How to Build a Layered Instrument in Logic Pro

Layering synths or sampler instruments can make fatter sounds, and also add sonic variations to your songs. In a few simple steps in Logic's Environment, Gary Hiebner creates a huge layered instrument  

Logic is an expansive DAW. Even after using it over a period of years, I still find new ways of going about tasks in this interesting piece of software. With the current state of music productions and the level of intricacy involved, layering of instruments is a must-know task for your productions. Using 2 or more different forms of synthesizers together can really improve the tonal quality of your productions. This can be done easily in Logic by making use of Logic's Environment and using its virtual cables to connect the instruments together. Some of you may be skeptical and are thinking, what is easy about the Environment? Trust me, it will only take a few steps and then you will have your layered synth of attack. Let's jump into Logic and see how this is done.

Step 1 – Choose Your Synths

Layering is an interesting technique where you use different elements of different sounds and combine them together to form a bigger and more rounded sound. This helps one take advantage of each sound source and build up the sounds together to create a 'mammoth' sounding synth or instrument. For example, you could blend the lower registers of a sine wave synth with the upper harmonics of a FM synth to create a hybrid synth. 

Sometimes the adding of multiple synths in your projects can take up valuable screen space. I will show you how combining these synths into one multi-instrument in Logic can give you back some much sought after screen real estate.

I am going to build up a layer of four different synths. Each synth will have a particular quality to its sound compared to the other synths. Layering these together will create an interesting assortment of sounds and timbres.

For the first synth I have chosen the EVP 88 Electric Piano and have programmed in a MIDI pattern. 

EVP 88 MIDI pattern

I have chosen the 'Suitcase V2 Phaser' preset, which uses the SuitcaseMkI piano model.

EVP88 Settings

The next synth that is up is the ES2. I have activated the 3 oscillators. Each oscillator has a different waveform assigned. I have changed the tuning slightly on Osc 2 and Osc 3 to beef up the synth sound. I have then mixed the 3 oscillators together in the ES2's triangle mix window. Some slight Distortion and Chorus is applied to the synth to color the sound.

ES2 settings

The third synth will be the EFM1. An FM synth with harmonic partials will be nice to add to the layered multi- synth. I have gone for a plucked bell sound (the Plucked Bell preset).

EFM1 settings

The last synth is the ES1. I have created a simple Bass Sine sound and have introduced the Sub slightly on the Mix fader.

ES1 settings

Step 2 – The Processing Effects

Now for each track I can start adding different processing effects. I have inserted Channel EQ's on each channel strip and have tailored the EQ's so that the synths all sit nicely together. On the EVP 88 I have added an Overdrive to saturate the signal and an Exciter to excite some of the higher registers of the sound. On the ES1 I have inserted a Compressor to tame the bass driven sound. 

Afterwards I have also changed the volume on each synth so that some of the synths don't overpower the others.


Step 3 – Into The Environment

Let's jump into the Environment Window (Command-8). From the New menu choose Multi-Instrument. This will create a Multi Instrument object in the Environment. 


A dialog box will come up asking 'Do you want to Remove the channels port setting?', select Remove. 

Cable message

On the top right of the Multi Instrument you will see a triangle pointing to the right. These are the ports of the Multi Instrument. Click on this port and drag it to the first synth, the ES2. A cable will then connect the two instruments together. Repeat the same process for the other synths by connecting them to the Multi Instrument. 

Connect all channel strips to Multi-Instrument

The trick now is to be able to assign this Multi Instrument as a track in my Arrangement Window. I will explain this in the next step.

Step 4 – Moving the Multi Instrument to the Arrangement

Create a new instrument in the Arrangement Window. Now open the Environment Window and arrange the windows so that you can see both the Arrange and Environment Window. You can rename this Multi Instrument to something a bit more appropriate to your project. I have simply named mine 'Big Synth'. Select the 'Big Synth' Multi Instrument in the Environment and drag it to the new instrument in the Arrangement. This will replace the instrument with the Multi Instrument. Now you can view your Multi Instrument in the Arrangement Window. 

Multi-Inst to Arrange

Or alternatively you can right click the new instrument and select Reassign Track > Mixer > BIG SYNTH. Choose Channel 1.

Reassign track

I have moved the original MIDI pattern I programmed on the EVP 88 onto the 'Big Synth' channel strip. You can now hear the Multi Instrument playing all the synths at once.

Step 5 – Hiding the Other Synths

My Arrangement Window looks a bit crowded now with all these synths and the Multi Instrument. It's great that I can see all these instruments, but I only really need to see the Multi Instrument now. I can do this by hiding the other synths. On the top of the Arrangement Window next to the Edit Tab, is an "H" icon. This is the Hide icon. By enabling the Hide icon you will now see H icons on each channel strips. This allows you to choose which channel strips to hide. Click on the H on the synths except for the 'Big Synth' to hide them. 

Hide Button

Now the Arrangement Window looks a bit better. If I record enable this channel strip and play a pattern, it will trigger all the synths and play them simultaneously. Pretty nifty hey?

Hidden Synths


As you can see the Environment isn't such a scary place after all. Making use of the Environment gives you more flexibility on how your instruments communicate with each other. So get in there and start building some amazing layered synths in Logic Pro!

Gary Hiebner is an enthusiastic South African Sound Designer and Apple Tech Head! Gary has been involved in the South African music industry for the decade, and in this time has also been involved in the sound design and music production for many advertising agencies and media houses. Gary is a devoted Logic and Ableton user, but he al... Read More


Cool man
This is great I just wonder does this save processing power also?
Gary Hiebner
Thanks guys.

I don't think it will minimize the CPU load. The same amount will be used to process the different plugins.

But it is a great way to combine different software instruments together into one multi-instrument.
This is Great! I was wondering how to do this and now I know.
Gary Hiebner
Thanks Dean. Are you South African by any chance? Don't see the word Lekker come up all the time.
Great article, I wonder if possible to assign key ranges per instrument, as in Main Stage, and how do you specify the key range.
Maybe with layered EXS24 samplers works too, and each instance ont the EXS you could specify the key ranges, in the zone edit window.
Hey Gary
I lived in South Africa from 1977 to 1989 I used to play in a band called MI5 and played in Durban mostly.
I'm in California now doing mostly video and training at Apple.
Once again a great article.
Gary Hiebner
Thanks Dean,

I currently stay in Durban. Great to know there are some Durbanites at Apple, California.

Thanks for this great tip for a huge sound. Could you have used a Single Instrument cabled to each instead of the multi instrument ?

Gary Hiebner
Yes, you can use a single instrument as well. Didn't even think of trying out that way. But yes, it does work.
How would I go about assigning automation of, for example a high cut frequency in the EQ, to this layered instrument?
Gary Hiebner
You could do the following:

Unhide the Instruments tracks so that you can see them. Jump across to the Mixer Window.

On the Output of each channel send them to a Bus Output. I'd say choose Bus 1.

This will create an auxiliary channel with Bus 1 set as the input. Now all your synths will be sent to Bus 1. You can add an EQ onto this channel, and then automate the high cut frequency band. make sure to right click on the Bus 1 aux track in the Mixer Window and choose Create/Select Arrange Track. Now you will be able to see the aux track in the Arrange window.

Choose to show the Automation (shortcut = A), and now you can choose to automate the high frequency band of the EQ.

Remember to hide your synth tracks again so they don't clutter up your Arrange window.

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