Tremolo Effect – What it Is and How to Use it in Mixing

The tremolo effect is one of many audio effects which you can use in your mix to bring some ear candy to the listener. Let’s talk the tremolo effect, what it is, and how to use it.

Tremolo Effect

The tremolo is a modulated effect, meaning it makes use of an LFO (see what is an LFO for more information).

tremolo effect

LFOs, or low frequency oscillators, are frequencies which occur below 20Hz, or below the range that we’re able to hear. Instead of making an audible sound, these oscillators (see what is an oscillator in music) affect different parts of a sound wave to change the sound in an evolving way.

Depending on which aspect of a sound wave they target, we can achieve a number of different effects.

For instance, modulating the pitch and timing of a sound wave via an LFO, you can create a phaser effect. Add in duplicates of the original source and you can add width via a chorus effect (see what is chorus).

In the case of the tremolo effect, we’re using an LFO to alter the amplitude of sound waves in real time. The amplitude of a sound wave determines its volume.

With a tremolo effect, the main variable which affects the sound is the speed at which we’re varying the amplitude or volume of our sound waves. Do it slowly and you get a smooth rise and fall of the volume, in and out.

Turn up the speed of the tremolo effect and you get a choppy effect as there’s a stark contrast between silence and full volume.

To hear a tremolo in action, listen to the beginning of Green Day’s hit single “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” which uses a tremolo on the guitar to achieve that effect:

How to Use a Tremolo Effect in Mixing

The tremolo effect isn’t something you’ll regularly find yourself working into your mix alongside more practical effects like EQ, compression, or even reverb.

Instead, you can use it to create some interesting aesthetic effects for a bit of ear candy for your listener to keep their attention.

The most common use of tremolo is on rhythm or lead guitar like in the aforementioned Green Day example. There are specific tremolo guitar pedals to achieve this effect, or even ones which mimic them in free tremolo VST form.

Again, we can vary the speed and intensity of the tremolo to create a smoother transition of the volume in and out or we can set it so that we get that stark difference of on and off to achieve that choppy sound.

It often sounds best on guitar (or the occasional vocal or other instrument) when we adjust the speed so that it’s in sync with the BPM of the song itself.

You might also try using this effect in your entire mix bus for a very short stretch to create more contrast or anticipation.

For instance, using tremolo on a connecting bar following the first chorus going into the second chorus can help to reset the energy. We can also use it at the end of a verse or prechorus to bring down the energy before coming in hard on a chorus.

Instead of using it on the entire mix bus you can just use it on your drum bus in the same way, giving the drums a choppy artificial feel to change the energy of your song in that moment.

Whether you’re using it on a track level or sparingly on a larger aspect of the mix, tremolo can add that extra ear candy to keep your mix refreshing.

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