1.0:Your First Song with LMMS

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So you've just loaded up LMMS and you want to find your way around? In this situation, programmers write a "hello world" program; we're going to write "Popcorn", a classic for the synthesizer that should be well known.

Contents

Your First Song

LMMS is a tool that can be used to make music effectively without very much hassle. To showcase this fact, if you follow these step by step instructions you should be able to make your own songs very quickly.

If you are using Windows, double click the icon on your desktop or go start menu - programs - LMMS to load your version of the LMMS program. If you are using Ubuntu, open up a terminal (CTRL+ALT+T on version 11.04), type in "lmms" (without the quotation marks), and press enter.

When you first load the program you will see several boxes with various titles and a toolbar at the top left. Looking at the upper to middle left side of the screen you will also see some small icons. These are important as most of these are where you select your sounds.

Your First Melody

Choosing the instrument

You've got the default screen in front of you, with the Song Editor, Beat + Bassline Editor and Project Notes open. First, click the Presets icon (Presets icon 1.0.0.png) on the Sidebar to open up the list of preset sounds. Double-click on the TripleOscillator or click on the plus symbol on its left to open this folder and you will be presented with a diverse range of instruments. You can hold the mouse button down on any preset to hear a preview of its sound.


My presets with 3osc open.png


For now, let's drag the "Xylophon" preset onto the space in the middle of the Song Editor. When you drop it, a new track will be created with that preset as the instrument.


Drag and drop preset 1.0.0.PNG Xylophon dragged 1.0.0.PNG


(If this were a percussion-type instrument, we might be better off dragging it to the Beat+Bassline Editor instead; you'll see why in a second. We really want to give this instrument a string of notes (or a Piano Roll) to play, though, so Song Editor it is.)

Making the melody

We now want to add notes to make the melody. Left-click in the first bar of the Xylophon track and a new piano roll segment will appear (New beat segment 1.0.0.PNG). Double-click on that and the Piano Roll Editor will appear, allowing you to put notes into that newly-created segment.

80%

The first note

Now click in the black square just to the right of the 'A4' note (which is three lines, or semitones, down from the note marked C5). This will create a new crotchet - a note one beat long - starting at that time.

The first note.png

However, this is too long: we need notes half a beat - a quarter - long. To change this, we simply move the mouse pointer to the right-hand edge of the note, until the cursor changes into a left-and-right arrow. Then we hold the mouse button down and drag the end of the note left two 'blocks' (each block being one sixteenth of a bar).

Resizing notes 1.0.0.PNG

After this, the new notes we put down will be the same length, because the Piano Roll Editor default is set to Last Note (50%) -But you can change that in the drop-down. However most of the time you will work with the 'Last Note' setting, but if you suddenly cant create notes in the length you expected, its because you accidentally made a change to this drop-down.

More notes

Continue creating notes in the pattern shown:

Popcorn pattern 1.0.0.PNG

To place a note, you need to aim for the line at the start of the beat; LMMS will recognise a small fraction of the area left of the beat line as being closer to that beat than the previous. You can control this with the 'Q-setting'. Default 'Q' is correlated to note-length. That is 'Note-lock'. But again you can change that 'magnetic-point' in the Q-dropdown. If you make a mistake placing a note, you can move it to its correct position by clicking on the middle of the note (where the cursor turns into a four-way cross) and dragging the note to its new position. LMMS will play the note that you're dragging onto as an aide to correct placement. You can move notes horizontally (in time) as well as vertically (in pitch).

If you need to delete a note, simply right-click on it.

Copy and paste

We now want to repeat those seven notes at the start of the bar in the next bar. There are three ways to do this.

The first and worst way to do it is to simply click the correct notes. But this is tedious. Let's use some of LMMS's features to speed this up.

The first real way to do it is to use the duplicator tool. First select the notes you want to copy. Hold down Ctrl and make a selection rectangle around the notes you want to copy. Next, hold Shift and drag the newly selected notes. You are now dragging a copy of the selected notes. You can place these where you want them to go.


Notes selected popcorn 1.0.0.PNG Dragging the notes 1.0.0.PNG Duplicated notes 1.0.0.PNG

Alternatively you can use good old copy and paste. Again, use Ctrl to select the notes you want, and then press Ctrl+C. Press Ctrl+V to paste the notes at the beginning, and move them to their new location.

To select all notes you can press Ctrl+A.

We can now press the play button (The play button 1.0.0.PNG) in the Piano Roll Editor window to play the melody back. When it gets to the end of the last bar in which there are notes, it will automatically repeat back to the start of the first bar.

Oops!

When we play the melody so far, we realize that the melody actually starts on the wrong beat. The second A4 note is really supposed to be the start of the bar, and the two notes before it are leading in from the previous bar. However, we can't go further back than bar 1 in our piano roll. We need to move all the notes forward. Press Ctrl+A to select all the notes. Then you can click and drag to move them all over in order to have the first note start on the right beat (see picture below).

The first 'four' bars

If you're confident, you can now continue adding the notes of the tune to make the first four bars (up to where the main melody repeats). Here's what your piano roll should look like at the end of this:

Popcorn melody 1.0.0.PNG

More structure

We can now close the Piano Roll Editor and go back to the Song Editor. You will see that the track segment that we initially double-clicked to create the melody has expanded out to fit the notes that we've added.

We now want to copy that segment to create the next four bars. The easiest way to do that is to simply hold down the Ctrl key, then drag the initial segment. This will drag a copy of the segment to a new location, which must be outside the initial segment. This process will look like this:

Copying segments 1.0.0.PNG

Drop the segment on bar 6. This is actually one bar too late, as the first three quarters of a bar of this segment is empty, as is the last quarter of the last segment. Fortunately, segments can overlap and their notes will play simultaneously. [2]. Drag the second copy so that it starts at bar 5.

You can now play this using the play button in the Song Editor. You will hear a short pause as it counts the first three beats of silence, then the melody will start. It should play smoothly through the two repeats.

The Song Editor should now look like this:

How the song editor should look like.png

Variation 2

We can now go on to create another piano roll segment and fill in the next four bars:

Melody variation 1.0.0.PNG

Due to the way that the segments overlap, you will have to create the new segment in a new bar (e.g. bar 11) and then move it into position over the previous segment.

Note that there is a slight oddity in the Piano Roll Editor that causes you to start editing at bar 2 when opening occasional new segments. Check which bar you're writing notes into before getting to far!

Your Song Editor should now look like this:

Final song editor look.PNG

Your First Beat

For our first beat we are going to click the my samples button on the Sidebar (Samples button 1.0.0.PNG). This is your sample collection that comes standard with LMMS. On the list of folders that appeared, one of them labeled "drums". Double-clicking the folder will show a list of percussion instruments. Click on them to hear the different sounds of the instruments.

If you look at the open windows one of them should read "Beat + Bassline Editor". Locate that box before going forward. If you have closed it by chance it is located on the left top toolbar.

Going back to the samples you just heard select a Kick drum (any will work). Double-click the sample and it should appear in the Beat + Bassline editor. Also add a Closed Hihat and a Snare. You will end up with 3 instruments in the Beat + Bassline editor. You can make drum patterns by clicking the grey squares (BeatBassline step editor1.0.0.png). You can play your drum pattern by pressing the play button (The play button 1.0.0.PNG). The pattern will loop until you stop it.

Here are some example drum patterns that you could use in your projects:

Drum pattern examples

[1] Four on the Floor - Standard beat pattern commonly used in Disco, House and Techno songs.

Four on the floor 1.0.0.PNG

[2] Amen Break - This drum solo was originally performed by Gregory Sylvester Coleman, but has been heavily sampled and pitched up for use in jump-up drum and bass and jungle.

Amen break 1.0.0.PNG

[3] Typical Breakbeat - By moving the Bass drum out of regular 4/4 timing we create a "Breakbeat"

Typical breakbeat 1.0.0.PNG

[4] Prodigy - Smack my B**** up - Breakbeat intro:

Prodigy beat intro 1.0.0.PNG

and main beat:

Prodigy beat main 1.0.0.PNG

  • Note the lowered volumes of the snare drum in the 2 examples above i.e. the dimmed led's in some steps. To change the volume of a step, hover your mouse over it and roll the scroll wheel down to lower volume and up to raise volume. The brightness of the step's blue color will change.

Want to hear how all these patterns sound? Download a demo project here.

Footnotes

[1] - You could alternatively have dropped it on the existing "TripleOscillator: Default" track to replace that instrument with the one you were dragging, but this gives you an idea of how to create new instrument tracks.

[2] - You should avoid having segments that overlap as there is no clear display of how many segments overlap in a particular area. A small segment might completely disappear behind a large one, leaving you confused as to where those extra notes were coming from. In this case, it makes good sense to use it.

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