Using Ableton Live

Ableton Live is a full-blown sequence-editor, providing a variety of low-latency, high-quality software instruments. It also supports VST instruments (including the BS-16 soundfont-player we recommend), as well as VST plug-ins. It has a wide variety of quality sampled sounds you can use, in addition to a large number of synthesized sounds.

In addition to using it as a sequence-editor, it works well for live-performance as well, and has a clever method of improvising music clips, and calling-up those clips in an impromptu musical performance, in its “Session View”. It's easy to export an audio file from a recorded MIDI sequence as well.

It works on both Windows and Mac OS X.

It requires a multi-core processor (multi-processor), and at least 2 gigabytes of RAM.

In my experience, if you use more than 3 or 4 instrument sounds in a given piece, you will need at least 4 gigabytes of RAM.

I currently use it on an Acer Aspire laptop, having a 2-gigahertz dual core processor, and 6 gigabytes of RAM. It works even better on my Dell Inspiron 620 desktop machine, which is faster, and has 8 gigabytes of RAM.

When you start the application, it will attempt to buffer all of the sound samples used. You need to have enough memory (RAM) to buffer the sound-samples, or the sound will briefly cut-out while you're playing.

I particularly like the Orchestral Strings, Orchestral Woodwinds, Orchestral Mallets, and Orchestral Brass sound-packs, as well as the Olympus (choir) sound-pack.

As with any full-featured software package, there are a lot of features to configure and learn. Fortunately, Ableton has done a good job of supplying tutorials and help information.

At a minimum, to use it with the KeyMusician Keyboard, you will have to first install an ASIO device driver for your sound-card (see Installing ASIO4ALL). Also, you will either have to connect a hardware MIDI interface (see Connecting A Hardware MIDI Interface), or install a software MIDI interface (see Installing LoopBe1).

There are a few tricks I learned in using it with the KeyMusician Keyboard, and in this article, I'm passing those tricks along to you.

Setting-Up Ableton Live

Although Ableton Live will work with your sound-card, with an ordinary Windows device driver, it has more latency (delay between hitting a key and hearing a note) that way. So you'll need to follow the instructions for installing an ASIO device driver (such as ASIO4ALL) in the “Improving Your System” section of the KeyMusician member-pages.

In addition to working with sound-cards, ASIO4ALL also works with USB audio devices, such as the M-Audio M-Track USB Audio interface that I use.

Also, you'll need a software (or hardware) MIDI interface, which is also covered in the “Improving Your System” member-pages.

Ableton provides detailed instructions for configuring your audio and MIDI interfaces, and using that information is a good thing. I am providing a few additional tips here.

You can configure your audio and MIDI interfaces at any time by clicking on the “Options” menu, and choosing “Preferences” in the menu that appears. In the left-pane of the window that appears, select “Audio” or “MIDI Sync”.

Configuring Your Audio

Here are my notes in setting up audio:




Configuring Your MIDI Interfaces

Here are my notes on configuring your MIDI interfaces.


In the above, turning the “Remote” switch “On” for your MIDI input is needed to allow you to control your Ableton software synthesizer devices using MIDI controls, though some controls (such as Velocity or Pitch-Bend) work without any special changes.

Switching Instruments Using The KeyMusician Keyboard Performance Panes

As with VST instruments, the Ableton software instruments can't be switched using a MIDI Program Change command (which we normally use when using sound-fonts for that purpose).

But we can still instantly change instruments with the touch of a function key by setting up a group of instruments, each listening to a particular MIDI channel (1 to 16).

Then we set up our performance panes to each send on a different MIDI channel, such as in the following screen-shot:


To help me remember which MIDI channel to use, I use the MIDI channel matching the performance pane's function key. For example, the F12 performance pane uses MIDI channel 12 (in the upper-left area of the screen-shot). Likewise, the F2 pane uses MIDI channel 2, the F3 pane uses MIDI channel 3, and so forth.

The Chords pane (which isn't accessed via a function key) uses MIDI channel 1. Also, the Drums pane (which isn't accessed via a function key) can use MIDI channel 11. Unlike the General MIDI standard, with the Ableton instruments, there is nothing special about using MIDI channel 10 for percussion, so the F10 pane can use MIDI channel 10.

When we switch performance panes (using a function-key) we start sending on the new pane's MIDI channel, so the Ableton instrument listening to that MIDI channel starts playing.

Setting Up Your Ableton MIDI-Track Instruments

Here is a screen-shot shot with a lot of information about setting up your Ableton MIDI-tracks:


The picture above gives you a lot of detailed information that is particularly useful in using Ableton with the KeyMusician Keyboard.

Most importantly, you need to set up your MIDI tracks to listen on a particular MIDI channel. But if you don't click the “I O” button (which turns it yellow), seen near the middle-right of the screen-shot, the channel (and device) info won't appear in your MIDI tracks. Alternatively, you can ensure this information is shown using the “View” menu.

The next-most important thing, is that the red buttons at the right of each MIDI track must all be “Armed” (appear red). With all MIDI tracks armed, you can play on multiple MIDI tracks at the same time, which you need to do in playing melody and chords with different instruments.

When you drag an instrument sound into a new MIDI track, it dis-arms all of the other MIDI tracks (assuming you want to play on only that track). You can re-arm the other MIDI tracks by holding down the control-key (on the typing keyboard) while left-clicking on each of the other tracks' arm-buttons.

For my Chords pane (using MIDI channel 1), I use a composite-voice instrument, which is a string ensemble, with a piano sound 'in the background', giving the chord notes a bit of a percussive sound. I discussed doing this on Linux in another newsletter article.

In the above case (using Ableton), I first dragged (& dropped) the “Strings Ensemble Legato” sound to the MIDI channel 1 MIDI track. Then I dragged and dropped the “Grand Piano” sound into the parameters area of the Strings Ensemble sound (middle-bottom-left of the screen-shot). This includes the “Grand Piano” sound along with the Strings Ensemble” sound.

To make the piano sound softer than the strings ensemble sound, I adjusted the Grand Piano volume slider, making it softer (a negative number), relative to the volume level of the strings ensemble sound.

Linking MIDI Controls To Ableton Instrument Parameters

In order to allow MIDI control signals to control Ableton instrument parameters, the MIDI Input “Remote” button must be turned-on, as described earlier. Assuming that has been done, linking a MIDI control to an Ableton device parameter is done in a step-by-step manner.

First, we select the MIDI track the control is to be used on. We also change the performance panes in the KMK window so that it sends on the MIDI channel that instrument listens-to. See the following screen-shot:


When the “MIDI” button is clicked, the screen changes, similar to what is shown in the following screen-shot:


In the above, we first select (by left-clicking on) the instrument parameter we want the MIDI control to affect. In this example, we're trying to have the “Volume” MIDI-control on MIDI channel 1 (the Chords pane) affect the “Volume” device parameter of the Strings Ensemble instrument.

After doing that, we move the “Volume” slider of the corresponding performance pane of the KMK window. When you do that, A “MIDI Mapping” control is set up to do that. A bunch of MIDI Mapping controls are shown already-setup in the left pane of the Ableton window above.

Before you try to use the control, do the next step, or you'll mess things up.


That pretty-much covers the things you need to know to use Ableton Live with the KeyMusician Keyboard.

There are a few other things I found out that have proved useful.

Make Sure Your Samples Are Fully Buffered Before Performing

When you load your live-set, the status-bar at the bottom of the window will indicate it is buffering the sound samples. Wait for this process to complete before performing, or the sound will cut-out, with the “D” (Disk Overload) indicator (at the upper-right of the window) lit-up.

It's also a good idea to try playing with each of the sounds (listening with earphones) before you perform, to make sure all of the sound samples really are buffered.

Make Sure The KeyMusician Keyboard Has Control Before Playing Notes

If you press keyboard keys to play notes when some other window (such as the Ableton Live window) has keyboard-focus, you are sending those key-strokes to that window, instead. The KeyMusician Keyboard window needs to have keyboard-focus in order to properly play music.

Inserting A MIDI Track In Ableton

In the sequencer view, you can insert a new MIDI track anywhere (vertically) you want – not just after the last one. Here's how:


Armed with the information included in this article, you should be able to play the Ableton Live instruments using the KeyMusician Keyboard.

Sample Music Performed With The KeyMusician Keyboard Using Ableton Live

For an example of music created using Ableton Live with the KeyMusician Keyboard, click on the link below. In this piece (my Intermezzo #5), I'm using a composite-voice sound for the chords (Strings Ensemble, with Grand Piano).

Along with the chords, I have 3 solo instrument sounds. The first is a sampled human voice choir, using the “Olympus Elements” sound pack, starting out with a 'humming' choir sound.

The next instrument is the “Alto Flute Solo” sound from the “Orchestral Woodwinds” sound pack.

The final instrument is the “Oboe Solo” sound from the “Orchestral Woodwinds” sound pack.

This piece is still mostly in an improvisational form, sounding different each time I play it. It was all recorded and performed in a single 'take'.

Ableton Live Audio Demo - Aere's Intermezzo #5

Other Useful Links On This Topic

The web-site for Ableton Live 9 is:

Ableton Live 9

The link below shows a comparison of the different versions of Ableton Live 9. Although I could have added the sound packs I wanted to the Live Standard version, it cost me less overall to purchase the Live Suite version. You can get the Live Intro version to try it out without spending a lot of money.

A lot of instrument sound packs come with Live 9 Suite. I purchased the “Olympus Elements” sound pack as an extra expense, needing a good, synthesized choir sound. With this, I can actually change the syllable sung by the choir on-the-fly (using the modulation control).

Here is the feature-comparison link:

Ableton Live Feature Comparison

The Ableton Live web-site sub-page where you can listen to samples of the various sound packs available with Ableton Live is:

Ableton Live Sound-Packs

You can return to the index of newsletter articles by clicking below:

Index Of All Newsletter Articles