Volca Sample Tutorial 4: Song Mode

In the previous tutorial we saw how automation can be used to give more movement to your patterns. This will be a short tutorial on Song Mode and how you can use it. As usual, a video version of this tutorial may be found on my YouTube channel (although, it is likely you arrived at this page from the links on that video).

The Volca Sample introduces an unique feature among the Volcas: it allows up to 16 patterns to be organized and saved as a “Song”. This greatly improves the device’s usefulness as an accompanying instrument, but there are some limitations in it.

Entering and exiting Song Mode

Since the space in the front panel is limited, there are no specific controls for the Song Mode. You enter into Song Mode by loading one of the six Songs in memory. To do this, press [MEMORY] and any of the six right most keypads (labelled S1-S6). The display will show “SnGX”, where X is the number of your song (1-6).

To exit Song Mode, load any of the 10 patterns [MEMORY]+[KEY1-10].

The Cans and Cannots

As I said, there are a number of limitations when in Song Mode. The general idea is this: everything that changes a pattern, or a part within a pattern, is disabled. The Volca will show “SonG” on the display every time you press a button, or use a knob, that is disabled.

This is what you cannot use:

  • [PART >] and [PART <],not even to navigate the sequence in Song Mode
  • [REVERB], but the reverb settings saved in each pattern are recalled and executed
  • [MUTE] and [SOLO]
  • [RECORD] and [STEP REC]
  • All the transparent knobs in the Sample Editing Matrix
  • All combinations of [FUNC] and any key in the keypad.

This is what you may use:

  • [PLAY] and [ACTIVE STEP]
  • [MEMORY] and [WRITE]
  • The SAMPLE encoder, in the Sample Editing Matrix (although with different functionality, see bellow)
  • The Analogue Isolator

Editing a Song

Song Mode is very similar to Step Mode. Each of the keys in the keypad represents a “slot” in the song. Thus, editing a song in the Volca Sample is basically answering two questions: How many patterns are to be played? And, in which sequence?

When you press a key in the keypad, the display will show “XX.YY”, where XX is the position of the key in the sequence, and YY is the number of the pattern being played in that slot (memories 1 to 10). You can select the pattern using the SAMPLE encoder. Then, you press another pad, chose the pattern for that position, and so on for every position.

Now, suppose you only want eight bars repeating (each pattern is one bar), but you have 16 slots in your song. You could fill the first 8 bars with your song and then repeat it for the following 8 bars, but the Volca Sample also allows you to use active step in Song Mode. Pressing [FUNC]+[PLAY] will light up the upper-row LEDs for the active slots, and you can select the positions you need.

During performance, you can use STEP JUMP (press [FUNC]+[STEP MODE]) to jump to a specific bar in your song. However, the jump only occurs after the current playing pattern finishes (unlike loading a new pattern when another is playing).

Usage Tips

These are some tips I found while working with the Volca Sample. This will always be an incomplete list, as new techniques appear every time I try to express new ideas musically. If you’d like to have any of these techniques demonstrated, or whish to share some of yours, please head over to the comment section of the YouTube video for this tutorial.

  • Since each pattern take one bar, and the classical musical sentence takes 8 bars, I found it useful to program the rhythmic phrasing of a section (let’s say the intro and the coda) using the first eight slots in the song and program the phrasing for the second section of the piece (e.g. the chorus) using the following eight positions in Song Mode. Then, using ACTIVE STEP, only the first 8 bars of the Song will play. When the time comes for the chorus, sweeping the finger over the keypad inverts the selection of the active parts. This is usually quicker than loading a loading a new song in memory.
  • By default, each pattern represents a 4/4 bar divided into 16th notes (semiquavers), but you can use ACTIVE STEP in the pattern edit mode to shorten the bar length, allowing for 3/4 and 2/4 bars. Then, in Song Mode, you can alternate bars of different length to create more complex time signatures, like 5/4 (alternate 3/4 and 2/4), 6/4 (alternate 4/4 and 2/4) or 7/4 (alternate 4/4 and 3/4).

In the next tutorial we will take a look on the Volca Sample’s MIDI implementation and how we can control it via MIDI.