Whether you're producing tracks in the studio or venturing onstage with a laptop, Ableton Live has an incredible array of features that can take your music to a very high level. But because Live breaks down the barriers between the traditional DAW (digital audio workstation) and musical instruments, it isn't always obvious how to tackle a particular musical task.
In this feature, I've collected eight of my favorite Live techniques. (A couple came from Dave Hill of Ableton--thanks, Dave!) Several techniques require version five of Live; you can download a free demo at the Ableton website.
Rather than cycling a loop endlessly, I like to make musical changes--an extra kick drum to lead into a crucial downbeat, an extra snare tap, or a more radical reorganization of the beat. Live gives me several ways to do this.
A fun way to reshuffle the drum hits within a sampled beat is to use a clip envelope. To try this, first:
That's all it takes to mangle the beat. When you find something you like, Ctrl-drag (Mac: Option-drag) the clip to a second slot in the same column and keep editing. With a little trial and error, you can build up a set of cool variations on the same beat.
Here's an audio example. You'll hear a two-measure beat from the Live 5 library, first in its original form, and then as transformed by two different clip envelopes. The form of the MP3 file is AABBAACCA.
If you want to add hits, rather than moving them around, you can drag the clip into a slot in the Impulse sample player. When you do this, however, Impulse will play the clip from the beginning. Here's how to trigger a drum hit that's later in the clip:
With this technique you can assign up to eight hits from a loop to MIDI keys, either for live triggering or for recording into a new MIDI clip.