Wow, thanks! I’m feeling encouraged by your feedback.
My s/o is out of town for the weekend and I’m enjoying writing extensively about this niche topic nobody in my life cares about so I’d like this thread to be about step components in general and not just the advanced applications. Is it a faux pas to change the title? Hmm.
Also the more complicated topics are taking forever to fully figure out and it’s nice to write out the things I know for sure.
Feel free to add, share, edit, reformat, reorganize, ask questions, etc. I may share this on Reddit too but I don’t know.
How to Use the Step Components You'll Probably Use Most Often
Here’s a list of the step components I think you’d want to know first, in the order they appear in this chart. Note that I’ve skipped rows and values that I didn’t learn until later.
||2 3 4 9 0
|| 1 2 3
|| 1 2
||3 4 7 8
At first I used Trigger Spark almost exclusively. It’s the easiest to understand and apply and, unlike nearly all of the others, doesn’t need to be paired with anything else. I still use it the most often, especially on drum tracks.
I’d suggest you take the same path and get to know Trigger Spark well first. If you do, you’ll already know how to use Parameter Spark and Component Spark. Parameter Spark gives you another level of variation through parameter locks, and Component Spark is what you’ll probably want to pair with literally any other non-Spark components since most of them aren’t things you want every time a note is played.
I’ve loosely organized these components into three groups, and within those groups I list the components in the order I would hypothetically teach them to someone (feedback welcome on the way I’ve organized them):
Conditionals - basic on/off components
Trigger Spark 1-0* changes the passes on which the trigger will play.
Parameter Spark 1-0* changes the passes on which parameter locks are applied.
Component Spark 1-0* changes the passes on which the step components apply.
Velocity 9 changes the passes on which the trigger’s velocity will be 0 (muted note). When combined with Component Spark 1-0*, it can mute the trigger on certain passes. This works well when combined with a Trigger Spark.
Trigger characteristics - components that add variation to a trigger without changing the note
Pulse Hold 1 changes the note to fit exactly one step. Whether your note length is 0.4 or a drone, it will be sustained for one full step.
Multiply 9 triggers each note on a step and plays them evenly across one step length.
Velocity 1-8 changes the note loudness. 5 is the default value, so use 4-1 to make it quiet/quieter, and use 6-8 to make it loud/louder. I like using this to adjust a step’s velocity because I’m scared I’ll break Lil Z in half if I use the pitch bend button.
Portamento 1-8 starts the trigger pitch at the last note played and slides to the note on the trigger. The value determines how much of the step it takes to glide (I think). It’s helpful because portamento is a track setting, which can’t otherwise be sequenced.
Multiply 0 this quantizes the step, which lets you vary the timing between passes as I’ve described above.
Note characteristics - components that change the note(s) on that trigger
Tonality 3 4 7 8 transposes the note based on the OP-Z’s chord recognition. I recommend using 3 and 4 for synth tracks, since 3 transposes an octave and 4 tranposes a 5th, which are relatively “safe” variations. 7 and 8 transpose by a semitone, which is helpful for drum tracks since similar sounds are often placed on adjacent keys.
Multiply 2 3 4 retriggers the note/step 2, 3, or 4 times.
Ramp Up 1 2 3 each step or retrigger will cycle through an ascending arpeggio based on the note and the OP-Z’s chord recognition. 1 = Note/Octave; 2 = Note/Fifth/Octave; 3 = Note/Third/Fifth/Octave.
Random 1 2 each step or retrigger will randomly play a note from the arpeggio using the same values as Ramp Up.
* = When selecting a value for this component, the flashing number indicates the pass(es) on which the trigger will be active. Multiple presses of the same value cycles through different options for all Spark components.
I’ll give a progressively more complicated example on the Lead track (step length 4; step count 16) using the following notes (numbers indicate which OP-Z key I’m referring to, not the octave of the note):
Step 1: C2
Step 4: E1
Step 5: A2
Step 9: F2
Step 12: A2
Step 13: G2
Step 16: F2
Add Trigger Sparks
This basic melody gets old quickly, so let’s vary when the notes at beat 4 are triggered.
Steps 4 12: Trigger Spark 2*
Step 16: Trigger Spark 44 (press 4 two times)
* = Note: this is the default value for Trigger Spark. I wrote 2 to be consistent since we want the first iteration of value 2, but you don’t need to press a value key in this case.
Add Trigger Characteristic Components
This is already a little more interesting: passes 1 and 3 only have the notes on the 1 of each measure, and step 16 only triggers on the first of every four passes.
Since passes 1 and 3 are more sparse, let’s emphasize that contrast with components on steps 1, 5, 9, and 13. Specifically, I’ll make it so that these notes are louder and longer during passes 2 and 4 by using Velocity.
Let’s also add some Portamento to the notes that land on the 4 of measures 1 and 3.
Steps 1 5 9 13: Velocity 6, Pulse Hold 1, Component Spark 2
Steps 4 12: Portamento 4
Add Note Characteristic Components
Now that we have a dynamic contrast, let’s add variation on some of the notes. This is where I take the fewest risks unless I’m on the Arp track.
We’ll make it so that, on the first three of every four passes, step 4 is raised an octave and step 12 is raised a fifth. Because these triggers are only played on every second pass, they’ll apply to every other time we hear these notes.
Steps 4 12: Component Spark 444
Step 4: Tonality 3
Step 12: Tonality 4
Again, not a masterpiece but hopefully it illustrates my points.
I’ve used Lil Z for probably 1-2 hours on average per day since I got it 5 months ago. Problem solving, testing things, and learning about them is something I enjoy and am pretty good at so I’ve spent at least half of that time just running tests with step components to figure them out.
Even then it took me probably three months to really understand how to actually use them to compose quickly, and I hope to help other people get more out of the device without having to spend as much time with it as I have.
The OP-Z really opened up for me when I started to get the hang of problem-solving with step components, but I’ll bet a lot of people got frustrated or confused before then which is a bit of a shame.
tl;dr: I’ve solved everything from “play the first 8 steps twice then the second 8 steps twice” to the absurd things I’ve documented here like “play the sequence 3 times forward and 1 time backward” so I’ll happily provide an example of using step components to solve any specific issue anyone has.