This is a guide to quickly introduce you to the world of LMMS. First we'll be taking a look at the interface.
Disclaimer: the interface may vary slightly based on which version is installed and which OS you are using.
When you launch LMMS, you will see this screen first:
Lets take a closer look at the different parts of the LMMS screen-elements.
- The Main Menu Bar provides options dealing with project files, accessing some plugins, and accessing online help.
- The left side of the Tool Bar has two rows:
Buttons in the top row deal with the project files - Create a new one, open, save, and export.
Buttons in the second row are used to show/hide (toggle) the different windows in the main section of the interface.
- The right side of the Tool Bar contains some master controls for the song; such as tempo, time signature, volume, pitch, and a master-output visualization pane.
- The Side Bar has six buttons. Clicking on any button toggles a tab on/off.
Each tab displays a specific type of resource: Instrument plugins, My projects, My samples, My presets, My home, and My computer. These resources are used to compose a song.
The main part of the interface contains a number of windows, each serving a different purpose.
You can show/hide any of these windows using the buttons in the second row of the Tool Bar.
When LMMS is launched, four windows are opened by default:
- Song-Editor This is the main component. Here all the different sound-generating elements, comes together with automation-control and sound-clips, and all combined produce a piece of music.
- Beat+Bassline Editor This is the window where repetitive song elements (such as drum beats or basslines) can be created.
- FX-Mixer This is the sound mixer, where the volumes of each channel can be separately controlled.
It also has a sub-window where special effects can be added or chained together.
- Controller Rack This is where so called 'controllers' are added and configured. Controllers allow you to make math-depending alteration on other elements.
Remember to save often! Save your project every time you've created something that sounds great. It's also a good strategy to save different versions of your song, allowing you to revert to a previous version of the project in the event that you've tweaked the production into something you don't like.
LMMS provides a speciel version-control-option, for this, in the file-menu: Save-as-new-version. Lets say your project was named as 'MyProject', the new version will be named "MyProject-01", and the old file will not be altered.
When you save a project for the first time, you will be prompted for a folder and project name. You also have to choose if your project should be compressed (mmpz) or uncompressed (mmp). Subsequent saves will overwrite this file, and LMMS will show you a small message at the bottom of the screen. Wait for this message, before you continue your work!
Jumping Right In
- A Project is created by adding instruments (sidebar tab 1), samples (sidebar tab 3) and/or existing presets (sidebar tab 4) to either the Song Editor or the Beat+Bassline Editor. Each added element is in LMMS regarded as a Track
In this way you can have instrument-tracks based on presets, Beat+Bassline tracks and automation-tracks.
- The Song Editor is useful for non-repeating sound events, such as melody lines, while the Beat+Bassline Editor is useful for repeating sequences, like percussion.
- Events created in the Beat+Bassline Editor are 'continuous' -i.e. they can be expanded by mouse-dragging as long as you would like.
- Events created in the Song Editor are 'atomic' -i.e. they can't be expanded (but can be copied, of course).
- The actual song is always built in the Song Editor. This is where all the elements (song-editor blocks), including events in the Beat+Bassline Editor, come together on the timeline forming the project.
When starting a new project in LMMS there are 4 items loaded in the Song Editor by default. The first one, named "Default Preset", is an instance of the Triple Oscillator (3-OSC) generator; it's a good example of an instrument-container. This Triple Oscillator instance's default settings generate sounds using waveforms, default it is a simple sine waveform, but that you can change.
Lets take a look at this instrument, because it has behavior that is the same for all other instrument-containers. When you move your mouse over the instrument-containers, they will high-light. This indicates that the instruments can be clicked as if they were buttons! Left-click the 3-OSC. This opens the instrument GUI. The 3OC instrument is now chosen, and it is at the same time the focused instrument. Click again, and the GUI will close. All instruments behave like this.
When you make changes on the GUI you create a preset. If it sounds less than horrible, you have an instrument-preset :) If you right-click you will have a rename option. Always name your presets!. To the left of the instruments there are 2 clickable 'lamps'. When the green lamp is ON, the track is activated. In its OFF state the track is muted. The other lamp is red. When the red lamp is ON, the track will mute all other tracks, and play solo.
Next, to the left of these, we have the action-button . Here you can delete or clone the track and all of its events.
To the right of the Instruments, before the knobs, we have a vertical bar. When clicked it will play the root-note of the instrument. We also have a dial for volume and one for balance.
In most great programs, there are always more than one way to do a specific task! This makes various workflows possible.
This is also the case in LMMS. The volume dial you we just looked at, is a good example.
You can adjust volume with several different controls.
In the main component we have the main-sound-settings, called Master-volume
You would really never change this settings for creative reasons. But if the phone rings..
The same goes for the Master-pitch
Creative changes in volume is best done in other controllers.
The Volume-dial on your instrument, that is suited for controlling the volume on a saved instrument-preset.
The volume-sliders in FX-Mixer are suited to set volume in a project.
Remember that everything you like to save for general usage, that must be saved with the preset! This goes for the aforementioned Volume, but also for effects added on the FX-TAB.
Amazing FX chains that you build in the FX-Mixer, will not be simple to use in a new project!
If however it is made directly in an instrument-preset, then it is natively useable in any project, as a saved instrument preset!
Planning and making good descissions, can spare you for a lot of fruitless redoing!
I will also recommend you to use the project-notes!
Write down your ideas, because it is next to given, that you will not remember where in the project, you had that 'neat little phrase' ..
Use the Notes for that!
On the right half of the song-editor, we have the timeline. Create a track by adding events to this timeline. The timeline is divided in bar-sized blocks. Click in one next to 3-OSC. You get a visual different 'box'. If you double-click this box, you open the Piano-Roll Editor. This is where you compose. You can also right-click in the box, and choose the context-menu-option Open in piano-roll. We will return to that later.
Below the 3-OSC you have the Sample Track. It is great for vocals or other larger wave or ogg files that you want to replay un-altered, but can also be used as an advanced clip-looper, just like a program like Sony-acid! . You can add a new sampletrack with the 6. button on the song editor tool bar ().
Next you have the default Beat+Bassline instance. Just for illustration, click on one of the boxes in the timeline next to the Beat+Bassline track. You get a blue block. Click and drag its right end, and it will expand. This is what I meant by Beat+Bassline events are 'continuous'. When you did that the with the 3-OSC, the block would not expand. You can add a new Beat+Bassline with the 5. button on the song editor tool bar ().
Last is an instance of the Automation Track. This can give you advanced variations in real-time, and it is with automation that you create nice subtle changes in the sound over several bars, known in trance and house music or rhythmic repeated growls and effects for things like dubstep. How to do all this and how to use automation-tracks is explained in Working with Automation. You can add a new Automation-Track with the 7. button on the song editor tool bar (), at the top of the song editor window.But a project needs more than a default 3-OSC, and luckily LMMS comes with an abundance of great instruments.
Instruments: Samples & Presets
Now we take a look at those components that create sounds: samples and instrument-presets. To insert one of the many factory pre-defined instrument-presets into the Beat + Bassline Editor or Song Editor, click the 4. button in the side bar, that works just like a browser. You can now choose a preset and drag it into the song editor. Everything that you can do in the side bar browser with presets, you can also do with samples. (Just click the 3. button in the side bar.) Furthermore, you can click and hold your mouse on the name of a preset or sample. LMMS will then let you listen to that particular instrument, as a kind of sound-test. You can then drag the instrument into the editor. If you add VSTs instruments to your preset-collection, you should never use this 'preview' feature on these VSTs-presets! You can also double click an instrument in the browser. This will place the objects directly into the Beat+Bassline Editor, or you can right-click on the instrument in the browser-list-tree, and LMMS will open a context-menu. Here you have the option to send this instrument into an empty slot in the song-editor or to replace a current active instrument with this new instrument. The 'Active Instrument' is the instrument that is highlighted in the song editor, and has its GUI opened - in other words: has been mouse-clicked.
Always use the send-to-active-instrument option when ever you need to load a VST-Instrument Preset. (More on this: How to use Vst-Instrument Presets)
When you insert an instrument, the instrument's GUI editor window will open. You can also see this GUI by clicking on the instruments grey 'name' button in the Song or Beat+Bassline Editors. When you click the 'name' button the button will change to lightgray. This instrument is now the 'Active Instrument'. The 'name' button acts as a toggle for the GUI editor window. Instrument GUI's have five tabs: PLUGIN, ENV/LFO, FUNC, FX and MIDI. The 'PLUGIN' tab changes with the type of instrument; all other tabs are standard for every instrument, however the ENV/LFO tab are only available on the kind of instruments, that can use this feature. VeSTige, LB302, and ZynAddSubFX plug-ins, do not present this tab. An in depth explanation of how to use the features on the various tabs, are described in the Working with Instruments section.
- If you want to remove an instrument completely from your song, click on its gray 'toolkit' icon and choose 'Remove this track'.
- Instruments are divided into factory provided and user specified. Subfolders in your file system can be used to organize the instruments or samples hierarchically.
Later you may like to create your own instruments from scratch. The sidebar's 1. button opens the Instrument-Plugins. These are empty default preset-templates that you can use for your own instruments. Drag them into your project and play around with all the settings on the GUI. Some hints and tips on how to create 3-OSC instruments can be found in Making Triple-Oscillator Patches. (You can of course also make changes to the factory-defined instruments and save those as your own. Overwriting existing factory-defined instruments is not recommended).
Creating a Track
The standard way to create a track is to add percussion instruments to the Beat+Bassline Editor and instruments for melody tracks into the Song Editor. Then create different percussion loops using the Add bassline button in the Beat+Bassline Editor for each rhythmic element you want: A main bass line, a hihat line, special rhythms and breaks, etc. These are listed in the Song Editor as they're created. To make them play, click on the start bar in the track's timeline to create a new block-element (segment). You can also drag in Beat+Bassline blocks to make the pattern go across multiple bars. The same technique can be used for repetitive bass lines, if you create them in the Beat+Bassline Editor.
For melody tracks, click in the Song Editor on the bar where you want a new melody-segment and then double-click that block-element to open the Piano Roll Editor. Place your notes in the piano roll, by clicking on the notes wanted start 'position' or tick, to create a new note, you can then drag the notes right-hand edge, to be as long or short as you want. You can also drag notes up and down, in piano-roll, and change their pitch value.
Alternatively, you can press the 'record' button in the Piano Roll Editor and play notes in real time, either on the computer-keyboard where the keyboard key 'Z' default, will play a C note, S plays a C#, X plays D, and D on your keyboard will play D# (see the picture right). To play notes one octave higher we move to key Q to play C, etc.)
LMMS can also be used with MIDI keyboards. A list of successfully installed keyboards that have been reported to work in LMMS newer than 1.1.3, can be found here: List of working midi keyboards . -But hardware and OS differences are not unimportant! Tips: Ask in the instrument-store if you can test the keyboard you want to purchase, and do get a keyboard with regular piano sized keys. In the long run you will appreciate that choice.
I recommend that you as next read and do the exercises in the section Your First Song with LMMS, but first there is one thing that need Your focus : Security!
File security, Autosave & Recovery
As mentioned in General-Settings The option to create a *.BAK file is default On, and it is highly recommended that you keep this option On!
LMMS is now really stable! -But even though thats a fact, you will sooner or later have a fatal crash! Nothing is more aggravating, than loosing all the work you have done, and even worse, the compositions!
Every time you manually save your project, LMMS will keep the previous project-version as
This .BAK file will (atm) be saved in the same directory as your project!
This mean, that at any time, you will have 2 versions of your project:
1) The project in editor
2) The previous version of the project
If your project is 'destroyed', then you can revert to the .BAK, and you will have rescued at least part of your project.
LMMS has the Backup-file .BAK feature, as main file-security, but you may also like to invoke the Autosave feature!
Whereas a .BAK-file represent the penultimate version of your work, Autosave will create a copy of the current file-state!
Autosave will only be invoked when LMMS is Idle, so it will not default happen in replay, or during export!
You control the interval between each Autosave.
Because an autosave results in a tiny performance-drop, you find the settings for using Autosave in the Performance-tab, in Settings.
A choice of 5..15 mins between each Autosave-event, is recommended. Default is 5 mins.
If LMMS crashes it is very important that you pay attention to the screen next time you open LMMS!
You will get 2 options from Autosave:
If you choose Ignore, anything Autosave has kept, will be deleted!
2) Recover LMMS will load the Autosave-version of last loaded project, as a recover-project!
You need to use File| save-as on this file, and rename the recovery-file to a name of your own choice! Do that immediately!
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Attribution. In addition to the history page, this article is based on the previous article for the 0.4 series