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How to Use FL Studio

What is FL Studio?

FL Studio by Image-Line is a piece of music production software, used to create, edit, mix, and record audio and virtual instruments.

Known as a DAW (digital audio workstation), FL Studio is a great program for making music and sound design. 

Fruity Loops has been used by many famous producers from Deadmau5 to Skrillex and more. It’s great for making hip hop, EDM, and electronic music.

Compared to other DAWs, FL Studio is beginner-friendly and relatively simplified. Although it still has an expansive set of tools and is used by professionals.

This tutorial explains how to use FL Studio, breaking down each important feature

Table of Contents

  1. The Top Bar
  2. Overview of the 5 Main Sections of FL Studio
  3. The Browser
  4. The Channel Rack
  5. The Piano Roll
  6. The Playlist Section
  7. The Mixer

FL Studio Tutorial

#1 The Top Bar

fl studio top bar

The Top Bar is part of the FL studio Interface where many important functions are found.

Within the bar, there are several sections of grouped buttons, utilities, and information displays.

Most of the important controls are placed in this panel. This is where other windows including Playlist, Rack, Audio Settings, Plugin Manager, and the Mixer can be opened.

The Menu Bar

fl studio menu bar

The Menu bar in the top left corner contains 8 tabs, each with a drop-down menu. The menus give access to several important features in FL Studio.

The Hint Panel sits below the menu bar, it displays information related to any button the mouse is over.

The 8 tabs are:

  • FILE: for saving, opening, or creating new FL projects. The export command is located here, which allows the project to be rendered to an external file. Projects can be exported as WAV, MP3, OGG, FLAC, MIDI, or Video.
  • EDIT: contains commands for Undo, Cut, Copy, and Paste.
  • ADD: new virtual instruments, synthesizers, samplers, midi, and audio effects can be added to the project from this tab.
  • PATTERNS: This presents options for editing, creating, and managing patterns in FL. Patterns are to arrange sounds in the playlist.
  • OPTIONS: This opens the various options and settings windows in FL. Settings for Audio, MIDI, File, and the Plugin Database are found here.
  • TOOLS: This provides access to smart tools in FL studio including Macros, One-Click audio recording, and the Control Creator.
  • HELP: Gives access to the help index, my account details, troubleshooting diagnostics, and the FL web store.

Master and Transport Controls

Transport controls are used for playing, pausing, stopping, or recording.

fl studio master and transport controls
  1. The Master Volume knob is used to control the volume of the entire FL Studio project.
  2. The Master Pitch knob simultaneously changes the tuning of all sounds in cents. This is a fun way to play with the pitch of your track. Pitching down sounds is a technique used commonly in hip hop.
  3. The Song Position Slider is used for jogging the playback position (playhead) through the project.
  4. PAT/SONG switches between pattern or song play mode. Pattern mode will loop the selected pattern. Song mode loops the entire project.
  5. Play and Pause. Press play to start or pause playback.
  6. Stop
  7. Record Arm engages recording for automation, audio, clips, and score.
  8. The BPM Control changes the project’s tempo.

Recording and Editing Buttons

fl studio recording and editing buttons

The recording and editing buttons are used for changing settings related to recording, editing, and the metronome in FL Studio. Understanding how these works are useful for musicians who use overdubbing, pre-roll, and punch-in/out recording techniques. 

Most of these buttons can be right-clicked to access additional settings.

From top left to bottom right:

  1. Metronome. Toggle metronome click on/off.
  2. Wait for input to start playing. This is a useful function that Plays a project when it detects audio or midi input. Useful for recording when you’re alone.
  3. Countdown Before Recording. Gives a 1 or 2 bar count-in before recording starts.
  4. Blend Recording (Overdub). With this enabled, new midi notes will be overlaid on existing notes of a pattern. If disabled it will record over any previous notes.
  5. Loop Recording. When the end of the selected time area is reached, the recording jumps back to the start.
  6. Typing Keyboard to Piano Keyboard. No midi keyboard? This lets users create music using a QWERTY keyboard just like a piano. 
  7. Scroll to Time marker. The playlist will scroll with the playhead.
  8. Step Editing mode
  9. Enable note/ Clip Groups
  10. Multilink to Controllers. Used to control parameters with external hardware. MIDI Settings may need configuring before.

Pattern Selector

fl studio pattern selector

Patterns are a core part of the FL Studio workflow. They can be created and saved for later use or duplicated across the project. All the actions that can be performed on a pattern are accessed through this menu. Including moving, finding, transposing, coloring, cloning, deleting, splitting, or adding to the browser. The Quick render as audio clip function is a powerful tool for resource efficiency. It renders patterns to an audio clip, which uses less CPU and RAM as floating virtual instruments. There is also a quantization control to the left.

Window Buttons

fl studio window buttons

The final section at the right of the top bar contains window buttons, resource usage, and some other tools.

The window buttons act as open/close toggles for the various windows in FL.

There are buttons for Playlist, Piano, Channel Rack, Mixer, Browser, Project Picker, Plugin Picker, Tempo Tapper, Touch Control, and Web Store.

The resource display panel shows information about CPU and RAM usage. Keep an eye out here for overload.

The monitor window displays an overview of the frequency spectrum from the master channel. This is accompanied by a peak RMS meter for monitoring master levels.

#2 Overview of the 5 Main Sections of FL Studio

Browser

5 Main Sections of FL Studio

The browser is the main organizational tool of FL Studio. 

This is where all the effects, instruments, samples, sample packs, and presets are stored for quick access.

The browser groups different items into categories.

You can create your folders for different projects or groups of samples and instruments.

Any virtual instrument patches can be saved here as presets. Saving presets helps build a unique, personalized library of sounds for later use.

Items can be dragged and dropped from the browser into their respective window. For example, fl studio plugins or effects can be dragged from the browser directly to a mixer track.

The search tool at the top is very useful for finding things. This saves a lot of time menu diving through folders.

section of fl studio

Channel Rack

fl studio channel rack

The Channel Rack is a simple step sequencing tool. It allows you to create patterns for triggering loaded samples as a single instrument per sample. This is a great way to create drum beats, including a kick pattern, or full breakbeat. This style of sequencing is one of the production techniques favored by a lot of hip-hop producers. Mostly thanks to its speed and intuition. 

The controls in the top right. One sets the length of the pattern. The graph editor allows changes to be made to velocity, articulation, and other parameters.

Piano Roll

fl studio piano roll

The piano roll is a full track editor for MIDI note information. Click View in the menu bar, then select Piano RollPiano rolls allow music producers to write the music for virtual instruments, synthesizers, and samplers.
This is how melodies and harmonies are created.

Notes can be drawn into the grid. These notes will trigger the attached synth or instrument.

  • There are several tools for the roll. These are the same for the Playlist view.
  • The Draw tool lets notes be added by clicking and dragging the mouse.
  • The Mute tool deactivates a note, so it won’t be heard. It doesn’t delete it though, so can be reactivated later.
  • The Zoom tool makes the selected area fill the screen for detailed editing.
  • In the Delete tool, click items to remove them. This can be undone using ctrl+z.

Playlist

fl studio playlist

The Playlist is a timeline used for arranging samples, midi loops, and any virtual instrument loaded to a channel rack.
This is like the “Macro” arrangement of a track. This is where the producer can lay together all their pieces of a track and arrange it into a cohesive progression. Automation clips are also arranged here to control effect parameters or modify audio recordings over time.

There are several tools for the playlist.

The slip tool is used to move clips around the playlist. The chosen snap settings will determine how the patterns move.

The slice tool is used to cut patterns or audio up into multiple sections. This is great for chopping audio clips and making fills from patterns.

The paintbrush tool will create a new instance of the loaded pattern wherever it is clicked on the grid.

Use the Select tool to highlight groups or a single pattern for editing.

Mixer

fl studio mixer

The mixer is a section dedicated to crafting and shaping the sound of your beats. This is where much of the mixing process is performed.

Here you can access volume and pan settings for mixer tracks. Each audio channel has dedicated controls and plugin insert slots. You can add effects to each channel and fine-tune the final mix. Many music production techniques involve crafty work on the mixer, so it’s worth learning inside out.

There is a separate section for the master channel. Any effects here will be applied to the whole track

#3 The Browser

How do I input my own sounds into the browser?

We have a more detailed tutorial explaining how to import sounds to the browser. Check it out here.
One simple method: drag and drop folders from your computer desktop into the browser. Their location will be stored.Alternatively, choose View in the toolbar, then File Settings. Here you can add folder locations that get added to the browser. These folders are updated any time a new audio file is added to the folder. This is the best way of organizing samples and sample packs in FL studio.

How do I get sounds from the browser into my track?

There are two ways to get sounds from the browser into a track.

One method is dragging samples from the browser into the playlist window. Audio files can be dropped onto the timeline and arranged.

The other method involves the FL Studio Channel Rack. Simply drag and drop a sample from the browser into the channel rack, just below the last track. This will now be loaded to the rack as a new instrument track to be sequenced with the step grid.

sounds from the browser

It depends on which way you prefer to work with FL Studio. Some people prefer using the playlist view over the channel rack.

#4 The Channel Rack

Getting to grips with the nuances of Channel Rack is key to making killer beats in FL Studio.

There’s more than meets the eye to the simple grid. The Channel Rack is a powerful Step Sequencer with tools for automation and manipulation.

Mute, Pan, and Volume Knobs

mute button in fl studio
  1. Mute Control: Use this to silence a channel in the rack. A green light indicates the track is active.
  2. The pan knob sets how far left or right the sound appears in the stereo field. Use the pan knobs to add interest and space to sounds. 
  3. Is the volume knob. Use this to change how loud each channel is.
  4. Is Target Mixer Track, which sets routes audio to the mixer as described below.

Mixer Channel

The “Target Mixer Track”, control assigns the track to a particular channel on the mixer. 

You can use this to group sounds together, by sending them all to the same mixer channel.

For example, if this indicator displays “1”, the audio signal is routed to the first mixer strip.

An example of a creative way to use this feature would be to create a drum bus. Assign the same channel number to all the drums and percussion instruments. Now any effects placed on the mix track will be applied collectively to all routed signals.

Step Sequencer

fl studio step sequencer

The step sequencer is where patterns are drawn in to trigger sounds.

Left-clicking engages the step, right-click disengages. 

Engaged steps will be triggered rhythmically in sequence. The grid is a 16th note division.

More steps can be added by either clicking the greyed-out area or expanding it with the length control in the top right corner.

Piano Roll instruments will display green lines instead of steps. These represent the midi information drawn for the sound.

Channel Parameter Editor

fl studio channel parameter editor

The channel parameter editor gives controls for finer details of the rack. It includes settings for velocity – which controls the volume of each step, pan, and other modifiable parameters. 

This is used to add movement, depth, and dynamics to a beat. Without changing the volume, beats programmed in this sequencer tend to sound a bit robotic. Each step has its own setting for the various parameters. This can be used to make beats sound more progressive and interesting, for instance adding ghost notes on the snare drum.

Add VST Instrument

If you want to use FL Studio with VST instruments, you will first need to add plugins in the plugin manager window. 

Options > Manage Plugins

Here you can specify any folders that FL Studio should scan to reveal plugins. Navigate to a virtual instrument you want to use, and drag it onto the channel rack. A new track will be created on the step sequencer, containing the virtual instrument. FL Studio can also use loaded instruments with the piano roll. For a full tutorial on how to add plugins to FL Studio, check out this post!

#5 The Piano Roll

The piano roll is used for writing melodies, harmonies, and chord progressions. 

It works as a midi editor, where users can add, stretch, and delete notes. A lot of music production involves piano roll editing so it’s worth getting familiar.

Using the Piano Roll for Percussion

Piano Roll for Percussion

Any samples or instruments loaded onto the channel rack can be programmed by the piano roll.

Simply right-click the device on the rack, and select the piano roll. 

It will now display a piano roll, showing different instruments and their associated midi.

This way, midi rhythms can be programmed that are not confined by the 16th note grid of the sequencer.

Using the Piano Roll for Instruments

To use the piano roll for an instrument, first, add a virtual instrument from the browser. 

Open the piano roll, either from the window button menu or View. Or right-click as above.

Once the piano roll is open, use the various tools to draw and edit notes. Press play to listen back to the sequence. 

Use the playback tool to scan up and down the midi arrangement to check your work quickly.

Edit Buttons

edit buttons in fl studio

There are various buttons located at the top of the window. Each button activates a different tool. The tools’ functions are described by their names, further details are given in the Hints Panel at the top left of the screen.

Fl Studio includes controls for snapping and quantization which are located here. This helps to remove any mistakes or inaccuracies from the performance.

#6 The Playlist Section

Pattern/Song Switch Button

The pattern/song switch changes what is selected for playback.

In song mode, the entire project, all mixer channels, and instruments will be played. It loops at the end of the song.

In pattern mode, it will only play the selected pattern or automation clip. This is a quick way to focus on an individual sound, separate from the rest of a mix. It’s similar to soloing it on a mixer channel.

Adding a pattern to your track

Any patterns made in the pattern manager will appear on the left of the playlist. These can be dragged into the playlist to arrange a track. The selected pattern can also quickly be added to the timeline by clicking whilst in paintbrush mode.

fl studio synth fx

Editing icons

fl studio editing icons

The editing icons at the top left of the playlist window provide access to various editing tools in FL Studio.

Adding Multiple, Different Patterns to the Playlist View

Adding Multiple, Different Patterns to the Playlist View

In FL Studio there is a crafty shortcut for adding multiple patterns to the playlist at one time.

Simply Shift+Click or Cmd/Ctrl + Click all the patterns to be used, then drag them to the timeline. This will create a new instance of all the selected patterns.

To summarise what we’ve learned so far…

At this point, you should be able to create beats and patterns and structure them in more complex arrangements in the playlist. Understanding these processes is the basics of music production and arrangement.

#7 The Mixer

The Mixer

The mixer is used for changing the volume, pan, and processing of sounds and channels. Learning how to use the mixer is essential to make your music sound professional. Understanding will also enable you to add much more creative flair to your music work.

Sending sounds or instruments to mixer channels

sending sounds to mixer channel

FL Studio allows flexible routing of channels to different mixer tracks.Sounds must be sent to the right channels in the Channel Rack or Playlist. Use the channel rack “Target Mixer” control to designate the output track.

Mixer channel levels

Mixer channel levels

The mixer channel level control sets the output volume of a mixer track. Click and drag the fader up and down to affect the volume. A graphical display will show the level as the sound plays. 

Avoid clipping the mixer. This is where the signal is too loud, and goes into the red and distorts.

Aim to mix most sounds at a peak of around -12dB.

Pan control and mute

Pan control and mute

The pan control sets the placement of the track in the stereo field. Using Split track mode, the left side and right side can be changed independently. 

The mute toggle completely silences the output of the track. Use this when mixing to temporarily silence an audio track. The mute is the circular green indicator.

Volume fader

Volume fader

The volume fader is used to adjust the output level of the mixer track. These are used to mix down projects so all the levels are balanced. These faders can be automated, either manually or recorded in real-time.

Additional controls

There are important additional controls for record arming tracks, creating auxiliary send and return tracks, grouping tracks

Adding effects to a mixer channel

FL Studio comes with many fun and exciting effects. To add an effect to a track, simply drag it from the browser, onto the mixer track. Clicking on a track selects it, displaying any inserted effects to the right of the window.

Conclusion

That covers most of FL Studio’s important features. To make the best songs it’s worth learning music theory, this will help with writing music. There are many great YouTube videos explaining music theory concepts.

We have plenty of more specific guides for FL Studio, including HOW TO X – Link.

There are several versions of FL Studio. The trial mode can be used for free. Producer edition is the most popular version, with 82 instruments and effects. Buy FL Studio Producer edition for £152