Modular Concepts & Let's Build an Everything...
Two tutorial series, showing modular ideas and practices in Bitwig Studio.
In Modular Concepts, we will look at universal ideas in sound synthesis and programming.
As The Grid (and Bitwig Studio itself) are good places to try out concepts and see them visualized, this should be helpful to anyone interested in digging deeper, no matter your preferred tools.
Each episode in the Let's Build a... series starts with an idea, and then we make it in The Grid. As with any sound design process, the task at hand provides structure, but creative impulses may lead us off the beaten path. Please put on the goggles; the workbench is ready for action.
Jump to your favorite part here.
Modular Concepts: Basic Modulations
This tutorial explores basic control signals, a core building block of patching. Starting from the default Poly Grid patch, we explore using envelopes and LFOs to manipulate pitch, both individually and together. With an understanding of how these generators work, you could apply them successfully to any type of parameter. As in any modular environment, modulations are what make any patch in The Grid dynamic and alive.
- 0:13 - Default patch at a glance
- 1:10 - Two basic modulation signals
- 2:27 - Using a pitch envelope
- 4:09 - “Attenuator test” when using notes
- 5:06 - Pitch LFO for trill
- 6:05 - Pitch LFO for vibrato (and glissando)
- 8:00 - Joining streams: vibrato that fades in
Let’s build a... Synthesizer
This tutorial constructs a basic synthesizer. Taking a classic approach of three mixed sound sources, we explore oscillator detuning, amplitude vs. filter envelopes, waveshaping, modulation, and even injecting audio samples. A good example of turning an idea into a new instrument in Bitwig Studio and The Grid.
- 0:30 - Just one oscillator to start
- 1:11 - Source 2: another oscillator and mixer
- 1:51 - Two sources with pitch & frequency offsets
- 3:09 - Adding a filter...
- 3:42 - ...and a filter envelope
- 5:13 - Source 3: noise generator
- 5:41 - Separate noise envelope (local vs global control)
- 7:01 - Source 1 gets a waveshaper (local vs global control) and modulation
- 8:27 - Crossfading source 1 & 2
- 9:37 - Source 4 is... a Sampler!
Modular Concepts: Phase, a Matter of Timing
This tutorial explores phase for driving step sequencers and animating sound. We start by looking at Bitwig Studio's default tempo-locked behavior and then manipulate phase signals to create interesting relationships.
Phase is a uniquely powerful idea, which is why it is central to The Grid and worth getting comfortable with.
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- 0:28 - Pitch, timbre, loudness… and phase
- 1:19 - Driving the DAW
- 2:00 - Trigger-driven model via Ø Counter
- 2:55 - Phase pre-cords make things moving
- 3:34 - A few phase processors
- 5:58 - Manipulating a synth sound
- 7:06 - Going polyphonic
- 7:38 - Breaking down a phase signal
- 9:02 - An LFO to drive phase
- 10:48 - Scaling phase with each note's velocity
Let's Build a... Sequencer
This tutorial builds a sequencer. Starting with the idea of a simple drum sequencer, we explore Device Phase and its pre-cords, event sequencing, using a global clock at multiple rates, alternating envelopes, simple phase modulation (with oscillators and noise), light waveshaping, and modulators. Because in The Grid, not all instruments require notes.
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- 0:15 - What is an instrument?
- 1:15 - Build the first drum element
- 1:43 - “Device Phase” via pre-cord
- 3:04 - A second drum element
- 3:33 - One global clock, plus processing
- 5:48 - Third element as hi-hat...
- 6:48 - ...that’s occasionally open
- 8:47 - Fourth element as bass
- 10:03 - Plus a Pitch(es) sequencer
Modular Concepts: Musical Maths
While math is everywhere in sound synthesis, it doesn't always ask for attention. This tutorial looks at three examples: making a patch velocity-sensitive, seeing how low-pass filters relate to amplitude, and using comparators to make a looping envelope.
By lifting the veil on a few simple ideas, take The Grid (and any modular environment) to a new level.
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- 0:08 - Math: it's all around us
- 1:10 - Logical functions too
- 2:05 - Task 1: Velocity as an amplitude control
- 3:24 - Level Scaler for range
- 4:03 - Using decibels is nicer
- 4:32 - Task 2: What is a low-pass filter?
- 5:45 - LPF makes things slow...
- 6:22 - ...now we can slow other signals
- 7:20 - Lag is a filter set in time
- 7:55 - Task 3: building a looping envelope
- 8:43 - Talk thru how this should work
- 9:13 - When the envelope reaches zero...
- 9:48 - ...AND the note is still held, retriever
- 10:39 - Details, like routing feedback...
- 11:10 - …merge the triggers with OR...
- 11:57 - ...and short logic signals help OR work
- 12:50 - It loops! Go crazy!
Let’s Build a... Distortion
This tutorial builds a distortion. As though at the workbench together, we cover various methods of distorting a signal and then combining them in parallel. We explore pre-gain, Audio Out’s clipping options, waveshaping and “Bend”-ing signals, wavefolding and quantization, and splitting signals by frequency and polarity. The options are limitless within The Grid.
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- 0:36 - Time for FX Grid
- 1:33 - Common distortion formula
- 1:48 - Audio Out always has clipping settings
- 2:54 - Start with Clip-ing
- 4:18 - Shaper time, such as Distortion...
- 4:59 - ...or even Bend
- 6:26 - Wavefolder, for extra cycles
- 7:04 - Quantizer, for reducing resolution
- 7:51 - Math of a simple crossover...
- 9:02 - ...for treating lows & highs differently
- 10:10 - MinMax, for splitting at zero...
- 11:34 - ...for treating the sides differently
- 12:14 - FX Grid can use notes too
- 12:40 - This works for pre-cords...
- 13:04 - ...or any parameter, with Modulator Out
Modular Concepts: Perspectives on Pitch
Describing any sound involves pitch, so manipulating frequency and pitch is critical. In this tutorial, we examine various pitch controls, see how note pitches are used by Polysynth, and create an FX Grid patch that sets the sample rate of audio with incoming note messages. With a solid foundation, you can build anything.
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- 0:08 - On the nature of pitch
- 1:27 - Pitch ratios, keyboard tracking, and offsets
- 4:27 - Stereo “frequency” detuning
- 6:28 - Pitch outside The Grid, by keytracking Polysynth
- 7:57 - Set cutoff at the 2nd harmonic
- 8:36 - Filter envelope amount, in semitones
- 9:33 - FX Grid finale, using note pitch input
- 10:06 - Keytracking a filter effect
- 10:36 - Sample rate degrader...
- 12:16 - ...with note pitch setting sample rate
Let’s Build an... Arpeggiator
This tutorial builds an arpeggiator. Starting from the idea of cycling thru each note that is held down, we investigate pitch control via signal, domain scaling, pitch quantization techniques, building a change-detection circuit, and tweaking phase and timing for a stereo arpeggiator. Approach building in The Grid like any sound design task — start with a known target and find unique ideas in the journey.
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- 0:17 - Common arpeggiator controls
- 1:55 - Controlling pitch by signal
- 3:27 - Scaling a pitch signal
- 4:31 - Landing on all semitones
- 5:46 - Landing on select semitones
- 7:33 - Landing on played semitones
- 10:05 - Building a change detector, for discrete triggers
- 12:18 - Randomizing velocity
- 14:12 - Twisting phase for a stereo arp...
- 15:23 - ...or stereo timing and range
Modular Concepts: Feedback
It isn't always a “happy accident,” but when feedback is done intentionally, rich and changing sounds can be found. In this tutorial, we use Bitwig's powerful feedback options in the regular Delay and Reverb devices, explore oscillator feedback in Phase-4, and then create feedback in The Grid for some creative instability. Processing a signal over and over again without it ever repeating; (can be) a lovely thing.
- 0:14 - Feedback, a (potential) force for good
- 0:59 - Delay allows FX/plug-ins into the feedback loop!
- 1:56 - Changing things each loop makes feedback interesting
- 2:35 - Stereo delay and feedback sound design example
- 3:07 - Reverb exposes feedback too
- 4:49 - Synthesis feedback with Phase-4
- 6:40 - Per-note modulation of feedback
- 8:13 - Switching to The Grid…
- 9:06 - Creating feedback connections in The Grid with Long Delay
- 11:27 - Logic Delay, for time-shifting envelopes, etc.
- 13:36 - Pressure In, for poly pressure / MPE
- 14:13 - Modulator Out, to use any signal as modulator
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Let's Build a... Repeater
Making an audio repeater is so interesting and fun that we build it once in The Grid and once with standard devices, touching off small discussions along the way. Topics include basic delay structure, using Hybrid tracks for notes + audio, turning any Grid signal into a modulator, and the power of Bitwig's Chain and Selector devices. Because making new sounds in Bitwig Studio leaves the power in your hands.
- 0:29 - Making basic delay architecture
- 2:15 - The logic of an audio repeater
- 4:22 - Merge + Lag for crossfades
- 5:31 - Hybrid tracks allow notes and audio in parallel
- 6:50 - Using notes (via Key On) to change repeat times
- 8:58 - N-Latch, for applying one trigger at a time
- 9:50 - Sum (Σ), to merge signals together
- 10:41 - Starting over with regular devices, like Delay-1
- 12:20 - Chain device, for global modulations here
- 14:09 - Drag-and-drop for modulator routings
- 14:45 - Keytrack, for pitch-based modulation
- 16:30 - The Selector devices, with note-triggered modes
- 18:28 - An FX Selector for the nested Feedback chain
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Modular Concepts: Synthesis World Tour feat. Polymer
If you are shaping sounds, you are using synthesis techniques. And lucky for us, the Polymer instrument makes it easy on both sides of our brain. This tutorial runs thru six — SIX! — kinds of synthesis with the assistance of Bitwig's modulator devices. It is Polymer's world; we just live in it.
- 1:17 - An overview of Polymer
- 2:54 - Pulse waves are predictable!
- 3:51 - Stop 1: Pulse Width Modulation
- 4:46 - Interesting textures, that even get quiet!
- 6:11 - Stop 2: Phase Distortion
- 6:54 - Morphing shape and keeping the fundamental!
- 8:32 - Stop 3: Hard Sync
- 10:27 - Miami Vice! Hammer time!
- 12:02 - Stop 4: Phase Modulation
- 17:21 - Stop 5: Wavetable Synthesis
- 18:33 - Ramp modulator to read/loop each note!
- 19:54 - Stop 6: Unison Techniques
- 20:30 - Wavetable has its own unison modes!
- 22:51 - Every oscillator has stereo detune!
- 23:45 - And Swarm has eight voices of unison fire!
Let's Build a... Crossfading Synth
This tutorial breaks down three methods for creating a crossfading synth, which is a synth that blends between different tones and timbres. The journey takes two audio sources, then makes them control sources in an FM-style synth, then makes them four sources, and finally swaps out the sine carrier for a morphing Wavetable. The final result became the seed of a patch included in our Crossfading Synths sound package, “Genesis.” You can also read a step-by-step text and image version of this tutorial here.
- 0:34 - Starting with two audio oscillators
- 0:52 - Swap our Mixer for a single Blend control
- 1:42 - Everything is polyphonic. Hurray!
- 3:32 - Two cables, and our oscillators are modulators now
- 5:05 - Swap our Blend for up to eight Merge signals
- 7:00 - Crossfading with a polyphonic control signal
- 7:41 - Okay, a stereo polyphonic control signal
- 9:00 - And now the Sine is a morphing Wavetable
- 10:30 - Trying out different wavetables — or import your own
- 11:35 - Yeah, time for a stereo step sequencer. Duh.
- 12:59 - Two different x-fade controls
- 14:10 - And Wavetable is a crossfading synth
Modular Concepts: Note Signal Flow
Audio is nice, but note signals speak. In this new addition to our Modular Concepts video series, we explore some differences between audio and note processing. We also discuss how to categorize Bitwig Studio's 30+ Note FX, and then we find musical uses for them. Let the generating begin — because in Bitwig Studio, notes are signals.
- 0:17 - Audio signal flow vs Notes signal flow. Fight!
- 3:33 - How to think about Note FX devices
- 7:27 - Note Repeats, animator of hi-hats
- 8:27 - …with Patterns for creating Euclidian note ribbons
- 11:06 - Dribble, bouncer of lines
- 12:04 - …plus Note Filter to musically land our phrases
- 13:58 - Echo, tape looper for notes
- 17:21 - …which can turn shifting repeats into dancing timbres
- 18:31 - Ricochet, maker of harmonies
- 19:56 - …or creator of CV bass lines (sup, Eurorack)
- 21:13 - Arpeggiator, enforcer of timing
- 22:05 - …with Randomize for expression variety
- 23:39 - …turned by Note Length into a line generator
- 24:59 - …then Note FX Selector for polyphonic note creation (read: music!)
- 26:15 - …and a little Key Filter for compatible harmonies
Let's Build a... Stewart Copeland
If we want to program hi-hats, why not aim for the best? Our road to approximating The Police's drummer, Stewart Copeland, starts with the Arpeggiator, allowing us to hold down a few keys and generate a flurry of notes. Then we give that note stream sample variety and velocity controls. Finally, we use modulators to add double time jumps that are more likely at the end of each bar. Yes, you could paint your notes, but once you can perform, you can produce too.
- 1:21 - Start with Arpeggiator, for regular notes landing on the beat grid
- 3:10 - Chain, to make this an instrument/preset with proper controls
- 3:33 - Randomize, to sometimes slosh to other samples
- 4:50 - Velocity Curve, to visually randomize note strengths
- 5:33 - Note Length, to push the velocity center up and down
- 6:41 - CHALLENGE: Randomize double-time with a percent control
- 7:09 - Button modulator, to set a precise target value
- 9:13 - Macro modulator, to bias/offset our modulation
- 11:24 - So three modulations at 100% → a perfect “Chance” Macro
- 12:07 - Bonus LFO, to “fill” at the end of each bar
- 15:01 - Review our controls
- 15:41 - Play more notes to produce… fewer notes? LET THERE BE RESTS.
- 16:12 - Route the note FX output to 2nd track, then record both the performance and the result
Modular Concepts: Polyphony
Yes, polyphony means we can play more than one note on a synth, but as with many fundamentals, Bitwig takes it further. In this episode, we see polyphony in action and then move to The Grid, where audio signals can last forever and polyphonic audio FX can separately process each note. Note Grid can do both, accommodating note processor and generator paradigms. 🧬🤯
- 0:19 - Voices exist in instruments… and in Bitwig's Grid devices
- 2:01 - Polyphony (more than one voice) means voice management
- 2:45 - “Digi Mono” (two overlapping voices) also manages voices
- 3:31 - “True Mono” is on all the time. Like electricity. Try to stop it. You can't.
- 4:22 - Managing polyphony in The Grid
- 6:03 - Poly Grid as droning, drifting fun
- 7:02 - FX Grid can make polyphonic audio effects. Woah.
- 10:06 - A band-pass filter can help isolate voices
- 12:37 - Note Grid case 1: note processor → polyphonic
- 13:55 - Using sustain pedal (via CC In) to alter our notes
- 15:18 - When poly, Chance randomizes each voice
- 16:56 - Note Grid case 2: note generator → True Mono
- 18:22 - 2 Triggers + 1 Merge = polyrhythms
- 19:05 - Logic signal behavior, and how to change it
- 22:11 - Attenuate to… change rhythmic complexity. Duh.
Modular Concepts: Voice Stacking
Voice stacking is a special Bitwig feature for multiplying and shaping notes and more. In this episode, we'll look at classic “unison,” and then dive into voice stacking and how to use it. We'll see audio FX and note FX that use voice stacking (thanks to The Grid), and we'll close by remixing the factory grand piano so it loops forward and backwards, simultaneously. Come get familiar with voice stacking, another Bitwig difference.
- 0:15 - Polyphony sets your playable voices and behavior
- 0:51 - Voice Stacking duplicates each triggered voice and puts easy modulation in your hands
- 2:05 - Good ole unison, a way to thicken oscillators by copying and detuning them
- 5:22 - Voice Stack Spread ± sets any parameter's range for all stacked voices
- 7:43 - The Voice Stack modulator offers more options, including manual mapping
- 4:49 - Synthesis feedback with Phase-4
- 9:45 - …or Value mode, for setting one step that perfectly scales…
- 10:49 - …OR just manually map each voice to make it #perfect
- 13:35 - FX Grid + voice stacking = multiband filtering or more
- 15:12 - Note Grid + voice stacking = layers of modulated notes
- 16:22 - Check the “Three Sisters” preset, where each note triggers all three Sampler modes
- 18:05 - Challenge: Turn the multisampled “Grand Piano” into a pad
- 19:21 - First, edit all zones to loop and crossfade
- 20:18 - Second, make Start and Length loop-scanning macros
- 21:22 - Third, Dynamics is fun when backwards — let's hear the air
- 23:43 - Finally, voice stack the sampler and spread the speed ↔︎
Let's Build a... Powersynth
Synth design time. We've got modulators, polyphony, voice stacking, and creative FX paths… but where to start? Let's walk thru the sound-design process, talking about the choices as we make them. This powersynth is modeled after the “Destitution” preset, which can be found with other warm-hearted synths in Bitwig's “Perfect Drift” package.
- 0:27 - Check out the warm sounds of Perfect Drift, including today's inspiration, “Destitution”
- 1:30 - … but it starts with a blank Polysynth
- 2:36 - Modulation starts with the built-in filter and its envelope
- 3:25 - A polyphonic LFO can push the waveshape
- 5:33 - How about unison, for 4x each of our oscillators
- 6:15 - Let's think: what parameters might we modulate?
- 8:54 - First, each note's velocity can adjust various envelope speeds (and filter FB)
- 10:15 - Second, a new envelope to animate oscillator Blend (with velocity moving the maximum)
- 11:43 - Third, use Keytrack to give low notes Drive, and high notes some Noise
- 13:34 - And fourth, with voice stacking, each note can trigger multiple oscillator Blend modes
- 15:34 - Exploring the harmony-crushing/-enhancing quality of distortion
- 16:59 - Bitwig's nested device chains mean: powerful signal routing, and even inserting anything into a feedback loop (!)
- 20:22 - When is a volume knob fun? When it sets itself.
- 21:51 - Easy Macro mapping for building top-level controls
- 23:24 - Finally, Random will be unique for each note in a voice stack
Modular Concepts: Mixing
Mixing is central to all audio work, including sound design and synthesis. And a good mixer offers unique features and, well, sounds good. In this episode, we cover many universal concepts (gain-staging, wet/dry blends, pre-/post-routings, etc.), while seeing Bitwig's special powers and hidden treats. Once you know your mixer, you might just make it an instrument. 🎵🎚️🎚️
- 0:15 - Sound design is built on mixing
- 1:36 - Mixing can also borrow sound design ideas: modulate the mixer and project-level animation
- 3:01 - Workflow tip: Exclusive solo to save clicks
- 3:58 - Workflow tip: Solo as Cue to balance better
- 5:53 - Topic 1: GAIN STAGING (where to put volume adjustments) matters
- 6:55 - Bitwig's gain expressions give you visualised pre-gain control
- 7:51 - Polyphonic note gain creates moving FX textures
- 11:38 - Gain controls are also poly, meaning every instrument can do AM
- 15:08 - Topic 2: WET/DRY (balance) is just gain. And sound design.
- 16:53 - Nesting FX within the Chain device = elegant Mix structures
- 18:32 - Topic 3: PRE vs POST for independent FX control
- 22:04 - Twist: What if our mixer...was a synthesiser?
- 23:44 - Project modulators can control everything
- 26:23 - Some Euclidean rhythm animating the lead sound
- 28:43 - With FXs feeding back into each other, the mixer is an instrument
Let's Build An... Ambient Set
Making ambient involves rethinking music, which helps us see our DAW and mixer in new ways. In this video, we'll make rhythms that are free, note sequences that are happily jumbled with clip blocks, random granular textures, drones that are moved by sound, and minutes-long automation that can touch the whole project. Let's walk thru a music-making process and see Bitwig's secret powers in action. 🌊🦸♀️
- 00:00 - Introduction
- 0:40 - Trying a rhythmic synth that feels a little free
- 3:12 - Ambient = Reverb, and Flanger+ with Convolution is better than another $450 guitar pedal
- 4:22 - Sampler goes granular to find atmosphere from any audio file
- 6:56 - Voice stacking means randomized layers
- 14:44 - Recording a linear musical line, then breaking it into smaller pieces
- 16:44 - With next actions and clip blocks, arrangement logic comes to the Clip Launcher #indeterminism
- 21:51 - One track can even hand out notes to other tracks, keeping only one playing at a time
- 24:52 - Using modulators to change the sound of a track whenever another track is active
- 27:28 - Getting rid of notes completely with a droning, always-active Polymer…
- 31:30 - …and putting it on an FX track, so mixer sends are now doing phase modulation and PWM (duh)
- 36:32 - Modulators and controls from the project-level can touch all tracks and elements
Modular Concepts and Let's Build a... are ongoing tutorial series. Check back soon.
May 27, 2020