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10 Best: Audio Interfaces

Getting Started With Ableton

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Getting Started With Ableton Empty Getting Started With Ableton

Post by JordonRenn on 1/4/2013, 12:39 pm

First, what exactly does Ableton get used for? Well Ableton can be used in multiple ways. From making songs, audio for film, effects for video games, creating DJ sets and many other ways. It can be used to manipulate existing sounds or create new sounds.

Ableton has plug-ins that either create or manipulate sound. For example; A filter cuts away at certain parts of the frequencies that make up a sound. A resonator would do the exact opposite, it would add to the existing frequencies.

Learn more about live's devices here

Now how do we create sound inside these work stations? Well the most common way is through synthesis. Synthesis is the process of combining waveforms in different ways to create "noise" using a synthesizer. This is a huge subject and you could write a whole book on it. So we'll just leave it at that right now, since Ableton comes with synthesizers that have "presets" which are already synthesized for you.

For an overview on how synthesis works using Live's device Operator go here. There will be a few videos that will explain the basics and the different types of synthesis.

But before that you must understand MIDI, or musical instrument digital interface. This is what "plays" the synthesizer. You either have incoming MIDI data from something such as a keyboard or MIDI data you write on a piano roll inside Ableton. The data it sends is the same for both. First It will send a "note on" command. This will trigger the sound. Next will be "velocity", which will tell how hard you are hitting the key or how hard you told it that you want it to be pressed when writing it in the piano roll. This is controlled at the bottom of the piano roll in Ableton.

Getting Started With Ableton Veloci10

Think of a piano, the softer you hit a key the more quiet it will be and the harder you hit the key the louder. This can also be mapped to other parameters so when you hit it hard maybe you want it to have more tone and when you hit it softer you want it to be a little more of a dull sound. Next in some cases it will send an "after touch" command, which is when you press just a little harder on the keys after you initially press them. The most common use of this is the vibrato effect, where to pitch will "wobble" up and down at a given rate. The last command will be the "note off". This tells the program when you release the key.

With this MIDI data can control "envelopes". The most common type of envelope is the "ADSR", which stands for attack, decay. sustain and release. A very common use of this envelope is to control the volume of a synthesizer. Initially the volume will be a zero. When the synthesizer receives the "note on" it will use the "attack" to determine how long it will take to get to peak volume, your velocity will ultimately determine what the peak volume is. Sustain will be the volume it sustains at until you release the key. The decay is how long it takes to get from peak volume to your sustaining volume. And the release will be how long it take the volume to return to zero once the "note off" command is received.

Getting Started With Ableton Adsr_envelope01

You can also apply these envelopes to most parameters inside Ableton, for example the pitch, it will control how long it would take to get to the highest pitch, how long it will sustain at that pitch then how long it would take to return to the original pitch. There are several different ways to use envelopes and many different types but I won't get into that now.

Ok, now let's look at the piano roll.

Getting Started With Ableton Piano_10

Along the left side it looks a piano turned sideways with horizontal lines corresponding with the keys. Then there are vertical lines called the "grid", The grid will correspond with you time the signature that Ableton is set in. Time signature and tempo can be controlled in the toolbar at the top.

Getting Started With Ableton Temp_a10

This will be set to 4/4 time by default, meaning, there are four beats per measure and a 1/4 note equals one beat. But the grid does not always correspond equally. the grid is divided up into specific note values.

Getting Started With Ableton Grid10
Right click the piano roll it will let you select how to divide it up.

Adaptive is just visual so the will either stay small all the time when either you zoom in or out and triplet grid is similar but is divided into triplets, the is when you play three notes in the time you would normally play just two.

Lets say its divide up into 1/16th notes. That means every line represents a 16th note. So, in 4/4 time, using simple math, we will conclude that every four vertical lines, this will be one beat. The tempo controls how fast these beats are played. In Ableton Live the default is 120bpm or one hundred twenty beats-per-minute. So, in 4/4 time one hundred and twenty 1/4 notes will be played in a minute or if you break it down, two per second. When you lay the notes on the piano roll, by double-clicking on the piano roll, they will show up as bars. They will be triggered left to right when you press play in Ableton. The length of the bar will determine how long the note is held. The beginning of the bar represents the "note on" command and the end of the bar represents the "note off" command.

Now that we have that out of the way, how do you we make a full composition? Well your going to need multiple tracks to layer multiple instruments and maybe vocal recordings and recordings of live instruments. There are four types of tracks, Audio, MIDI, Bus, and Send. We'll focus on Audio and MIDI for now. An audio track is a track to hold audio data, for example a vocal sample or a recording of an acoustic drum. A MIDI track holds MIDI data created in a piano roll, like a melody, bass line or drums. You can add an audio track by pressing CTRL+T and a MIDI track by pressing CTRL+SHIFT+T. You will layer many of these tracks, making them "play together". You will have to control the volume of each track so one doesn't overpower the other, unless you want it to.

Getting Started With Ableton Tracks10

This is just rudimentary, the basics. This will get you creating simple compositions. But there are many more aspects to making music. You need to consider how you occupy spectral space, by not having to much high frequency sounds, or low frequency sounds, mastering a track by making it play as loud and full as it can with out destroying the dynamics of the composition. Controlling the spread of your sounds, if everything is mono it will sound dull, everything is stereo, it will sound hollow. So you need to find that happy medium. I've been doing this for about five years now and I still learn new things on a regular basis.
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