001-05- Ableton Live: Programming Drums

Week III - Lesson V



Ableton Live features two main views. The Session View and the Arrangement View


In this lesson, We will focus on the Session View.

Live’s Browser

From the browser, you can load all your sounds and files as well as built-in Instruments, Effects, Clips, Samples, Third-Party Plug-ins, Max for Live Devices and organize your collections (Favorites).


To work with the browser you first need to select an item from the Collections, Categories or Places in the Sidebar and then select an item from the Content Panel.


Collections allow you to tag any device, file or folder whether it’s an Instrument, Plugin, Audio Effect, MIDI effect, a Sample, Clip or a folder.

To add an item to a collection right click and choose the color. You can also use the numbers on your keyboard 1-7 as a shortcut (0 will clear out all colors from that item).

When you move your mouse next to the collection you can hit Edit. Once in edit mode, you can hide collections you don’t need or use and rename. Click Done to exit edit mode.


Note that each collection can hold various types of items. So you can put your favorite samples, plugins, and Audio effects in the same collection.

Furthermore, items can be assigned to multiple collections.


Categories represent your Ableton Library and each Category label shows all the items of that given types regardless of where they are in your Ableton Library.

  • Sounds — all of your Instrument Racks and instrument presets, organized by the type of sound they make (rather than by their devices.)
  • Drums — all of your drum presets. This includes full drum kits, which are available as Drum Racks, as well as single drum hits, which are delivered as Instrument Racks.
  • Instruments — all of your Instrument Racks, as well as individual Live instruments and their presets, organized by device (rather than by the type of sound.)
  • Audio Effects — all of your Audio Effect Racks, as well as individual Live audio effects devices and presets.
  • MIDI Effects — all of your MIDI Effect Racks, as well as individual Live MIDI effects devices and presets.
  • Max for Live — all of your Max for Live devices and presets, as well as any Racks that are built with those devices, organized into Audio Effect, Instrument and MIDI Effect folders.
  • Plug-Ins — your third-party VST and/or Audio Units plug-ins.
  • Clips — all of your Live Clips.
  • Samples — all of your individual audio samples.
  • All results — this section appears after you’ve typed something into the search field. It shows search results for every section of the browser in a single list.

Similar to Collections, You can edit which categories that are visible using the Edit mode.


Places represent your hardrive. Use this to access a specific folder on your harddrive, your user library or an add-on Live Pack you have installed.

  • Packs — all Packs that come pre-installed with Live, as well as any that you’ve installed yourself. Each Pack appears as a folder in the content pane, which can be unfolded to reveal that Pack’s contents. Presets, samples, and Live Clips installed by Packs will also appear in the appropriate Categories labels.
  • User Library — the User Library is the default location for items you save yourself, which also includes default presets, grooves, your personalized Racks and device presets, your own samples, Live Clips, etc. Files that you save to your User Library will also be available in the appropriate Categories labels. Do not save Projects here!
  • Current Project — all of the files that are contained in the currently active Project. Which will also include automatic backups (only Live 10 and higher) of your project. If you’re working on a Live Set that you haven’t yet saved, the current Project refers to a temporary location.
  • And any folders from any of your hard drives that you’ve added to Live’s Browser.

Which Packs to Download First

Beat ToolsHiphop/Trap (Only in Suite Version)

Build and DropEDM (Only in Suite Version)

Glitch and Wash – Weird/Glitch (Only in Suite Version)

Drive and Glow Indie/Electronica (Only in Suite Version)

Punch and Tilt – Tech/Techno/Underground (Only in Suite Version)

Skitter and StepDubstep/Future/DnB

Chop and Swing – Lofi/Sampled Hip Hop

Adding Your Files

Use the Add Folder button at the bottom of the Places label to add your own folders from anywhere on your hard-drive or external hard-drives.

You can than drag and reorganize the folders as you like.


add folder

* Note that if you add a folder from an external harddrive and you don’t have it plugin the next time you work. The folder will be grayed out and you won’t be able to use it until you connect the harddrive.

Types of Tracks

There are 5 types of tracks in Ableton Live.

  • MIDI Track – can contain MIDI Clips, MIDI effects, Instruments & Audio Effects
  • Audio Track – can contain Audio Clips (Wav, Aif, Mp3, etc.) and Audio Effects
  • Return Track – can contain Audio Effects
  • Group Track – Group Audio & MIDI tracks and contain Audio Effects
  • Master Trackcan contain Audio Effects

To create a track right click in the drop area or go to the top menu Create and choose your desired track type.

*You cannot create more than one Master track.

Types of Clips

Every piece of audio or MIDI in Ableton Live will be referred to as a Clip.

Ableton Live clips are the musical building blocks of any Live project. We have two types of clips.

  • MIDI Clips
  • Audio Clips

In this lesson, we will focus on MIDI clips.


All the MIDI Effects, Instruments, Plugins Audio Effects and Max for Live effects and instruments will be referred to as Devices

The Mixer Device

Any Audio Track, Return Track and a MIDI track with an Instrument will have a Mixer Device. The mixer have these controls:

  • Track Volumecontrols the overall volume of the track.
  • Track Pancontrols the Stereo Balance of the track.
  • Track Activatormutes the track.
  • Track Solo – solo the track.
  • ARM Recordingprepare the track for recording.


The Mixer Device in the Arrangement View has the exact same controls but they are positioned differently. When you change something in the mixer it will change in both the Arrangement and Session view.

Arragnment View Mixer


Note that on an empty MIDI track without a MIDI instrument we’ll see the MIDI meter instead of the Mixer device.

MIDI meter

Detail View

Just like we have two main views we also have two bottom views.

  • Device View – Shows all the devices (effects and instruments) in the Track
  • Clip View – Shows the content of the selected Clip

Clip view will show the MIDI editor for MIDI clips and the Sample Editor for Audio Clips

You can extend the Clip View by dragging the border with the main view up or down.



Double click the Clip to show the Clip view

Double click the Track title to show the Device View

You can also use the two tabs on the bottom right of the screen to switch between the two views.


MIDI stands for Musical Interface Digital Instrument. It’s a communication protocol that is being in use for the last 30 years by almost all manufacturers of pro audio products such as synths and controllers.

MIDI help us communicate between our MIDI controllers and the computer. So we can play software instruments and manipulate them in real time.

MIDI doesn’t make any sound on its own. MIDI only send messages between our controller and the computer.

That’s why an empty MIDI track won’t have a regular Mixer device until we’ll place an Instrument on it.

Further Reading about MIDI

Using MIDI Controllers

MIDI Controllers are the best way to musically control Ableton Live. Lets see how to setup and use our MIDI controllers.

If you still don’t have a MIDI controller. Check out Conotrllers.cc it’s a great resource to choose the right MIDI controller.

In Ableton Live, It’s very easy to customize and use MIDI controllers.

First, plug-in your controller, The new ones all work with USB. If you have an old controller or a synth it will probably have a MIDI In and MIDI Out plugs. You will need to get an Audio Interface with MIDI or a MIDI interface or for the simplest solution a USB-to-MIDI cable.

Next, Open Live’s Preferences and go to the MIDI/Sync tab.

You should see your MIDI controller in the list. One for Input and one for output.


Track – when turned on for the Input you will be able to play software instruments. When turned on for the Output you will be able to send MIDI notes out of your computer to other computers or hardware.

Sync – when turned on for the Input you can switch to EXT mode to become a Slave to another computer. When turned on for the Output you will be able to send MIDI clock to become the Master computer for other computers or hardware gear.

Remote – when turn on for the Input you can use Live’s MIDI mapping mode. When turned on for the outputs you will be able to send MIDI CC to other computers or hardware gear.


For most cases you will want to turn on Track and Remote for the Input of the controller. This will allow you to play any instrument and use Live’s MIDI Mapping mode.

Control Surface

In Live’s MIDI/Sync preferences. You can also select a Control Surface.

Control Surfaces are Remote scripts which are written in Python. They will allow for your controller to be automatically mapped to control things like the Mixer, Devices and the Session View.

Open one of the drop-down menus and look for your controller in the list. Sometimes you will have to download the script from the controller’s manufacturer website.

If you see your controller on the list, Select it. Then select it for the Input and Output.


Now you can start moving a few knobs and faders on your controller to see what they are doing.

One of the best things about a Control Surface script is the instant control over devices.

When using control surface script, whenever you are focused on a device whether it’s an instrument or effect you will see a blue hand next to the device title. The blue hand will allow for immediate control for any device that is in focus. Simply start moving your knobs and faders to see what they are controlling.


There are still times when you want to map other things to your controller or maybe the Remote Script for that controller is just not good enough. Well, Ableton made it very easy for us to manually map almost anything we want in Ableton Live.

Please note that any manual mapping you will do will overwrite the Remote Script mapping.

MIDI Mapping Mode

Now that you have your MIDI controller setup you can start mapping it to control almost anything you want in Ableton Live.

To go into MIDI mapping mode click on the button titled MIDI on the top right corner of Live.

midi mapping mode


Now click on anything that is highlighted in color (purple by default). Then, click on any key, knob, pad or fader on your controller. You should now see 2 numbers representing the MIDI messages that are mapped to that value in Live.

In the image below I’ve mapped the track volume.

mapped track volume


You will also notice the browser is now displaying all the MIDI mappings you did for the project.

From here you can also change the Minimum and Maximum values of the mapped control.

midi mapping list


As you can see it’s very easy to map almost anything you want to be controlled by your MIDI controller.

KEY Mapping Mode

There is one more mapping mode. KEY. It works very similarly to the MIDI mapping mode. Simply click on KEY button on the top right corner of the screen.

key mapping mode


Now you can map anything that highlighted in color (orange by default) to be controlled by your computer keyboard.

You can map any letter or number and you can even use capital letters for more mapping options.

Please note that if you do map to a letter (numbers are not affected) it will not work unless the Computer MIDI Keyboard button is OFF.

You can use your computer keyboard as a MIDI controller to play your software instruments.

computer midi keyboard

In Live 10, the Computer MIDI Keyboard is off by default, Turn it on with the keyboard shortcut M.

When the Computer MIDI Keyboard button is on:

ASDF… row: White keys

WERT…. row: Black keys

Z: Go down an octave

X: Go up an octave

C: Lower Velocity

V: Higher Velocity

Drum Rack

Drum Rack

The first MIDI Instrument we’re going to use is called the Drum Rack. It is inspired by the legendary MPCs series. It gives us a 16 pad layout. on each pad, we can place a sound. Each pad also has a corresponding note number that indicates which note we need to hit on our MIDI controller to trigger the sound on that pad(!it doesn’t mean we’ll get the sound playing that note but simply triggered by that note).

There are 128 pads in the drum rack and you can scroll between banks using the Pad Overview on the left.

To play the Drum Rack with your MIDI controller make sure the Track is ARMed.

We’ll cover Drum Racks more in-depth in the Sampling II class.

The MIDI Editor

To create a MIDI clip double click in any empty Clip slot on the track that contains the Drum Rack.

Once you create a clip you will see an Empty MIDI editor. This is where we will sequence our drums and later on instruments.

To the right, we can see all our Drum Rack sounds and in the center of our Grid. On the top, we can find the Beat Counter. You can see an indication of the musical Beats with the 2 different shades of grey.

By default, the Grid is divided into 1/16 notes. You can change that by right-clicking on the Grid and choosing a different Fixed Grid size.

Double click anywhere to create a MIDI note. Double click on a MIDI note to delete it.

Drag the end of the MIDI note to extend or shorten it.


When creating a MIDI clip in the session view we will get a default 1 bar clip.

To change the length of the clip use the Loop Length controls in the Notes box.


To play a clip click on the launch button right next to it in the Session View


MIDI clips Looping is on by default so it will keep on playing until you stop the global transport bar.

You can turn on/off the Loop from inside the clip.


Velocity is the speed of which we hit the MIDI note on our MIDI controller. By default, the Velocity is connected to the volume of the sample.

You can find the velocity lane on the bottom of the MIDI Editor.

Velocity Lanes

So we can change this static 1/16th note hi-hat pattern

static hihat


To this more dynamic moving pattern. Notice how the velocity is being indicated by the shades of red.

Dynamic Hi-hat

BPM Ranges

Here is a list of BPM ranges and example styles that are in that range.

60-100 BPM – Downtempo, Chillout, Trip-hop, Ambient, Hip-Hop, Balads

100-120 BPM – Mid tempo, Glitch-hop, Mombathoon, Funky Beats,

120-135 BPM – House tempo, Deep House, Progressive House, Techno, Trance, Electro

135-145 BPM – Trap, Dubstep, Modern Hip-hop

145-160 BPM – Bass Music, Juke/footwork

160 – 180 BPM – Uptempo, Drum&bass, Jungle, Neuro bass

Home Work

Create 5 Beats using your custom drum racks or presets.

All beats should be different styles.

You can save them in the same project or separate projects. 

Student Recourses

Beats Dissected

Drum Patterns Collection

Modern Drum Patterns

Keyboard Shortcuts


Tab – Switch between Arrangement/Session View

Shift+Tab – Switch between Clip/Device View

Create a new MIDI track – CMD+Shift+T or CNTRL+Shift+T

Spacebar – Start/Stop the Global Transport bar

CMD+F or CNTRL+F – Quick Browser Search

Navigate the Browser using the arrow keys

Midi Editor

CMD+1 or CNTRL+1 – Smaller Grid

CMD+2 or CNTRL+2 – Larger Grid

CMD+3 or CNTRL+3 – Toggle Triplet Grid

CMD+4 or CNTRL+4 – Turn on/off Grid

Selected note can be moved around with the arrow keys

Shift + left or right will change the selected note length according to the grid size.

CMD+D or CNTRL+D – Duplicate note

Holding CMD or Alt and then dragging a clip up or down – Changing Note Velocity

Class Video

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