Skip to content
How to Create Complexity to Your Sound Using LFOS

How to Create Complexity to Your Sound Using LFOS



- Hello, this is Luca, and welcome to another SampleSound music production
tutorial. In this video we will focus on LFOs and how to use them to add variation
and complexity to your music.
- When it comes to techno, and loop-based music in general, it is crucial to have
variation, to build an evolving and organic sound: loops are by definition
repetitive, and that’s cool, but if you don’t have the right amount of variation over
time, they just become boring.
- So, today, we’ll see how to use LFOs, both inside and outside synthesisers, to
achieve this.
The Basics of LFO Modulation
- LFO stands for ‘Low Frequency Oscillator’: an ‘Oscillator’ is a device able to
produce a continuous cyclic waveform at different ‘speed’, or frequency. ‘Low
Frequency’ means that the produced frequency are below the human hearing,
which is around 30 Hertz.
- These ‘slow’ waves can be used to modulate, or change the value of parameters
in a synthesiser, like the Filter Cutoff (…), the Volume also known as Tremolo
effect (…), or the Pitch also known as Vibrato effect (…).
- This is pretty standard and I’m sure you have heard about this before. What is
less common is using LFOs in Samplers to add variation to rhythmic patterns -
let’s have a look.
- We have this hi-hat loop (…) - it’s very static and robotic, all the notes are the
same. Now, let’s switch to the Controls page of the Simpler, and switch on the
LFO: we set the Shape to Sample&Hold, which means a random value is selected
at a given rate. Then we assign the LFO to the Volume, and what we get is a very
nice alternative to Velocity modulation
- It is very important to have this ‘R’ button On. This is the Re-Trigger function,
which resets the start of the LFO every time a new note is received. With a S&H
shape, this means that every single note is played at a random different volume.
- We can also assign the same LFO to the Filter Cutoff, which means that the Filter
will move its position at at every note. Or, to the Pitch to get some weird effects -
just make sure the Amount of modulation here is quite low.
- This is a really nice trick to add some random variation to hi-hats and
Modulate anything with MaxForLive
- But, what about if I wanna modulate a parameter that is not available in the LFOs
destinations, like the Volume Decay? Actually, what about if I wanna modulate
ANY parameter in a Live set?
- Well, luckily there’s MaxForLive: if you have Live 11, there’s a device in the Audio
Effects simply called ‘LFO’ - if you have a previous version, you will find the same
in the MaxForLive category. This device allows you to assign a low frequency
modulation to ANY parameter available in your Live set.
- Like a standard LFO, we can select the waveform (we select Random here) - we
have the Rate, which is the speed of the LFO, and its value can either be left in
Hertz OR syncronized to the song BPM.
- There’s no automatic Re-Trigger function here, so we will just syncronize the Rate
in 1/16ths and assign it with the ‘Map’ button to the Volume Decay of Simpler.
- Then we set the Sustain to minimum, and here we go: every note will have a
different envelope. We can also adjust the range of the modulation, with this
minimum and maximum percentage
Polyrhythms and Multiple Modulations
- This technique can also be applied to audio loops: here we have a low-end
percussive loop (…), we can put some audio effects on it like the Vocooder, and
then the LFO. (Btw this device doesn’t affect the input in any way, so you can put
it anywhere in the chain!). We Map the LFO to the Dry/Wet, select a Sawtooth
Down waveform, then set a syncronized rate.
- If we use less common Rate values 3/8ths, 1/3rds, 5/16ths, we can achieve some
nice polyrhythmic effects, which are veeery useful, especially in minimal techno:
(polyrhythms is when you have two or more layers of rhythm playing at the same
time, one of which is ‘irrational’, meaning that is not 2,4 or 8) Why is this a
polyrhythm? Well, we have a pattern in 1/16th notes, with a 5/16th rhythmic effect
over it.
- We can now also add some Smooth, to get a nice rounded shape and avoid
glitches (…) and also some Jitter, to introduce some randomness in the LFO
signal, always with the goal of adding variation and character to the sound.
- Another super-cool feature of Ableton’s LFO is that it can be assigned to multiple
destinations: for example we can Map the LFO also to the Formant parameter,
then individually adjust its min/max range. We can Map many other parameters, I
mean, the possibilities are endless here…
- *
- Let’s do the same thing, but with Ableton’s Auto-Filter - we have this Synth
sound, which again is quite static (…), and we drag the AutoFilter on the channel.
This effect has a built-in LFO here on the right - so we close the low-pass Cutoff
a bit, we select Sawtooth Down, increase the Amount of Cutoff modulation just a
bit - then switch from Hz to Syncronized Rate, and select a triplet Rate value, like
1/3rd or 1/6th (…). You can hear that it’s definitely adding another layer of rhythm
to the sound
“Subtle” Modulation and Chains of Modulation
- But LFOs don’t always have to be about fast intense rhythmic modulation: it can
also be a very slow and soft variation, to make the sound evolve in a more subtle
way. Plus, different modulations can be added to the same sound to get more
interesting results.
- So we add another AutoFilter to the same track, Sine waveform, very low Rate
value like 0.5 Hz or 6, 8 bars, and add a tiny bit of Amount.
- You can hear that we now have this very slow movement, the sound gets darker
then brighter over time, and this really adds something to the entire song.
- Another cool idea is to use this kind of slow modulations to modulate other LFOs!
Like, if we go back to that hi-hat channel, we can add another sine LFO, set a
slow Rate, then Map it to the Offset of the first LFO: now the modulation signal
itself will slowly change, moving from high random values, to low random ones.
Complex M4L LFOs
- Obviously Ableton’s LFO is not the only device we can use for this purpose: in the
MaxForLive world, there’s loads of options, very complex LFOs with all sorts of
features. I will just quickly mention a device which I particularly like which is
LFOH! (with the H) by K-Devices.
- It basically adds a lot of advanced features to Ableton’s LFO, especially a Swing
function which is really cool: if we increase the Swing value, one period of the
waveform gets shorter, while the other gets longer - something that is not
possible with classic LFOs
- In this case I have applied it to the Reverb Diffusion parameter to get some kind
of side-chain effect. But I can also use it on the Size, to get some weird sci-fi
- On this LFOH, you also have a Bend parameter to curve the shape of the signal
(…) , and also this button which enables to quantize the waveform: so you can
get a steppy modulation, rather than a continuous one - very cool for this kind of
special fx - it now sounds like rain or something…
- Again, there’s plenty of MaxForLive developers out there, so you can just go have
a look and you’ll find so many alternatives
- So we have come to the end of today’s video! We had a look at how making your
sound more complex, organic and evolving by using LFOs in Ableton Live.
- We have analysed different types of LFOs, with the common goal of adding
variation to our music, something that is usually quite hard to manage when using
MIDI or pre-made loops.
- We have learned how to think outside the box when it comes to LFO modulation -
by using Sample&Hold or Random waveforms, by applying it to unusual
parameters thanks to MaxForLive LFO, by playing with polyrhythms, or using very
slow modulation, multiple LFOs on the same channel, and even by using an LFO
to modulate another LFO.
- So, I hope you enjoyed today’s video - thanks for watching, and I’ll see you next

Cart 0

Your cart is currently empty.

Start Shopping