step1
Sep 28

How finger drumming made Step1 a better music producer

by in Interviews, Pro Tips

Step1 (Stefanie Anderson) is a music producer, turntablist, live electronic music performer, music educator, and entrepreneur based in San Francisco’s Bay Area. Since 2016, she’s run the Sequence One music production school with her business partner Lenny Kiser. As a music maker and performer, Stefanie’s personal practice is built around the trifecta of beat-making, finger drumming, and turntablism, skills which are all on full display in the impressive new ‘Scratch, Sample and Push’ live performance video routine she recently created for Ableton. Below, Stefanie talks about putting together the routine, and how Melodics helped her developed her finger drumming skills. She also explains her thoughts on turntables in the digital production era.

 

Let’s talk about your new performance video. In it, you combine Ableton Push and a turntable to create a blend of real-time sampling, beat-making, finger drumming, and scratching. What was it like putting them together?


It was a learning experience. Everyone’s workflow is different, but for me, the song idea comes first. Then I figure out how I’ll adapt it for a live performance. Which parts will I play on the controller? Which parts will I play on the turntable? How will I transition between them? You’re going to run into limitations in terms of what’s possible to play live, so the original song idea inevitably evolves as it gets adapted for the stage. It’s a fun problem-solving exercise. I always learn new tricks in Ableton every time I work on a routine.

Your video included some excellent finger drumming. How did you develop your skill set from DJing to include beat production and live electronic music performance?

For me, production and finger drumming evolved simultaneously. As soon as I started making beats, I ran across YouTube videos from artists like Jeremy Ellis and AraabMusik. I knew that I wanted to learn finger drumming right away. It reminded me of turntablism: it’s tactile, fun, rhythmic, and it requires skill and technical mastery.

At that time, though, there really weren’t any good resources for learning finger drumming. I found a couple of YouTube tutorials and learned how to play very rudimentary hip-hop beats, but it was hard to progress any further. Then in late 2015, the Ableton newsletter landed in my inbox, and it had an announcement about Melodics. I signed up immediately!

How did using Melodics change things for you?

Melodics was a game changer for me. After a couple of weeks of daily practice, I was able to play the ‘Amen Brother’ breakbeat. I was so excited. As a crate digger who loves all the classic breaks, it was satisfying and motivating to learn that drum pattern. I just kept going from there, unlocking as many levels as I could. Last year, I made it to Level 18, but I’m stuck there because I’ve been working on other things. I wouldn’t have advanced to my current skill level without Melodics, so it’s still so crazy to me that my ‘Keep It Real’ lessons are available in the Melodics app.

I also think that finger drumming made me a better producer, which is why I said the skills evolved simultaneously. With practice, my drum vocabulary expanded, and eventually, my patterns became more complex and interesting.

 

Before this interview, you told me that you view the turntable as a controller and as a tool in your production arsenal. Could you expand on your thinking here?

The traditional view of a turntable is that it’s a record player. You don’t create anything with it; you use it to play someone else’s music. But for the turntablist, the turntable has always been an instrument.  Here’s what I mean: With scratching, essentially you’re isolating and manipulating certain sounds. Most people associate scratching with vocals, but turntablists can scratch any musical material – drums, horns, strings, pads, chords, you name it. You can even use the turntable’s pitch control to transpose a sound while you’re scratching it.

What other piece of hardware lets you isolate, manipulate, and transpose audio content? A sampler. That’s why I think of the turntable as a controller or instrument. It’s just another way to work with audio in a music production environment. For me, the real benefit of using a turntable is that it adds a unique element to my live performances, and it lets me combine my love of beat-making with my love of scratching.

 

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