Learning DAW-based composition from scratch

Months pass without my having enough energy to do anything with hardware. I’ve noticed that the one thing I can still do is handle a mobile device. The Orba MIDI controller has been a roaring success, it works well with my mobile phone and I’m beginning to see light at the end of the tunnel.

I’ve got a DAW that I’m pretty happy with (Presonus Studio One) but it’s simply not portable so while I’m still learning the basics of DAW composition and mixing is less than ideal. So I went in search of a DAW that would work on my mobile phone.

I’m still open to suggestions, but meanwhile my favourite is Roland Zenbeats. I bought a device unlock for that, which opens up lots of resources, but honestly I could have been fairly happy with the free version. It’s not a toy. It’s available for both Android and iOS (and you can apparently run it on Windows and OSX but I think that’s a comparatively expensive licence.)

Edit: the Zenbeats YouTube channel is good as an introduction.

There is much to learn. The main advantage here is that I can always have a functioning DAW with my current work in my pocket. Any time I do have the energy, it’s there with me. Here are a few screenshots showing the user interface as it appears on my phone screen (Moto G5S).

I’ll try to keep a log of my progress in this thread. Anybody else learning composition or mixing using any DAW, or with any advice, please post here.


Maybe we need a new category for topics like these: “Look Mum, Computer” :laughing:


What about,
Look Mum No (But Slightly More than Sam) Computer :rofl:


In over a year we’ve managed very well with few major category changes. I think this topic fits well into the Everything Else category. All that lovely analogue hardware will end up being mixed for recording eventually, and a DAW is a useful tool to have in the box.


I wouldn’t expect you’d get very far on a phone. I’m a big Ableton user, but it gets sluggish even on my fairly recent MBP if I’ve got more than a few synths/VSTs going.

I used to use FL when I was a kid, but found the window management a problem once tracks got a certain size. My friend turned my onto Ableton and I haven’t looked back, it’s really quite good software.

I have a few Ableton related projects:

Free orchestral instruments:

My template file:


My current plan is to take something relatively simple like Pachelbel’s Canon in D and use it to explore the principles of DAW composition. I don’t think this will tax my phone unduly, though there are certainly severe limitations to the format.

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I use whatever is to hand for ideas but Studio One is where I master.
Im slowly getting more into Ableton but im one of these sad musicians who get the whole thing dumped in my head to clean off rather than build up from a single thread so the whole performance capture side of ableton still eludes my workflow. I was given a novation button thang that’s still on a shelf - any ideas where to start?

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Do you have a Novation Launchpad?

I converted mine into a guitar, and it’s my favorite way to play music:

It was a bit too complicated for me to use as an Ableton-controller, but just as a pure MIDI controller with guitar-style mappings, oh man, it’s so much fun. I don’t really know how to play the piano though.


went into guitar center 11 years ago and said I needed a program for recording and something with instruments ended up up with reason 2 and the current cubebase version at the time . never upgraded the cubebase but I am on ver. 11 of reason which you can record with and control midi now . something I am looking forward to but haven’t tried yet is using the sequencers in reason to control the modular stuff [ midi to cv ] .


guess the big thing you get with a DAW versus no-computer is parameter automation, so you can create sweeps, risers, filters, etc., which gives “parts” to songs, rather than just patches and randomness.

Does it have filters? A “master” channel which you can apply compressors to?

Other than MIDI note entry and composition, you could explore mixing instruments togethers with the appropriate notch filters, high passing your trebels and low passing your basses, then creating a master chain with your EQs and final compressors.


Yes the launchpad. I had an idea of using it as a chord keyboard (like the hex ones etc.) But it’s sat in the pile for a long time now.
I’ll take a look one day. Thanks for the link.


Yes, it has filters (or at least, audio effects and sends, which are things I want to learn about.)

I also looked around to see if I could apply compression to the Master, and I hope this answers your question:

Edit: by the way I did this short session while walking down the street. This is why I love my little phone.


Ah, nice. I didn’t expect it to have sends, that’s interesting. It’s pretty simple, it’s like putting one effect on multiple different instruments at once. You can also have different sends for different effects, for instance, you can send a sound to a delay and a reverb on different sends, so the initial sound will be reverberated but the delay echos won’t be.

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I expect I’ll run into limitations soon enough, but meanwhile I’m looking forward to exploring the MIDI capabilities. Yes, it does have a learn mode.

Edit: just remembered that I have a Korg NanoKontrol2 which I think will be great for playing with this DAW. It even has a cute little travel case so I can take it anywhere.

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Yes, it has parameter automation, which seems to be quite extensive. I was playing around with that last night.

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As another suggestion to use on a computer: I am all new to this, but I opted for Reaper. The reason is that their business model is very fair (pay nothing/60€/more for professionals) and it runs on Linux! Reaper also has extensive tutorials, a detailed handbook and a very active community. The download is tiny and it supports all kinds of plugin formats, even on Linux. Of course, it has all the expected DAW features. So far, I have been quite happy with the choice.


What I value in a DAW is the possibility to record and manipulate controller values in an easy way. A sequence often ends up where half of the midi events are note events and the other half are controller values that change the settings of my synths or sample players and effects in the DAW during the track. The rest of a sequencer’s functions can often be found in any other sequencer as well, so those are of less importance to me.


As I suggested, programming a relatively simple piece (Pachelbel’s Canon in D) has helped me to learn how to navigate the controls. One thing that seems to be missing here is a staff notation display. The note editor is the most fiddly part of the interface but I’m learning fast.

I’ve currently got three parts, the ground bass and the first two violin parts, and I’m entering the first six bars. Each loop displayed here (the tinted squares) is two bars because that’s how the ground bass loop works. I’ve duplicated the ground bass to the length of six bars, added the first two bars of the first violin and duplicated that phrase to the second violin which comes in at bar 5. I just need to enter the second phrase for the first violin in bars five and six, and then I’ll have fully captured the first six bars.

I’ve just noticed that I could import MIDI but I’ll stick with the note editor for now because I need to become proficient in that.


It’s been a while, but finally this afternoon I had some spare time and I familiarised myself with the controls. I found how to tweak a chamber strings preset so that it produced a very usable solo violin sound. I saved that as a track template called Solo Violin so that I can start a new violin track at any time by loading that template. You can also save your own patterns, which could be useful if you have a sequence of notes (or chords) that may need to be used frequently.

This is quite limited in its capabilities, because my phone is relatively old and cheap. So if I produce a piece with too many parts the player has lots of dropouts when you play, making an unpleasant crackling noise. Rendering still works well, though, so you can produce an audio file (flac and wav are among the supported formats) and it’ll play nicely on any hardware with enough resources.

This is all new to me, even though it may sound like fairly humdrum stuff to others. Having a DAW on my phone means I get a lot more hands on experience than I ever did with a DAW based on a PC, simply because of the convenience of a handheld device.

An old trick with DAWs and hardware constraints is to “render down” your parts to audio and load those audio clips back in, then build upon it.