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.

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Recipe 1: Beat Shuffling

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:

  1. Load a beat by dragging it from the browser into an audio track.
  2. Double-click on the clip to open it in the clip editor.
  3. Click on the E button in the editor's lower left corner to open the Envelopes box.
  4. Make sure Clip is selected in the box's upper menu (the Device Chooser).
  5. Select Sample Offset in the lower menu (the Control Chooser). The sample-offset envelope shifts any part of the loop forward or backward by as much as two quarter notes, so that it plays audio drawn from a different part of the sample. (If Sample Offset is grayed out, change the warp mode to Beats.)
  6. Make sure Snap to Grid is switched on (Ctrl-4 on Windows; Apple-4 on Mac).
  7. Switch the mouse to Draw mode (Ctrl/Apple-B), and draw a new envelope, as shown in Figure 1.
Fig 1. Sample Start Offset Figure 1. Dragging the sample-start offset envelope below the zero line plays a segment from earlier in the sample; dragging it upward plays a segment from later in the sample.

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.

Recipe 2: Impulsive Grooves

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:

  1. For convenience, copy the loop to a second slot in the track.
  2. Double-click on the copy and move the start marker to the point in the waveform where the desired drum hit begins. (See Figure 2.)
  3. Drag the clip into an Impulse slot. (See Figure 3.) You may need to shorten the decay time in Impulse so that you only hear a single hit.
  4. Now change the start marker and drag the same clip to a different Impulse slot.

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.

Fig. 2: Sample Start Marker Figure 2. Moving the sample-start marker (white triangle) lets you trigger a specific hit in the Impulse sample player.

Fig. 3: Impulse Loading Figure 3. After you've marked the hit you want in the clip editor, you can load it into the Impulse sampler with a simple drag-and-drop.
Digital Audio Essentials

Related Reading

Digital Audio Essentials
A comprehensive guide to creating, recording, editing, and sharing music and other audio
By Bruce Fries, Marty Fries

Pages: 1, 2, 3, 4

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