Live primer: Using Arturia KeyStep Pro onstage

KeyStep Pro
(Image credit: Arturia)

The new flagship for Arturia’s Step range is a sequencing powerhouse - great with modular gear, MIDI hardware, software, or a combo of them all!

What is it?

Since the original Beatstep’s arrival in 2014, Arturia’s Step range of hybrid MIDI and CV devices have been a popular choice with live musicians. Released in 2020, the KeyStep Pro, like its BeatStep Pro counterpart, is a multi-channel sequencer/ controller with a range of both digital and analogue connectivity options. The difference is an emphasis on a standard keyboard layout as opposed to pads, making the KeyStep better at creating melodic parts.

Why use it on stage?

With multiple outputs and tracks, the KeyStep Pro makes it easy to sequence and control several different instruments at once. It can do polyphonic melodic parts, chord sequences, arpeggios, as well as sequence drum grooves via both MIDI and CV. It’s lightweight too, with a relatively small footprint and has a flexible onboard memory, letting you recall chains of patterns, parameter snapshots or full projects - so you know your live set will be ready to go.

Any downsides?

This is a sequencer first and a keyboard second. The keys are slim, and there are numerous bigger, better feeling keyboards out there to really ‘play’ on stage. Also, while you do get five rotaries that can send customisable CC messages plus a small mod touchstrip, there’s not masses in the way of hands-on parameter control.

Setup ideas

With its generous crop of CV outputs - four voices with CV/gate/mod plus eight drum triggers - the KeyStep Pro is a very natural fit with a live Eurorack rig. Users can sequence or perform with multiple different voices, whilst sending triggers and analogue clock signals to keep your rhythms locked to a single central pulse. 

With two MIDI outputs, plus USB included, the KeyStep Pro can be great for creating a bridge between analogue, modular or semi-modular gear and any more modern digital or MIDI-equipped hardware.

Live tips and tricks

Reset with recall From Flash

The recent 2.0 firmware update added a Recall From Flash feature which can be particularly handy in a live scenario. Essentially, this lets users instantly jump back to the saved version of a project. 

In practice, this means you can improve on stage - messing with pattern playback parameters, tweaking rotaries, adding swing - and use Recall From Flash as an instant reset to jump back to your original groove. To activate it, hold Shift and Project.

Get trigger happy

While there are only eight analogue trigger outputs on the hardware itself, the KeyStep Pro’s drum sequencer actually has 24 tracks. With a little setup time, it’s possible to sequence both analogue and MIDI drums at once. You could, for example, have the eight triggers feeding VCAs in a modular rig, while also using the remaining 16 tracks to trigger a Drum Rack in Ableton Live via USB.

Multitask by splitting the keyboard

It’s not one of the most obvious features of the KeyStep Pro, but you can actually create keyboard splits in order to perform two parts at once - which can be extremely handy on stage. 

To do so, hold down two track buttons - the two tracks you wish to control - and press a key on the keyboard to assign a split point. This allows you to, for example, play two different arpeggios at once, or trigger drums and a bassline at the same time.

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