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How to Use LFOs Creatively for a Better Mix

Preview of youtube video

LFOs. If you’ve been ignoring them, you’re out of the loop.

No, I’m not talking about the British techno group from the 90s.

I’m talking about Low Frequency Oscillators in synths, effects and free VST plugins.

You need LFOs to introduce complexity in your track. They automate certain pulses and sweeps and give a rhythmic quality to your sounds.

It sounds more complicated than it is. Don’t worry!

Start experimenting with LFOs to give your mix a whole new layer. Here’s how to use them right:

LF…Oh! 

Before you start using them you’ve gotta know what they are …

LFOs are sound waves that vibrate at much lower frequencies – less than 20 times per second (so below 20 Hz).

“In very simple terms the LFO makes things wiggle.” – Dean Friedman

That’s less than what your ears can hear. (Humans can usually hear between 20 Hz and 20,000 Hz. Wanna test that?).

In other words, LFOs don’t make sound. They make sounds move. As Dan Friedman says: “In very simple terms the LFO makes things wiggle.”

Why would you need a signal that you can’t hear?

LFOs aren’t routed to the audio path. If you tried to do that you wouldn’t hear anything (maybe an elephant would).

They’re not used as sound sources – they’re signals used to modulate other sounds.

LFOs are not used as sound sources – they’re signals used to modulate other sounds.

So you’ll hear an LFO only indirectly through how it affects other sounds using the LFO parameters you tweak.

Ready to get freaky with that low freq oscillator? Good. Let’s start.

Invite LFOs to Your Party

  1. Select an instrument or parameter that you want to affect in your DAW.
    For example: I used the ‘Analog’ synth in Ableton.
  2. Go to the LFO section of your instrument or effect.
  3. Start by experimenting with the settings of the LFO. You can control how much (the amount) and how fast (the rate) the LFO modulation happens.
  4. Choose the wave shape of the LFO (sine, square, triangle, sawtooth, or noise) to hear different patterns.

Watch this video for a complete walkthrough with examples:

Preview of youtube video

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LFO on the Amplifier (amp)


When you modulate the amplitude of a sound (the volume). It’s called a tremolo effect.

LFO_AMP

Here’s how it sounds:

LFO on Effects

Try automating certain modulations when applying LFOs to effects.
Apply an LFO to a filter and you will modulate the timbre of a sound. It’s called filter modulation.

It creates a ‘sweeping’ effect as the filter cuts or boosts certain frequencies.
LFO_FILTERb

Here’s how it sounds:

Try using LFO on the stereo panning of a sound (put your headphones on if you haven’t already).

The Auto Pan in Ableton uses two LFOs, so just play with the amount, rate, phase and shape.
LFO_PAN

Here’s how it sounds:

Make LFOs Your Own

LFOs are good for all kinds of effects not just on synths. Experiment and find out how they work best for you.

Maybe you wanna use LFOs to slowly affect a sound or multiple sounds at once. Or try using multiple LFOs on a sound.

There’s no ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ when it comes to LFOs.

Check out a full course on synthesis principles taught by this goofy dude.

(Bonus points for the not-so-funny jokes and the 80s aesthetic).

lfo_B_1200x627

No matter how you use them, LFOs will create movement and the impression that the sound has a life of its own.

LFOs: Part of Your Toolbox

If you’re wondering what’s missing in your track to make it come alive, the answer is LFOs.

If you’re wondering what’s missing in your track to make it come alive, the answer is LFOs.

They’re the silent secret weapons that unlock new levels of possibility.

LFOs are the answer to getting too stuck to the grid. They shake things up, make things move and groove.

They’re the first ones to hit the dance floor at the party.

Understanding LFOs and experimenting with them will make you a better producer.

So add them to your toolbox and use those low frequencies to reach new heights.

Leticia Trandafir

Leticia is a lover of acid basslines and hypnotic techno. She DJs and produces under the name softcoresoft. Writer at LANDR.

@Leticia Trandafir

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