How to Use Ableton 10 Live (Beginner’s Illustrated Guide)

how to use ableton live ultimate beginners guide

Here is a beginner’s illustrated guide to Ableton 10 Live, which has become the workstation of choice for many music producers, beat-makers, DJs, turntablists, and more, due to its capabilities not only as a traditional DAW but as an instrument for live sequencing and performance.

Ableton has developed a unique range of native software tools and instruments aimed at live performance, and its dedicated hardware controllers have simplified and expanded what’s possible when performing live. It’s advanced as any DAW or sequencer, but simple enough to learn the basics quickly, so let’s dive in! In case you are looking for how to have better sound from the beginning, check this post about 8 Tips & Techniques How To Improve Your Sound When Producing Music.

What can I do with Ableton Live?

Amongst the available DAWs out there, Ableton is unique for its focus on live performance capabilities. The Session View offers a tool for DJing on the fly, switching with ease between different beats, tempos, and more.

It has customizable Macro Controls to integrate with hardware devices for live performance, which is why it’s become so popular for DJs. It has a powerful Arrangement View as well, so you can capture those performances and lock them in to your exact specifications. Check this post if you want to get some beginner’s tips & tricks.

How do I set up an Audio Interface in Ableton Live 10?

First things first, you’ll need to set up your Audio Preferences, which allows you to connect your primary Audio Interface, making it possible to connect monitors, microphones, and other recording devices.

Head to Preferences > Audio and select Driver Type > “CoreAudio” for Mac or “ASIO” for Windows.

Next, select your Input and Output Devices (usually, these will be the same device). Most interfaces do not require drivers to be downloaded, so you should automatically see your device listed. If not, check the company website to make sure no drivers are needed.

Latency is important to pay attention to, especially when it comes to live performance. Buffer size determines Ableton’s responsiveness while processing audio. Low latency will mean faster responsiveness when recording MIDI but will be more taxing on your CPU. High latency will mean more lag, but lower CPU Usage—this is better for the mixing stages when you’re adding on multiple plugins. You’ll want lower latency when performing live, 512 samples is the right place to start.

How do I set up a MIDI interface in Ableton Live 10?

To set up your MIDI controller keyboards and pads, while still in preferences, head to the Link MIDI tab. Most controllers will automatically configure to Ableton when plugged in, meaning you should immediately be able to select them from the dropdown Control Surface menu.

For now, just focus on setting the inputs for your intended controller. If you’re having difficulty finding your device, head to the company website for any drivers, or the MIDI preferences in your computer’s system preferences.

What Is Ableton Live 10’s Session View?

The Session View is what makes Ableton a bit more unique to other DAWs, so it’s an excellent place to start when building out your first project. This best demonstrates Ableton as it was devised as a supplemental sequencing instrument for live performance and DJ sets.

Here you can create Clips, which are the building blocks to creating your tracks in Ableton.

Ableton Session View

What is Ableton Live 10’s Arrangement View?

Ableton’s Arrangement View is the linear view of your composition that you’ll find most commonly used in other DAWs. It provides a picture of the whole composition, for time-based modifications and edits. This is where you’ll make a cohesive track out of the parts recorded in the Session View.

Ableton Arrange View

What is the Browser for?

In the Browser panel on the left side of your screen is where you’ll find and drag instruments, plug-ins, and effects into your session and arrangement windows. Categories is where you find these different tools as categorized by Ableton.

You can right-click on any instrument or effect to add it to your Collections folder, which you can rename and customize the colors of the folders for quick access to your favorites.

Places is where you’ll find “packs” of devices and effects connected with your Ableton account and the Ableton store. It’s also where you can browse any folder on your computer for saved files and sounds.

Ableton Browser

How do I load an Instrument?

While in Session View, select Create > Insert MIDI Track (⇧⌘T) or right-click on an empty section of the area and select Insert MIDI Track.

14 Tips on How to Use Ableton 10 Live – A Beginner’s Guide

Then head to the Browser, and select an instrument from Categories to use. Select one of the kits from Drums and drag it to the first empty “clip slot” in your new MIDI Track.

14 Tips on How to Use Ableton 10 Live – A Beginner’s Guide


How do I play and record a MIDI Instrument?

Make sure your MIDI channel is record enabled (circular button at the bottom of the MIDI channel), and have already set up your MIDI devices, you should be able to play your keyboard or pad and hear the drum sounds. If no MIDI device is set up, you can use your computer keyboard as input for triggering the MIDI. Select the Keyboard icon on the top-right menu do activate or hit the [M] key.

14 Tips on How to Use Ableton 10 Live – A Beginner’s Guide

Ableton Live has two records and plays menus, one for the Arrangement View, and one for the Session View. To record MIDI notes for your newly selected drum kit into a Clip in the Session view, select the Session Record Button in the top center menu of the screen.

14 Tips on How to Use Ableton 10 Live – A Beginner’s Guide

As soon as the Session Record Button has been hit, any notes you play will be recorded into a new clip. You can enable the metronome from the top-left menu for more accurate note playing, and give yourself a count-in as well.

14 Tips on How to Use Ableton 10 Live – A Beginner’s Guide

What is a Clip?

Now that you have recorded your first MIDI notes, you have your first Clip. Clips in Ableton are different from “regions” and “clips” in other DAWs, especially when using the Session View. Clips are MIDI performances or ideas that are meant to be triggered, looped, and modulated to create unique live performances.

How do I edit a Clip?

You can edit the MIDI notes of any Clip by double-clicking on the Clip, which will bring up the MIDI Note Editor. Here is where you can edit the MIDI notes in more detail after recording them. The MIDI notes will show up here in on a piano roll, where you can drag them to other notes, lengthen or shorten the notes, edit velocities, or quantize.

You’ll find more advanced editing options you can select in the Clip Box as well, allowing you to take control of the Launch, Notes, and Envelopes for further MIDI note modulations.

14 Tips on How to Use Ableton 10 Live – A Beginner’s Guide

How Do I Quantize in Ableton?

Quantizing in Ableton is vital for performance fluidity when launching and selecting clips. Still, you are given the option within its parameters to maintain a personal feel, to avoid the music feeling too robotic.

Within the MIDI Note Editor view, you can quantize in two ways. Selecting the notes you wish to quantize and then selecting Edit > Quantize [⌘U] is the quick option for lining up any MIDI notes to the currently selected grid.

14 Tips on How to Use Ableton 10 Live – A Beginner’s Guide

Quick sidebar: you can edit the Grid (what note values your bars are divided into—smaller for finer edits, larger note value for broader) by right-clicking in the MIDI Note Editor window and selecting your grid value. Once you have your Grid value selected, Quantize will move your MIDI notes to the closest beat, fixing any performance tempo errors.

You can also quantize by selecting Edit > Quantize Settings [⇧⌘U], which will bring up a menu that allows you to quantize to a different grid (very helpful when needing to quantize to triplets), and also the amount of Quantization you would like to apply.

This is where you can affect the human element to your beats. A lower amount will still move your MIDI notes to the closest beat, but not exactly locked to it, which helps if you need a groove deeper in the pocket, you can maintain that fractional difference while still keeping to the tempo.

14 Tips on How to Use Ableton 10 Live – A Beginner’s Guide

How do I make changes to an instrument in Ableton Live 10?

You can change the instrument settings in the same area at the bottom of the screen as the MIDI Editor. [Shift + Tab] will bring up the Device View, which will show you all the parameters you can control for the instrument of the selected channel.

Each instrument will be different, but for example, many of the Ableton native kits will have EQ settings, options for switching out drum hit samples, pad placement for hardware instruments, envelope shapers, and many more vital functions.

14 Tips on How to Use Ableton 10 Live – A Beginner’s Guide

What is Clip Launching In Ableton, and How Do I Stop a Clip?

Clips function differently to normally recorded audio in a DAW. You don’t simply press play to start and stop to stop playback. You can adjust a set of parameters to specific functions for when you “launch a clip.”

14 Tips on How to Use Ableton 10 Live – A Beginner’s Guide

To “launch a clip,” press the triangular button on the left edge of the clip in the channel strip. This will “launch” the playback of the clip. Clicking the square button on the same channel at the bottom of the clip list will stop the playback of the clip. By default, the clip is stopped at the end of the bar; this helps with performance fluidity.

What’s unique about clips in Ableton is you can adjust many parameters to affect the launching and stopping of a clip (found in the MIDI Editor Window)—different modes include a trigger, gate, toggle, and repeat.

14 Tips on How to Use Ableton 10 Live – A Beginner’s Guide

How Do I Move Clips From Session View to Arrangement View?

To start to lock in your performance to an editable track in the arrangement view, there are two ways to do it. First, the default ways to switch between the two windows is the Tab key. To grab a clip and move it into the Arrangement View, just click and hold the clip and hit tab, you’ll see the clip appear in the Arrangement window, and you can drop it wherever you like.

14 Tips on How to Use Ableton 10 Live – A Beginner’s Guide

You can also capture an entire Session View performance by launching whichever clips you want playing, and hitting the circular Arrangement Record Button from the top-center menu on your screen.

14 Tips on How to Use Ableton 10 Live – A Beginner’s Guide

This way of recording into arrangement allows for improvisations and whatever real-time modulations you make in the Session View.

There is so much more to cover in what Ableton can do, but this is a good way to jump straight into making music. It’s a very unique, powerful, and fun creative tool and provides endless possibilities and methods of making music, both in your bedroom studio and live! For more information check the Ableton’s official website where you can find video explanations, and also get Ableton Live Free for 30 days – Get more info here.

Also! Here is the Beginner’s video for you in a case to ensure you get enough information:

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