Ableton isn’t new anymore and it’s time you get on board. If you’re just catching up now; Ableton has reached version 10 and has become the go-to workstation for many DJs, turntablists, music producers, and beatmakers.
A lot has changed since 2001 – from developing a unique range of native software to engineering dedicated hardware controllers, Ableton excels not only as a traditional DAW but also as an instrument for live performances.
It’s about time you bring yourself up to date and learn how to use Ableton Live 10. Yes, it’s as advanced as any sequencer, yet it’s simple enough to quickly get the hang of the basics. Let’s dive in!
What is Ableton Live 10?
Ableton Live 10 is the latest version of an extremely powerful and versatile DAW (Digital Audio Workstation).
Ableton is very popular with hip hop or electronic producers mainly because of its Session/Arrangement layout, swift and intuitive interface, and excellent MIDI capabilities.
Among the several DAWs out there, Ableton offers a special focus on live performance, with a Session View that allows for DJing on the fly while switching smoothly between beats and tempos.
The customizable Macro Controls integrates with hardware devices for live performance; the reason why Ableton is also quite popular with DJs. Not to mention, the Arrangement view lets you capture the sessions and save them in your exact specifications.
How to Use Ableton Live 10 – Step by Step Guide
Whether you’re a total music production newbie or an advanced beat maker looking for a more fresh DAW, trying to use Ableton Live 10 can seem rather overwhelming at first. The following guide will break things down for an easier experience.
1. Get to Know the Layout
The first thing you should do before jumping into action is getting familiar with the basic layout of your DAW, you know, so you actually understand what’s going on.
The interface of Ableton Live 10 is divided into 3 sections: the browser, the session/arrangement, and the detail.
The Browser Section: located on the left of the screen, this is where all the built-in samples, factory sounds, effects, and plugins get sorted. You can also use this section to browse and access your files.
The Session/Arrangement Section: when you start a new project file, the session view is the default view where your audio and MIDI are displayed vertically. It allows you to build loops in real-time and record over your loops, which explains why it’s designed for live performances.
The arrangement view, on the other side, offers a horizontal representation of your channels. It allows you to create, arrange, and construct a full track.
The Detail Section: sitting at the bottom of the Ableton screen, the detail section offers several editing functions such as manipulating your audio files and editing MIDI patterns.
2. Understand Basic Tracks
Ableton Live 10 kicks off with 2 MIDI tracks and 2 audio tracks. MIDI tracks are where you add melody or chord patterns played by your virtual instruments. You can manually draw in MIDI sequences, or program them in using an external device.
Audio tracks are where you put your pure audio files (.mp3, .wav, and more).
Adding tracks: right-click within the empty space just below the tracks and choose “Insert MIDI track” or “Insert Audio Track”.
Removing tracks: right-click the track name and choose “Delete”, or click the name normally and hit “Delete” on your keyboard.
Renaming tracks: right-click the track name and choose “Rename”.
Coloring tracks: right-click the track name and choose the color you want from the color palette in the options window.
3. Decode the Top Bar
Along the top of the Ableton Live 10 screen, you’ll find some controls that are incredibly important for making your first track. Starting from the far left of the top bar, they go like:
Tempo: you’ll see the “Tap” button and next to it, the tracks BPM. This is the tempo of your song, which is set to 120.00 by default.
To change it, just click and drag within the BPM values to choose a new one, or you can click within the box and type the needed value.
The “Tap” button is great for beginners since it allows them to “tap” a tempo.
Phase Nudge Up/Down: these buttons temporarily increase and decrease song tempo so you can synchronize with an external source.
Time Signature: most producers operate within a 4/4 time signature (the number of beats in a bar). To change the value, just click and drag each number or click and type in.
Metronome: when you engage this button, you’ll hear a metronome sound on every beat as the song plays. This helps you stay in time with the tempo of the track.
Draw and Computer Key: the “Draw” button is for drawing or editing MIDI sequences, while the “Computer Key” tool enables you to use your keyboard as a MIDI keyboard.
4. Make a Track – MIDI
Time to start laying down some sound! Before you begin, make sure you’re in Arrangement view and that you’ve selected a tempo.
Add a VST instrument: VST instruments are software-based instruments or simply plugins that produce audio.
Ableton comes with several free sounds that you can look through by browsing the Sounds, Drums, or Instruments categories on your browser categories panel. Once you find one that you like, drag and drop it into the top MIDI track in the Arrangement view.
Add a MIDI clip: click and drag within the track display until you reach the length you want your MIDI clip to be. Then, right-click and choose “Insert MIDI Clip(s)”.
Now, you’ll have a colored MIDI clip that you can edit. A piano roll will also pop up in the detail section where you can create your MIDI sequences.
Create a MIDI pattern in the piano roll: navigate the piano roll we just mentioned but make sure the “Draw” button is engaged first. Click within the piano roll to create a note, click it again to delete it, or drag its edge to make it longer or shorter.
At this point, feel free to experiment with different patterns to work your creativity. You can input MIDI notes into your piano roll as many times as you want and with different instruments. Just remember to set each one to a specific track.
Repeat a sequence: click and drag the edge of the MIDI clip in the Arrangement view so the clip only contains your notes. Then, right-click and choose “Duplicate”, or highlight the MIDI clip and press Ctrl+D.
5. Add Effects
Ableton Live 10 comes with a wide range of built-effects including reverbs, flangers, delays, EQs, pedals, and many more.
Choose an effect: go to the browser on the left side of the screen and locate the Audio Effects category. Choose the effect you want and simply drag it into the track you’re working on.
Edit an effect: the above action will cause the editor window to appear in the bottom detail section. This interface of the effect editor will vary according to the type of effect you’ve added.
Trying out a new DAW can be pretty intimidating, especially if you’ve no idea what you’re doing.
Luckily, Ableton is one DAW with a learning curve that’s not very steep – it just needs some patience on your part and guidance that we’re providing here.