FL Studio Tutorial Series: Lesson 5 – Using the Piano Roll

Welcome to lesson 5 in the FL studio’ tutorial series.

In this lesson and lessons to follow we’re going to explore how to move beyond the programming limitations

of the step sequencer by using the piano roll.

In this lesson, we’ll specifically cover how to add notes,

adjust note lengths and generate chord structures

in the piano roll for this lesson be sure your step sequencer has a channel with a drum sample

loaded in it as well as a channel with a multi-note instrument.

In our previous lessons,

we covered how to create patterns using the step sequencer.

The step sequencer, however, limits us in that we can’t create notes smaller than the step regions

for this more detailed programming, we need to go to an area where we have more advanced options.

To get to the piano roll click the view piano roll button here or right-click on the channel name and choose piano roll,

the piano roll opens and we can now see a grid with a keyboard bordering the left-hand side, first let’s understand the grid we may need to zoom in or out for easier viewing first by going to the zoom time control left-clicking and moving up or down to zoom in or out on the grid area,


Then go to the snap to grid button and choose beat, you can see that the section from the vertical lines labeled 1 to 2 is broken up into 4 columns which are our beats,


If you go back to the snap to grid button and choose step you see 4 columns now appear in each beat creating our step regions,


Before creating a pattern it may be helpful for us to go to the drop-down menu on the piano roll and choose helpers to view note helpers,

this adds contrast to the grid allowing you to see which rows of steps are for the Black Keys and which are for the white.

Let’s begin creating a pattern by selecting the draw tool and then we can add notes in the step areas by left-clicking, notice they emerge as greenish blocks.

To remove a block hover over it and right-click or for larger sections of blocks choose the delete tool and sweep to the left or right,

if the notes you add are longer or shorter than the step blocks you can resize the blocks to fit the regions one advantage to the piano roll over the step sequencer is that we can resize the note links if you mouse over the far sides of each note you should see an arrow pointing left and right,

holding left click-drag the side of the note to shorten or lengthen it, using this method you should be able to resize the notes into the step regions.

What if we now wanted to program notes shorter than steps, returned to the snap to grid button and choose one-half step,

now our grid has eight columns per beat and we can add notes which will at first still be the length of our steps but we can now shorten them to fit the half step regions,

in this method, I can get two notes to playback to back in the time of one step,

I could go further with any of the other many options under the snap to grid menu even getting one fourth and one six-step notes for rapid drill type beats or rolls.

I’m now going to switch to a one fourth step grid,

remove my previous half step notes and then add and shrink one note to the correct 1/4 link.

Now that I’ve set the length I want I can choose the paint tool and then brush in the notes close together one after the other,

using these micro notes in rapid succession it may be a good idea to adjust the velocity of the notes to make them not all the same volume resulting in a machine gun sound,

for this, we’ll use the levels that are at the bottom of the piano roll.

First, make sure you’re seeing the velocity levels as there are other options by going to target control and choosing note velocity it should then say velocity here,

next, you’ll need to go down and adjust the levels under the group of notes so that the volume of the notes gradually increases to the volume of the other notes, there should be a level for each note

that you can adjust manually or you can hold right click and adjust them all in a step type structure by dragging across and up from letting right-to-left,


You can now close the piano roll and look at your step sequencer, notice that the channel has lost its rectangles and is now showing the score

we created in the piano roll go to the piano roll for the multi-note instrument you’re using.

In programming a multi-note instrument you can create patterns in the same fashion and you can easily create melodies by moving the notes to the row

of the desired key on the keyboard, you can also use the smaller note links to create unique variations that we could not achieve with just the step sequencer,


we can also program chords by right-clicking on the pin tool and selecting a chord or scale,

any clicks now added on the piano roll had a full chord instead of notes.

Thus ends our first lesson on using the piano roll.

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