MPC 101 – Common Terms Explained
Whether you are a seasoned veteran or brand new to MPC, understanding the terminology is the first step to creating with an MPC. This guide will discuss all of the important terms and elements of your MPC so you can start creating.
- Samples & Loops
- Drum Programs
- Tracks & Sequences
- Expansions & Plugins
- File Browser, Filters, and Folders
- Keygroup Programs
- 16 Levels and Full Level
- Patched Phrase
- Additional Guides & Videos
- Further Technical Support
A sample or a loop is an audio file, i.e a WAV or MP3 file. These are your sounds. It could be the sound of a kick drum, a snare, a horn, a note on a piano, piece of a song, random noise etc. In essence, this is a smaller sound used to make up your instrument or program.
To load a new sample, use the MPC File Browser on the left side of the software, or press the Browser button on your MPC (Menu > Browser on MPC Touch). Find a WAV or MP3 file and simply drag it over to a pad in the software, or press Load on your MPC (F6 for Studio and Renaissance) to load the sample into your Sample Pool (use the Sample Assign button to assign the sample to a pad).
There are 4 different types of programs: Drum, Keygroup, MIDI and Plugin.
To put it simply, the program is your instrument. Think of it like your drum kit, or your bass, or your piano. Each program type is used to achieve a certain sound, and you'll choose a program type based on what you need for your beat/song/arrangement. To choose the type of Program you'd like to use, use the Type field in the Track Section of MPC or Main screen of your MPC:
Drum Programs are the most common program type and the key to creating with an MPC. Drum programs are collections of samples, grouped together to form a playable instrument. Simply put, a drum program is the collection of samples assigned across the 16 pads of your MPC. Think of it like your drum kit. Your MPC comes with tons of pre-built programs assigned in specific styles, like house, dance, trap, etc.
In your MPC File Browser, the drum programs will be labeled as .XPM files. These .XPM files contain a list of the samples used in the program as well as settings for the samples (pad assignments, loop points, pitch, effects, etc.). To load a new drum program, set your Type setting to "Drum" and simply drag over a .XPM file from the Browser to the 16 pads in the center. From the hardware, just press the Load button on your MPC (F6 on Studio and Renaissance).
You can then load or change the program assigned to the track by using the Program drop-down menu at the bottom, or the PGM: / Program setting on the Main view of your MPC Studio, Renaissance or Touch:
The relationship between a track and a sequence is very important. Here's an easy way to break it down:
- To add a new sound/instrument to your arrangement, add a new track.
- To add a new part of your song, create a new sequence
A Track will make up different elements of your recorded arrangement. If we consider that the Program is your instrument, then the track is the space for that instrument to play and be recorded. Each Track will have a program assigned to it that will play the MIDI notes recorded to that track.
A Sequence is the collection of tracks and associated MIDI notes that make up a part of your song, i.e. intro, chorus, verse, etc. This is just a segment that will be used later to piece together an entire song. Usually, this will be broken down even further into variations such as Verse 1A and Verse 1B to make the pieces more versatile and the arrangement more interesting. Sequences can contain multiple tracks, each with a different program, and each sequence will have it's own arrangement
To use some examples, the image below depicts the program MNML Kit playing the MIDI notes recorded on Track 1 of Sequence 1. We'll consider this the drum beat.
If you wanted to then add a new sound to the arrangement, use the Track drop-down menu to select an unused track, and then use the Program drop-down menu to load a new program (you can also use the same program across multiple tracks). For instance, here you can see that a melodic guitar program is being loaded assigned to Track 2 in Sequence 1:
If this sequence is complete and you want to create a new part of the song, such as a chorus, use the Sequence drop-down menu to choose an unused sequence. You can then create an entirely new set of tracks to make up your new sequence. The same programs can continue to be used if you'd like.
Finally, just like samples and programs, pre-made sequences can be imported into a project. Some of the content provided with your MPC will contain pre-built sequences and can be located with the MPC File Browser. These will be labeled as .SXQ files. Just like a sample or program, simply drag this from the MPC File Browser into your project. MPC will ask which position you'd like to load the sequence.
If you're just getting started, loading pre-made sequences and programs is a great jumping off point and can provide some insight into how sequences and programs are built.
Expansions and Plugins are different types of content.
An MPC expansion typically refers to a package of content, i.e. samples, programs, sequences and sometimes entire demo projects. For example, your MPC Studio or Studio Black will come with a few MPC expansion packs:
- Legacy MPC Content - Drum Library
- Trap Drums Expansion Pack
- Deep House Drums Expansion Pack
You can search through the Expansion pack content with the MPC File Browser in two different ways:
- Use the drop-down menu at the top of the browser to jump to the Expansion pack folder:
- Click on the expansion browser button in the bottom left, or go to View > Expansion Browser to use the Expansion Browser view to search through your expansions:
You may also notice expansions called The Bank, The Noise, The Wub, The 809, and Hybrid appear in your Expansion Browser. These are not typical expansions and their content will not be available through the browser.
Instead, these are actually built-in MPC plugins and can be loaded by using a Plugin Program.
A plugin is an additional piece of software, that acts as an instrument in MPC or other DAW music software. Popular examples include Native Instruments' Kontakt, AIR Hybrid, Spectrasonics Omnisphere and more. These can be included as additional perks with product purchases (i.e. AIR instruments included with the MPC Touch) or can be purchased separately from the plugin developer.
For a full walkthrough on installing, scanning and using the MPC Expansions and other plugins, refer to our complete walkthrough article below:
Keep in mind, a Plugin program can work right next to your drum programs in your sequence and are a great way to add melodic elements to your song.
On the left side of the MPC software window, you'll find the MPC File Browser. This will act just like the file browser on your computer, and you can use it to navigate your internal and external hard drives to find project files, samples, programs and more. This is where you will access all of the provided sample content and expansions that came with your MPC. Press the Browser button on your MPC to access the File Browser on your MPC (SHIFT + MENU on MPC Touch.
The first place you'll start is the drop-down menu at the top. You can use this to see an overview of your expansions, short-cuts, and drives:
- MPC Expansion Packs - The first section will show you all of your available MPC Expansion content, such as Trap Drums or The Vault. These are installed to a specific location on your hard drive that allows MPC to find them quickly. Please note that different MPCs will come with different content, but additional content is always available from our website.
- Local Folders - These are shortcuts to commonly used folders such as MPC Documents (where projects are saved by default), Documents and Desktop. If you have your own archive of samples and content, you may store that in a folder on your desktop or in your documents folder. Selecting Documents or Desktop will be an easy way to find your sample folder.
- Hard Drives - This is your internal hard drive and any connected external drives. If you keep your content in a secure location on your internal HD or on a portable external HD, this is a quick way to access and import that content into your project.
Because most samples, sequences, and programs are kept together in the same folders, you can use the filters at the top of the File Browser (or the dedicated buttons on your MPC) to sort through the file types more easily. Files can be sorted by only projects (PROJ), only sequences (SEQ), only programs (PROG), only samples (SAMPLE), and no filter/all files (NO FILT).
Finally, you may find that you visit the same folders over and over again. To make the navigation easier and help you get to those folders as quickly as possible, you can use the numbered folders at the top of the browser. These can be set as shortcuts to folders in your browser.
To set a shortcut, navigate into the designated folder. Make sure that the folder is opened in the MPC File Browser and not just selected. You should be looking at all of the content in the folder. To set this to a shortcut, simply hold SHIFT and click on one of the folders, or press SET on your MPC (this will be one of the F buttons).
Now every time you click on that folder it will jump back to this designated position in the browser.
Keygroups are another available program option and a great choice if you want to take a single sample and play it like a melodic instrument, i.e a bass sound, guitar chord, piano note, etc. A keygroup is actually just a single sample that has been pitched across pads all of the pads.
For a full walkthrough on setting up and using a Keygroup program, check out our article below:
16 Levels is performance tool that you can use to expand the variety of a single sound, either a sample in your Drum Program or Keygroup or even a note in a plugin. You'll notice that there is a dedicated button on your MPC, just for turning it on and off.
When you press the 16 levels button, the last pad pressed will temporarily be copied to all 16 pads until the button is pressed again to turn it off. The pads will all output the same note number (i.e. play the same sample) but each will have a different value for a selected parameter. Options include velocity, tune, filter, layer, attack and decay (options will vary based on the program in use).
For example, pressing pad A5, turning on 16 levels, and assigning the parameter to Velocity will take the sample assigned to A1 and assign it across all pads at different velocities. A01 will be the lowest velocity and A16 will play the highest velocity no matter how hard the pad is pressed.
Using 16 levels is a great way to get some variety out of your sample without manually adjusting parameters.
On a similar note, pressing the Full Level button will assign all pads to full velocity. This means that no matter how hard the pad is pressed, it will always play at the highest velocity. This is a great way option if the varying level of velocity isn't necessary for your work.
Another performance option, Noterepeat will automatically repeat any sample or note as long as it's corresponding pad is held down. The repeat can be set at 1/4, 1/8, 1/16, 1/32, or 1/64 notes, as well as triplet versions of each, all based on the current tempo of your sequence.
To activate Noterepeat, simply press and hold the Noterepeat button down and hold down the chosen pad. The pad's sound will repeat until either the pad or noterepeat is released. At the bottom of the MPC display will be options to choose the repeat rate, which you can select by touching the option (MPC Touch) or using the F buttons to choose the corresponding option (MPC Studio or Renaissance)
If you'd like, pressing SHIFT + Noterepeat will activate Latch. This will allow noterepeat to stay activated without holding the button down. Press the button again to turn it off.
A Patched Phrase is a type of sample created in MPC that will automatically adjust to match the tempo of your sequence. Usually, the sample is a loop or intended to be looped in the sequence. This relies on setting hit-points in the sample that can be locked to the grid.
For a complete walkthrough on creating a Patched Phrase, check out our guide below:
- MPC Training - How to Produce with an Akai Professional MPC
- Akai Pro MPC Renaissance and Studio - Favorite Video Tutorials
- Akai Pro MPC Touch - Setup and Feature Tutorial Videos
MPC Knowledge Base
- MPC Knowledge Base Articles and Tutorials?
- Sampling with an External Module
- Installing and Setting up the Expansion Pack Plugins
- Creating a Keygroup Program
- Exporting Basics
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