Today we’re very happy to present our latest Player, the Chord Sequencer! In this post, I’m going to talk a little about its background and the design process.

The last Player we did was the Bass Line Generator, and before that we’ve covered rhythms with Beat Map and Drum Sequencer. So doing something related to chords felt like a natural next step! Also, we knew that chords can be something many users struggle with from time to time. It’s easy to get stuck with the same chord shapes and progressions you always use–this can be true even if you have great keyboard skills (and it’s certainly true for us at Reason Studios). And if you don’t play a key or string instrument, it can be hard to form even basic chords.

Reason already has a Player that does chords: Scales & Chords. It’s actually our most used Player, but while great, it’s also pretty limited because all chords will conform to the set key and scale. If you want to go from a C Major to a C Minor chord for example, you will need to change the scale, and then maybe automate that change to go back again. Same thing if you want chords to have different number of notes or different voicings. Creating an exciting chord progression can suddenly become rather cerebral and tricky.

“Well, isn’t that always the case?” some may ask. “After all, this is music theory!” And here’s where it gets interesting: music theory is surely one of the ways to get to a musical result. But I think all can agree that it’s the result that matters–not the way you get there. There’s nothing wrong with trying out notes and chords without much knowledge of any underlying theory. And there are actually few hard rules in music; although a C7 resolves by the book into an F chord, there are many interesting alternatives that might fit your song better!

This touches on a thing that we think is important: Leaving the musical choice to the user. We really didn’t want to do a product based on ready-made chord progressions, where someone else has made all the decisions.

OK, so why not give the user ALL the alternatives? All the chords in all permutations and voicings! Well, there are thousands of chords–how would you know which one to choose? (Unless you already were a music theory expert and then you’d likely want to play the chords yourself anyway…)

At that stage, we were getting ideas. What if we presented smaller sets of chords, that all fit well together in style but didn’t have to stick to a single scale or shape? Granted, not all of them would sound good after one another, but what if we could hint about which progressions we thought sounded good?

The first prototype was made in (gasp) Powerpoint.

Extremely crude, but it played the chords and lit up the pads depending on how suitable they were as a next chord! Green was the best (or most typical), then yellow, then orange, then grey. Although there was no real technology under the hood (just some spreadsheets, a lot of bitmaps and samples of an ID8 electric piano), it helped us evaluate the Player. It was actually quite fun.

The chords in the prototype and the “suitability” colors were all based on the music preferences of a single person (me). Some variation was needed! Actually, wouldn’t it be great if the chord sets were made by different musicians, each with their own musical taste and style?

While our content manager Joachim started looking for chord-savvy content creators, we contacted Magnus, formerly of Reason Studios but now game developer at Ichigoichie. He was happy to develop the Player for us!

We had shown the prototype to some early testers, along with initial design sketches like this:

We had thought this would be purely played and sequenced via MIDI (like you would with Scales & Chords) but the user interviews told us that we really needed some way for the device itself to play back progressions. Something like a chord sequencer.

There was one problem though: the colors. The green/yellow/orange scheme was not easy on the eyes and didn’t convey the information well. It wasn’t clear whether yellow was better than orange or the other way around. Were the grey pads disabled? What was the meaning of the single blue pad? And why the square pads, it looks like a drum machine? Luckily, Andreas had already realized all this and was working on a proper design, with a graphic identity that is its own and at the same time connects it to Bass Line Generator.

We trimmed the design, got valuable feedback from testers and received exciting sets of chords from musicians like Bryn Bliska, Seàn Murray and Oscar Verlinden. The result is the Chord Sequencer, a Player that supplies you with new, interesting chords and helps you put them together. We like this one a lot and really hope it will be valuable for you in your music making, as an idea generator, a composing tool or a way to get out of a musical rut. Just don’t forget to use your ears! The Chord Sequencer can make suggestions but only you can decide which chords and progressions fit your music.

But also use your voice! We love to get feedback from you when we release a new device. What works? What doesn’t? Are you missing chord sets in certain styles or genres? Let us know!

Chordially yours,

Ludvig Carlson

Product Designer