How to Make Ambient Music

How to Make Ambient Music How to Make Ambient Music

While modern pop music may be mostly focused on lyrics and stories, ambient music is much more concerned with building intricate, beautiful sonic landscapes that don't necessarily have a predictable structure. Ambient music is enjoyed by a diverse set of listeners, and many producers use the many forms of this electronic subgenre to inspire other music.

Ambient sounds can differ so much from traditional sonic structures that it may be difficult to learn how to make ambient music if you haven't done so in the past. Fortunately, we've put together a comprehensive guide to help you build these amazing evolving soundscapes from the ground up.

Below, we'll dive into what ambient music is, how it works, and share a couple of tips and tricks to help you make your way into this unique sonic space.

What is Ambient Music?

Ambient music can be best described as a genre of music honed in on creating atmosphere or mood. Instead of vocals and lyrics driving the heart of songs, ambient producers layer sounds and textures, often creating with very little or no sense of beat. Ambient music uses interesting sounds and effects like reverb and panning to create a larger sense of space within a song.

Some might describe ambient music as a type of sonic wallpaper, where the music can be used to enhance feelings within a space, but won't necessarily take attention away from the initial presence of any given moment.

Ambient music doesn't necessarily have repeated themes throughout and often encompasses sounds that aren't always considered "instruments", whether that's field recordings of rain or white noise. This genre isn't defined in a singular fashion by any means, but its generally associated with slower tempos.

What is Ambient Music Used For?

This subgenre of electronic music is often intended to be soothing, dreamy, and vast. Sound design can vary greatly within the world of ambient music. It does not automatically demand your attention, but actively listening to it can put you in a positive headspace. Music can be interpreted differently from one listener to the next.

However, listeners often find that ambient music can be just the thing you need to unwind after a stressful day. Others may use the unique sounds of ambient music to guide introspection, or even meditate. Since ambient music tends to have minimal, if any beats, the genre might be a great tool for studying or focusing when you yearn to have some sort of sound on in the background. Conversely, some ambient music listeners might use the music as a sleep aid.

3 Famous Ambient Music Examples

Before we dive into how to make ambient music, it's important to have a sense of what it sounds like. Here are a couple of famous ambient music classics to spark inspiration:

An Ending (Ascent) by Brian Eno

Brian Eno is largely looked to as the "father" of ambient music. The cinematic An Ending (Ascent) remains one of his most popular works to this day:

It's said that Brian Eno was originally inspired by slow, classical music blending with the sounds of the natural environment.

#3 by Aphex Twin

Aphex Twin is known for his revolutionary creations across the entire field of electronic music. #3 pulled from the album Selected Ambient Works Volume II is full of some of the most atmospheric sounds that still hold weight today:

Treefingers by Radiohead

It's not uncommon for ambient music to inspire works well outside its genre. Alternative and legendary rock band Radiohead showcases an excellent example on how to create ambient music with their track Treefingers:

Since the dawn of ambient music, there have been several iterations that fall under the larger umbrella of atmospheric music. Sound design ranging from ethereal textures, peaceful soundscapes, to glitching atmospheres might all be present in modern ambient tracks.

Instruments and Sounds for Creating Ambient Music

To successfully create ambient music, you'll need to have the right elements. Here are some of the best sonic tools at your disposal to help you enhance your recordings:

  • Synths and Pads: Layering pads and synthesizers can create a full blend of sound that often works well in the vast soundscapes of ambient music.
  • Acoustic and Electric Guitar: Ambient music often uses acoustic and electric guitar washed out in reverb to build dreamy, immersive soundscapes.
  • Piano: Light piano or key melodies often find their way into ambient music, resembling the closest thing to a lyrical line in ambient music.
  • Drone: A drone sound or something that creates a persistent beat can create some cohesion across any otherwise loose soundscape.
  • Samples and Textures: A vocal sample can add some needed movement to an ambient track without breaking the reverent atmosphere. Adding sonic textures across the stereo field can create interesting results and contrast against repeated chord progressions or drone, keeping your listeners engaged. You can add more texture with field recordings, or even work with something as subtle as white noise to round out the mix.
  • Reverb and Delay Effects: Ambient music often holds such vast space due to the reverb and delay plugins and effects. Incorporating these elements into your mixing techniques can put sounds and virtual instruments alike into a similar sonic space.

How to Make Ambient Music in 6 Steps

Learning how to make this unique genre can seem intimidating, but any producer can start creating ambient music with just a little bit of guidance. Use these steps to guide your ambient music production process.

Study Ambient Music Production

Before you kick off your ambient music production journey, it's key to zero in on what type of ambient music you're looking to create. Go on any "ambient music" playlist and shuffle through the songs. You'll find that although many of the tracks share similar elements, they can be incredibly diverse in nature. Try to find 2 to 3 reference tracks to guide your first composition.

Having these tracks as a reference point will make your ambient music exploration much easier than driving in the dark.

Find a DAW

To make ambient music, or any electronic music for that matter, you'll need to find a suitable digital audio workstation. A DAW is a type of software you can use to make music, program virtual instruments and record live sound in to. Depending on your experience level, you might want to look up a couple of music production tutorials to get the lay of the land. You might even be able to search "ambient music production tutorial" for some more poignant tips.

Build Your Foundation

Part of the reason why ambient music is so intriguing is that there is no central structure to songs within the genre. However, if you listen to some of your ambient music reference tracks, you may notice some type of sonic arc, or the building and layering of instruments on a couple of foundational layers. Start with something like a drone, bass, synth or pad line.

Continue to add layers on top of these lines, and then play with placement. Is there a melody line? Where should it go? What moment will feel like the apex of the song? When should it start to retreat?


The best part of music production (especially when it comes to ambient music) is that there are no rules! Try out different parts, mix and match different arrangements, bring in new samples and textures until you find something that's meeting your expectations. Don't forget to mix in effects like reverb and delay that can quickly add a lush atmosphere to the track as a whole or individual components.

Mix and Gather Feedback

Mix down what you have and seek out feedback! Remember, ambient music production is unique in that it shouldn't be distracting while also being thoughtful. Ask your friends and other trusted musicians what they think and go back to the drawing board as needed.

Make More Ambient Music

Ultimately, the best way to become a better ambient music producer is to make more music! Challenge yourself to try out different types of ambient styles. You can also experiment with live recording sounds like guitar or strings to add to the landscape of your ambient recordings.

Making Ambient Music FAQs

Ready to try your hand at an ambient track? Use these commonly asked questions and answers to help you create atmosphere in your music:

What software to make ambient music?

To make ambient music, you'll need access to a digital audio workstation or DAW. Some common DAWs include ProTools, Ableton Live, FL Studio, Logic Pro, or GarageBand.

What instrument makes ambient music?

Sounds and instruments like synthesizers, pads, guitars, keys, samples and more can be used to make ambient music. These sonic elements are often paired with a reverb plug in or other effects to create a spacious atmosphere.

How can I make ambient music?

You can make ambient music using a digital audio workstation, selected samples, and virtual or physical instruments. We have outlined the specific process for creation above.

How does ambient music affect the brain?

Ambient music often incorporates soothing sounds of nature and slower tempos, which many listeners may find relaxing. Minimal soundscapes can also help improve focus for some listeners.

What is ambient noise in music?

Ambient noise generally refers to recordings or samples of audio that aren't necessarily instruments. For instance, this could be sounds of a forest, or an indoor fan that helps add atmosphere to a track.

Why do people listen to ambient music?

Ambient music is very unique in its construction, creating a highly unique listening experience. The genre can be a great tool for meditation, sleep, or just relaxing for many listeners as well.

Ambient music is enjoyed by thousands of listeners to this day for good reason. Enjoy the freedom that comes with the structureless art of ambient music production. Have fun turning everyday sounds into transcendent experiences!

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