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Composing in the Piano Roll Editor

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The Piano-Roll Editor is the main workspace for composing melodies.


This is how the Piano-Roll window looks like:

Piano Roll1.0.0.png

Be sure to understand the Piano-Roll fundamentals at Piano Roll Editor, before continuing with this text.

Understanding music

You wont get really good musical results, without knowing the most basic music-theory. A website like 8notes or just a search on music-theory, can get you a long way.

There are also videos in our video section, that explains scales & keys.

LMMS has wonderful tools to aid you in your effort. The most important is with no doubt the Scale-tool display, and in minor context, the general note-display.

The scale-tool is activated by two settings. First you need to select a scale for your song, in the The drop-down Scale. Default setting is 'No-Scale'

When you have decided a scale, you need to decide a key in the determined scale. This is done directly on the piano-roll keyboard:

  • Rightclick the key you want to use as the key of your song.
  • On the contect menu select Show-Current_Scale.

LMMS will emediately mark all the notes you can use together, in that scale in that key!

It is highly recommanded that you use scales and keys. It is very difficult to make good compositions, if the scale and key does not fit the used notes! Ofcause you can use a few notes out of scale. They are known as lifted or lowered notes, and are often part of chords.

In a partiture or score, they are notes with # or £ just in front of one note, meaning that exactly that note is meant to be lifted / lowered one semitone.

You do need to learn about these things, if you want to make good songs :p

So to cut the the bone:

  • Select a Scale
  • Select a key
  • Compose

Writing Notes

With mouse

The tool for editing notes in the Piano Roll Editor is the Draw tool (Draw tool 1.0.0.PNG). Use it to create, move, resize and delete notes.

To create a note, simply click inside the piano roll grid. The horizontal dark grey will show you which note on the keyboard you are going to be creating, and when you click the instrument will play that note.

The length of the note created is set by the note length control (Piano Roll note length1.0.0.png). By default this is set to use the length of the last note created or edited. This is often convenient when creating many notes of the same length. Alternatively, you can select from a list of standard note lengths, expressed in fractions of a beat.

To move a note, drag any part of the note (except the end). You can drag it vertically to change pitch, horizontally to change its start time, or both.

To resize a note, drag the end of the note. This simply changes its end 'cut-off' point while keeping the note starting at its original point in time. You cannot change the start time while keeping the note end at its original point in time - to do this you should move the note to its new start time and then resizing it to the desired length.

There are two ways of easily creating a much longer note in a series of short ones (or vice versa) and using the 'last note' length setting above. The first way is to create all the notes of one length first at their correct points in time, and then go back and fill in the longer notes; resizing the first longer note will then set the length. The other way is to create the longer note as a short note, resize it, and then grab the resize handle of a shorter note and resize it to its original length (e.g. move it one quarter shorter and then back).

To delete a note, right-click on it. You can also use the eraser tool (Eraser tool 1.0.0.PNG) - when using it, simply left-click on any note to delete it.

The start time of a note is quantised to the fraction of a beat shown in the quantisation selector (Quantization1.0.0.png). This controls both where a note starts and its length - both have to be multiples of the quantisation setting. It does not affect notes that are already created whose property you are not changing - for instance, with quantisation set to 1/32, you can position a note on an odd 32nd (i.e. not on a vertical 1/16th step line); then, with quantisation set to 1/16, you can resize that note and its end point will be forced to be on an even 32nd without changing the start point. In this example the note would always be an odd number of 32nds in length.

With keyboard

keyboard as piano

You can also record yourself playing the notes either on a MIDI keyboard or on the computer's keyboard (see the picture right) using the record buttons (Record buttons 1.0.0.PNG). When recording, you will hear a metronome on every beat to help you stay in sync with the tempo. It can also be useful to set the quantisation to the minimum your piece requires; so even if you play a little early or late, the note will be placed in the piano roll at the correct time. You may still have to go through and edit the notes (as above) to make sure they're positioned correctly and to remove mistakes.

Once you have finished recording that section, press the stop button (Stop Button 1.0.0.PNG) or the space bar to stop recording.

Real-Time Edits

LMMS offers several ways to compose your music. One way that I have found useful to use the Song-editor in playback-mode simultaneous with an open and active Piano-roll editor. This is the setup:

Let's say we have an instrumental bass-line on bar 10. We also have several percussion Beat-and-bass-lines, that overlap bar 10. We now want a lead instrument (starting in bar 10) that we want to go nicely with all the instruments and percussion. To achieve this, it would be great if all the content in the song-editor could run in the background while simultaneously editing done in the lead-track at bar 10.

  • Open your Song-editor
  • Set the loop-points from bar 10 to like 18. E.g. we plan a lead sequence of 8 bars.
  • Point the 10 bar in the lead-track and click. Open the Piano-roll for the lead-instrument.
  • Open the Piano-roll.
  • Choose the option "Stay on Top". Now you can click in lower hierarchy windows without hiding the Piano-roll-editor window.
  • Resize the Piano-roll-editor-window so you can see the Song-editor's timeline freely behind the Piano-roll.
  • In the Piano-roll we will initiate the playback by pressing the "Record notes from midi-device"-button.
  • Edits done in the Piano-roll can be heard immediately. You can click the song-editor timeline and both playheads will jump to the new position (without hiding your Piano-roll window).
  • Edit the notes as usual in the Piano-roll.

Editing Notes


The Select tool (Select tool 1.0.0.PNG) allows a single note or a group (a rectangular area) of notes to be selected. Selected notes turn blue. Once a selection has been made, you can move, delete, cut, copy, paste it.

The pencil tool is used often, but can't be used to select notes. Instead of switching from pencil to select and back again, you can hold down the CTRL key. You will see the draw cursor temporarily change into the select cursor.

Piano Roll selected notes1.0.0.png

When you select notes, they turn blue.

To move a selection, just drag any note from the selection and the whole selection will move.

To duplicate a selection while leaving the original intact, hold down SHIFT as you drag.

Cut, Copy and Paste

You can Cut, Copy and Paste note selections using the Clipboard buttons (Piano Roll Clipboard1.0.0.png). You can also use the standard keyboard shortcuts Ctrl+X for Cut, Ctrl+C for Copy, Ctrl+V for Paste, by holding Shift while dragging the selection is duplicated. The position where notes are pasted is the current position of the playhead. Once you paste the notes, you can drag them (up, down, left, right) to wherever you want.

Changing Volume/Pan

Piano Roll Volume1.0.0.png

Click on the Note Volume/Note Panning button below the piano keys to toggle between the Note Volume and Note Panning editor. The volume (loudness) of each note is termed velocity in music sequencing. You can change the velocity of each note by clicking somewhere on the vertical bar for that note or by dragging the blue box to the level you want. The color of the note will brighten with increased velocity and dim with decreased velocity. Velocity info is set automatically when you record notes using a MIDI keyboard that is capable of transmitting the velocity of the notes as they are played.

Piano Roll Panning1.0.0.png

The pan of each note is the ratio of the note volume that is transmitted out the right stereo channel versus the left stereo channel. Pan is shown as a vertical orange bar below the note in the Note Pan editor. By default, the pan is centered (equal volume out the left and right channels). You can change the pan of each note by clicking somewhere on the vertical bar for that note or by dragging the orange box to the position you want.


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