The One Knob Method - How to Learn any Plugin, Tool, or Piece of Gear Quickly

Did you know that, way back in the medieval days, eating fresh fruit was considered to be potentially fatal?

According to medical science at the time, the mixture of "cold" and "moist" was enough to knock your humors off-balance and cause excessive, and potentially very deadly, "organ chilling."


Warning: super deadly according to 11th century science

This was especially true of melons, the moistest and coldest of all fruits. To combat this, wrapping melon in prosciutto became a thing - the saltiness of the meat helped prevent getting frigid organs, you see.

Thankfully, nutritional and medical science have come a long way since then - but only through an extremely gradual and experimental process over centuries.

As sound designers, when we want to learn something new - especially fancy new toys like synthesizers and plugins - we also need to take a gradual and experimental process to our learning.a

Ironically, though, this focus and gradual learning will actually prevent things from taking centuries - in fact, using the One Knob Method, we can learn any synth, plugin, or new piece of equipment super quickly.

The One Knob Method is pretty simple

And that's why it can work so well. We simply need to focus on one tiny function of whatever synth, plugin, or gear we're working with at a time.

And I mean extremely tiny.

Instead of focusing on learning what every knob, setting, and filter of Native Instruments Massive does, we would instead focus on a single knob's function for that entire day's practice.

Yes, a step like that sounds laughably tiny

And that's exactly why it's so effective. Instead of trying to learn everything and getting nowhere over and over, we instead master tiny chunks of our gear and very quickly reach fluency.

Granted, this process takes more focus than just diving in, but the gains are infinitely quicker, especially if we're working with a completely new tool.

So this is how we can get started using the One Knob Method™™™

Let's say you have a new shiny plugin that you just got, or one that you bought ages ago, but never got around to learning.

Every day, spend 5-15 minutes learning one TINY feature.

Focus on something so small that it's absurd to you. You should be thinking "it'll take me no time at all to learn what that does!"

If that's the case, then that's perfect.

Let's use Serum as an example

Considering it's such a ludicrously good, powerful, and widely used synth.

When you first launch Serum, it looks like this:


Xfer Serum’s default state

Whether we're new to the world of audio, or if we have tons of experience, we'll still need to do some digging to make sure we can use this tool well.

So instead of just shrugging, scrolling through presets, and poking at it, hoping that we'll eventually get it, let's start one step at a time.

Maybe right now, we'd focus just on Oscillator A

And if we're pressed for time, maybe all we'd do is turn the Unison setting up and down for 30 seconds, just to see what that does.

After that, we can call it a day, or keep going for a few extra minutes.

Odds are we'd start feeling motivated, so we'd start adjusting the detune and blend knobs right next to the unison setting.

Learning just a tiny bit at a time makes things way more digestible

We may even (gasp) quickly read the manual for a minute or two just about those settings so we can get a deeper understanding of this one tiny part of the synth.

From there, we'd close it down, pat ourselves on the back, and repeat this procedure with another Serum function the next day.

Anytime you have a new tool to learn

This is one of the fastest ways to go about doing so.

Yes, it's a little more boring, but we reach fluency much faster, which leads to much more fun later on.

And you can use this with practically anything!

A new synth, DAW, plugin, camera, MIDI controller… anything that you want to become fluent with.

Start with a small part of the tool (smaller than you might think) and master what that one little thing does. Do this daily for 5-10 minutes and you'll be shocked at how fast you learn how to use your shiny gear.


"But Akash, you double-rich slab of chocolate fudge," you ask "doesn't this get rid of play and experimentation?"

That's what's so interesting about this process. You may start by focusing on just one tiny knob, button, or slider, and then realize that 45 minutes have passed and you've been experimenting and having fun the entire time.

When we master a tiny aspect of anything, it brings us a huge hit of that delicious dopamine, which, of course, makes us want to keep going and keep learning.