Using FL Studio's Riff Machine

What do you do when musical inspiration temporarily deserts you? Load up FL Studio 11 and get playing with the Riff Machine is what! Gary Hiebner gets generating melodies with this fab tool.  

Ever have those moments where you're trying to write some tunes and the inspiration just isn't there. Well that's where FL Studio's Riff Machine really comes in handy. It's a tool that generates melodies from within the Piano Roll, and works really well to inspire riff ideas for your songs. Let's take a look at how to use this tool and incorporate it into your productions. 

Step 1 '" Program a Simple Pattern

To get to the Riff Machine, first open up the Piano Roll (F7). Now go to Tools > Riff Machine. The Riff Machine will create a channel with the Sytrus instrument inserted on it. 

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When the Riff Machine toolbox comes up you'll notice that notes have already been generated by it. This is because all the settings have been activated. But to get a better idea of how each choice works, go in and disable each tab. So for example click on the Prog tab, and click the red button next to Step 2. Go through all the other tabs after the Prog tab and disable them. Then go back and enable to Prog tab, so it's the only active tab.

With the Prog tab, you can create simple note progressions in the Piano Roll. This progression is determined by the pattern chosen. You can choose different patterns in the Pattern section. Click on the folder, and choose different progressions to hear how they sound.

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Under Options you can choose to multiply the number of notes in the piano roll with Time Mul, or try adjusting some of the parameters in the Level section for different results on the note progression.

Step 2 '" Turning Your Single Note Progression into Chords

Now let's add some chords to this progression. Enable the Chord tab, and you'll see and hear how extra notes have been added to build up chords to the pattern. Like with the Prog tab you can choose between different patterns.

What I like is tweaking the Time Mul under Options. This will create different chords amongst the intervals in the measure. Drag this all the way to the right for long sustained chords, or pull it to the left to break up the chords for more interesting chord patterns.

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Step 3 '" Arpeggiate that Progression

Or how about adding some arpeggiation? Just do this by simply enabling the Arp tab. You can select patterns or determine how the arpeggaitor is reacting under the Options. You can flip or alternate the Arp pattern, or increase the range for an arp progressions that spans over a wider octave range. This can also be flipped or alternated. Time Mul works much the same way as in the Prog tab.

But what really works well is to decrease the gate parameter to introduce some gated notes or chords to the riff. And there are different ways to sync the appeggiation. It can be synced to the time of the project, to the block/grid, or the chords for different variations on the arpeggiator.

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You can also flip the pattern in the Mirror tab. What is different about this tab is that it can be flipped horizontally or vertically. Try it out for some real interesting results on your riff. Or click on the Random button for randomized flips on your notes.

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Step 4 '" Add Variance with Levels and Articulation

The Level and Art tabs are great ways to add some variance to the note levels and their articulation, giving a more natural sound to the riffs and imparting a sort of human element into them. Try out the Level tab first. Tweak these parameters until you get a sound that sits nicely with your pattern. I found it worked really well to add some humanization to the panning and velocity. Letting the pattern jump around a bit more and sound less static.

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Under the Art tab (and this is short for Articulation. At first I thought this was a tab where I could import images and artwork into FL, but afraid it's not). Multiply will lengthen the notes, where Gap will shorten them. And Variation will vary the lengths of the notes depending on how you have set the Multiply and Gap parameters.

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Also if you click the drop-down menu next to Options you have a choice of Legato, Portato, and Staccato.

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Step 5 '" Add in Some Groove

Another way to add in some variance is through the Groove tab. Enable this, and then try out some of the Groove template patterns. You can edit the groove start time, its duration and the sensitivity, which is the amount of groove that is applied to the notes. And next to duration you can choose how the duration of the notes are quantized.

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Step 6 '" Key Ranges

Key scaling works great if you want to conform your riff to a particular scale or mode (the Fit Tab) so that the riff plays correctly within it. For example, you can set the root note (the Key) to D and set the scale to Dorian. Now the notes will move themselves along the piano roll to conform to the Dorian scale in D. How cool is that! There's quite a selection of scale and mode varieties that you can use so try them out and hear how they can change up your riffs. Maybe give your riffs a Hungarian flavor with the Hungarian minor scale.

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Step 7 '" Throw the Dice

And last but not least, at the very bottom of the Riff Machine is a button called Throw Dice. By clicking this you will randomize all the tabs and parameters in the Riff Machine. This is a great way to get quick results with it. Hit the Throw Dice until you get a riff pattern that you like. And once you're happy with all the settings, click Accept to accept all the changes made, and then these notes will be printed to the Piano Roll. Even though this riff has been set to the Sytrus instrument, you can go in and change it to any other instrument you have available on your system.

So that's how to use the Riff machine to inspire ideas with your songs. You'll get those moments where you just can't come up with something that suits your song arrangement, and maybe the Riff Machine is exactly what you need. Try it out and see what it can bring to your songs.

For further FL Studio Tips and Techniques check out the following tutorial:

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


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