How to Make Music Using LMMS - Tutorial for Beginners (FREE DAW)

Updated on 2023-06-29
LMMS is a free Digital Audio Workstation (or DAW) that works on Linux, Windows, and Mac. If you want to learn how to make music using this DAW in a practical tutorial, keep reading.

LMMS is a free Digital Audio Workstation (or DAW) that works on Linux, Windows, and Mac. It's a good option to make music with, and many say it's the closest thing you can get to FL Studio for free. Another great feature is you can use your computer keyboard as a MIDI controller. If you want to learn how to use this DAW in a practical tutorial, keep reading.


If you're wondering what LMMS stands for, the software was formerly known as Linux MultiMedia Studio. 

A Brief Introduction of LMMS

Let's get into the settings first. Then we'll move on to the layout of the DAW, so you know what everything does and where everything is. Go up to Edit in the top left and down to Settings.

There are two things you may want to change right away. First is "Enable note labels in the piano roll," which will help you know what notes you're using when writing music. The other is "Language" at the bottom, which may be good to change if you read a different one better than English.

Moving on to "Directories," this is where you can set up the folders that LMMS looks in for your files. These would be your plugins, Soundfonts, and other things like themes and background art. Samples are handled differently.

There are Performance Settings and Audio Settings, where you can set up your audio interface, and the last is MIDI settings. Once you're done, press OK at the bottom, and if you want, you can restart LMMS now, but it's unnecessary for this tutorial. 


How to Make Music: Layout of LMMS

The Layout in LMMS is very customizable and is a sandbox. You get unlimited space to expand the work area when you move windows further out in any direction. And, it will shrink back down as you move them towards the center again.

Closing a window inside the DAW will not erase anything. It's pretty much minimizing it. 


Making Music By LMMS

How to Make Music Using LMMS: Toolbar/Transport bar

On the top, you'll find the toolbar, which holds some shortcuts to the top menus like File, Edit, etc. These are for creating new projects and opening exzig. These are for creating new projects and opening existing ones, saving, exporting, and even a cool info button where you can click on it, then on someone you want to learn about, and it will tell you what it does. 
Below the shortcuts for the File menu are the ones for the View menu. These are for all the windows you'll need to create or edit audio. The transport section to the right of the toolbar options shows you information about the arrangement. Click on the position to change it from "time" to "measure," and you can either double click, click and drag, or scroll to change the rest. To the right of those are the master volume and master pitch. Then you have a CPU meter which you can enable by clicking on it. 


How to Make Music Using LMMS: Media Browser (Samples, Sound effects, & plugins)

One last thing before I move on to the windows like the piano roll and mixing console. On the left side of the DAW, you'll find the Media Browser. Here is where your virtual instruments will be, your projects will be, the samples and presets that come with the DAW, and the last two are directories for your computer.

These two are where you'll need to navigate to the folders that hold all your samples or audio files you want to use in the DAW, such as loops, drums, etc. And what's cool is you can even navigate to your VST plugins this way too. For both samples and plugins, you can drag and drop them from the folders directly into the song editor, also known as the playlist. Or the beat+bassline editor, also known as a step-sequencer

How to Make Music Using LMMS: Song Editor / Playlist / Sequencer

The option to the left opens the song editor, which is a timeline to arrange different patterns and audio. As I said, you can drag and drop plugins and samples into this to assign them to their track in the playlist. You can also add things like the beat+bassline editor, audio files, and automation tracks from the toolbar in the song editor. Then, you can re-arrange the order of tracks if you want by clicking and dragging on any part that doesn't have a button or parameter.

On each track, you have an options menu which is different for each type of track, a mute and un-mute button, a solo button (which mutes every other track), the name of the track (single click to open its window and double-click to rename it), then for VST tracks (and audio tracks), there is a test button. Lastly, there are the volume and pan parameters. And you can hold SHIFT, then click and drag to resize a track vertically.

For the timeline section. Left-click on a bar to create a pattern, right-click to see more options, middle-click to delete it, and hold CTRL and middle-click to mute the pattern. You can drag them around, and it will tell you what bar they're on, and pressing CTRL then dragging will duplicate the pattern you've selected. To edit what is in a pattern, double click, and it will open the editor specific to what kind of track it is.

Except for the beat+bassline editor, each pattern is unique, and the changes you make are separate from the rest, even if it was originally a duplicate of something else.

MIDI patterns will grow and shrink to fit the length of notes in it, but all other tracks can be resized manually by clicking and dragging from the right side of the pattern. Although, Beat and Bassline editor tracks are the only ones to keep duplicating as you drag them out.

The arrow and line are where the song will play and can be moved around by left-clicking once or dragging along the bar counter on the top. Playing and stopping can be done from the toolbar but can also be done by pressing the SPACE bar, as long as the song or automation editor was the last window clicked.

You can set loop points by enabling it on the toolbar, move the endpoint by right-clicking once or dragging along the bar counter, and set the start point by doing the same while holding down SHIFT. As for the rest of the menu buttons, you can toggle between Draw mode and Select mode, auto-scrolling, and what will happen when you press stop. 

How to Make Music Using LMMS: Beat/Bassline Editor / Step-Sequencer

The beat and bassline editor is like a mini-song-editor and will have its track in the actual song-editor. For the most part, it's all the same, but there are some differences. The play and stop buttons for the step sequencer are for this window specifically and not the song editor.

Each block is a beat or MIDI note, and you can left-click to enable or disable a note for each one and right-click on any of them to show the options for that track. For example, you can show the piano roll, giving you a better perspective of what this is.

By default, there are 4 bars, but you can add four more with the option, clone what you have with this one, or remove four of the last 4 bars with this option. As I said, these are the same as notes on a piano roll. And in most cases, you're going to want to use that instead. 


How to Make Music Using LMMS: Piano-Roll / MIDI Editor

If you're dealing exclusively with the piano roll for making a melody or something, you would want to go back to the song editor for this. Make a pattern on a VST track, right-click, and open the piano roll. This thing is so easy to use, and there are many features you can take advantage of.

With Draw mode enabled, you can place notes by left-clicking and delete notes by right-clicking (and dragging if you want to delete multiple notes). Holding CTRL and left-clicking while dragging lets you select multiple notes, holding shift and dragging lets you duplicate notes, and holding SHIFT and CTRL lets you add selections together by either clicking on or dragging over notes.

So, that makes Erase Mode and Select Mode useless. But, there is another one called Pitch Bend Mode. With it selected, click on a note to open the automation editor for it exclusively, even if the note is in a selection of other notes. 


How to Make Music Using LMMS: Automation-Editor

The automation editor in LMMS is pretty straightforward. This is where you can create automation patterns that can change settings over time.

Left-click will place an automation point, and right-click will delete one (but you can also delete multiple notes in one go by left-clicking and dragging). You can flip the automation pattern horizontally, vertically and can change how each point transitions to the other, including the tension when the Curve is selected. Finally, you have the horizontal and vertical zoom and quantization, which is just where each point will snap horizontally.

You'll probably want to stick to whole numbers when changing the vertical position of each point as these are semitones, and that is what each note will be.

Automation clips may also have their track in the song editor depending on what parameter you automate. And, you'll need to make a new automation track for each parameter you want to change if that's where it's going to be. However, something like the pitch bend is not. That is handled inside the piano roll, as you can see. 


How to Make Music Using LMMS: Piano Roll (Continued)

Let's get back to the piano roll. Just like the automation editor, you have zoom and quantization. But you can also choose how long the note will be when you draw it, the scale you're using, and what's crazy is you have the option to write in chords with one click.

Another amazing feature is the ability to record from a MIDI controller, right into the piano roll, either on its own or as the rest of the song is playing. And yes, this includes your computer keyboard AND will play chords from a single key if you have one selected.

The last thing I want to show you in the piano roll is the note velocity (or volume) and panning of each note. These are both at the bottom and can be switched back and forth by clicking on the left and can be resized by dragging the top of its section. Each note can be changed separately or together while being selected too. Alright, so now that you have some audio going on, you may want to mix it now. 


How to Make Music Using LMMS: FX Mixer / Mixing Console / Mixer Rack

This is the mixing console or mixing rack, which is called the FX-mixer in LMMS. Unfortunately, this is where the DAW lacks features, and instrument tracks are the only ones that can be routed to this window. But, you can still change the volume of audio tracks from the song editor and add effects to them by clicking on the track's name.

As for what's going on in the mixer track, you can add new tracks by using the plus icon or by going to the song editor, then to the options of an instrument track and assigning it to a new track that way.

The master track is the output of the entire DAW, and all other tracks are sent to it by default. You can disconnect a track from it or change the amount being sent, and you can also send tracks to other tracks, not just the master. This would be good for a hybrid bus, for example.

Each track has a volume slider (often called a fader) and controls the decibel level of everything sent to that track. And yes, you can have more than one instrument track sent to a single mixer track.

Above the fader are the mute and solo buttons, the name, and the tracking number. Right-click to see the options for the track. Last is the effect chain, which is unique to each track. But, the master would apply its effects to every track. So if you had reverb on the master, every other track would have reverb on it too.

You have them on and off buttons for each effect and the entire effect chain. You can add an effect with the button on the bottom. Right-click an effect to see the options and press controls to see the plugin. 


How to Make Music Using LMMS: Project Notes / Notepad

LMMS also comes with a Project Notes window so you can write down information about your project. It's got a lot of features for a notepad, and for some odd reason, it's super customizable. 


How to Make Music Using LMMS: Controller Rack

The last window in LMMS is the Controller Rack. However, its basics are an LFO (or low-frequency oscillator) that will change parameters over time.


That's it for this LMMS tutorial for beginners.