Learning FL Studio and Cubase Essential

I’ve been spending virtually all my spare time on these two bits of music software. I’ve been using both of them for years, but only a limited part of their capabilities. Now I’ve upgraded both and am setting out to expand what I can do with them. Since I’m supposed to be a ‘learning professional’, I find it interesting to reflect on how I learn (and don’t learn). My conclusions:

I can’t learn from a manual. The FL Studio Bible lists comprehensive details of every feature, every dial, every slider. But I don’t know what I want to know. So it’s only useful when I’ve decided a particular instrument or effect is going to help. Without examples I can’t decide that. Where it has been useful is in answering questions I have with the parts of the system I’ve been using already.

I like a step by step tutorial. I’ve found a few on the web, with titles like ‘How to layer hip hop drums in FL Studio’. They give you instructions, explanations of why you’d want to do this (including what the finished article should sound like), and audio examples of what it should sound like at each step. I prefer it in text / pictures form.  Many more are in video form, and I can watch them but can’t retain the details, so they’re not so helpful to me.

I have the benefit of a local expert in FL Studio, my son Plague.  But watching him is like watching a video speeded up. He absolutely whizzes through it and while he has some patience for my faltering questions, he exhausts it  eventually and can’t see what I find difficult.  He himself has built up his knowledge in two ways: just messing around, surprising himself with what comes out and – conversely – trying to recreate exactly the soundtracks to games he likes. He never reads the manual or any tutorials. Being unemployed he has days (and nights) to spend on these, and so he’s now an expert. I have a couple of hours at most, am too impatient to try to recreate anyone else’s music and too focused on creating the stuff I hear in my head to want to spend long experimenting. But my main problem is retaining the knowledge. What works for me is to get Plague to show me a very simple operation, take notes and try it repeatedly on another night when he’s not around (sometimes using the manual for more explanation). Then next time he is, ask him why it’s not working (this amuses him no end).

So I learn not by free experimentation but by building up something small  following a structure, then applying it to my own songs.