The Instrument Window
You find LMMS instruments in sidebar, where the button is labelled Instrument-plugins.
Each instrument got its own unique UI-window-middle-section. Here are three examples:
All the UI-windows are divided into three main sections with common top and bottom panels:
The main controls are found on all LMMS native Instruments:
- Preset name input-field. By default this contain the name of the instrument.
- An instrument volume knob.
- A pan knob.
- A pitch knob. 100% means that the pitch is changed a semitone, at default range.
- Pitch range. Changes how many semitones the pitch knob spans. If it is set to 3, 100% on the pitch knob means 3 semitones.
- FX channel. -A link to the FX-mixer. Remember to always set this! You can set a new channel in the gadget-context-menu.
- A save button. Saves the settings of this instrument as a preset.
The Pitch-range dial is not available on all instruments. All other of these controls are present on all LMMS factory-instruments.
The sound controls section is headed by a common selector for five tabs:
- Plugin shows the controls for how this particular plugin generates sound. This tab is unique for every instrument, and the features are unique.
- Env/LFO shows the controls for the sound's envelope (its expression in respect to loudness cutoff and resonance over time. -All with individual separate settings! ), its use of the Low Frequency Oscillator (LFO), and also let you access 15 build-in filters. This tab is not supported by ZynAddSubFX, VeSTige and LB302.
- Func shows the controls for making the instrument automatically play arpeggios or chords. A huge number of different chords can be selected.
- FX shows the chain of effects plugins operating on this instrument. You can use LADSPA LMMS, and or VST effect-plugins.
- MIDI shows which MIDI channels this instrument will receive and send events on.
Let's take detailed views on these tabs.
The Plugin tab
The plugin tab contains all the controls that controls how this plugin generates sound.
For more information on this, read the descriptions for the individual plugins on the Plugins page.
The ENV/LFO tab
The Env/LFO tab looks like the image to the right: Note: VeSTige, SF2 Player, OpulenZ, ZynAddSubFX and LB302 won't respond to anything on this tab.
The Envelope of an instrument is a span in time where you control how loud the output will be, from the moment the note is pressed, over the duration of the length of the sound, after it is released, and to the time when the sound is completely silent. Immediately before the note is pressed, the envelope is at zero and the instrument produces no sound. The note goes through an attack when the note is pressed until it reaches its maximum loudness. From there it goes into a hold period, that may be 0 secd in length, where the note remains at its maximal volume until the volumes goes in Decay -A gradual fall in loudness, where it will stay at the value of Sustain, or if there is no sustain, and the key is held down, The note then decays to no volume. If the key is not kept down the note fades away to silence, with the length of the release setting. There may also be a pre-delay between when the note is pressed and the Attack! (mostly we do not use that).
That is the technical description. To better understand practical envelopes, lets create two typical instrument-envelopes.
First we will create a grand-piano envelope. A description of the sound-anatomy would be:
- " The sound is initiated imediately as the hammer hits the string. The sound is at maximal volume at once. If we let go of the key, then the volume will fall rapidly, unless a pedal is pressed. If we keep the key pressed the volume will fall slowly, until silence"
That would be how we would describe the sound coming from a grand-piano!
Now lets look at the corresponding Envelope!
Sound is initiated imediately -sound is at maximal volume at once
- Attack is extremely short
let go of the key -volume will fall rapidly
- Release is relatively short
keep the key pressed, volume will fall slowly
- There are no sustain
- There are no hold
- Decay is long
As an exercise, open a trippleOSC and create a grand-piano envelope.
Remember to turn AMP all up. If you do not, the envelope is not invoked at all!
So what about a very different type of instrument? How about an envelope for a saxophone!
The description would be something like:
- When you blow air through the mouth-piece, the sound comes after a short hiss of air, as the leaf in the mouth piece need to vibrate before it creates sound. The strength of the tone varies with the pressure in air. If you stop blowing the instrument goes silent imediately.
sound comes after a short hiss of air
- Attack is not sharp
strength of the tone varies with the pressure in air
- Decay is not defining this tone
- There is a hold-phase
- Sustain can emulate the shelf of the tone
instrument goes silent imediately
- There are no release
Try to build a 'brass-section-preset in TrippleOSC. Remember that the hiss or air, sounds similar to a noise profile.
The Env/LFO/Filter section has three 'sub-tabs' that select the 'target' for three separate envelopes. The default one, and the one discussed above, is the volume target. You select the target in the same way that you select the tab in the instrument, by clicking on the label. To control the envelope, you have six knobs to set each of the above parameters - pre-delay (DEL), attack, hold, decay, sustain, release - and a seventh one to control the amount (AMT) of effect that the envelope has on the parameter.
AMT controls how much influence the envelope will have. The part that is not influenced, will be Dry, whereas the influence is know as the Wet part.
This convention is valid for any kind of modulation of the raw signal!
To toggle the envelope on/off, you can click on the envelope graph. The graph is shown in shades of green when it's turned on and is grey when envelope is off and the output is completely dry.
AMT can also be turned to negative values. This will in some ways negate the envelope, and it is not normal in instrument-volume envelope, to do that, but if you make effects, you can get some wild ones with negative envelope-settings. Otherwise negative envelope values is used on Cutoff and Q/Reso, with significant effect.
In order to enable the filter, press the filter title bar and the light at the left will turn on. When this light is on, the filter-section is active. Keep in mind that filtering the sound of an instrument adds a small calculation overhead and can add a slight delay to the sound, so if you are on old hardware, and have issues with CPU-usage, then you may consider not using filters. Otherwise most sound-engineers will always add an All-pass filter on all preset, even though they do not intend to use filter modulation on that preset.
The types of filters that LMMS offers in the default filter-collection are:
- Lowpass - This filter lets low frequencies through.
- Highpass - This filter lets high frequencies through.
- Bandpass - These filters let only a certain band of frequencies through.
- Notch - The inverse of the Bandpass filter, this cuts only a certain frequency band.
- Allpass - A filter that lets all frequencies through but has the same phase shifts, time delays and resonance properties as other filters.
- Moog - A modification to the normal Lowpass filter made popular by Moog synthesisers. WARNING! Moog-filters must never have more 0.85 of resonance! Above this value, the output is extremely loud, and can damage your hearing!
These filter-types comes in three versions, that are similar in their basic functions, but has more influence on the sound, with a shorter or steeper incline of the function that controls the output.
Each type of filter lets you control the cutoff frequency and the Q/Resonance amount. You can experiment with this by choosing a plugin that generates multiple frequencies - using anything other than a sine wave will do that - and then set the cutoff and Q factor and see how it changes the sound.
Filters with Envelopes Filters do not have to be static and unchanged throughout the entire note. LMMS allows you to control both the cutoff frequency and the Q factor via an envelope. Nor does this envelope have to be the same as the volume envelope for the note - each parameter can have an independent envelope. The envelope sets the value from its maximum or minimum to the set control level; for example, if a low-pass filter has the cutoff control set to 1000Hz and an envelope is used to sweep this value up in a long attack and long decay, the value of the control will go from 14000Hz (the maximum) down to 1000Hz and then back up. This will make the instrument sound like it's been damped down and then the damping removed.
Filters and automation
Most of the sweep and risers you hear in EDM are created with filters that are automated.
To achieve this, you bind the dial for either or both of the cutoff ao resonance to automation-tracks. You can then design a curve for the filter-pass through the automation. Amazing effects can be created this way!
LFO stands for Low-Frequency-Oscillator.
LFOs allow you to make cyclic variations. They can be uniform, but you can create mesmerizing variations with automation.
LFO effects of cutoff and resonance takes place through a filter, so for those to respond to the LFO, you also need to apply a filter.
The LFO provided by LMMS allows you to control the value of the volume, cutoff and Q-factor targets independently - the LFO for each is shown under the same 'tab' as the envelope for the same target. Each has four parameters that you can set:
- The delay before the oscillator starts.
- The attack or fade-in rate of the oscillator - the rate at which it goes from starting to having full effect.
- The speed of oscillation. This is probably the parameter you are most likely to use. It is measured in milliseconds per oscillation, because often one knows the time taken for a complete cycle rather than the rate in Hertz. (This is also because the accuracy of setting the LFO in fractions of a Hertz is less than setting it in fractions of a second.) If right-click the knob, LMMS open a context-menu, and you will have the option to beat-synchronize the speed. This is a strong feature and very useful for wobble or dubstep instruments.
- The amount control the wet/dry influence of the LFO on the output. Like the envelope, you can toggle the LFO on /off with a click on the waveform display
LMMS also have a LFO pluging. This is inserted in the [Controller-Rack]
The Func tab
The Func tab looks like this:
Normally, each 'note down' command plays one note in the instrument. With the Arp/Chord controls, you can change this so that it plays several notes at once a chord (with the root note being the note played) and/or several notes in succession, known as an arpeggio (i.e. the notes of the chord played one after another rather than simultaneously). To control this, the Arp/Chord tab is divided into two sections, one for chords and the other for arpeggios. You turn them on by clicking on their title bar and the light at the left will turn on. By default they will be turned off.
Both sections have two common controls - the list of chords (default Octave) that can be played and the range in octaves over which the chord will be played. Since some chords span more than one octave, some chords or arpeggios will overlap. The list of chords available is vast, ranging from standard chords through jazz to regional chords and natural modes such as Lydian and Dorian.
The chords section has no other controls than the ones listed above. When a note down signal is received, that note will be the base for the rest of the chord. All the notes of the chord will play simultaneously until the note is released. This feature is meant as a replay feature, and no chord will be recorded in piano-roll. To record whole chords, use the similar chord-table in piano-roll!
As mentioned above, an Arpeggio is a chord that has its notes played in succession, instead of simultaneously. The arpeggio-section has a number of extra controls:
- The direction that the arpeggio is played in can be selected from
- up then down
- random notes from the chord.
- The time (in milliseconds) between each note. Right-click opens context menu to set tempo sync.
- The gate time (as a percentage of the note time above). At 100% gate time, each note will be played for the full time between each note. At less than 100%, each note will be cut short and the rest will be filled with silence. At more than 100%, each note will overlap the next note and will finish later than the start of the next.
- Skip Will drop notes.
- Miss Will variate tempo
- Cycle Is also a variation feature. Part of the arpeggio, will be repeated more often that other parts
Automation of these 3 last features, can create variation, in your otherwise uniform arpeggio.
- The mode of playing the arpeggio.
- In free mode, an arpeggio will be started when the note starts. If a second note is played later, a second arpeggio will start at that (later) time and play independently of the first.
- In sort mode, no matter when another note is pressed, the arpeggios will be played in the same order, with only one note being played at any one time. For example, if the key for C is played with an ascending Major chord arpeggio, the arpeggio of C-E-G will be played repeatedly. If the key for F is then held down, the arpeggio will play C-E-G-F-A-C one after the other - the arpeggio for C then the arpeggio for F.
- In sync mode, any notes held down at the same time will play a chord arpeggio in that interval. To take the above example, when F was held down the arpeggio would play CF-EA-GC repeatedly - the notes C and F simultaneously, then the notes E + A, then the notes G + C. In fact a kind of chord-arpeggio stack
The FX tab
The LADSPA effects allow many ways to influence the sound of an instrument. These can vary from simple effects like amplifying to complex delays, echoes, phasers, distortion and reverberation. Effects can also be chained one after the other to produce very complex sounds.
You can also use monitor plugins, like spectrum-analysers on this page.
When you add an effect the green LED will automatically turn on. When it is off the sound aren't processed by the effects. You can easily check the dry sound of the instrument without effects, against the wet sound with the effects in place, by turning the green LED off.
Click the 'add' button to select a new LADSPA/VST effect to add to the chain. This inserts an effect-master UI that gives you several controls over the process:
- The W/D (wet/dry) knob sets the ratio between the input signal and the effect signal that forms the output.
Note that some VST-effects will also have ways to set internal wet/dry level. This sometimes takes the form of a wet/dry knob, but can also be two knobs to set the level of the wet output and the level of the dry, bypassed, output, and even pure on/off buttons. These will sometimes be called test.
- The decay control sets how much silence must pass before the effect turns off completely. Turning the effect off reduces the amount of CPU time used processing silence and reduces the chance of unwanted noise. However, if the effect turns off too soon it may introduce a 'clipped' sound to the effect: for instance, in the case of a reverb, if the reverb time is longer than the decay time then the reverb will be cut off before it has fully died away. This can cause clicks and pops-artefacts! You should make it a habit to always match the delay of effects and decay-time.
- The gate threshold controls the level of output that will be treated as silent. A flanger effect placed on an instrument with a very long fade-out (say a ride cymbal) will be almost inaudible at the end of the tail of the cymbal. Cutting the effect off early may reduce the CPU requirements and the chance of unwanted effect noise being heard.
- The controls button toggles a separate window with the specific controls for a specific effect.
To remove an effect, select its context menu (right-click) and choose 'Remove effect'.
You can also change the order of any effect in the effect rack by moving it up or down.
The MIDI tab
The MIDI tab looks like this:
These controls allow you to set which MIDI channel the instrument receives MIDI events on, and which it sends events to. Both these controls work in similar ways:
- Click the Receive MIDI-events or Send MIDI-events title next to the light to turn the reception or sending of MIDI events on or off.
- The channel setting controls which MIDI channel events will be received or sent on.
- The Default velocity control clamps all incoming or outgoing notes to once velocity when set.
- The Device selector button shows a list of which devices in your system can act as sources or sinks for MIDI events.
At the bottom of the Instrument window is a small section of a piano keyboard.
This will display the notes that are playing by highlighting the key or keys as they're played.
The scroll bar at the bottom of the screen allows you to move up and down (i.e. left and right) the keyboard to see different octaves.
In addition, the coloured square just above the keys shows the base note of the keyboard. Whichever note you select with this will set the octave to play the concerto-pitch of 440 Hertz (A4). For instance, moving this to A3 will make all the notes played move up by an octave (since A3 is now A4 and so forth). This allows you to adjust an individual instrument to be pitched correctly in relation to all the others. This is mostly unimportant for synthesizers where the A4 note is programmed to be 440Hz. However, for the AudioFileProcessor Plugin, this is extremely useful, as it allows you to adjust the note to be played back at its closest correct pitch, you then can finetune the output with the PITCH dial in the upper section of the UI. As an example, if you recorded a saxophone playing a Bb, you would adjust the base note to be Bb; so that the saxophone was played in the same pitch as your other instruments.
When the instrument window is selected, you can use the keyboard of your computer to play notes in a two-octave range. In addition, any MIDI keyboard can be used to send MIDI command to your instrument when it's selected.