Changing instruments on the fly.

I'm a newb with an Akai MPK225(+ Ableton Live Lite), planning to use the MPK's keyboard like a stand-alone instrument on occasion.

During a tune onstage, I would like to switch back and forth between a Fender Rhodes sound to a string synth. How do I do that from the MPK and not the laptop?

I've figured out a cumbersome way to do this (below), but there's probably a *proper* and better way.

Here's my newbie kluge:

1.) Upload the Rhodes and strings into two different columns in Session view; e.g., the Rhodes may be in Column 1 and strings in Col 2. This way, each instrument gets a mixer.

2.) Using the ctrl-m (or pushing the MIDI button - upper right), I assign a pad to the "Arm" buttons on each of the two mixers. Thus, Pad 1 would arm Col 1 (the Rhodes) and Pad 2 would arm Col 2 (the strings).

3.) Not exactly sure why, but the "Monitor" section in the two mixers have to be set to "In". When set to "In", hitting Pad 1 arms Col 1 while disarming Col 2 and vice versa. If you put Monitor on "Auto" you hear both Cols 1 and 2 - which could be interesting.


T^3 3 years ago | 0 comments

6 answers

  • laidlaw
    12 answers
    16 votes received
    5 votes

    You are on the right track. There are 5 (technically 7) ways I know of that will help you achieve what you have described..

    1. Arm one instrument and un-arm the other. Use command+M (MIDI edit mode) and map both of the Arm buttons to the same pad on your controller.

    Each time you tap the mapped button it will toggle the one instrument on and the other off. NOTE: This only works properly if Exclusive>Arm is disabled in Preferences>Record Warp Launch. You can also use this method to toggle other devices and effects in the same manner.

    2. Some USB MIDI controllers auto-map instrument switching so it could be worth reading the user manual for your controller if Auto-mapping is supported for Ableton. My Axiom switches and maps device parameters automatically so it can be worth checking this option out.

    3. The other way you can do it is by creating an Instrument rack and map chain selection to switch instruments.

    AfroDJMac explains it pretty smoothly

    and old mate from the DSP Project does an okay job too:

    Theoretically you could have 128 instruments on one MIDI lane and use one button, knob, or fader to cycle through each of them.

    You don't need to have the Zone in the Chain selector view cover the entire 0-127 section like in the videos. I normally have an instrument mapped to "0", "1" and "2" etc. then map the Chain Selector Ruler to a button/pad.

    Every time I tap that button it cycles through the chain from 0 onwards, when it gets to the end it starts again from 0.

    4. Another way would be to utilize the crossfader. Arm both instrument lanes and set one instrument to A and one to B then map the Crossfader to a button, pad, fader or knob of your choice (you can bring up the Crossfader options by clicking the circular "X" icon on the far right hand side towards the center, to the right of the Master track's volume fader). This method could make for a nice smooth fade between two sounds but could also be taxing on CPU as you'd essentially be running both instruments at the same time just one is muted. With that in mind you could use the Mute or Solo buttons the same way as the first method I described. (NOTE: For Solo to work this way in Exclusive>Solo needs to be Enabled, no Preference changes need to or can be made to Mute)

    5. The last way I can think of is to use the Key Zone Editor in an Instrument Rack. You could add both instruments to the rack and assign octaves to separate instruments.

    If you want the instruments to use the same pitch you could add the Pitch MIDI effect to bump the note values down/up octave, as appropriate, so that when you switch instruments using the octave switcher on your keyboard it will remain the same octave for both instruments regardless of the switch.

    NOTE: this method is only effective if you want to play using the same pitch range but an interesting way to look at instrument switching and a useful technique for using multiple instruments on different octaves (eg. Pad and Bass from C1 to C3, Pad and Lead Synth from C3 to C6)

    So you have a few options to switch instruments a little smoother then before.


    The behaviour described in 3 should be the other way around... If set to Auto, the instruments will only play when Armed.

    If set to "In" all tracks set to "In" will also sound (regardless of being armed or not), any track set to "Auto" and is armed will sound too. If "auto" tracks are not armed then only "In" tracks will sound.

    Hope this explanation wasn't too confusing. Let me know if it works for you.

    3 years ago | 2 comments
  • T^3
    13 answers
    13 votes received
    1 vote

    Mr/Ms laidlaw;

    Wow. Thanks a million for your clear answer and for setting me straight on point #3. I wasn't in front of my Ableton computer so I was working from memory which must have been faulty. I'm glad I didn't make that mistake at a gig!

    Cheers, T^3


    3 years ago | 1 comment
  • T^3
    13 answers
    13 votes received
    1 vote

    Hi Mr. L,

    I had posted the same question on the Akai forum and one of the Akai employees said this: "Best work around would be loading all of your different instruments on separate tracks in Live, then using the MPK225 cursor arrows to scroll between the tracks. By default, Live will arm the track that is highlighted so you won't have to do anything else."

    I think this is what you were saying about auto mapping (your point #2, above).

    I'm finding that a lot of my questions have to do w the *interaction* between Ableton and Akai, a topic that gets orphaned in the manuals.

    3 years ago | 0 comments
  • [daw] Ableton staff
    202 answers
    241 votes received
    1 vote

    Hi there, 

    Just chiming in for a small addition to the thread, as the question has been answered correctly and very detailed, thanks to laidlaw. 

    Loading different instrument presets in one set might make sense if we are speaking about just a few presets, but please keep in mind that from a certain point on, depending on your hardware, this will also affect the performance of your system and Live. 

    So I would not recommend loading 20 different drum racks presets into one session just to navigate faster between them, in such cases I would refer to one of the other solutions mentioned, as every added track and device in Live currently also adds to your overall latency. 

    I hope you find a good workflow for this, enjoy Live. 



    3 years ago | 0 comments
  • WAX Recording Studio - LONDON UK
    3 answers
    5 votes received
    1 vote

    Another way to do it is to map your midi controller to markers on the timeline. So every time you hit a new marker ie: 'verse' or 'chorus' etc... all of your racks (with instruments and presets) are automated to load the chain instruments and parameters. 

    This is cool as can apply to multiply instruments across the session. 

    1 year ago | 0 comments
  • T^3
    13 answers
    13 votes received
    1 vote

    Thanks a million WAX Recording! Very useful advice.

    1 year ago | 0 comments

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