A guide for MA3 onPC with concepts that apply to any lighting console.

A Guide by Lighting Designer Taylor Blake Chandler

Hey there, and welcome to the beginner’s guide to the MA family of consoles. This guide is specifically for MA3 onPC, but these concepts apply to any lighting console.

Whether or not you are a novice or a pro, lighting is one of the most accessible and most enjoyable ways to pass the time. You may find yourself loving creating captivating moments with lighting. All of this is alright. It is also okay to try new things and never be afraid to use your lighting rig to its fullest potential.

There are numerous guides and console training options available online. While this guide may be thorough, it will never satisfy the insatiable few out there who want to dive deeper.

For those select few who would like to explore these topics more in-depth, please check out the following websites after reading this guide.

When I teach lighting, I always use a method called LATER for remembering things for later. It stands for: learn, apply, train, evaluate, and retain.

Taylor Blake Chandler

When starting with anything new, it is essential not to rush and take your time to understand these concepts. In the end, you will become a more disciplined and better programmer and will be able to teach these skills to anyone.

When I teach lighting, I always use a method called LATER for remembering things for later. It stands for: learn, apply, train, evaluate, and retain.

First, learn as much as you can through manuals and training and use your newly acquired skills in a real-world application. Then teach your newfound knowledge to someone else and evaluate your progress. You will then retain these skills for the rest of your life. 

Never give up, never panic, and remember that rule #1 is to have fun! Rule #2 is don’t suck. As long as you follow these two rules, you will have success, and though your measure of success will be different from others, personal satisfaction is just as important. Always be willing to learn and be ready to try new things. And if you make a mistake, learn and move on.

Table of Contents


What is Lighting?

This question is going to sound a bit cliché, but first I want you to remember the last concert that you attended. It doesn’t have to be a rock or country concert but could be a performance by a symphony orchestra or a corporate presentation like a Ted Talk.

Now I want you to think about the lights. I told you this was going to be cliché.

Someone called a lighting designer or director put time and thought into the whole lighting experience.

In the world of tomorrow, there is robotic and LED lighting that provides excellent versatility, but often at the cost of time spent creating looks or cues.

It is easier to think of cues as a snapshot of the lights in their current colors and positions. I like to call them looks because you are storing that at which you are physically looking.

The time behind a console programming looks can vary from a couple of minutes for quick touchups to hours and hours for advanced looks and transitions. More on programming later.

You may have all of this knowledge swimming around in your head, but applying it in real life is how to cement these programming concepts.

If you have access to a lighting board and lights, then follow along with this next part. If you do not, download the MA3 on PC software and follow along virtually, knowing that you will be able to add a console later. 

So again, what is light? Now before we have an existential crisis, I mean, if I were to classify lights, how would I start?

Lighting Terms

Light exists as a waveform in what is called the visible spectrum. These waves contain electromagnetic energy called photons. Lighting designers use these to create captivating environments to transform and create emotional responses. Manufacturers provide the means to create these environments by a vast array of fixtures.

A fixture or instrument is the preferred terminology when referring to a generic light. I use fixtures, whereas theater people use instruments. You might also think of a lighting fixture in your home to help remember. All of these fixtures have a specific use, and most pan and tilt and have options to shape the beam of light or change the color. Lighting fixtures can typically fall into one of three categories: a spot, a wash, or an effects fixture. 

Spots are lights that have a medium to narrow beam, gobos, and color wheels or color mixing. These tend to have hard beam edges and should not be confused with beam effect fixtures or hybrids, though both operate in similar capacities.

Washes are lights that are generally used for large areas and have soft edges. When lighting for an orchestra concert, you may use a group of washes to light the whole stage evenly. Conversely, when lighting a ballet or musical, there may be several spots assigned to different parts of the stage to control the beam of the light and create more isolated lighting looks. For extra credit, these are called specials in the theater community.

The last group is for lights that do not fit easily into the first two groups (easy, right?). I refer to these as effects fixtures. This group includes a Jawa inventory of beams, hazers, lasers, strobes, and video. Oh my! Though this seems like a lot, a beginner is most likely going to only use hazers, beams, and hybrids from this menu of lighting, so let’s focus on these. 

Hazers are machines that produce a light mist from either an oil or water-based fluid. The mechanics are quite interesting, but for now, just know that this fine misted haze helps you see the beams that the lights create.

Controlling hazers requires using either a remote, a switch, or DMX cables. As a tech on some of our shows, I have been the hazer operator, and you may have to as well. I know your next questions, so let me answer. Is the haze okay to breathe in my lungs, or will it set off the fire alarms? 

Most haze is non-toxic for the time that you breathe it in, and some are specially formulated for such with big labels that say non-toxic in bold print. Yes, it will set off most fire alarms meaning tell your facilities person you are using haze. 

Beams should have their unique group but are grouped with effects because they traditionally tend to look like beams, which make them very specific in terms of lighting. They have a very narrow and very bright beam that may be slightly influenced by the use of gobos. While we’re talking about gobos, beyond being a fun word to say, these are steel or glass cutouts that create designs that, in turn, break apart the monotony of a single beam. They create the sunlight-through-the-leaves look and can also spin, which creates another effect. 

Hybrids are a special class of effects fixtures because they combine one or more of the three groups into one fixture. These are useful in places that want the most bang for their lighting buck. And Speaking of Churches, the majority of your lighting should be both tasteful and considerate. Tasteful meaning you don’t highlight something that you shouldn’t.

I was doing a Christmas show with flying acrobats. It wasn’t seeing the wires they were worried about it was seeing through the costumes, which I had somehow made transparent by the way I was lighting them. Considerate meaning- be courteous by not parking bright lights in people’s eyes and strobing only when musically necessary or to annoy snooty musicians. I have done both. I’m getting off-topic.

Remember to use your newfound powers for good and never for evil. That’s the bottom line with everything in life.

But going back to basic lighting terms now that you know what to call a fixture using the appropriate fixture pronouns. The parts of the light are equally as important, if not for anything but party conversation with professionals. Not to make too many jokes, but every light with very few exceptions has a yoke. I’m not yokeing. A yoke is a two-pronged arm that holds the head of the fixture or the place where the light projects from- the light source. Moving yoke fixtures are usually called movers, intelligent, or automated. Lights that are fixed yoke are often called pars, lekos, or battens. All of these fit under the umbrella of the first three terms—for example, a spot mover or a wash batten. For more examples, please check out the glossary of all the bold terms found in this guide.

The light source is called a lamp and can be very delicate. Lamps are the heart of any light, and those who take care of their lamps can save a lot of time and money on replacements. Lamps can burn at extremely high temperatures, and a lot of thought goes into cooling this light source. Oils from human hands can create hot spots that reduce lamp life. When you are handling the lamp, it is important not to touch the glass to prevent this. This is less important with LED fixtures, but still, temperature moderation is important with new fixtures.

Arc lamps require turning and on and off remotely via a command from a desk or through the fixture’s menu- called striking to turn on and dousing to turn off. LED lights have the benefit of not needing to be struck or doused.

Modern moving lights have many attributes to control. An attribute or value (MA language) is any change that applies to a fixture. Think of a normal light at your house. You flip the switch to turn it on, and you flip the switch to turn it off. When you flip the switch to on, you are applying an attribute to the light by changing its state from off to on. This is called a dimmer value in MA or an intensity attribute on other consoles.

Fixtures have default values, and the lighting console will track your changes and only allow you to store changed values—more on this in section 2 under tracking.

So now, with the basic types of lighting fixtures under your belt, we can start talking about color, gobos, and movement. More importantly, how all of this abstract stuff fits together to make unforgettable moments. You, as the designer, have a lot with which to come up. To help let me ask you a few questions to get you into the mood.

  • What type of lights are you using, and where are the lights hanging?

  • Where are you going to point the lights?

  • Are you going to use the lights for front light, backlight, or effect? 

  • What are the capabilities of the lights, and how can you exploit them for maximum benefit?

  • Do they have Gobos?

  • What kind of color mixing does the light have?

  • Does the light strobe?

  • Does the light zoom? 

  • What is your environment?

  • What mood are you trying to create?

  • What statement are you making?

All of these questions will help you start thinking like a designer. And trust me, like anything you do, practice and repetition make for permanent habits. Ask yourself these questions until you are sure of the answers without thinking. If you are just a volunteer reading this, think of Keith, who is a physical therapist in Atlanta, Georgia. Keith, who now knows the difference between a BOGO and a gobo. I dedicate this guide to him, and all you other lighting enthusiasts out there.

Psychology of Color

Color is abstract. Color is subjective.

People perceive color in many different ways. Your definition of and favorite color is more about how you see the world than anything else. My definition of red and yours would differ.

I like to use the analogy: explain color to a blind person. That is where I start every discussion about color.

Whether it’s lighting volunteers or young designers just beginning, I like to associate words and feelings to color.

What do you feel when you see red? What words would you use to describe the color orange?

A lot of the time, we tend to agree on certain generalities made about colors and the way they make humans feel.

A village in the Netherlands changed the color of their street lighting to blue for an extended time and saw a decrease both in suicide and crime. Blue is calming to most, but green is the color that is the most calming.

Unfortunately, most humans look less than that in green light. I reserve green for supernatural moments or songs that can only be green.

Yellow is exciting and energizing, while red screams passion and fire. I had a pastor of a megachurch who hated the color red because it was a hard color with which to compete. The energy created by red is both chaotically angry and moving. It reminds me of the red flag of freedom from Les Misérables and the line, “Red, the blood of angry men!”

Orange is a versatile combination of red and yellow feels. It combines the passion of red with the light energy of yellow.

Magenta is another combination that is both energetic and calming at the same time. I use it for synth songs led by female vocalists.

Cyan is much the same way and can convey the same feeling. Both Magenta and Cyan are useful for slow or fast songs, but I tend to only use Yellow and Red for fast songs.

The right color at the right time with the right music can create and convey so much emotion because of our innate association with color.

Red stage lights during a live concert

When you pair color with a light, you are invoking emotions in the audience. You are causing emotional responses with light. Maybe you’ve attended an event where this happens. You remember those events for the rest of your life.

Two color mixing systems create all of this in lighting. Just like with paint, light has primary colors.

The first primary system in lighting found on most lighting fixtures before the application of LED technology based on cyan, magenta, and yellow as the primary colors called CMY. A combination of cyan and magenta got you blue, magenta, and yellow created red and yellow and cyan- green.

Unfortunately, the drawback to this system was that the more color you added, the less output you got from the lamp, which means that lamp sources had to be incredibly bright to “punch through” all of that glass. The lights had to be enlarged to fit the larger lamps and more so the ballasts that controlled them.

Once again, with the advent LED technology, color mixing has reverted to the standard primaries of lighting, which are red, green, and blue called RGB. Both systems, CMY and RGB, have their limitations and benefits.

The CMY system yielded softer pastel colors, while the RGB system has more vibrant, saturated colors. A lot of RGB color mixing combats this by adding amber and white LED lights.

With all of this, of course, comes more expense, and you could imagine a light without color mixing would be less expensive. Lighting companies use color wheels to save money and retain lamp output- even on LED source fixtures.

But enough about color- what about movement?

Psychology of Movement

virtual event ideas for 2021

Dance is a powerful medium that embodies both music and movement to create an emotional response. Good lighting should be a ballet of movement choreographed to perfection by a designer or programmer.

I have spent hours playing back looks and cues working on the right timing for moving fixtures. I will expand more in section 2 of how to accomplish this, but in lighting, you can create the energy it a variety of ways.

I know that creating energy may sound a little like new-age hocus pocus talk, but it is what is happening when colors and movement combine with light. That is why it is essential to know how movement affects people psychologically.

I started this section talking about dance because when humans hear music, we have an emotional reaction to the point of dancing and singing.

Lighting is just as much about human expression as dance is. When placing lights with music, audio, and lighting complement each other and create the captivating experience I spoke about earlier.

These are concerts and experiential events that leave people speechless and talking for weeks. But this experience must be felt in person for the emotional experience to take place.

When you move the light from one place to another on the stage or transitioning from look to look with a color, you are creating new experiences, new moments with each press of the play button.

Moving the lights is a good and easy way to accomplish this. You can pan, and you can tilt the lights around the stage, but in worship lighting and concerts, when you move the lights to the crowd connection takes place.

This is the ultimate goal of the movement. People connect with colors and movement. If the lights are going crazy, the audience will most likely be going crazy. One can only hope.

Psychology of Gobos and Strobing

Crowd enjoying concert at festival

As we round the bases and finish talking about the basics of lighting, there are two more things to add to your toolbox- gobos and strobes. Spots have gobos, and most modern LED and moving lights can strobe.

Let’s talk about gobos in more detail first. Beyond being a steel or glass circle with a design cut out of them (think of the face of a jack-o-lantern) in spot movers, they rotate and spin, which is used to create movement on stage without moving the light. A slow gobo spin can be used for delicate moments and faster spins for high energy moments.

Gobos in spots are attached to wheels, which spin to place the gobo in front of the beam of light. When this gobo wheel as it is called spins, you can create crazy looks that will melt faces and blow minds.

But all of this lies within your arsenal of tools used later when we talk about creating looks and programming. Speaking of stockpiles, there is one last thing that I call the apex of energy, reserved for moments when people freak out or lose their minds. It is strobing.

When I was a kid, one of my favorite Christmas presents was a strobe light my mom bought me. I would turn all the lights off in my room and just sit with the light turned on full blast.

New lights have powerful strobes. My rule with strobing is there is a time and a place for everything. I’ve found ways to strobe in slow songs. You can pretty much work a strobe in anywhere.

I try to strobe around people and not directly in people’s eyes or faces. Also, if you have a geriatric audience, then strobing may not be the best option. I do a lot of lighting for students and younger crowds, so I get my strobing out there. It’s useful but use restraint.


Tracking and LTP

Testing new program

So now that you know what light is and what to call it, I hope you have read or have researched the fixtures in your lighting rig. Getting to know the fixtures you are controlling is the key to success for any programmer. Now you have a toolbox full of knowledge, now how to set yourself up for success with programming.  Pump the brakes turbo; we’ve got some more stuff to talk about before we get to touch your hopefully brand-new console.

For starters, there is the whole thing called tracking. Not as in are you tracking along with me so far, but what is tracking in the world of lighting?

Tracking is an automatic function of most lighting consoles; it means that a console will hold any applied value until the user changes that value. This comes in handy when you want a fixture to hold values over several cues. 

If you were to turn tracking off each time you stored something from cue to cue, you would have to add back values each time. For example, if a light in cue one were programmed with an intensity of 100 percent, you would have to apply the same intensity to the light in cue two and then to cue three, and so on. Tracking assumes that you want to keep the light at 100 percent until you apply a new value, which saves time when programming.

Below is a graphical representation of this concept the first being a list that tracks vs. a list that does not:

You may see how time-consuming it would be to apply these values every time you record a cue. This becomes a chore when each fixture has an average of 30 attributes you can control. Once again, tracking speeds up the programming process.

MA tracks your changes live. Then allows you to save or record or store those changes for playing back later. Most attributes can be saved for playback later.  

Typically when you read manuals for lighting consoles, they devote a decent amount of time to tracking, but there is also another section that explains something called Latest Takes Precedence.

Since this guide is supposed to be for beginners, just know that this protocol dictates which sequences take priorities over other sequences, and also how cues interact and override one another.

It is important to note that these protocols (tracking, LTP) usually come into use when two or more sequences are using the same fixtures with different values. Any lights or attributes that are not programmed into the sequence will not be affected. If that seems self-explanatory- it is! The lighting console will assume certain things to speed up the process but ultimately can only do what you tell it! So how does LTP work?

Latest Takes Precedence or LTP is the default function when it comes to playing back cues on any lighting console. It means that the last thing that was changed, or the last attribute that was changed and tracked (remember tracking?) takes priority over any other attributes that were played so far. Once again, this only affects the fixtures that have saved values in cues that are being played back in a sequence. 

I promise all this will make more sense here in a bit, but an example:

You have two sequences that are playing fixtures that have two different intensities applied to them. In sequence one, the fixture is at 100%, and sequence two has the same fixture at 50%. If you play sequence one first, the light goes to 100%, and with LTP protocol, if you were to play sequence two right after the fixture would ignore the information in sequence one, and track to sequence two, which would make the light 50%. If you were to turn off sequence two, sequence one would automatically assume priority again because it is the next to last instance of tracking for those fixtures.

Tracking and LTP work together as a set of basic rules that affect all playback and programming. Another important note is that these can be disabled or overridden by advanced programmers in instances where it makes sense to do so. In section 3, we will go through the necessary steps of creating and saving looks on MA, though, as always, these concepts can be applied to any control surface for lighting. This is as easy as 1-2-3. 

  1. Select the lights
  2. Apply a value
  3. Store it so you can play it back later

Sequences and Cues

Now that we’ve selected the lights and applied value let’s assume that we have stored it into the console. (see section 3 for how to do this on MA3) In MA, this is called a cue, and multiple cues are stored in a sequence of cues called a sequence. Pretty simple. In the beginning, lighting consoles would put these cues in lists called cue lists, and some consoles still use this language today.  Cues are played back in numerical order in a sequence and are numbered and labeled for reference. Each cue will have a fade time, which is the time it takes to play the cue back. When two cues are played in sequence, the cues overlap and create a crossfade.

Crossfades are where the magic happens. Timing is achieved by changing the fade time of a cue. Slower fade times work well for slow sweeps, a sweep being the act of taking the lights from a down position to an up position over a slow crossfade usually over a crowd. Several meaningful effects can be created with movement by slowing down or speeding up the crossfade. Be kind to your lights, and try not to do too many rapid movements, though some occasional snaps are both tasteful and do not wear out your fixtures.

Once you have mastered the crossfade, you may be wondering how to playback or control the sequence that you have stored. This is typically controlled by something called a fader. A fader is a sliding button that controls the output of a single dimmer, sequence, or cue.

When a fader is brought to the zero position or down position, there is no output. When it is pushed up to the 100 positions or up position, the fader’s output is full or at maximum. This may all seem self-explanatory, but there was a time when I didn’t know what a fader was called, and there have been embarrassing stories of designers calling them other things such as, swirlies. Most of this is for when your swirlies stop working, and you need to call tech support, such as the wonderful folks at ACT.

In MA, after you assign a sequence to a fader, you should be able to control the intensity of the sequence with the fader.

Programming Techniques

stage spotlights

Some designers spend weeks on programming large tours with hundreds of lights with months of planning and 3D design work. In churches or smaller venues, most house lighting people, that is, people who are hired at these places full time to run lights, may have hours to program on a good day, so they set their consoles up differently.

In the world of lighting and my experience, there are two methods of programming, and I like to teach the option of using both to achieve results.

The first method is called program and go and is based on the theatrical way of storing a look and playing back the cue or look at a predetermined time. This is great for meticulous programmers who strive for perfection, and it is achievable easily.

The downside is it makes for pretty inflexible programmers who need time to set up everything. MA speeds up the process in a way that will be discussed in section 3, but still, the time spent and the reward payoff must be balanced, or else you will stress yourself out. If you have excellent time management skills, this is the method for you.

The second method is called busking or punting. This is where everything is created on the fly or in the moment. The time spent creating busked looks can be just as long as program and go but have the benefit of being faster and easier to travel.

A lot of designers use the same show over and over again and modify it to the venue or place that their band is playing. It also allows for great versatility for song changes and is used by flexible designers.

Downsides are the quality of the end product looking rushed and hurried. It is a method that requires a lot of preplanning and quick reflexes. If you can master it, then time spent programming is actually reduced.

No matter which method you choose, you can always get the best of both worlds by programming base looks and modifying them on the fly. Even though I am a program and go, designer, I still like to have a strobe button and other fun options to trigger at the moment.

A lighting console is like a musical instrument, and the best programmers know how to set up the board or console for their success and personal preferences. The options are nearly endless within the MA family of lighting consoles, and whatever works for you will always be the best option.


MA3 Language

Learning a new language can be difficult and time-consuming, but it makes you a well-rounded individual as well as an asset in certain situations. Learning lighting lingo is one thing, but every console I’ve ever used has the language that they use. It comes from the fact that most consoles are command-line based.

This means that when you are selecting fixtures and applying color, what you are doing is executing commands in a command line. To you, the user may look something like tapping two presets such as selecting the group preset then selecting a color preset.

The console reads your input as Group 2 At Color 3 using its own set of commands called a language in computer programming. After all, the console you may have just purchased is nothing but a fancy computer with lots of weird buttons and flashing lights. Learning how to talk to your new toy is integral to becoming a good owner.

MA is a preset console, meaning that you group things into predefined buttons that you then press to apply values. This is the quickest and easiest way to program, and the only way I will be covering in this guide. Creating presets are easy but more on that later. Setting up the console for the first time can be a daunting task too, but that will be covered in section

In review, lights can have values, and these values can be changed. In MA, these values fall into seven categories that are found near the bottom of the screen.

  • Dimmer – controls intensity or the light’s output.
  • Position – controls the pan/tilt feature of moving lights.
  • Gobo – controls gobos and animation wheels.
  • Color – controls color information.
  • Beam – controls shapers used to shape the beam and where the strobe function is found.
  • Focus – controls the zoom and focus of the fixture.
  • Control – where you access features such as lamp on and lamp off and fixture reset.

The button layout on the console is important to know and will speed up your programming time tremendously.

The console has two main sections. To the right is the right-hand side of the console that includes a number pad. The main buttons that are in use are store, clear, and oops. It is good to note that the enter key on all MA2 and MA3 consoles are please keys. Manners are important!

  • Stores the current look
  • One time clears the selection
  • Two times clears the editor when editing cues or presets
  • Three time clears everything out of the programmer
  • Undo key that reverses most commands

  • Undo key that reverses most commands

  • These buttons are used to modify fixtures and cues and for programming.

    The Goto button is used to jump to a cue in a selected sequence using the command Goto Cue 1 Please.

    The console speaks your language, and if you can think up a command more times than not, the console can execute it. Using the buttons saves time.

  • The buttons found on the left-hand side of the console are mainly for playing back cues and modifying sequences.

  • The main buttons to be aware of are the output modifiers. It is shown to the right. These modify fixtures and console output and give beginners trouble if accidentally engaged.

    If you are having trouble locating a fixture, highlt is useful.

  • The most important button is the Go+ button and will be a way to advance a sequence, much like a play button. Next to Go+, you can reverse your playback with Go- and pause the crossfade by using the Pause button. Once again, memorizing or at least repetition will be your key to success when programming.

Setting up the Console

Well, you’ve made it this far. And we’ve covered a lot of ground in a short amount of time. Now it is time for you the programmer to set up the console for the first time. It may seem daunting, but as long as you can plug in a couple of cables and flip a few switches, you’ll be on your way in no time! Since every console is different, I will assume that you have everything plugged in, and you have turned on the MA3 for the first time.

If you have success you should see a screen like the one below:

This is one of the many views that you will see throughout getting to know your new console. Next, I will go into more detail about all the buttons you see, but in general, to the right side of the screen from the top are six buttons that control the views or predetermined windows. All views are customizable and will be discussed later.

The bottom of the screen is for programming and will change based on the selections you make.

The Left side of the screen provides fixed views such as setup, button, and fader views called the command bar. Let’s look at these buttons first.

From top to bottom:

Power – turns the console on and off as well as quits MA3 on PC

Setup – Patch, network, and console options

Command Section (button view) – Brings up virtual console buttons

Master Controls – Intuitive options to control master features

Playback Controls – A virtual representation of the console

Screens – Toggle external and internal screens

Help – Select this button, followed by any other button to open up the manual for the selected button.

At – Has a ton of features to add or subtract values from fixtures using the At command.

Lock – Locks the console (F9 on Mac to unlock or Pause key on PC)

Triangle – Hides the control bar.

The bar to the right-hand side of the screen is how you recall views. The default views are listed here, but you can change the labels and create whatever view best suits your needs. I will be patching a demonstration show step by step, and I will devote more time to this later. The left image shows the console’s default views, while the image to the right shows my customized views for my demonstration show.

The views you choose are up to you, but MA3 does a great job filling in the gaps. Meaning you don’t have to waste too much time on setting things up. Admittingly the only view I edited before making this guide was the Preset view. I also renamed it PROGRAM so I can quickly navigate to it to program and make changes.

Customizable options are what MA is known for, and it will take a while before you have a layout with which you are satisfied. I keep reiterating that this takes time for anyone, so do not give up. Find your niche and what sets you up for success rather than a default or standard setup.

The first step to any successful show is naming it, so let’s look at the setup screen first. This button is directly below the power button. After pressing the following window should pop up:

From here, you see a lot of options. The two I would like to focus on are the Patch and Backup buttons.

Let’s backup and save the show first. The window below should pop up after selecting backup.

Next, just type the show name and then press Save Show.

Your show is now saved into the console. Quick save will be fine to save your show now.

Next, let’s take a look at the patch screen.

Patching the Console

Since this is a beginner guide, I will go a little more into detail about what patching is. If you are a more advanced user, skip ahead to the pictures. For the rest of you- every light in your setup has a specific address or number that is assigned to it. It’s how an intelligent fixture knows when to respond to commands and when to tune out. Lighting consoles communicate these through a modulated signal protocol called DMX512.

DMX helps designers and lighting professionals communicate with the lights remotely. For your knowledge, each light has a set of attributes or values you can control. Some consoles also call these parameters. Each value is assigned a number. This is called a DMX footprint in the lighting community. This example will include 12 Quantum Profiles and 12 Mac Aura XB fixtures. The profiles are spot fixtures with a DMX footprint of 27, meaning there are 27 separate values you can control. The Auras are wash fixtures with 25 parameters or values. All these fixtures are in advanced mode, meaning I have control over all features.

DMX is limited to 512 parameters, and consoles must create Universes to add more parameters to a show. Consoles are limited to how many parameters you can control too. A typical four universe console will have 2048 parameters, and the MA3 lite can control up to 8192 parameters. This may seem like a lot, but modern fixtures can have hundreds of parameters and values to control.

You assign a fixture an address physically on the fixture, run control cables to the console, and then patch the console so the light and the console can communicate. So patching is telling the console what universe and what address the light is to keep everyone on the same page.

From the Menu screen select patch and the following window should pop up when starting a new show:

In the filter bar, begin typing the name of the fixture you wish to patch.

Make sure the fixture you want is highlighted in blue and press select.

The next screen is where you can name and number your fixtures. Go ahead and give them something other than their default name. Here MAC QUANTUM is what I chose.

Next select the quantity you wish to add, for this show I added 12. Then you need to decide on a fixture ID or FID number. I would suggest starting each fixture type with a different prefix, such as 101 for spots and 201 for washes. Here 101 is the fixture identification. MA3 will always number multiple fixtures sequentially. If you change your mind on an FID, then it’s easy to change later.

The last thing is the patch information. MA will automatically patch the fixtures at the next available channel. Since these are the first fixtures, you don’t need to do anything. However, the first number represents the universe, and the second number represents the fixture address. To control fixture 101, the Quantum Profile would need an address of 1 and be plugged into the console output A, which is the default output for universe 1.

This may seem easy, but when you are dealing with multiple fixtures across multiple universes, it can be hard to fit it all in using the parameters available on the console. Every light needs a unique address to be controlled individually.

After you are done entering the information, press Apply, and your window should look like this.

And that’s all! You now have fixtures in your show that you can now apply values to. For this example and extra practice, go ahead and patch 12 Mac Aura XBs into your show in universe 2.

Then press the X in the top corner of the patch window, and the console will ask if you want to save your changes.

Press okay to continue back to the main window.

Now you are ready to move onto selecting and creating groups of fixtures to which to apply values.


MA3 can store six views on any screen. It allows for even more customization. We covered the default views earlier, but the one I would like to expand on for beginners is the preset view. On the right-hand side of the screen press preset, and the above window should pop up.

By default, you see a dimmer pool, groups pool, selection grid, and color picker.

You can delete or reshape any of these windows. You can also customize colors and window defaults by clicking the MA on any of the windows.

To resize press, hold, and drag the bottom right corner of any window.

Pressing the MA in the top left of any window brings up the options for those windows.

You can delete the window. [1]

Change the colors by pressing the box and selecting a new color. [2]

And customize the other advanced settings I won’t get into until later.

There is also the option to save these settings to recall later by pressing save at the top of the window and load when you want to copy the settings. [3]

To get used to adding and modifying views, go ahead and delete a window, and a blank space should appear. Tap anywhere in that space, and another window will pop up.

Here you can add more windows.

The tabs at the top will give you more options for views.

You can always go back and add or take away and create whatever you need for programming. For this example, press the Presets tab and select position.

A new position window has been added to your view.

You can then press the MA to change the colors and use the bottom right corner to resize. Afterward, go ahead and make space for a gobo, beam, and focus window, and the result may look like the image to the right.

The last thing you need to do is store your view so you can easily access it later. MA will store the current state of any window and will recall it precisely each time. Meaning every time you select the view, the same buttons and presets should pop up every time.

To store the current view press store and then press the view button to which you wish to store.

The console will give you the option to name it and also select which windows should be affected. You can store just the current screen or choose the screens you wish to store in the view.

To recall any view, just press the corresponding button on the view bar.


Picture of bright concert lighting on stage

So now that we have a functional space in which to work, we can move on to creating groups. I promise all this setup will save you time in the long run. But how to select fixtures? Remember the FID from patching? This is where it comes into use. Locate the number pad on the console and type in the following:

101 Thru 112 Please

You have now entered a command and executed it by pressing the please button. This command has selected fixtures 101 through 112 or the Quantum Profiles we patched earlier. They will now show up as yellow boxes if you kept the selection grid window.

There are other ways to view your selection, but the selection grid is a new feature on MA3 that allows you to view your selection graphically. The fixture sheet and tracking sheet will both allow you to see the lights selected. Before we apply values, let’s group the fixtures to recall them faster later.

To do this, press store and a blank cell on the window marked groups AKA the group pool. The console will automatically give it a generic name.

Press the assign key twice, press what you want to label, type the label, and press please.

Do this for all your fixtures, and afterward, you should have some basic groups you can now access easily. Now we can move onto storing presets and finally onto storing your first look!

Creating Presets

Stage lights

Before, I mentioned that MA consoles are what I call preset consoles. All consoles can store presets to speed up programming. You do this on an MA console for almost anything. The console will store the corresponding value of any fixture into the value’s window. In simpler terms, color can only be stored in the color window. There is also the option to store all the values into a preset, but for this guide, we are only going over the basics, so let’s see how to program different presets.

Remember the attributes bar from earlier?

This is where you select and apply values. To begin, let’s store some colors.

Remember 1-2-3. First, select the fixtures you want to control. If you created a group for them, select the group by pressing the desired group in the groups pool. For the test show, this would be the SPOTS ALL group. Press At twice to bring the dimmer to full than with the color picker select a color.

Then press store and then anywhere in the color pool.

The console will store and create an image for that color.

Go ahead and do that for the following colors: red, green, blue, cyan, magenta, yellow, orange, white, and warm white. This will give you a good color base. If your lights are capable, you can also store slightly desaturated variants of the same colors.

To label press the assign key twice and press the color you wish to label.

Before long, your color pool will look like the one on the left.

The concept is the same for any value and its pool. Pan and tilt the lights and store them in the position pool. Change the gobos and store them in the gobos pool. Gobos are a little more complicated and can either be static or rotating. The console differentiates between the two by placing arrows in the bottom right corner to signify that the selected gobo can rotate. For example, choose the spots by using the SPOTS ALL group then press At twice to take the dimmer to full.

In the attributes, bar select gobo, and the following should be shown.

Next, press G1 and the window to the right should pop up. The default for any wheel, including the gobo wheel, is open.

The first option is static, while the bottom option is rotating.

After selecting the gobo, press store then anywhere in the gobos pool to store the value. To clear any applied values, press the clear button three times. Make sure also to store an open preset.

Before long, your Preset window will be full of presets and may look like the view below.

Now you are ready to store your first look! No kidding!


Storing and Playing Back Looks

We’ve come a long way to get here, and I’m sure you are ready to store your first look! Remember the 1-2-3 method? First, select the group you want to control, apply a value or a preset, then store it to the console for later enjoyment. For this example, let’s store a sequence of colors starting with red and finishing with cool white.

Select the SPOTS ALL group. [1]

Bring the dimmer to full by pressing At twice.

Press the red color preset. [2]

Press store and press any console button you wish to store to or in the playback view select any blank payback. [3]

In this example, I stored to executor 301. An executor is any button that can playback any stored value.

To label, click the box at the top, and the following screen should open. [4]

Press label and type in the label. [5]

In this window, you can also change the sequence and fader options, but that is for more advanced users.

As an alternative, you can press assign twice and select the sequence to label.

After closing out this window, select the sequence view to view the stored sequence.

Near the bottom, select the sequence you labeled by touching it in the sequence pool.

The window below should appear in the sequence sheet view. You can see that the sequence is labeled but not the actual cue. The white box around the cue shows the selected cue, the green color indicates that the cue is currently playing.

This screen gives you options to change the name [1] and fade [2] times of the cue. To edit any value press the box, you wish to change and type a new value in using the internal keyboard on any MA3 lite or MA3 full-sized console or the computer keyboard on MA3 onPC. The onPC version requires the shortcuts to be disabled to achieve this.

Label this cue red and repeat the process for all the colors. You do not have to reselect the fixtures unless you press clear. MA will only store the changed values. Before long, you will have a sequence of colors.

To play the sequence, press the bottom button of the fader. To control the intensity, slide the fader up and down.

You can do this for any sequence and any stored value, and it is that easy. The buttons on the console will apply to the selected sequence, so after you select the sequence, you can press store and then please to store new cues.

For example, to release or turn off any sequence press Off and then select the sequence you wish to turn off. The console will use the default release time to release the cue. The default on MA3 is zero seconds. 

To delete a sequence, press the Delete key and any sequence. Alternatively type: Delete Sequence Number Please.

That’s all for the basics. Part two will go into more programming on MA3, but until then, check out the links in the preface, and don’t forget that practice and time is all it takes to be a good programmer. Design is this whole other thing and will be covered in part 2.


(In order of use)

Fixture- or instrument is the generic name for any light. 

Spot- a fixture with a hard or sharp edge and gobos

Wash- a fixture with a soft edge and used to light large areas

Effect- a group of fixtures that includes anything that does not fit easily into the spot or wash category

Special- the theatrical term for a spot that is used to light a solo or single position

Hazer- a machine that produces a light mist that helps to see the light beams and cut the intensity of the lights

Beam- an effects fixture that produces a tight beam much like a searchlight

Gobo- a metal circle with a pattern cut out. Goes before the optics on a light to project designs

Hybrid- a combination of a wash, spot, or a beam.

Yoke- a two-pronged arm that holds the head or light source in place.

Moving yoke- a lighting fixture that can pan or tilt remotely or robotically

Fixed yoke- a lighting fixture that must be pan and tilted (focused) manually.

Mover- a slang term for a moving yoke fixture

Intelligent- a slang term for a moving yoke fixture

Automated- a slang term for a moving yoke fixture

Par- a fixed yoke wash fixture. PAR stands for Parabolic Aluminized Reflector.

Leko- a slang term for an ellipsoidal spot.

Batten- a slang term for a long slender fixed yoke fixture, customarily used to light a cyc or background.

Lamp- the source of any light

Arc lamp- a unique lamp that must be struck to turn on by a high voltage ballast.

Strike- the act of lamping on or turning on an arc lamp

Douse- the act of turning off or lamping off an arc lamp

Primary colors- of lighting or any medium of color the base colors that are used for mixing

Color mixing- the act of combining the primary colors to create new colors

CMY- a primary color mixing system using cyan, magenta, and yellow as primary colors

Ballast- a current regulator that supplies the correct voltage and amperage to strike a lamp and maintain its strike

RGB- a primary color system using red, green, and blue as the base colors used for mixing

Cue- a stored look or combination of fixture values for playback later

Sequence- in MA a collection of cues or a cue list

Cross Fade- the act of blending two cues in a transition

Fade time- the amount of time it takes to transition between cues.

Fader- a moving handle or button on a console that is used to control a value

Command-line- a text-based area where commands are inputted

Language- the commands a lighting console uses

Store- the command used to store a value or values into MA

Clear- the command used to clear values and selections out of the console

Ooops- the undo command on MA consoles

Please- the enter command or execute command on MA consoles

Goto- the command to jump to any cue

Highlight- the command that brings the fixture to full intensity to identify it

Go+- advances the sequence one cue forward

Go- reverses the sequence by one cue

Pause- pauses the crossfade

Tracking- the process of holding values from cue to cue

Latest Takes Precedence- the protocol that dictates which sequences take priority over other sequences

Patch- the universes and addresses of the fixtures in the show

Backup- the place where a show is saved

Address- the number assigned to the fixture

DMX512- the communication protocol used to talk or communicate with lighting fixtures

Parameters- a value like pan or tilt assigned to one channel of DMX

Footprint- the number of parameters of a light

Universe- a collection of 512 channels

FID- the fixture identification number assigned in the console