Opening FL Studio for the first time is like opening the control panel of a spaceship.
With so many features, learning how to use FL Studio can feel overwhelming as a beginner.
But making music isn’t rocket science.
All digital audio workstations are complicated on the first look.
But they’re simple once you understand the core tools.
Luckily for us, you only need to learn five parts of FL Studio’s user interface.
Once you learn them, you’ll have the foundation to create any type of electronic music.
In this post, we’ll be exploring these most important sections.
But first, here is an overview of how to use FL Studio to make beats:
- First, you’ll select your sounds and instruments in the Browser.
- Then you’ll create Patterns in the step sequencer.
- Next, you’ll use the Piano roll to input notes as MIDI.
- Then you’ll arrange your Patterns in the Playlist.
- Finally, you will use the Mixer to ensure your sounds mix well together.
This is the general process that producers use to make beats in FL Studio.
The rest of this post will cover each of these sections in more detail.
But before we begin, be sure to check this free training on sample selection. It reveals a simple test that identifies the perfect samples in 30 seconds or less (ignoring this lesson could ruin your beats).
Now, let’s get started.
Your first step is to locate the sounds you want to add to your project.
The Browser is like a search engine for your available audio tools.
You can find the Browser along the left side of the interface.
It contains all the available audio samples, generators and presets.
You can also import folders from your computer into the Browser. This will allow you to navigate the audio files on your computer within the Browser view.
You can also preview your samples directly in the Browser. Just click on its file name or navigate through your files with your keyboard arrows.
Once you’ve found the elements you want to use in your music project, you can add them to your project in the Channel rack.
Now that you’ve found the sounds you want to work with, it’s time to start using them.
The Channel rack is the core part of making beats in FL Studio.
It’s the main window you’ll be working with when you’re composing your music.
The channel rack contains your Patterns (created using the step sequencer), audio samples and plugins.
Each channel in the Channel rack represents a Sample channel, with its own properties.
You can mute and solo tracks, adjust the pan and level, and change the route of each track to the Mixer.
As you’ll see, the channel rack is where you’ll spend the most time making beats – especially the step sequencer.
The Step Sequencer
The step sequencer allows you to program patterns using a grid layout.
Here’s how it works:
Each Pattern in your project consists of individual steps, with each step representing a beat.
By default, there are 16 steps in each Pattern, indicated by the green and red rectangles.
By clicking one of the blocks, you activate the sample to play on that step. To deactivate a step, just right-click the block.
The step sequencer is great for programming drum kits and one shot sounds.
You can experiment with different rhythmic patterns, and swap your sounds in the Channel rack. This process helps you find the right combination of rhythm and sounds.
While the step sequencer is great for drum kits and rhythmic elements, you’ll need a separate tool for your virtual instruments.
Once you’ve established a rhythm for your beat, it’s time to develop your melodies.
The piano roll is where you compose and edit MIDI patterns.
It’s ideal for composing melodies and chord progressions, even if you don’t know music theory.
You would primarily use the Piano roll for virtual instruments (virtual pianos, guitars, synths, etc.).
And you can also use it to arrange samples using a sampler instrument.
The Piano roll comes with a separate set of tools to arrange MIDI notes.
You can insert notes with the Paint brush tool, drag them around with the Pencil tool, and slice them with the Slice tool.
You can also control the velocity, pan and length of each note for granular control over its sound.
Once you’ve arranged your notes in the Piano roll, the sequence will update in the Channel rack.
But wait – there are more creative uses for the piano roll:
You can also use it as an alternative to the step sequencer for drum samples.
The benefit of using the Piano roll for drums is the ability to fine-tune the length and pitch of each sample.
And unlike the step sequencer, the Piano roll allows you to add samples in smaller than quarter note increments.
Why is this useful?
Let’s say you want to create hi-hat rolls.
You can use the Piano roll to vary each note’s velocity and rhythm using tools that you could only find within the Piano roll.
But learning how to use the Piano roll has another related benefit…
The Piano roll has a lot of similarities with how you arrange your full track.
The Playlist will help you arrange your patterns to create the complete composition.
It’s where you sequence the elements from the Channel rack to create variety and structure in your beat.
Most electronic music today consists of the following components:
An intro, choruses, verses, a bridge, and an outro.
In FL Studio, the Playlist is where you would outline where each section begins and ends.
Once you create the Patterns for each section in the Channel rack, they become available to use in the Picker panel (far-left column).
Then you can use the Draw tool or Paint tool to add it onto a track in the Playlist.
You can create as many tracks as you want, and arrange the elements on the Playlist however you like.
This part of the process is completely up to you.
The Playlist provides complete flexibility to arrange your project.
Some producers prefer to skip the compositional process in the Channel rack, and build the full project in the Playlist.
This method would allow you to use many of the same tools from the Piano roll to create the composition.
But whichever approach you choose, you’ll find that the Playlist provides complete control and flexibility.
Once you have arranged your Patterns in the Playlist, you’ll want to ensure that all the elements sound good together.
This is where you would need to adjust the sound of your arrangement in the Mixer.
The Mixer is where you will fine-tune each sound so that everything comes together smoothly.
Here’s how it works:
Each sample in the Channel rack routes to a channel in the mixer. And each channel contains its own parameters.
You can use the Mixer to adjust these parameters.
This includes the channel’s volume, panning, routing and effects.
With effects, you can get even more creative with sound design.
For example, you can add reverb, echo, delays, and more to a channel.
Also, here’s a quick tip:
For better organization, be sure to rename and color each track in the Mixer. This will help you become more efficient while working on your mix.
As you develop your mix, you’ll begin to find sounds and combinations of parameters that you want to save for later.
You can save your channel settings as presets so you can use them again in another project.
This will help you streamline your workflow as you continue to learn how to use FL Studio.
Developing your workflow
Ultimately, making music is a unique creative process.
While there is no single way to produce in FL Studio, these general guidelines will help you to develop your own workflow.
And as you gain experience with FL Studio, you’ll develop habits and processes that help you make music consistently.
To recap, here’s a quick process for how to use FL Studio:
- First, explore sounds in the Browser and add them to the Channel rack to sketch out ideas using the step sequencer.
- Next, tweak your Patterns in the Piano roll, and arrange them in the Playlist.
- Finally, mix your musical patterns in the Mixer to ensure that your composition is balanced and harmonious.
Start with this framework, and you’ll have the foundation to create any type of electronic music in FL Studio!
Here’s an Easier Way to Chop Samples in FL Studio
Would you like to chop samples in FL Studio without purchasing additional software? And would you like to know how to get the perfect slices every time?
Now you can do both.
I found a simple hack that allows you to easily slice samples in FL Studio. I documented the entire process in a special report.