Improvisation with just a Digitakt

Morning all. I’ve now had my Digitakt for a week or so - I switched from a Digitone which I struggled to program myself even though it sounds great - and I’m having a blast so far. It’s the most “immediate” fun I’ve ever had with music after years of DAWs and software.

I’m trying to experiment a bit with improvisation and come up with some techno/electronic music from nothing. When I say “nothing” I have to load some samples in first but I’m trying to avoid pre-programming patterns and making songs by pattern switching and rather just see what comes out in a continuous flow without stopping the machine playing.

I have had a few ideas so far of how to make variations and how to do things like load a bunch of kicks/hats/snares etc so I can easily just switch sample on the fly. Also, I’ve tried loading one-shot samples that have timbral change over time so I can then make a short staccato sound (like a pluck) from a longer sample and then manually move the start point or use the LFO to get variation over time. Another good one is that if you lay down trigless trigs you can sort of “queue” a pattern idea in silence and then overlay actual trigs on top and they will then start playing.

Does anyone have any more ideas for how to improvise “from nothing” with just a Digitakt? Or ways to make variety and progression without using pre-programmed patterns or loops? I sat down this morning and before I knew it half an hour had passed without pressing stop and I had some enjoyable noisy techno going on, but I felt a bit blocked in terms of making things progress and have more variety.

Thanks in advance - really loving the supportive and collaborative nature of this community.


Search for “Granular Synthesis on Digitakt”, Its a cool way to stretch out a long sample and scroll through the transients playing it like an instrument or with the LFO, you get cool results mixed with some reverb and delay.

I love this kind of playing too! What I found really cool for this is to take a static sample - like a noise or a non-moving synth tone - and give it a rather long “morph”. Something like a phaser or gradually added distortion or a filter sweep. So then you can take the start point of the sample and slowly cycle through the sample. That way you can “morph” the sound in very complex ways.

This guy did it with a Volca Sample and some standard acid sweeps, but you can do all sorts of cool stuff. Check how he uses the Start Point parameter as a filter.

EDIT: Hah emberassing, you actually mentioned this in the opening post. Somehow it didn’t register in my brain :laughing:
But to expand on the “morph” idea; you can have two tracks A and B running with exactly the same sound. One has sample A, the other track has a different sample B with an additionally inverted sample A embedded. That way you can blend A and B very easily, because A gets cancelled out by track B. You can get even weirder with equalization of the inverse sample A.
Downside is, you can’t be as free when you do the transition, the two tracks have to be very precisely the same.


I had the same idea. Improvising is so much more fun to me than playing preprogrammed patterns. Of course it’s also easier to f-ck up the mix.

First i have to say having a midi controller helps to mix faster as you don’t have to go through the menu sites. For example i can dial in some delay on different channels without switching to the right track on the Digitakt. But i think even without a comtroller the Digitakt is very fast to operate.

For the longer set i loaded 8 kicks, 8 snares etc. after another into the sample ram. So when i go to the sample slot i can just scroll 1 down to the next sound to make a fast change of the kick or whatever.
As you said moving the start point around is good for creating movement and unexpected happy accidents. It also works very well on longer samples like a synth sequence or whatever.
The same goes for messing with the tuning parameter on a sequence. I’m just hitting record,
and tweak the tuning until something good comes out. It’s a bit hit or miss but i come up with interesting stuff i never would’ve programmed.

For me making transitions is the hardest part of improvising on the Digitakt.
Sometimes there’s this annoying moment where i tweak around like crazy to come up with a new bassline or so and it just won’t sound good. The ability to put seperate channels on the headphones, like a dj mixer can, would be supernice. So you could hear the muted sequence on the headphones before you unmute it.

All in all i really like the Digitakt for improvising but i’ll never come up with a perfect set that way. Sometimes i’m really in the flow and suddenly i make a mistake and erase a good sequence or forget to hit record again so i accidentally record a lot of parameter automation over different tracks.
For me improvising is the way to go as i love the happy accidents that come out of it. I’m a bit bored with the stuff i program when i sit down to produce a track.

I’m looking forward to see what you and others come up with.

This is a longer impro session with the Moog DFAM which definitely helps to fill up space when nothing special is happening on the Digitakt.

And another one without the dfam:


Thanks for the input. I’ve already watched some of your videos before you posted here and it’s good inspiration for the sort of thing I’m interested in. I can see you’re getting good use out of the controller by mapping everything in a sensible way. The irony is that I sold all my controllers when I wanted to move away from the computer. I think, like many people, I associated MIDI controllers with using software but of course I realise now that they are equally useful with hardware! I’ll probably stick with just the DT for the moment as a learning exercise but when I outgrow that I can always get a controller or perhaps a hardware synth to compliment the DT.

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As much as i like using these controllers for me there’s still something special about only using the Digitakt. When i’m jamming at a friend’s house i sometimes only bring the Digitakt. It’s just cool to fully concentrate on this one machine. And there’s so much in there. I just realized i haven’t used the function-all trick for a long time.

I find playing around with the ‘Not 1st’ parameter lock on various tracks can be helpful with transitioning between patterns … can bring the sounds in more gradually :blush:


Haven’t used this condition yet. It means that the first cycle of the pattern the trig doesn’t play.
I don’t get how this helps with transitions. Because in my understanding the second time the new pattern is playing everything comes in at once. But i probably don’t get it right. Could you explain it to me? Sounds interesting.

Oh it is very helpful, same with the 1st.
If you use the trigger condition on a few selected steps, it would feel like the pattern slowly picks up its motion.

Oh and for transitions: using the retrigger function carries over when switching patterns and there‘s no trigger in the new pattern. The retrig from the old pattern keeps happening in the new pattern until it reaches its end or if it‘s interrupted by a new note.

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Thanks for explaining! Now i get it. Putting it only on some steps makes sense. Good idea!

make your own samples with the lfo’s and effects save to your sound bank because you will learn that the sound pool is your friend
and resampling the internal sounds is a good friend also

I’ve had an idea that I thought I’d share here so I can get some feedback. It seems to me that there’s only so much you can control at any one time with 2 hands and the fact that you have to switch tracks to control the filters on each track etc (at least without an external MIDI controller). The issue of transitions and switching patterns to evolve a set/song has come up here often also.

I was thinking that you could try to think of the 8 tracks as 2 set of 4 (maybe pairs that sit next to each other) so that you might only be using 4 tracks at any given time, but then it’s possible to pre-edit and mess around with the opposite set of 4 tracks and easily switch between each A/B track by muting and un-muting the pairs of tracks. I appreciate that this then “artificially” restricts the track count a bit but you could always do a half-and-half solution where you had 4 tracks operating on their own and 2 pairs of 2 that can be switched so that you can do some transitions and trickery this way.

As an example, if you had one pair of tracks covering kick (which might be considering the backbone of the techno track) then you can have one track as a simple 1/5/9/13 beat and the other can have fills, FX, high-pass filter or whatever to help with transitioning and variation and you can switch between the 2 easily with a 2-finger action by muting one and un-muting the other. This would work with any 2 tracks next to each other as the switching-by-muting thing would be very easy.

I haven’t tried this but I’m just using this thread as a dumping ground for ideas really. I apologise for no videos etc but I’m not setup to film anything. I’m going to think about that though. I’ve got an iPhone but I don’t even have a way to record audio yet, no audio interface or dedicated recording device…yet.

I usually have a MIDI keyboard hooked up to my DT, and find that really helps things flow. It’s great to play a few quick runs up and down the the octaves and discover that your conga makes a great bassline, or your bass a cool lead. Makes the sounds go further!

You could always download a few free synth apps for iphone, and sequence them with Digitakt - add some variety and would easily run off your iphone (ipad) using a camera connection kit. I do it all the time with the MiniMoog app.

Start with AudioKit SYnth One -Free and sounds great.

Or sample it back into the Digitiakt and create some new loops to work with.

Thanks for the suggestions. @danyuld I haven’t actually done any sampling yet, just loading a bunch of the GBs of samples I already have on my laptop to see what I can do with them. It’s a good idea and I’ve already got loads of iPhone music apps (and an iPad also) but I just haven’t tried it yet.

I also want to spend more time trying to make sounds with the bundled single-cycle waves. What I’m trying to achieve (at least for the moment) is that persistent, high-energy hypnotic sound like I’ve seen in that @DaveMech video. I think if I record my own staccato one-shot bass and pluck type sounds it’ll be a good start, or even some longer notes/chords for pads etc.

I just haven’t had the time but I’ve finished work for Christmas now so I can find some time!

A big strength of the dt is that there is no real designation for any of the tracks.

I started doing this for a liveset but never finished it. I resampled Kick and Bass on channel 1, hihats and claps on channel 2 etc. So 2 of my Songs were divided in 4 tracks each. It was very easy to mix that way. It felt like mixing stems in ableton. It was still a bit limiting for me but maybe you can get a nice workflow going like this.

I do almost all live improv with Digitakt as my main instrument.

Typically, I load up a project with about 100 pre-selected samples. About 1/3 standard electronic drum kit fare, 1/3 “interesting” percussion, and 1/3 various odd things I’ve sampled myself. To that I have about four or five long strange things samples (old radio bits, various music, machine noises, etc…)

I often start with either no patterns, or just one pattern pre-made. I then run the whole set pretty much as a single long constant mutation of that pattern. Adding things, removing them, and changing them. Features I use often:

  • conditional trigs to make that one pattern vary
  • LFO’ing sample start to get glitch effects with very short hold times
  • LFO amp attack, filter freq., or volume to get variety on steady 1/16th note fills
  • long slow LFO on filter freq. to bring a part in and out over time
  • changing the sample on some standard 4/4 kick or up-beat snare to something radically different
  • using different track pattern lengths, then building up a track with a pitched sample from sparse to super filled

I use a MIDI controllers, outboard effects, and a small synth (sequenced by the DT) as well. You can find details of my live setup in this post: Live w/Digitakt & Pisound, w/Video Visuals

If you’d like to watch some videos of me playing this way, a playlist with both live and home studio performances:


Thanks @mzero that’s really helpful and I appreciate all the detail. I’ve tried some of those things myself but plenty of new ones to think about. I’ve been doing more or less what you’ve suggested by starting from little or nothing then just mutating and building up a single pattern.

One thing I’ve just started to try is copying and pasting a pattern as I build/change it so I can then have it in various states and switch back and forth.

I’ll watch your video later but I need a coffee first as I’ve just got up!

Here’s a new freestyle set i recorded. Tried to mix slower this time.