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Techniques for playing Ribbon Controllers?
MUFF WIGGLER Forum Index -> General Gear  
Author Techniques for playing Ribbon Controllers?
I've got a Doepfer R2M controller and I'm wondering if anyone here's got suggestions on how to play it accurately, it quantizes great and it's really flexible. I've been playing guitar for 15 years and so I figured it wouldn't be that difficult to transfer that to ribbon playing but what I'm discovering is that with no points of reference on the controller I'm not very good at it.

Does any one on here have any suggestions on how to get past this?

I prefer to use it in 12 tone mode with three octaves available on the ribbon.
I would imagine that it just takes a while to build up the muscle memory for where certain notes are going to be located (if you're quantizing it).

When I first started playing the Theremin, it was almost impossible for me to return to a particular pitch, but now I can at least get close, and it's all just from practicing and getting used to how much movement it takes to increase/decrease pitch.

If you really need the markings while you're getting started, there's always scotch tape and markers!
I'm gonna say its probably easier if it's not quantized.
Christopher Winkels
I recently picked up a Walking Stick ribbon controller and while I find it great for general modulation duties, when it's mapped to pitch hitting the right notes is a chore. I think I'm going to put those small adhesive dots (the 1/4" diameter kind sold at any stationery store) on the wooden case to mark note intervals. One colour for "white" and one for "black" notes, at least until I can build up the aforementioned muscle memory.

I must say it gives me newfound respect for trombone players.
I usually use the scale (basically an attenuator) on the A-198 to get the ribbon to go an octave or two. That way it's a little easier to visualize the scale, and a little more like a stringed instrument's scale.
Scott Stites
I place the ribbon controller only slightly below a theremin on the pitched music controller difficulty scale.

One thing that helped me was to mark reference positions along the ribbon. It was easy for me to do in this video, because my test ribbon was adhered to a chunk of aluminum. I used a pink highlighter (which you can see laying on top of a pile of crap there). There isn't enough resolution to see the marks, but they're there.

I wonder if a highlighter along the edge of the Doepfer assembly wouldn't leave a permanent mark - if not, maybe that would help. It would I guess be along the same lines as position markers the neck of a guitar. After a while, maybe you wouldn't need them at all and could wipe them off.

Sorry if the sound is a bit low - I'd just gotten into making videos - I made this when I was developing the Appendage; I didn't get a terribly high sound level. But the marks helped me make something other than bug music with the thing. This was done without quantization.


I'd forgotten about this video Scott. I like it then and I think I like it more now!

Appendage soon please?
Scott Stites
Yeah - actually Bill ordered the final test boards yesterday to shake out the build doc to, so it's coming along Aetherpulse. smile He's got some neat Midi apps in the works for it, also, as well as quantization, I think.

I recorded this video a little later; it has better volume. I used the same position trick. I used my test ribbon for this also. Thing is, my dragon controller is totally made from dark wood, and that's what I use these days. I have to figure out some way to mark the positions, because, without that, I'm lost for Western scaling; as a gestural controller, no problems, but that tuned stuff..yeah hmmm..... .

Wow, I was just on you tube trying to track this video down. I think this was my favorite out of all the Appendage vids.

Maybe you should set up another softpot for playing "Normal" scales and use the dragon for the other stuff.
Scott Stites

There is another method for sort of controlling where pitches are at on the ribbon, with much coarser grain than a quantizer. I breadboarded a quick touch sequencer app for the ribbon - basically the ribbon voltage is applied to a comparator chain that divides the ribbon into a certain number of zones. What I did was divide the ribbon into eight zones that each had a voltage value assigned by a pot. The reason it's called a sequencer is that the zones can be sequenced like a regular step sequencer. IOW, an application like the Milton's CV input to select steps could be used. I'm not sure if the Doepfer ribbon has a separate bend output, but if it does, the bend can be mixed in to preserve the advantage of a ribbon controller - one can slide from zone to zone, as it were.

Here's a video that I used my zone circuit on, though it came out more bug-like than tuned to any particular scale. It was just how I had the "zones" programmed on the pots.

Wow, thanks Scott, your ribbon looks beautiful and the wood enclosure is very nice, I like the space at the top for markings.

One thing I've often wondered about is why Doepfer didn't attempt to place the screws on his ribbon controllers so that they could provide a better frame of refrence for music? I suppose it might have been too much work or maybe it didn't occurr to him? Anyway I think marking it up with those little dots is probably the best way to go. I've kind of got an idea of where the notes begin and end but it seems that I'm always right on the point between two of them so that when I press down I don't get the sound I want unless I shift my finger ever so slightly.

could just be my ham hands but I don't really think they're that bad.

anyway practice makes perfect.

the tks thing you set up in your last video was ingenious by the way. I'd live to see more sequencers like that one and the Klee. Milton is probably a bust at least as long as Peter Grenader insists on running his own business but meh, I like the Klee and the Serge TKS more anyway. Especially the TKS actually it's at once tactile and sequence oriented, I'd love there to me more things like that in the world.
SynthBaron wrote:
I'm gonna say its probably easier if it's not quantized.

I suppose it depends on what you are using it for. I bought mine because I was hoping eventually to use it as a way of learning Bholen-Pierce scale. I'd this great idea of setting it up with a HiPi tuning box and just geting down to it but first I want to get more comfortable playing it in standard tunings. It's a great space saver since I don't have much room for a keyboard and it's a challenge plus the midi and CV outputs means I can do various things when combined with a midi-CV converter without needing to mult.

It's great for sci-fi kinds of things and it's got the ability to do aftertouch which is nice for non modular situations but I like it as a musical controller though it's really challenging.
I've only had a ribbon controller for a few weeks and i'm finding it hard to find notes, especially with it controlling my modular because the cv doesn't seem to be quantised. Using it with my Evolver I can get quantised notes, but if you hit directly between two notes it glitches

So it looks like I might have to trying marking the notes somehow, the only problem is I like to use it set to different ranges for different applications.
I'm using Dymo labels stamped with raised white dots to divide the note zones on my R2M.

It works pretty well; lending visual and tactile feedback.

They come off cleanly, and easily if/when you want them to,
but stay stuck pretty well until you get your fingernail underneath.

Using stars or other characters, or even different colored Dymo tape might aid in distinguishing the sharps/flats.
Scott Stites
I haven't figured out yet how I'm going to put position markings on my controller, though. It's made of dark wood, so I couldn't see highlighter marks on it . d'oh!

I've thought about putting a white piece of material that one could use kind of like a white board with those dry-erase markers. Or, have some pre-printed charts that I could slide into a sort of long pocket along the top. But, my mechanical skills are pretty much non-existent.

Tim Heffman built an Appendage and marked his ribbon in that manner. Here's a video he made a day or two after he got it all together - like he says, he hits a few sour notes, but I was impressed with it, especially considering he'd only been playing with it a couple of days.

My favorite ribbon control artist on the tubes is this guy - he's using a ribbon of his own design, with no markings, and no quantization, and he jams. I believe he's a guitar player, too, which isn't hard to believe watching his style.

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