Korg SQ-1 Tutorial 3: Tempo, Duty and Slide

In the previous tutorial, we saw how the sequencer on the SQ-1 can play in different ranges and scales. This tutorial will be devoted to the other part of playing a melody, and that is the Tempo settings. As usual, this text is the accompanying information on the video tutorial available in my YouTube channel.


As you likely know by now, tempo may be defined as the amount of notes of a given lengths played per unit of time. Most of the time, this comes in the form of beats (quarter notes) per minute (bpm). In the SQ-1, the Tempo is set using the SPEED knob, located in the left side of the front panel. This knob blinks according to the dialled tempo. Turning the SPEED knob all the way to the left sets you at about 40 bpm, whereas turning it all the way to the right sets the tempo to about 240 bpm.

One thing the SQ-1 does well is acting as the master clock, since it sends not only CV/Gate data, MIDI note data and the Sync pulse used by the Volca and Electribe ranges, it also send MIDI clock messages. Unfortunately, the SQ-1 does not have a digital display you may use to dial in a precise bpm, nor does it have a TAP TEMPO facility. This can be overcome in different ways, the easiest of them I’ll describe later in this tutorial.


Next to the SPEED knob on the SQ-1, you have the DUTY knob. Duty is the fraction of time (within a step) during which the note is on. In CV/Gate parlance, DUTY sets the fraction of time on which the GATE is on during a step, whereas on MIDI, it relates to the time between the Note On and the Note Off messages. If you turn the DUTY knob on the SQ-1 all the way to the left, you’ll set the DUTY to almost 0%. Unless you are using extremely low tempos, this will results is only a few clicks coming from the synthesizer you are controlling. On the other hand, turning the DUTY knob all the way to the right sets the DUTY to 100%, which is the equivalent of playing the melody in legato.

Being able to have notes playing in legato is particularly useful if you happen to be controlling your synth via the MIDI output.  The MIDI standard does not specify a way to slide between two notes. The pitch of each note in the western chromatic scale is defined by  an integer number, and all MIDI messages are integer digits. You could try to use the pitch-bend message (which is a high-resolution message) to implement slide, but each synthesizer interprets the pitch bend in different ways, and some even allow  different patches to bend in different ranges (and sometimes even asymmetrically!). Some synthesizers (specially monophonic ones) allow portamento between notes when they are played in legato. Moreover, most synths (like the MicroBrute) have a Glide control, allowing for a surrogate for the typical slide function of old synthesizers. In a later tutorial, we’ll see how easier it is to implement slide when using the CV outputs.

Overcoming Limitations

Now, regarding the problem of not having a digital display which you can use to set a precise bpm. One way to overcome this is to send MIDI Clock via the USB-MIDI interface that is built in. However, this is not satisfying if you’re trying to make music without a computer.

As I show in the tutorial video, a more interesting strategy is to use a Volca (preferably one with a digital display like the Volca Bass) as a sync source to the SQ-1. Not only will the sequencer in the SQ-1 play at the tempo dictated by the Volca, it will also convert the Sync Pulses into MIDI Clock that will then distribute over the MIDI output and also the USB-MIDI interface.

On the next tutorial, we will start looking at the different modes of the sequencer.