Ableton Live 8 Essential Training
Illustration by John Hersey

Using Live as a sound source


Ableton Live 8 Essential Training

with Rick Schmunk

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Video: Using Live as a sound source

With all the great virtual instruments and effects available in Ableton Live, it's natural that you would want to use them in live performance. So let's talk about some of the issues involved in using Ableton as a sound module and some of Live's functionality that you can take advantage of to create a powerful Live setup. So, on this first track, I want to demonstrate that you need to be aware of your Buffer setting in your Preferences. Right now, I have got it set rather long, and what that leads to is, when I actually press a key on my keyboard controller, there is a pretty big delay before that note actually sounds, and in live performance that's not going to be a good thing.
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  1. 1m 30s
    1. Welcome
    2. Using the exercise files
  2. 8m 43s
    1. What is a digital audio workstation?
      4m 13s
    2. Choosing the right gear and setting up a system
      4m 30s
  3. 12m 59s
    1. Setting up audio preferences
      3m 54s
    2. Setting up MIDI preferences
      3m 31s
    3. Optimizing performance
      5m 34s
  4. 35m 42s
    1. Understanding Session view
      8m 7s
    2. Working with Live browsers
      5m 3s
    3. Working with Live clips
      7m 57s
    4. Understanding clip properties
      7m 52s
    5. Working with Live scenes
      6m 43s
  5. 28m 16s
    1. Building Live Sets and projects
      4m 25s
    2. Learning Live file management
      4m 2s
    3. Exporting content from Live
      7m 32s
    4. Importing and exporting Live Packs
      3m 17s
    5. Searching for and auditioning clips
      4m 58s
    6. Setting up frequently accessed folders
      4m 2s
  6. 23m 3s
    1. Preparing to record MIDI
      5m 51s
    2. Recording and overdubbing MIDI
      4m 32s
    3. Working with alternate MIDI entry methods
      6m 49s
    4. Using multi-output virtual instruments
      5m 51s
  7. 24m 26s
    1. The MIDI Editor
      4m 49s
    2. Quantizing MIDI data
      6m 6s
    3. Advanced MIDI editing
      6m 49s
    4. Setting up groove in editing
      6m 42s
  8. 9m 18s
    1. Preparing to record
      5m 0s
    2. Recording audio
      4m 18s
  9. 22m 37s
    1. Understanding Arrangement view
      3m 41s
    2. Recording in Arrangement view
      3m 51s
    3. Recording from Session view to Arrangement view
      5m 21s
    4. Reworking clips
      9m 44s
  10. 27m 57s
    1. Understanding Live's mixer
      12m 38s
    2. Using sends and returns
      3m 47s
    3. Building headphone cues
      3m 49s
    4. Grouping tracks
      7m 43s
  11. 43m 14s
    1. Working with effect devices
      4m 56s
    2. Understanding EQ and filters
      7m 14s
    3. Using compressors and dynamic processors
      7m 28s
    4. Building interesting effects with delay effect processing
      8m 18s
    5. Using reverb effectively
      8m 22s
    6. Setting up side chain effects easily
      6m 56s
  12. 15m 37s
    1. Creating rhythmic patterns with the Arpeggiator effect
      8m 38s
    2. Building background parts with the Chord and Scale effects
      6m 59s
  13. 25m 22s
    1. Building automation patterns
      8m 44s
    2. Editing existing automation information
      5m 2s
    3. Using fades to mask audio pops and clicks
      4m 10s
    4. Understanding the power of clip envelopes
      7m 26s
  14. 20m 17s
    1. Understanding the basics of looping
      6m 54s
    2. Creating tracks that loop smoothly
      7m 50s
    3. Using warp features to quantize audio
      5m 33s
  15. 17m 47s
    1. Using the computer keyboard to control Live
      6m 39s
    2. Mapping device controls to the MIDI keyboard
      4m 36s
    3. Using Live's instant mapping feature
      6m 32s
  16. 10m 43s
    1. Exporting audio
      5m 37s
    2. Freezing tracks
      5m 6s
  17. 20m 45s
    1. Building with the Impulse virtual instrument
      11m 35s
    2. Working with the Simpler virtual instrument
      9m 10s
  18. 36m 22s
    1. Overview of Live racks
      10m 13s
    2. Combining instruments and effects into a single device
      8m 22s
    3. Adding effects with Drum Rack
      11m 28s
    4. Assigning rack parameters to macros
      6m 19s
  19. 13m 53s
    1. Setting up ReWire with Pro Tools
      7m 3s
    2. Setting up ReWire with Logic
      6m 50s
  20. 33m 43s
    1. Preparing audio clips with the Warp tool
      14m 31s
    2. Triggering clips using follow actions
      8m 9s
    3. Using Live as a sound source
      11m 3s
  21. 7m 21s
    1. Working with video files
      7m 21s
  22. 37s
    1. Further Recommendations

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Watch the Online Video Course Ableton Live 8 Essential Training
7h 20m Beginner Dec 10, 2010

Viewers: in countries Watching now:

Ableton Live 8 Essential Training with Rick Schmunk offers a comprehensive overview of Ableton's live audio and MIDI sequencing software and the techniques required to compose, record, and edit music, in real time, on stage, or in the studio. The course includes tutorials on compiling live sets from audio and MIDI clips, loops, or samples, applying MIDI effects, warping audio, and recording and producing songs in any number of contemporary styles. Exercise files are included with the course.

Topics include:
  • Putting together a DAW system
  • Setting up Ableton preferences
  • Importing and exporting content
  • Recording MIDI
  • Editing and quantizing MIDI data
  • Recording audio
  • Recording in Arrangement view
  • Using sends and returns in the Live Mixer
  • Grouping tracks
  • Signal processing
  • Creating and editing automation envelopes
  • Using fades to mask audio pops and clicks
  • Looping and warping audio clips
  • Mapping device controls to a MIDI keyboard
  • Working with virtual instruments
  • Integrating Live with Pro Tools and Logic
Audio + Music
Ableton Live
Rick Schmunk

Using Live as a sound source

With all the great virtual instruments and effects available in Ableton Live, it's natural that you would want to use them in live performance. So let's talk about some of the issues involved in using Ableton as a sound module and some of Live's functionality that you can take advantage of to create a powerful Live setup. So, on this first track, I want to demonstrate that you need to be aware of your Buffer setting in your Preferences. Right now, I have got it set rather long, and what that leads to is, when I actually press a key on my keyboard controller, there is a pretty big delay before that note actually sounds, and in live performance that's not going to be a good thing.

So I am going to open up Preferences using the Command+Comma--that would be Ctrl+Comma on a PC--and go to the Audio tab and find my Buffer Size setting. I am going to bump that down. I would probably go to somewhere around 128 samples as an average. You might be able to go down lower than that, but just beware that as you get smaller and smaller buffer sizes, you might actually start to hear some audio artifacts. So as you work on this, make sure you actually listen to the sound that you are getting.

I am going to escape to get out of there. Now another thing we need to think about is how I am actually going to be able to monitor these different tracks. So I've got five different keyboard sounds set up here. And right now, I'm hearing the Rhodes track because I've got it record-enabled, but that isn't necessarily a way to do this when you're playing live. Another way around this is to take the Record button off and put that in input monitoring. Again, I'll be able to hear the sound there, with Live not actually in play. So that works.

And I will be able to switch between these tracks by simply using the Track Activator button. So let me put these all in Input mode. Then if I take the Track Activator buttons off on these other four tracks, I'll still only hear this first track. So at this point, you'll want to be able to switch between those, and you can either use the F keys on your computer keyboard-- notice that when I press the F2 key, I'm actually reactivating track number 2 and F3 for the third track--or you'll want to assign those somehow to a key on your keyboard controller.

Now in this case, I have got the APC40 here, and I've got dedicated buttons already for those Track Activator buttons. So let me put one back on, and now I could take the rest of those off. So I have only got that track. Now if I need to move from patch to patch, all I need to do is activate the track I want and deactivate the other one. So it's very, very quick. That also allows me to have tracks playing simultaneously. So now I've got the Rhodes and the Strings patch playing together. Let's hear what that sounds like, (Music playing.) sounds pretty good.

Now one thing you might want to think about is if something is in the right octave. Let me bring up the actual patch here on the String Orchestra. And sometimes you will get into a situation where that might be in the wrong octave. Now this is actually working pretty well, but if it wasn't, I could move it up an octave by finding the proper parameter on the device and transposing that to the right octave. Now let's say I am in a situation where I have a device that doesn't actually have a Transpose knob on it. The other way around that is to go into your Live Devices and into the MIDI Effects folder and find the Pitch plug-in and drag that on to the track.

Now I can counter activate what's happening with my transposition here by actually pulling it down with my Transpose MIDI effect. So I am right back into the same octave. But this is a handy way to fix that one and be able to balance your two sounds, so that they are in the right octaves. The other thing that you might want to do is actually balance the Volume levels. So if the strings are too loud, I'll be able to pull that back and get kind of the right amount of decay that I'm looking for between these two tracks. (Music playing.) There we go. So it's a little bit more subtle.

Okay, let's go over and take a look at this third track. Now this is a single instrument device. And I want to demonstrate the fact that a lot of times the patches by themselves are a little thin sounding. So let's hear what that sounds like. (Music playing.) So now one of the things that I can do is add some effects right into this device chain. So over here on the right-hand side, I've got both the Chorus and it looks like a saturated preset. So let me minimize the pad itself by double-clicking on it, and then I'll open up the Chorus and the other patch here, so that we can hear what that sounds like.

So I'll reactivate that by clicking on the Device Activator button. And here is the sound now with a little bit of Chorus added. (Music playing.) Okay, that's a lot better. This other one will add a little bit of drive and a little bit of volume. (Music playing.) Now I also have control over the Dry/Wet setting, and remember that is the amount of unprocessed to process signal. When you're processing a sound in a series like we're doing here, you need to set that manually.

This is not like a return track where you might set the reverb on a return track up here like on the A return track and leave that at 100%, because you have got control over the total amount of reverb on the fader down here, and your unprocessed signal is coming out the track over there. So you have the ability to balance that. When they are being processed in a series like this, you've actually got to do that on the plug-in itself. So if I want a little more Chorus to dry sound, I'll just dial up the Dry/Wet percentage here. (Music playing.) Now the other thing that you can do is you can actually set the session to be using the sends in return, so that we can get a little reverb and maybe even some delay on a return track.

So those are not active. Let me put those back on. Let's hear what that sounds like with a little reverb (Music playing.) So I have got some nice ambience there. And I've also got the delay happening. If I click on that, we can see that I've got that currently set to 8th notes. Now if I want that to happen in time with the music, I'm actually going to have to set the tempo of the session in time with whatever music is happening around me. Luckily enough, Live has a really great feature over here with the Tap button. Now if I've got a mouse handy, I can simply tap that Tap button as the music is happening, and it will reset the session tempo.

The other thing I can do is I can assign that via MIDI mapping to a switch on my controller, or the APC40 here I am using has an actual dedicated Tap button. So I can do the same thing by simply repeatedly tapping that until the tempo is in line with the music that's happening. So that's really fast and really useful. Okay, on this next track, I've got a patch here.

I have got a single preset, and that's Analog, and I've also, again, got a couple of effects over here. I have got a Chorus effect in this case. And what I wanted to show you here is that, one of the things that you can take advantage of in live performance, kind of on the fly, is the ability to change parameters in your devices. Now if you've got a controller that is native to Live, you can use the Instant Mapping feature to do that. So if I just click on the title bar of my device here, I can then go up and move one of the knobs, and it's immediately already mapped to that particular parameter.

If I go over here to the Chorus effect and click on that header and move a knob, then I've immediately got control of that parameter. But sometimes it's hard to figure out which knob is assigned to what thing. And since these are already grouped, one of the things that I can take advantage of is the macro that comes along with this. So in this case, I have already set up a few of these parameters to this particular macro. So if I click on the macro header, and now move my first knob, you'll see that it is controlling this Filter Sweep function.

And if I look over here on my Analog patch here, you'll see that it's actually controlling all four of these Frequency and Resonance knobs. Let me minimize this, so we can see the Chorus effect. So I'll double-click again on the title bar. Now notice that while I am working with the rack, if I move another knob, it's controlling the Dry/Wet here, and that's assigned down on another device. So the macro can actually be assigned to multiple devices. Now the way we do that, just to review, is to go into Map mode and choose the parameter that you want to assign and then click the Map button on the specific Macro knob that you want to assign it to.

So now Feedback is assigned to that one. Now if I leave Map mode by clicking on that button again, now you'll notice that my Feedback setting is assigned to that particular knob. As you do this, you may want to develop kind of a typical way that you would use that, so that when you move to a different track, that your instant mapping is set to the macro kind of in the same way. That will make it a lot easier to use if there's a little bit of consistency. Now on this last track, let's take a look at some of the parameters that are available on an instrument rack that you might want to take advantage of in live performance.

Remember, in the chain list on an instrument rack we get this Key Zone Editor and Velocity Editor. If I click on the Key Zone Editor, remember that we can actually set an area of the keyboard that is going to respond to a particular patch. So I can actually set it here so that the AM8000 Pad only reacts to MIDI notes that are below C2, and then go to my Purse Strings and Planet Winds patches and set those so that they are active in a different area of the keyboard.

Just to demonstrate, now when I play low on the keyboard, I'm only triggering the AM8000. And if I go up the keyboard, we can see I am triggering these other two patches. Now the other way around that one is to set these to be triggered by velocity. So I'll go to the Velocity Zone Editor, so I can make it, so that only the AM8000 Pad response to high velocities. And let me Shift+Click these two, and I'll change both at the same time.

You can click and drag on that bar graph to assign only those two to lighter velocities. So now, when I lightly touch the keyboard, we should get Purse Strings and Planet Winds. When I hit it a little bit harder, I am going to get the AM8000 Pad. So once you've got this all tweaked out, you are going to want to save this setup as a project. And that way it'll be available to use in a song, or even for a whole set. So for your next live performance, try using a laptop running Live and a keyboard controller.

Find answers to the most frequently asked questions about Ableton Live 8 Essential Training .

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Q: Can I use Ableton Live Lite to work through this course?
A: For the most part, yes. However, there are a few limitations. For example, there are some drum sounds that won’t work with the Lite version. Lite also has a limited track count, which may cause problems with some of the larger Live Sets in the course. If you do not have the full version of Ableton Live, you can download a demo of Ableton Live Suite (, which will run for 30 days. This will allow you to do everything in the course, and get a look at what the full version can do at the same time.
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