Total newbie? Toe dipping ‘switcher’? Fear not! Here’s a few tips to get you started. Help View Click on Help in the menu and then Help View. A box pops…

Ableton Live for Beginners – First Steps

Ableton Live for Beginners – First Steps

Total newbie? Toe dipping ‘switcher’? Fear not! Here’s a few tips to get you started.

Help View

Click on Help in the menu and then Help View. A box pops up on the right which includes Live’s built in lessons. Work through these.

Live’s manual

Access this from Help also. You don’t need to read it from start to finish, just look things up as you go along.

Info View

? toggles the Info box in the bottom left hand corner. Keep it open. It will give you info on anything you hover over. You can also make notes in it. Right click on a Track Title Bar (you can do the Master as well) or a Clip and select Edit Info Text. The text you enter is visible next time you hover over it.

Stuck on something?

Check Info View, then the manual, then google, the search function on this site, or the Ableton Forum (see links). Post a question as a new thread. Make it as clear as you can. Include a screenshot if you think it will help. There is also Ableton Answers, see the links page.

Session View – music production revolutionised!

There are 2 main views in Ableton Live, Arrange and Session. Most DAWs (Digital Audio Workstations) only have one. Session View is special to Live. It is a remarkable idea, and you should spend most of your time in this view.

You can make and play a full tune in Session View using ‘Scenes’—see pic below. You can create, capture and rearrange scenes, and get them to play one after another. This is far more flexible than working in the traditional linear environment other DAWs use. Later you can record it into Arrange View.

Live on autopilot, launching scenes, with automation and a few bits in Arrange View. The two audio tracks in Arrange can also be played in Session view and these are duplicated but deactivated there.

One thing you do need Arrange for is chopping audio or recording knob twiddling. More on that in other tutorials.

Learn BLIMSR. This takes you a minute to learn and makes life easy and quick. Instantly you have access to the various bits you need at different times. Also learn F12 (you may need ctrl F12) which toggles between the Clip View and Track View. You can drag Clip View up to full screen, but not the Track View.

Make a folder in User or My Documents and call it Samples. Get some sample packs and stick them in there. Locate it in File Browsers 2 and 3, and when you find it, right click and select Set as Root. Now you have two choices when searching, locating and swapping samples. You can either buy sample packs or get free ones. My advice is do some research and buy one or two for your genre. Try to avoid ones that just have loops—look for one-shots (hits) and multi-samples as well as loops. Live also comes with some good samples in the Library.

loop in session view in Live

Load a new set. It will appear with one audio track and one midi one, ready to make a start.

Press the Preview button to listen to a sample. Loops should play in time with your set tempo, even when previewing in the Browser.

A loop should automatically adjust to your tempo when you drag it into the set. It will be warped, Ableton’s term for time-stretching. You can drag a different one into the clip slot or the Sample Editor, but the Clip Slot is best, because then it gets a new colour and is correctly named. You can drag in different loops into different slots in the same track. You can’t chop audio in Session View but you can mute notes using Volume Modulation. Press the Envelope button E and then the Volume button and draw it in. The Draw Tool is ⌘B (see here for a one finger shortcut).

drawn in volume modulation

Change a loop by muting sounds with volume modulation.

Another good way to change a loop is to add some effects. A gate can cut out the quietest sounds to simplify the loop. You double click Live’s Device Browser, the top one, and select Audio Effects. Double click on Gate or unfold for a preset, and it will appear in Track View. Toggle between the audio and the effects using F12 or ctrl F12. I usually leave loops labelled as they come up, and coloured as they appear, but change the track title and colour to something meaningful, just right click to change colour and ⌘R to rename. Loops should load to their correct lengths, e.g. 1 or 2 bars.

Drag in an instrument preset to the Midi track. Drop it at the top of a title bar or the track view area. You can drag a sample into the track view area, but not to the top of a midi track. It will load in a Simpler automatically.

Double click a slot to create a 1 bar (4 beats) midi loop. Add some notes with the draw tool. Launch both the audio and the midi at the same time with the scene launch button in the master channel.

midi note editor

Congratulations, you made your first tune! You can now add more tracks, extend your midi to more bars (drag the loop brace) and generally start getting to know Live. Keep the manual open. Look at the relevant sections on this site. You can search both, and it’s all pretty straightforward, just take your time. Read Easy ways to control Live. And keep an eye on that Info View.

Any requests for tutorials? Post in the comments below and I’ll see what I can do or point you in the right direction.

Founder of MacAbleton.com