3.6 Instrument Window

Various instrument windows look like this:

TripleOscillator
AudioFileProcessor
OpulenZ

The window is divided up into three main sections:

  1. the instrument controls at the top

  2. the sound controls in the middle

  3. the piano keys at the bottom

3.6.1 Instrument Controls

General instrument controls
  • Preset name dialogue. By default this is the name of the instrument.

  • An instrument volume knob

  • A pan knob

  • A pitch knob. 100% means that the pitch is changed a semitone.

  • 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 uniquely.

  • 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.

3.6.2 Sound Controls

  • Plugin: shows the controls for how this particular plugin generates sound. This is the only tab that changes per plugin.

  • ENV/LFO: shows the controls for the sound's envelope (its expression in respect to loudness cutoff and resonance, all with individual settings, over time), its use of the Low Frequency Oscillator (LFO), and also lets you access 15 built-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 and/or VST effect plugins.

  • MIDI: shows which MIDI channels this instrument will receive and send events on

Let's take a closer look at these tabs.

3.6.2.1 Plugin

The plugin tab contains all the controls that set how this plugin actually generates sound. For more information, read the individual plugin's page.

3.6.2.2 ENV/LFO

ENV/LFO tab

3.6.2.2.1 Envelopes

Envelope of an instrument is how loud or soft it is from the moment the note is pressed, over after it it released, to 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 from when the note is pressed until it reaches its maximum loudness. From then there is an initial hold period when the note remains at maximum loudness. The note then decays to a softer pitch which is the sustain level. Finally when note is released, it fades away to silence. There may also be a pre-delay between when the note is pressed and when the volume starts rising.

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 can 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 7. one to control the amount (AMT) of the effect that the envelope has on the parameter.

For the volume envelope, this "amount" does not actually affect the sound - the envelope only works if the amount control is 100% on. Note that you can either set the amount using its knob or click on the envelope graph in order to turn it completely on or off. The graph is green when it's turned on, grey when off and a shade between those two colors when the control is between fully on (1) and fully off (0). The amount can also be turned down to negative one, a feature which is only useful for the Cutoff and Q/Reso targets.

3.6.2.2.2 Filters

In order to enable the filter, press the filter titlebar and the light at the left will turn on. When this light is on, the filter 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're not using the filter then keep it off.

The types of filters in LMMS:

  • Lowpass: this filter lets low frequencies through

  • Highpass: this filter lets high frequencies through

  • Bandpass csg and Bandpass czpg: these filters let only a certain band 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 synthesizers

  • 2x Lowpass: a lowpass filter with twice the Q factor

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.

3.6.2.2.2.1 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 lowpass filter has the cutoff control set to 1kHz 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 14kHz (the maximum) down to 1kHz and then back up. This will make the instrument sound like it's been damped down and then the damping removed.

3.6.2.2.3 LFO

All LFO effects takes place through a filter, so the first thing is to activate the filter (light ON) and choose one from the drop-down.

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 Hz (this is also because the accuracy of setting the LFO in fractions of a Hz is less than setting it in fractions of a second). If right-click the knob, LMMS opens a contex 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 that the LFO affects the given target. Like an envelope, you can either set the amoun control manually or click on the waveform display at the left of the LFO to turn it on or off.

LMMS also has an LFO plugin. This is inserted in the Controller rack.

3.6.2.3 FUNC

FUNC tab

Normally, each "note down" command plays one note in the instrument. With the Arp/Chord controls, you can change this so that it plays a chord (with the root note being the note played) and/or and 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 the 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 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.

3.6.2.3.1 Chords

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.

3.6.2.3.2 Arpeggios

The arpeggios section has a number of extra controls:

  • The direction that the arpeggio is played in can be selected from up, down, both directions (up then down) and 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%, each note will be played for the full time between each note. At less, each note will be cut short and the rest will be filled with silence. At more than this, each note will overlap the next note and will finish later than the start of the nest.

  • The mode of playing 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 given 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 and A, then the notes G and C.

3.6.2.4 FX

FX tab

The LADSPA effects allow many ways to control the sound of an instrument. These can vary from simple effects like delays and echos to complex phasers, distortion and reverbation. Effects can also be chained one after the other to produce very complex sounds.

When you add an effect the green light will automatically turn on. When it is off the sound isn't processed by the effect. 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 light off.

Click the "add" button to select a new LADSPA/VST effect to add to the chain. This then gives you several controls over the process of sending sound to and receiving it from the effect:

  • The W/D (wet/dry) knob sets the ratio between the input signal and the effect signal that forms the output

  • 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. You should make it a habit to always match the decay of effects and this decay knob.

  • The gate threshold controls the level of noise in which below the instrument will be considered to be silent. A flanger effect placed on an instrument with a very long fade-out (say a ride cymball) will be almost inaudible at the end of the tail of the cymball. Cutting the effect off early may reduce the CPU requirements and the chance of unwanted effect noise being heard.

  • The controls button displays (or removes) the separate window giving the controls specific to this effect.

Note that some effects will also have ways to set their 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.

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.

3.6.2.5 MIDI

MIDI tab

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

3.6.3 Piano Keys

At the bottom of the instrument window is a small section of a piano keyboard. This will display the notes that are playing by greying out 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 ranges of notes.

Piano keys in instrument window

3.6.3.1 Base Note

In addition, the green mark just above the keys shows the base note of the keyboard. Whichever note you select with this mark will be played as A4, i.e. the concert pitch of 440Hz. 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 pugin, this is extremely useful, as it allows you to adjust the note to be played back at its correct pitch. As an example, if you recorded a saxophone playing a B♭, you would adjust the base note to be B♭, so that the saxophone was played in the same pitch as your other instruments.

3.6.3.2 Keyboard

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 this instrument when it's selected.

Keyboard as piano