Making Music with Ableton Push
Illustration by John Hersey

Making Music with Ableton Push

with Yeuda Ben-Atar

Video: Understanding intervals and chords

In music theory we measure the distances or interval between the note by tones. Semi tone and whole tones. You'll sometimes hear me refer to semi tones as half steps and whole tones as whole steps. This is common in musical discussion. So to move from C to C sharp, you go up a semi-tone. But if you go from C to D, you go up a whole tone.

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Watch the Online Video Course Making Music with Ableton Push
1h 46m Appropriate for all Aug 01, 2013

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Imagine making digital music without having to touch or even look at your computer. The future is here with the Ableton Push, which allows you to compose melodies and basslines, make beats, arrange music, mix and master your tracks, and perform live—all from an intuitive, touch-sensitive interface. Join author and DJ Yeuda Ben-Atar, aka Side Brain, for an introduction to creating and performing music with Push.

First, Yeuda demystifies the many trigger pads, knobs, and buttons on the Push and shows how to map the device to Ableton Live. Next, learn to browse and load sounds and create drumbeats with the step sequencer. Humanize the sound of these beats by changing individual note velocity, length, and position and adding in quantization and swing. Then, learn to play Push like a pitched instrument, and use it to remotely control a Live set and Live devices. Along the way, Yeuda offers valuable lessons about basic music theory—concepts like notes, chords, scales, and time signature—that will make your experience with Push more rewarding.

Topics include:
  • What is Ableton Push?
  • Browsing and loading sounds
  • Programming beats
  • Recording drums in real time
  • Adding quantization and swing
  • Controlling the mixer
  • Controlling Live devices
  • Adding custom LED feedback
  • Step sequencing melodies
  • Browsing and loading third-party plugins
Subject:
Audio + Music
Software:
Ableton Live
Author:
Yeuda Ben-Atar

Understanding intervals and chords

In music theory we measure the distances or interval between the note by tones. Semi tone and whole tones. You'll sometimes hear me refer to semi tones as half steps and whole tones as whole steps. This is common in musical discussion. So to move from C to C sharp, you go up a semi-tone. But if you go from C to D, you go up a whole tone.

So how much do you go from E to F, and from B to C? Only a semitone or a half step, because we don't have any keys in between. Just for clarification on this point, going from one key to the very next key on the keyboard is always a semitone, whether the keys are black or white, and skipping a key also makes a whole tone. So, if I go from C (SOUND) to D, (SOUND) that's whole tone. C (SOUND) to D-sharp, (SOUND) that's a tone and a half. C (SOUND) to E, (SOUND) that's two tones.

Now let's build the scale. If you follow a formula of steps from any given starting note, you can build any type of scale. For example, you can build the major scale by starting from C and going whole step, whole step, half step, whole step, whole step, whole step, half step. So let's just check it out. Starting from C (MUSIC), going whole step (MUSIC), whole step, (MUSIC) half step (MUSIC), whole step (MUSIC), whole step (MUSIC), whole step (MUSIC) and half step back to C.

(MUSIC) (SOUND) For another example, to build a natural minor scale starting from C, the formula is, whole step, half step, whole step, whole step, half step, whole step, whole step. (SOUND) Starting from C, whole step, half step, whole step, whole step, half step (SOUND), whole step, (SOUND) whole step, (SOUND) whole step. (MUSIC) Since you are only following a formula of steps, you can start from any note and build its minor or major scale, like G major. (SOUND) Whole, (SOUND) whole, (SOUND) whole, (SOUND) half. (MUSIC) Whole, whole, whole, half.

(MUSIC) Or D minor. (MUSIC) Whole, half, whole, whole, half, whole, whole. (MUSIC) (SOUND) On the Push, you can change scales or keys by clicking the Scales button. The display will change to show all the keys and available scales. So let's check out G major. (SOUND) Or D.

Minor/g (MUSIC) played the exact same way. The push plays the whole and half steps intervals for the scales automatically. Now let's talk more about intervals. The distances between the notes can be called by names. For example, C to G, that's a fifth, and C to C, that's an octave. So if you know the names of the distances or of the intervals between the notes you can start building chords.

If you take for example D add its major third. (SOUND) And the fifth, (SOUND) that's D major chord. Same thing with C major. (SOUND) Major third, (SOUND) and fifth, (SOUND) that's the C major. On the Push, let's look at the notes. Let's switch back to c major and we'll play the scale. C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C. So if we want to build a c major chord we're going to play the c, e (MUSIC) And with G and this is also G so I'm just going to play a triangle shape. (MUSIC) Now if I want to play a C Minor, (SOUND) I'm going to switch to Minor, play the same shape (SOUND) and get the minor chord (SOUND) which will play the same exact way.

Now, each type of scale has its own diatonic chords, which are the chords that appear naturally from within the scale. On the Push, if you play the same shape as the C major chord, but in a different location on the grid, you might get different types of the chords, like D minor, or B diminished. But they will all be diatomic to the C major scale. Meaning the chords will fit into the scale according to the music theory rules.

So you can start making chord progressions very easily. Let's switch back to C major. I'm going to play the C major chord. (MUSIC) I'm going to keep the same shape. And move forward. We get D minor, E minor, F major, G major, A minor, B diminished, and back to C. (MUSIC) So for example, a very famous and popular chord progression is the one, four, five. And because if we go up, we go in fourths, It's very easy to play one, four, five.

One, (SOUND), go up, same shape, four (SOUND), five. (SOUND) Back to one. Now by default, the position of the LEDs won't move according to the selected key. So if I'm on C the blue ones which are the root notes will be C (SOUND). I'm on G. G (SOUND) G (SOUND) and so on. If you turn on fixed, the notes will remain at the same place. So, C will always be C (SOUND) unless it's not in this scale for example, D major, only have C sharp, so the C will move to the closest note which is C sharp.

Ready fold is turned off. In keyboard mode the dots sleep functions as pitch bend. (SOUND) Remember that the pitch bend range depends on your instruments settings. We can also plug in a sustain pedal that you can find on acoustic pianos. Just plug it in in the back. (SOUND). Put it on the floor. And now you can sustain your notes or chords (MUSIC). (MUSIC) Lastly, holding shift while displaying the scales will access additional layered featured.

So, for example, by default, it goes up by fourths (MUSIC). We can go to the side fourths, (MUSIC) and we also have other options, like thirds and sequentials. As you can see, in Key mode, the Push allows you to compose melodies, harmonies, chord progressions, and even bass lines without any prior music theory knowledge. But knowing what we talked about, intervals and chords and scales, will help you understand how the Push work and collaborate with other musicians.

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