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Ableton Live

Easy Guide: Programming beats in Ableton Live

Thursday, April 23rd, 2009

Programming beats in Live doesn’t have to be difficult

By Daniel Rothmann (T7)


So you’re new to electronic music production. You don’t know much about it all, but that’s OK, everyone has been at this point of experience. I figured the best way to start this series out would be explaining basic drum programming. While many may know very little (if any) theory on the subject, drum programming is quite a bit easier accessible than chords and harmony, since it doesn’t require direct acquaintance with music theory. Even for the inexperienced ear, you can usually tell if a rhythm just isn’t right, or sounds strange in some way. During this tutorial we’re going to set you up with the basic tools you need to get grooving. First, let me introduce you to the software.


Create bigger sounds using layering

Saturday, March 7th, 2009

Layering sounds

Download this tutorial as a PDF

Listen to these tracks to see what you will be creating in this tutorial:

Layered Bass:

Layered Chord Synth:

By Daniel Rothmann (T7)


At some point in your career of music-making you might encounter the problem that your synthesizers just aren’t sufficient for creating sounds big or fat enough for your tracks. This could, for example, be a really heavy bass or a big lead synth. Luckily, there is a technique of achieving these sounds. That technique is layering.

What layering is all about is pretty obvious, yet many electronic producers fail to apply it to its full potential. In essence, layering is “stacking” synths on top of each other, having them produce different sounds to more precisely achieve output in the areas of spectrum you desire. Let’s say, for instance, you want to produce a really heavy bass sound. This could consist of a sub-bass (clean sinus waves at low frequencies); a middle consisting of distorted saw waves with some filter modulation and possibly a 3rd synth playing high octaves to the middle waves. Very few synths come with more than 2-3 oscillators (the oscillator is the component of a subtractive synthesizer that produce raw waves from which sound is built), and in this particular case, we will need 5-6 or more. That is why we will need to layer our synthesizers to produce the sound we’re looking for.


Layering can be achieved in a number of ways: The first, and (possibly) most obvious, is to put 2-3 keyboard players next to each other, playing the same melody on different synthesizers. Naturally, this is a very imprecise and probably inefficient method of achieving the sound you want.


How to control Ableton Live with your iPhone [updated]

Wednesday, February 4th, 2009

osculator and touchosc
With a new iPhone version comes a new method of using it to control Ableton Live. This post is an update to a previous post that is now obsolete. The best new method of controlling your iPhone doesn’t even require you to jailbreak your phone.


TouchOSC is an iPhone / iPod Touch application that lets you send and receive Open Sound Control messages over a Wi-Fi network using the UDP protocol. Using this program on your phone along with Osculator for Mac, you can control Ableton Live with your phone.


  1. Wireless Router to create a wireless network for the iPhone to send OSC messages through
  2. An iPhone with 2.0 or newer software
  3. Purchase of TouchOsc and Osculator



Creating beat mashups with Live

Monday, February 2nd, 2009

Editing the volume envelope on an audio clip in Live
If you have  a lot of  audio loops laying around your hard drive, then this tip is for you. You can be more creative with drum beat loops by splicing and dicing them instead of just looping them over and over.

  1. Open up Ableton Live, and use one of the the file browsers in the left panel to browse for some loops. This works great for drum beats.
  2. Drop several loops into their own audio tracks. Let’s start with 4 or 5 for now.
  3. Double click on one of the clips and you’ll see a waveform display at the bottom of the screen. To the lower left of the waveform is a tiny “E” buttom, which shows you then Envelope Editor. Click that, and then click the now-visible Volume button (right under the Transpose button).
  4. Now right-click on the waveform to choose the grid size. Select any resolution you want (1/8 or 1/16 is a good start) and press Ctrl + B or Cmd + B to turn on the pencil, and start drawing on the volume envelope. This is a great way to take out parts of drum beats that you don’t like. Try leaving just the kick or just the snare , or maybe just the hi-hats.
  5. If you want to isolate just the hi-hats, another way to do this is to add an EQ and cut the low frequencies. Another fun thing to do is mess with the transpose envelope to pitch certain hits up or down.
  6. Keep doing this to all of the loops/clips. Now when you play them together simultaneously, you should have a drum beat that is a mashup of many different loops.

  7. Now if you want to record all these beats together to create a single loop, the easiest way to do this is to create a new audio track and make sure the “I-O” button on the right is on. Now turn monitor to “off” to avoid any feedback issues, then change the “Audio From” to “Master”. Arm the track with the red button at the bottom of this audio track, make sure all your tracks are playing, and then click record (either in the session view or the arrangement view). Let it loop once or twice then stop recording. Now you should have a clip that is a recording of your mashup beat.

How to record the output of Ableton Live’s arpeggiator

Thursday, January 8th, 2009

Ableton Live's MIDI arpeggiatorI enjoy Live’s MIDI arpeggiator effect that you can drop into a midi track. It’s a quick way to come up with a rhythmic melody. But sometimes I want to alter a few notes from the arpeggiated melodic line. This is where this tip comes in handy. It will allow you to capture the output of the arpeggiator into a midi clip so you can edit it to your liking.

Listen to this audio example made with Live’s Arpeggiator and NI Massive:

Step 1: From the Live Device Browser, open “MIDI Effects”. then open “Arpeggiator” and drag an arpeggiator preset into a new midi channel. Rename this channel to “Arpeggiator” (Ctrl + R for PCs or Cmd + R for macs)

Step 2: From the Plug-in Device Browser, drag a VST/AU plugin of your choosing into the midi channel alongside the MIDI arpeggiator. I prefer Native Instruments’ “Massive” plugin, which has great analog-style waveforms for rich, punchy sound.

Step 3: Arm the arpeggiator track and begin playing notes to feed the MIDI arpeggiator. When you’re ready to record, click one of the record buttons in the Captured Arp session channel to begin recording the output of the arpeggiator. You can use your computer’s keyboard as a midi keyboard (as long as the Computer Midi Keyboard button in the upper right corner  of the application is switched on). When you’re finished playing, click the red play button to stop recording.

Step 4: Create a new midi channel. I’ve named it “Captured Arp”. This channel will be used to record the output of the arpeggiator.  Change the  “Midi From” to “1 – Arpeggiator” (channel 1)

Step 5: Click the record button in a blank clip in the new midi channel as the arpeggiated clip you just recorded is playing. Click again to stop when finished recording.

Step 6: Congratulations, you’ve just recorded arpeggiated notes. Now you can double click on the new midi clip to edit the notes. Click the “Fold” button to only see the notes which were played by the arpeggiator. This makes it easier to use the arrow keys to move midi notes around, it will sound good no matter where you move the notes, because it will always move around in whichever scale you were playing

Use Ableton Live’s Simpler to create a monophonic instrument

Thursday, February 28th, 2008

In this short video, I demonstrate how to load an audio file into the Simpler instrument to create a monophonic “human flute” sound. This technique can be applied whenever you need to create a playable instrument from a single recorded tone.

View movie

Writing melodies with ease in Ableton Live

Tuesday, February 19th, 2008

F Major and F Minor in the clip view in Live 7

If you aren’t confident enough to record melodies from a MIDI keyboard or even your computer’s keyboard (a nice feature in Live for when you’re on the road with no MIDI controller), I find that the easiest way to write melodies with the pencil tool (Command + B for mac users, Ctrl + B for windows users) is to write in your melodies step by step. If you recall the formulas for major in tones (W = whole step, H = half step) (W W H W W W H) and minor (W H W W H W W), then you can use the Fold feature of Live’s clip view to hide the notes that are not included by one of these formulas. Notice in the first image, we have one octave of notes stacked up on top of each other in two different scales, F major and F minor.

All we need to do is create one of these stacks in a MIDI clip, and then duplicate it once or twice. Just select all the notes, then hold down option (mac) while dragging the notes up one octave. This should create a duplicate of your notes, but transposed up one octave. Do this again for the octave below. Now when you click the “Fold” button located at the top left of the clip view, all notes that are not in the clip are hidden. Note in this second image that at the very left, there is a stack of notes that form the scale of F minor. After that, I randomly double clicked to create new notes all over the grid. I set my synthesizer’s polyphony to 1 so that it can only play one note at a time. So no matter what notes I drew, they were all in key. As long as you have the fold view enabled, you can now draw notes anywhere and it will still sound pretty decent.