FL Studio 12: How the Step Sequencer and Piano Roll Work Together

If you want to take your production workflow to the next level in FL Studio 12, then understanding the inter-relationship between the Step Sequencer and Piano Roll will bring you much creative joy.  

With FL Studio 12 the Step Sequencer and Piano Roll have been more closely integrated making it a smoother transition when working between these windows. In this article let's take a look at the updates to these two windows and how they interrelate.

Step Sequencer Length

First up, the Step Sequencer window's updates. It’s super easy now to extend the length of the step sequencer notes. You can just drag the bottom right corner out. You’ll see greyed out extra steps. Now click on this grey area and it’ll activate the steps to extend the sequencer length.

Increase Step Sequencer length

And another thing to point out: the Step Sequencer is now called the Channel Rack in FL Studio 12, which makes sense as it houses the different channels in your song. And on each channel you have a sequencer. So that's a bit of history on how the name has evolved. But I'll stick to calling it the Step Sequencer for the remainder of the article, as I'll be explaining the step sequence process that it can provide.

Step Sequencer and Piano Roll Interaction

Now let’s see how the Piano Roll integrates with the Step Sequencer. Make sure both the Step Sequencer and Piano Roll windows are open. You can use the shortcuts to open them, F6 to open the Step Sequencer, and F7 to open the Piano Roll. Now let’s program in a simple pattern on the step sequencer. We'll use the default kick channel. Maybe use the default drums (Kick, Snare, Clap, Hats) as an example. As you program in the pattern notice how they appear in the Piano Roll. Draw in a kick on every fourth beat.

Step Sequencer and Piano Roll

Notice how as your program in the kicks on the step sequencer how they appear in the piano roll now. Previously you had to first program the pattern, and then send the pattern to the piano roll. So now in FL Studio 12 this process is simplified and more streamlined. Now program in a different pattern on the kick channel on the step sequencer. Remove some of the notes, and place extra notes elsewhere on the sequence. See how on the piano roll the notes you removed are muted, and the new notes are placed on the piano roll.

New Pattern

This is a great for testing out different patterns, and the piano roll still retains the previous ideas, if you want to switch back to them.

Now draw in a Hat hit on every 16th note. In the Piano roll, you can switch between each channel track. Next to the tools on the Piano roll you’ll see a text saying Piano Roll, and then the name of the channel. Click on the name to switch to a different channel.

Switching Channels

Visual Markers and Step Sequencer Length

Another way that the step sequencer and piano roll interrelate is with the new time markers and visual markers. Let me show you first how to add a visual marker and then how this affects the step sequencer.

Choose a channel in the piano roll. Then go to the Piano Roll drop-down menu option in the top left, then scroll down to Time Markers, and choose Add one, or you can use the shortcut Alt-T. This will create a Time Marker, and you can give it a name.

Time Marker

Now right-click on this marker and change it to a visual length marker.

Visual Length

Grab this Visual length marker and move it around, and take note how this changes the length of your sequencer in the Channel rack as well. So you can see another way that these two windows are linked. And this works on a global level, so no matter what channel you have chosen, this visual length marker will change the length globally of your song.

Changing Visual Length

Now let’s look at some extra updates to the step sequencer.

Step Sequencer Swing

Before FL Studio 12 you had a global swing parameter that you could add to your channel tracks. But now you can set the swing value per channel track. To do this, you first need to set your global swing value for the channels. So for example let’s set the global swing to 100%.

Set Global Swing Value

Now double-click a channel to open up its channel settings window. And click on the Miscellaneous Functions tab.

Miscellanous Functions tab

Here the swing parameter is set by default to 100%. Drag this all the way to 0 and there will be no swing, now dial it up to the right and hear how it introduces swing for that channel track.

So you can set a global swing value and then dial in on each channel track how much you want that track to swing in comparison to the global swing setting. How cool is that?

Interactive Step Sequence / Piano Roll Overview

The last thing I want to look at is how to change the step sequencer so that it shows you an overview of the piano roll. On the Step Sequencer click on the button on the top right. This will change your step patterns to the Piano Roll Overview.

Piano Roll Overview

Now when you click on the overview for each channel, it'll switch to that channel in the piano roll window. So this is a simple way to jump between these when your song starts getting quite busy. It's really fast to use.


We've looked at the new updates to the Step Sequencer and Piano Roll and  the interactions between the two windows. Getting familiar with these changes can really help your workflow. These new linked windows help you navigate between your step sequencer patterns and the different channel tracks, so really make use of them.

For further FL Studio tips and tricks, check out the following tutorials:

FL Studio 101

Harmor: Synthesis on Steroids 

Gary Hiebner is an enthusiastic South African Sound Designer and Apple Tech Head! Gary has been involved in the South African music industry for the decade, and in this time has also been involved in the sound design and music production for many advertising agencies and media houses. Gary is a devoted Logic and Ableton user, but he al... Read More


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