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Akai MPC Basics

An Introduction To The MPC By Simon Sherbourne
Published August 2020

Akai MPC Basics

Hit the ground running with our guide to Akai's celebrated Music Production Centre.

The Akai MPC has been with us since the launch of the MPC60 in 1988, and has been at the heart of more famous records than anyone could count. Perhaps uniquely in music technology hardware, the MPC has been in development ever since. It has continually evolved, but always in a way that builds on the workflow designed by Roger Linn all those years ago.

To those who love it, the MPC offers a hugely powerful and extremely fast way to make music, but to the newcomer its heritage can be an obstacle. MPCs work in their own way, and making the jump from another platform or a DAW can seem intimidating. This feature is intended as a primer for anyone who's new to the MPC, providing an overview of the core concepts and workflow and a jumping-off point for exploring the finer operational details.

The MPC has been enjoying something of a revival recently. The MPC One has made the platform more affordable than ever, and there's a continuing swell of interest in DAW-free electronic music production. The first MPC I used was the Touch, which was the model that introduced the user interface and workflow used on all the current MPCs. As a Maschine and Live user it took me a long time to get my head around the MPC's approach and terminology. To help with this I've included a glossary, which is a good place to start.


Before we get stuck in, take a moment to consider how you want to use the MPC, and where it will fit into your music-making. The original MPCs were samplers with pads and a sequencer. They were drum machines and loop recyclers, with the added bonus of being general stand-alone MIDI sequencers. Modern MPCs go way beyond this original remit, with built-in plug‑ins, CV outputs for controlling synths, clip launching and audio tracks.

The MPC could be the primary hub of your studio or live production, taking songs from ideas to finished mix, but that's just one possibility. I often fixate on trying to make one piece of gear do everything, and it's a path to frustration. I'd recommend letting the MPC find its natural niche in your particular workflow and go with it. You might find the MPC is your MIDI/CV sequencer, sample chopper, multitimbral sound module, drum machine or some combination of the above.

I tend to use the MPC as an ideas sketchpad. I have my whole sample and loop collection on there, and I like to sit with it away from the studio with a USB keyboard and a bass or guitar and just tinker. When I'm in the studio I'll connect it to some other synths and develop the idea. For further arrangement and mixing I'll connect to the computer and open the project using the MPC plug‑in inside Pro Tools or Ableton Live. Recently I've also had fun experimenting with using the MPC like a multitrack tape machine.


Sequence: The basic unit of an MPC. Project: Can be used like a scene, song section, or a whole song.

Program: A sound source — Drum kit, Keygroup, Clip Program, MIDI Track, CV Track, Plugin.

Drum Program: Kit instrument with different samples on each pad.

Keygroup Program: Sample-based melodic instrument.

Plugin Program: A sound source using an MPC soft synth, or a VST plug‑in in the MPC software.

MIDI Program: A config patch for Tracks controlling external MIDI instruments.

CV Program: A config patch for Tracks interfacing with CV gear.

Clip Program: Sample instrument for loop launching.

Q‑Link: Hardware rotary encoder.

TC/Time Correction: Quantise.

Chop: Slice a sample.

Expansion: A sound library add-on.

Core Concepts

The MPC has a lot of different modes and screens, which can be a bit overwhelming at first. However, most of the time when playing and composing you'll come back to the Main view (Screen 1), visiting the other areas for specific tasks. Main is divided into three sections called Sequence, Track and Program. These are the building blocks of an MPC Project; if you understand these, everything makes a lot more sense.

Screen 1. The Main screen focuses on one Track at a time, and is divided into the three building blocks of an MPC Project: Sequence, Track, Program.Screen 1. The Main screen focuses on one Track at a time, and is divided into the three building blocks of an MPC Project: Sequence, Track, Program.

A Project is the top-level...

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Published August 2020