Learn how to create macros, automate routine tasks and create shortcuts for anything you can think of. Tutorial for one of MacAbleton’s top 5 apps: iKey (Mac only). Typical shortcuts…

A Higher State of Mouselessness in Ableton Live

A Higher State of Mouselessness in Ableton Live

Learn how to create macros, automate routine tasks and create shortcuts for anything you can think of. Tutorial for one of MacAbleton’s top 5 apps: iKey (Mac only).

Look, no mouse! Typical custom shortcut - ⌥ e drags the note editor to the top, ⌃⌥ e drags it back again.

Look, no mouse! Typical custom shortcut – ⌥ e drags the note editor to the top, ⌃⌥ e drags it back again.

Typical shortcuts (all of these are explained below)

cmd 9 Open Live 9, hide Automap and focus on Live 9
cmd Q9 Quit Live 9 and Automap
alt . Browser – show/hide*
*Session and Arrange Views at same time!
alt L Detail View*
alt I Routing*
alt M Mixer*
alt S Sends
alt R Returns*
alt O Overview*
alt T Track View direct* (open only)
alt C Clip View direct* (open only)
alt ctrl S Open CUSTOM FOLDER in Places and focus in Content Pane
alt E Expand Note/Audio Editor to fill screen
alt ctrl E Collapse Note/Audio Editor back to normal position
alt H Hide large EQ Eight/Spectrum window
alt cmd E Envelope Editor
alt D Device Slots
alt DD Device Menu
alt AA Automation Arm
alt 1 Focus in Browser
alt 2 Focus in Detail View
alt 3 Focus in Session or Arrange main section
alt 4 Focus in Master track
F3 Zoom In
F3 Zoom Out
alt Z Non-stick Draw Tool


The software is iKey and is Mac only (sorry PC users, you might be able to do something similar with a different app). To actually put this into practice, this tutorial should be read from the beginning. The information is presented cumulatively; the examples are not self contained, and not really designed for dipping into in any old order, at least until you’ve got the hang of it. There is much less detail in the later examples, to avoid repetition.

You can download all my custom iKey shortcuts here. These are just to give you a starting point; you’ll have to customise some of them because your mouse movements will be different, depending on things like screen size and resolution. If you get stuck, leave a comment at the bottom of the page and I’ll try and help you out.

You can use iKey in all your Mac activities. However this tutorial is particularly useful for Live 9 users because some Live 8 shortcut possibilities no longer work in Live 9. You can no longer create normal Mac shortcuts for different browsers (as there is only one), and no longer jump to different parts of Live using alt plus arrow keys. I looked for a solution and found one which fixed these, and offered a whole lot more! All is explained in detail below. You might find the free app Afloat useful when setting up iKey, so you can stop it hiding when clicking in Live.

Please refer also to the official iKey manual for the full tutorial. I’ll concentrate on showing applications for Live users. I advise you backup each shortcut separately as you make it by creating a folder and exporting it there. If you make a shortcut and it doesn’t work initially, don’t give up! Try adding a short pause at a critical point, re-recording a movement, a new launcher and so on. There’s always a fix. Occasionally you’ll have to use a different launcher because of conflicts. Like many things, once you’ve done a few it becomes a doddle. You can list your shortcuts in Info View as in the figure on the right, details on how to do that here. However you’ll soon remember them because it’s easy to create memorable ones. You can even use two letters – e.g. I use the launcher cmd ff to launch Firefox (so I don’t need to keep it in the dock).

See also the Sticky Keys section in Easy Ways to control Live Part 2. This is very helpful in using all shortcuts on a mac.

There are 3 parts to an iKey shortcut – Commands, Contexts and Launchers. A Command is what you want to happen (your automation or task), a Context is under what circumstances it happens (e.g. only when Live 9 is in front, or anyplace anytime e.g. for launching your internet browser) and a Launcher is what key combination you press. We will look at 18 shortcuts (Commands/Launchers) in 2 Contexts.

This tutorial is easy! So don’t worry.

Part 1: Universal Contexts – shortcuts that work anytime

The following two examples are to open and close Live, and so need to be able to be carried out at any time. Therefore they are created as universal contexts. Open iKey and you will see that the Universal Contexts section is there by default.

using iKey to create a shortcut in Ableton Live 1-2

Example 1. Create a shortcut which will launch Live, close the Automap window, and focus on Live so you can see Live’s menu.

I’m using Live 8 in this first example, the rest will be Live 9. If you have Live 9 and don’t want to bother with Live 8 anymore, just follow these instructions using Live 9.

When Live launches, if you have Automap the focus is on that, and usually the little Automap window stays on top of Live. This is a pain, so let’s automate a fix for that.

Select Shortcuts, click Create. A box will pop up. Click + to add a command. Select Application, and then ‘Launch Application’ from the list. Select your version of Live – it will be automatically named for you. Select Hide Others and click OK. This is your Launch command set up.

Live takes a bit of time to load, so click on Pause and enter 13 seconds. This tells iKey to wait 13 seconds before doing the next command. You can adjust this later. Once Live has loaded we want to simulate clicking on the top bar to bring Live into focus so the menu is visible. Step 2 then is to add a second command which is Applications, Hide Application, and select Automap to be hidden.

Finally we need a keyboard shortcut. Go to Launchers, click +, and select Keyboard Event, and add a shortcut, eg cmd 8 if you are launching Live 8. And that’s it. Now when you hit cmd 8, Live 8 will launch, the Automap window is no longer visible, and you can see Live’s menu. Also you don’t need to keep Live in the dock any longer.

Using iKey to create a shortcut in Ableton Live 2-2

Example 2. Quit Automap and Live

Automap stays open when Live is quite, so let’s make a command for that. Using the procedure described above, first create an Application command, but select Quit, and select Automap. Tell it to pause 0.5 seconds. Then create another for Quit, and select Live 8. Make a shortcut using cmd q and enter 8 in the second box. So hitting cmd q 8 will close Automap and then Live.

There’s a lot more you can do with iKey, but in Live 9 it is particularly useful, so see the next tutorial for that. Before you do though, make a shortcut to launch the iKey editor itself.

Examples 3 and 4. Launching and quitting Live 9 with Automap: duplicating a shortcut and amending it to make a new one.

If you have Live 9, and don’t want to bother with Live 8 anymore, just follow the instructions above using Live 9, and ignore these ones. The first two were done in Live 8. Let’s create versions of these for Live 9. It’s an exercise in duplicating and amending one shortcut to make a new one. Simply select Duplicate, change the launch app to 9, rename, delete the Launcher using the – before you go into the editor, then click + and enter the new one, cmd 9. Do the same with the Quit command, and you’re done. Again, these are done as Universal Contexts.

Universal contexts in iKey for Ableton Live 9

Part 2: Live 9 Front Contexts – shortcuts that only work when Live 9 is in front

Example 5. Creating simpler (two finger*) shortcuts for Browser, Clip/Track View, Mixer etc.

*for one finger versions see the sticky keys section at the bottom

There is actually quite a good shortcut route into the Live 9 browser – cmd F and then down arrow. But this iKey shortcut is better, and it serves as a good introduction, and also has extra potential as you will see later on. Let’s replace cmd alt B etc with alt B and so on, make them a bit easier to do one handed. But first lets create a Context for Live 9. Click + under Contexts, add a Front Context, and select Live 9.

iKey Front Application Context -2

Now click ‘Create’ at the top to add our first shortcut for this Context. Click + in Commands, scroll to Menu, select ‘Select Menu Item’. A box will pop up and it will have a button which says ‘click on this button to select the item directly in an application’. Press that and select Live from the list and click ‘ok’. Now select View in Live’s menu and then Browser. Watch you don’t accidentally select another item on the way down—I tend to move my cursor down to the side, to be safe. Two events will be added, View and Show Browser. If another is there, select it and hit – to delete it. Add the shortcut alt B. Actually I use alt . as it’s a lot easier. Name this shortcut Browser. Now you can repeat this for In/Out, Sends, Returns, Mixer and Overview. However before you race ahead, check out Example 6. We will also make shortcuts for Clip and Track Views separately, as well as a combined one. The one snag here is that you are not focused in the browser when it opens. To get round this hit alt 1 to focus on the Browser (see below).

Example 6. Advanced version – commands that work in Session and Arrange at same time!

Browser shortcut using iKey in Ableton Live

Do the same as above, but add a ‘hit tab key’ command (Keyboard, Press Keys). Then alt drag the original to do the browser opening again. Then alt drag the tab key command to copy and paste that. Now you have 4 commands instead of 1. This will open or close the Browser (for example) in Session and Arrange views at the same time. I prefer this and I use it for Clip/Track view and others as well. This way, when you clear the main views and try and drag a clip to Arrange, no annoying discovery that you can’t see where to drag it to! Note that there is no ‘Show Sends’ command in the Arrange View, as this comes under the Mixer, so sends will stay as a single command. For the Browser, I then added a mouse movement up to the top Category, and a click, so as to focus ready for arrow key scrolling. Oddly, I found that if adding actions after the 4 commands above it sometimes ended up in Arrange instead of Session. If that happened, I simply unchecked the second tab key command and it was ok. This also applied to the custom Samples folder action described later on in this tutorial.

Example 7. Clip/Track View (Detail View), and direct Clip & Track Views

First let’s make a straightforward one as before, to replace cmd alt L with alt L. Do the same as above, but scroll to View, Detail and Show, so you have 3 items in this command. Again I created 4 commands to keep Session and Arrange in sync as described above.

Next, set up separate commands to open Clip View (your midi or audio editor) and Track View (the instruments and effects) directly. For the first, select View, Detail, Clip and use the shortcut alt c (or whatever you want). For the second select View, Detail, Track, and use alt T for now. If you find alt t a bit awkward to do with one hand you can use something else. Don’t forget, if you change a launcher, use – to delete it completely first. If you try to just edit it you might end up with problems, I found, at least if it was a duplicated shortcut.

If you find yourself running out of launchers that are easy to remember, you can add a second key under the main one, and this can be the same as the main one. For example to launch Firefox I have cmd FF (tap F twice), as cmd F is obviously used already.

Add a Tab press and alt drag both to create your 4 commands for each shortcut. So basically just use alt L to close these views, and the relevant one to open them. Or just use alt L to open and close Clip/Track View, and use the normal shift tab or F12 to swap views from Clip to Track and back.

Live 9 contexts in iKey-2

Example 8. Switch focus to different sections of Live

This is how to navigate the different sections of Live 9 with keys. In Live 8 there are shortcuts that do this to a limited extent, but they no longer work in Live 9. First click + to add a new command. Select Mouse, select Simulate Mouse. Click Add, then ‘Move To’, and then click the arrow button you will see. Follow the instructions on the screen to save the movement—move the mouse to a position on the top edge of the browser and save it by holding cmd for a second. Now click add and select click. Add a shortcut alt 1. You can make the next one alt 2 for the main area of Session View, the clip view alt 3 and so on. They also work in Arrange. Do the main view one with the big Spectrum/EQ Eight window open, moving the mouse to it’s upper border, and this will then work with it (or the EQ Eight window) open or closed. For the Master track focus action, on my resolution, I found that if I went for the second scene in Session, it worked in Arrange for the first track as well.

What I did for Clip View was opened it at normal height with Info View closed, added a random effect on an audio track, and moved the mouse to the title bar. This way you are selecting the first device when you select Clip View to focus on. This actually works even if there are no devices on the track.

Now you can focus on different sections of Live without using the mouse. It works in Session and Arrange.

Example 9. Open a custom folder in Places

I wanted to have a shortcut to my samples folder in Places in the Browser in Live 9. This one doesn’t always work correctly but it usually does. When it doesn’t it’s still close. Here’s how to do it.

1. Open Browser menu shortcut as before. Copy the double one if you want, to keep them in sync, but you may have to uncheck the second tab key press as described above.

2. Next add a mouse movement to near the top of the scroll bar. Note that this won’t work if you keep changing the width of the left hand section of the browser, so set it up nicely first and leave that bit. Add a double click for good luck! (I kid you not, it seems to make it more reliable)

Add a drag and set the location to the bottom to make sure it is fully scrolled down.

Add a mouse movement to Samples and add a Click.

3. Add a right arrow key press as a separate command (like you did for tab).

Open samples folder in Live 9 using iKey-2

Example 10. Hide the Spectrum/EQ Eight window

This is easy. Record a mouse movement to the middle of one of these and add a double click. You may as well just have one command and add the double click as a second line.

iKey in Ableton Live 9 to automate tasks

Example 11. Expanding and closing Note Editor

This is straightforward, although it looks pretty impressive (see animated gif at the top of the page). Just create a mouse movement to the dividing line and a drag to the top of the screen. To collapse it back you have to move it to the normal position of the divider of course. This is a great combination of shortcuts for when you are busy in the midi editor and quickly need a bigger view. It also works for the Audio Editor.

Example 12. Zoom In and Zoom Out

In Live 8 I had these assigned via the normal mac way to F3 and F4, and it worked in the 9 beta for a while then stopped. What I did was turned to iKey, as the Live menu itself worked if you physically clicked on it. So I made menu item shortcuts to re-map them, ending up with the same result as before, but accomplished via iKey triggering the menu items.

Examples 13-16. More examples

Device Slots is a simple menu shortcut once you have added this feature to Live. Device Slots is a hidden feature of Live and to find/add it you need to see this post.

Envelope Editor is a movement and click, so you need to do it with Info View closed and the Show/Hide Notes Box open (or whatever you want) but keep it the same or it won’t work.

Automation Arm is a mouse movement and click.

Example 17. Loop Brace selection!

Selecting a clip’s loop brace is something Live conspicuously lacks. This shortcut will hunt out and select the loop brace in about 0.5 seconds. Here is my solution, not the most elegant method conceivable, but it works. Do a mouse movement (from the bottom right) to just to the left of the the top right corner, on the line where the loop brace will be, plus a click. Then use a series of movements left or ‘move to’s followed by clicks. You can do one for each 16th or just every 4, but try to avoid getting close to the grid lines or you could end up focused on one end. I just used 4 ‘move to’s. One snag with this method is that it jump to a bit earlier than the loop quite often, as it acts like clicking on the timeline, so you might hear a couple of bars of the preceding music. Also you have to have the zoom right. Still, it’s better than nothing. The only other way to select the Loop Brace mouselessly.

Example 18. Non-stick Draw Tool.

This is a great one, developed from an idea raised on the Ableton forum. With this you can press and hold a key, and while it is held any clicks use the draw tool. As soon as you release the key the draw tool is no longer in operation. This is easier than double clicking, and many people will prefer this ‘non-stick’ version to the official one I reckon. I made it for someone else but as soon as I tried it I thought it was great.

The Launcher I’m using is alt Z, but you can do that with one finger obviously, of your left hand if you are using a mouse/trackpad with your right hand (yes some people still use those evil devices, no I don’t mean right hands). You actually just make 2 launchers, and set one to work when it’s released. So tick the box ‘generate….when pressed’ for the first one, and ‘when released’ for the second. The actual Command of course is just a menu item. I started using the full name versions rather than the numbers, but it’s the same thing.

Note – this shortcut also works the other way round. If you have Draw Tool on, holding alt Z temporarily turns it off!

iKey Command for non-stick Draq Tool in Ableton Live

iKey Launcher for Ableton Live Draw Tool 2

iKey Launcher for Ableton Live Draw Tool 1

*Use sticky keys for one finger shortcuts

All you need to do to get one finger versions is activate sticky keys in Universal access.

Hitting shift 5 times turn sticky keys on and off, but you can just leave them on most of the time.

If you press a modifier key (e.g. alt) once as normal, it ‘sticks’ until after you’ve pressed the next key, so you can do alt e in sequence, with one finger. I actually use this in normal typing, for one-offs like the capital letter at the start of a sentence.

If you press the modifier twice it stays on until you press it a third time, so you can do alt b, alt l, alt i, alt m, alt s, alt r, alt o without all those alts! This is great for things like keyboard scrolling in Live (see Easy ways to control Live Part 2) where you would normally need to hold a modifier with your thumb while scrolling with the arrow keys or QAWS.

Press alt again to get rid of the sticky.

See Easy ways to control Live Part 2 for more detail on Sticky Keys.


The above shortcuts might need tweaks depending on how you are set up. Occasionally one might not work – this could be for various reasons. If this happens, just try looking at each step and maybe re-do one or change it. Remember not to mess with the zoom in Live’s Preferences. You’ll soon get the hang of iKey and you can make up your own for other functions. One thing I wanted to do, but never found a shortcut for, was selecting a loop brace. If anyone finds one please let me know. In the video I do this sort of movement using mac Mouse Keys, but KeyRemap mouse keys is better, see here.

Don’t forget you can never run out of shortcuts, because you can add a second key. For example I use cmd sd (cmd plus s quickly followed by d) to open Super Duper.

Founder of MacAbleton.com

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