A Tour of Live
- Live Versions: 8
- Operating System: All
This lesson is intended to help you get started with Ableton Live. You'll learn some basic terms and walk through Live's working environment.
Playing the Demo Arrangement
[Note: this lesson and an accompanying Live Set are also installed with Ableton Live and are viewable within the program itself. These lessons can be accessed from Live's Help View. You can read the lesson on the web or from within Live, but we recommend loading the Live Set that accompanies it as you follow along.]
Shown here is Live's Arrangement View:
The Arrangement View is Live's multitrack recording and editing environment. If you've used any other multitrack recording software before, this view probably looks very familiar - time is represented horizontally, while tracks are stacked vertically.
To listen to the Arrangement, please press your computer keyboard's space bar. You can always use the space bar to toggle play and stop.
Listen to the song long enough, and the Arrangement will start to scroll. To move the view backward or forward, or to zoom in/out, grab the beat-time ruler with the mouse, and drag left, right, up or down.
Vertical mouse movements in the Arrangement View zoom in and out; horizontal movements scroll left and right. This works on any beat-time ruler in any of Live's views.
The Session View
In addition to the familiar timeline view in the Arrangement, Live offers another way of working, known as Session View. This is shown below:
To switch back and forth between the Session and the Arrangement, press the Tab key on your computer keyboard.
The Session View offers an improvisational approach to music-making, allowing you to record, play and combine ideas on the fly. This tool is equally useful for songwriting, jamming (alone or with other musicians) and DJing. Your transitions always remain locked to musical time, even during tempo and groove changes.
Let us next look at how music is organized in the Session View.
The Session View's horizontal rows are called scenes. In this setup, every scene represents a song section, such as the intro, a verse, a chorus, etc.
Please click on the triangular Scene Launch Button on the right-hand side of the top scene, as shown below:
The "A" scene will begin to play:
This will keep playing until you launch another scene. Please try launching the "B" and "B2" scenes to move through the song sections, or rearrange the song parts on the fly by launching scenes in any other order.
Unlike a linearly arranged song, each section can play for as long as you like and in any order.
Each scene is made up of smaller parts, called clips. Clips are simply containers for audio or MIDI data, and allow you to take nonlinear composition one step further by deviating from scenes and trying variations. For example, first launch scene "A" once more:
Let us try to combine a bass line from another song part with the "A" clips. Click on the Clip Launch button of the "Bass" clip in the "B" scene, as shown:
Now, you can try combining different clips from different song parts. Any clip or scene you launch will stay in sync with the tempo of the Set. And by default, all clips start only on the next downbeat after they're triggered.
Notice that launching a clip stops playback of the clip that was previously playing in the same column. The vertical columns in the Session View represent tracks, and a track can only play one clip at a time. Therefore, one typically puts variations of a clip in the same track.
If you want to stop a clip without causing another one to start, you can use any Clip Stop button from the same track. These square buttons appear by default in all empty Clip Slots:
There are some cases, though - like in the "Pad," "ShortBright," and "Warm EP" tracks - where there are empty Clip Slots without stop buttons. Rest assured, there is always a Clip Stop button at the bottom of every track, just above the Session Mixer:
Clips are the basic musical building blocks in Live. Now that we know how to launch them and stop them, it's time to see what they're made of.
Peeking Into an Audio Clip
In scene "A" please double-click on the "ShortBright A" clip's name (but not on its Clip Launch button):
The clip's contents are now displayed in Live's Clip View:
"ShortBright A" is an audio clip.Audio clips play sound which has been saved in a sample file. Live offers lots of interesting options for manipulating samples while they play.
As an example, let's see how easy it is to transpose this clip down by a fifth.
A clip's sample box features several controls which affect the playback of the clip's sample. While the clip is playing, click once on the Transpose knob and type "-7", then hit the Enter/Return key on your computer keyboard:
Notice that the tempo of the clip doesn't change as we transpose it. Live treats audio with the same kind of flexibility as MIDI data, allowing you real-time, independent control of pitch and tempo for every clip in your Set.
Peeking Into a MIDI Clip
Now, click on the "Drums A" clip from the "A" scene:
Again, the clip's contents are shown in the Clip View:
The drum clip is a MIDI clip. It doesn't produce any sounds of its own, but instead contains MIDI notes which tell a software instrument what to play. To see the instrument on this track, press Shift-Tab to switch to Track View:
This track contains two of Live's built-in devices: a Drum Rack instrument and a Beat Repeat effect. The Drum Rack provides a familiar pad layout for our percussion samples, while the Beat Repeat effect adds variety to our groove by creating semi-random variations of the Drum Rack's audio output.
We can toggle back and forth between Track View and Clip View at any time by pressing Shift-Tab again.
For more information about using software instruments, see the Playing Software Instruments lesson.
From Sketch to Composition
You've now had an introduction to Lives Session and Arrangement views, and have a sense of how clips and tracks work. Now let's look at how a Session View jam naturally evolves into a finished composition by recording your actions into a new Arrangement.
First, go back to the Arrangement View and delete all of the clips that have been recorded there. We're going to start with a blank Arrangement and make our own.
Now, stop playback for all clips in the Session View by pressing the Stop All Clips button:
Then, reset the Arrangement position to 1.1.1 by pressing the Control Bar's Stop button twice.
Press the Control Bar's Record button.
Recording will now begin when any clip or scene is launched. Live will keep a precise log of each clip and scene launched, every mixer and effect control changed, and even changes to tempo.
Click the Stop button whenever you are done.
Press the Tab key on your computer keyboard to switch to Live's Arrangement View, where we began this lesson.
You can see your recording here, laid out as an arrangement of horizontal clips. Reset the Arrangement position to 1.1.1 again, then hit the space bar to have Live play back your performance.
Where to Go from Here?
Live builds bridges from improvisation to composition - and back. It certainly pays to understand the underlying concepts, as laid out in the reference manual's "Live Concepts" chapter. Also, we recommend going through the rest of the Lessons.
Here are some ideas for further experimentation and learning:
- Try out the other tutorials, either on the web or within Live's built-in Help View. These cover topics such as Playing Software Instruments, Recording Audio, and Creating Beats.
- Trying loading some other clips, either from your own sample collection or from Live's Library content that was installed with the program. Of course, you can also record your own audio or MIDI clips as well.