprised by the added functionality that it provides that you do not yet know is there. Let it own the sequencing process for your gear.

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Hey FlexMundo,

Thanks for your detailed response… and for confirming my understanding of how MIDI works.

Just to be clear, it’s ok to have midi going both directions between devices, provided I avoid the midi loop condition you mentioned, correct?

Regarding using the Digitakt as the centre of my setup, that’s kind of what I always had in mind. But I’m really keen to get a bigger keyboard to learn on (Monologue is 25 keys, and they’re small and annoying to use)… do you think a Keystep (not pro) would be a good fit for this?

I actually love that the Keystep has an Arpreggiator, however would i even be able to get the sound of that by routing it through the Digitakt (via Midi)?

Actually this video has helped me understand how it works:

I think having a keyboard that can easily swap what channel it’s sending data via, will make it way more easy and fun to control different internal tracks on the digitakt… which is why I’m staring to lean toward the Keystep now. Cheaper, simpler, and I can keep my focus on learning the Digitakt to its fullest while still getting the benefit of a bigger and better keyboard than the little Monologue on.

So would the keystep > Digitakt <> Monologue workflow work for my needs, with:

  • Keystep > Digitakt via midi
  • Digitakt > Monologue via midi
  • Monologue > Digitakt via audio (using audio monitoring to output the sound to a track on the Digitakt)

Then I could have my headphones connected to the Digitakt, and have all the sounds coming through there.

Question is: using my abovementioned workflow, would the keystep be able to send midi control data (keys etc) to the monologue via the digitakt?

It’s a bummer that the Digitakt is not stereo… that’s such an annoying limitation… but if i can make this workflow work for me, I’ll be keeping an eye on the Octatrack Mk.3 as a potential replacement down the line.

One thing I’m struggling to understand, still, is how the Keystep works as a midi controller. Basically that’s all it is - it can’t generate its own sounds. Yet it includes a pretty advanced sequencer, with tons of patterns that you can layer to create full arrangements (more so the Pro)… so basically, is it sending all of this sequenced information via Midi to whatever device is connected to it… and just telling that device to play different sounds at different pitches, tempos etc? If this is the case, could it be used to fire different sounds in the Digitakt?

I’m starting to think I should just buy a simple 2-4 channel mixer to route all the sound outputs (from Digitakt, Monologue, etc) to… I feel like that’s really going to make my life easier.

Does this sound like a good idea, or a bad idea for any reason? Coming from a DJ background, it feels like the way forward, but being new to this whole production/ looping/ midi world, perhaps the mixer is not needed?

Welcome to the forum!

Yes. Setting Monologue’s “Local SW(itch)” parameter in its Global Edit mode to “Off” will prevent any unwanted MIDI loop.

MIDI keyboards come in all sizes from one octave to full piano size, with different weighting types, so the keyboard to buy will depend on your needs, playing style, budget, and preferences from any previous keyboard experience you may have. Think carefully about you needs for any size and keyboard action before buying. You may also consider whether you want your next keyboard to have built-in sound-making capabilities.

You don’t necessarily need to keep changing the channel number on the keyboard because the DT includes Elektron’s auto channel facility - if you set the keyboard’s MIDI channel to match the DT’s auto channel number, the DT will route the incoming MIDI messages to whichever track is selected on the DT. That track can be not only the DT’s audio tracks but also the MIDI sequencer tracks that you are using to sequence external synthesizers.

So KeyStep may be nice (it’s a matter of taste), but any other MIDI keyboard could fit the purpose.

Yes - see the autochannel feature I described above.

Yes. KeyStep is very popular for use with synths that don’t have any sequencer built in. It could be argued that the DT’s sequencer is advantageous because it is tightly integrated with the DT’s audio playback, so it’s a personal decision for you about how much of the KeyStep’s functionality would enhance your experience with the DT.

It’s your needs that you should consider, rather than any industry norms or common practices. If having a separate mixer will help you then you should go for it.

Because the Digitakt has a stereo output and Monologue a mono output then you need mixer inputs to cover those. I recommend that you think about whether you expect to be adding to your sound sources in the foreseeable future and see whether your budget will stretch to a bigger mixer that would accommodate such eventual additions.

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