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How to be a music creator in Ableton

Hip hop, electronic dance music, and beat-making have dominated the music scene for nearly two decades. Driven by the accessibility of digital audio workstations (DAWs), the power to make music the world dances to is available to anyone with a computer at their desk and a song in their heart.

But which DAW is right for you? There is no one way to answer that question, although we can give you an idea of what the worldwide superstars use. Pro Logic, Pro Tools, and Cubase are just a few of the programs that make the musical world go round. Let’s take a look at one more – Ableton Live.

Although Ableton Live comes in a wide range of price points – from $99 to almost $800 – you can download Ableton Lite for free. If this is your introduction to a digital audio workstation, we recommend downloading the free version. There are options for both PC and Mac, but there is no version for Chromebook.

You may be able to find more robust versions of Ableton on a trial basis, too. For now, however, the stripped-down Ableton Lite will make you learn the basics. Why pay full price before you actually know what you’re doing? Once your skills progress, then you can upgrade and start expanding your knowledge base.

After installing Ableton Live Lite on your laptop or computer (make sure they have the system requirements needed), open it up and start poking around. There’s always going to be that little voice in the back of your head screaming “Go for it!” For the most part, we agree. Knock yourself out listening to the instruments, samples, and so on.

Just make sure to rein it in at some point. Listening to how instruments sound together is good research, but just blindly picking beats per minute (BPM) or overloading your arrangement view with thousands of notes will teach you nothing. Take the time to figure out what each part of the interface does, then learn how the various features work together to build your understanding of this powerful music making tool.

Starting a Project

The first step is to open a new project and choose New Live Set. A new project stage will appear with several options in the far left navigation. The left-hand column is your library. Under the collections tab, you’ll see drums, samples, sounds, and so on. Below that are places, packs, current project, and add folder.

Once you click sound, instrument, or drum, a new window will open to the right. Here’s where you can choose from several samples to drag to the session view or arrangement view. You can toggle between the two screens in the upper-right corner (either three rows up and down for session view and three rows side to side for arrangement).

If at times you forget what a button does, hover over it with the cursor. In the lower left-hand corner, a short description will appear. Eventually, you’ll learn what almost everything on the interface does, but this acts as a helpful reminder.

Start Creating The Sound of Music

The session view is good for live performances, pulling in instruments, samples, loops, etc. on the fly. In Lite, you’re limited to a total of eight midi or audio tracks you can work with. Once you’ve dragged a sound or sample to one of your track boxes, you can double-click the track and a keyboard will appear. You’ll be able to choose which notes the instrument will play.

The piano roll will open, allowing you to click anywhere to make notes appear. You can lengthen or shorten these notes, batch move notes, or rearrange notes. Spend some time here learning how the grid works, placing notes, and working with audio tracks.

Make sure your track has an instrument assigned to it, or else you’ll hear nothing. After all, with no instruments, there will be no sound. After choosing an instrument from the library, you’ll be good to go. Once an instrument is chosen, you can alter it from a box that will appear next to the infobox in the lower right-hand corner.

You can play your notes by hitting the play button from within the track you’re working in. As a free program, don’t expect a lot of storage for your songs. So use this time to learn the interface, such as where to change the tempo (BPM), the time signature, and how to turn on/off the metronome.

Under each track, there are more toggles indicating gains, solo tracks, pausing tracks, and recording tracks. Without listing every single option of the interface, take the time to learn how to change these settings. Choose an instrument, drag it to a track, draw in some notes, and make alterations as you go.

Learn Something New Everyday

With any digital audio workstation, whether you download it for free, spend $20 on a lesser-known app, or spend big bucks, you need to spend the time to learn it. Even if you just want to mess around on the weekends, without exploring a little you’ll never get past changing the BPM or 4/4 time.


However, if you’ve always loved listening to music and are becoming more and more interested in making it, there are no limits to how much time you can spend improving your game. When you first open a DAW – whether it’s Ableton, Cubase, Logic Pro, Pro Tools – it can be pretty overwhelming.

We covered just the basics of a session view, how to set the BPMs, and dragging instruments to different tracks. Obviously, there’s a lot more to learn. Hovering over certain buttons or knobs will give you a quick description of the tool, but not how to implement it. That’s what the internet is for!

A search for “help with ableton” brings up around 21 million results. Chock full of message boards, tutorials, videos, and more, you can concentrate on certain aspects (“help with ableton tracks” returns five million results for example) or dive into mini-lessons designed to create a short song in minutes.

The key is to learn the way that will help you the most. Watching step by step videos, following along a bulleted list of instructions, or looking for answers on message boards are options for you. They’re all good choices for learning different aspects of a DAW but Recording Connection has a way to put a million or so internet search results in the chair right next to you.

Meet a Mentor: A Professional Who Really Knows Music Production

With the Recording Connection Ableton Electronic Music Production and Advanced Ableton Electronic Music Production Programs, you’ll be paired with an industry professional from day one. Our mentors explain the interface in terms you can understand, making sure you learn the fundamentals, and giving you plenty to work on during your free time.

That’s a key word with any of our programs or workshops: work. We’ve taken the time to choose mentors that match our passion for passing music onto the next generations. So if you’re here to waste their time, don’t bother.

Yes, that sounds a little harsh. But we only want those who want to be here. Can’t wait for the studio doors to open and need to be kicked out the door when the lessons are done? If you’re responsible, make good on your promises, and put in the work, they may even let you stick around while they work.

That might be the biggest perk of Recording Connection – the opportunities to work with other professionals in the business. When those chances to network appear, take advantage! You could be setting yourself up to work in a studio, on commercials, or even TV shows.

If you’re willing to work for it. If so, apply to Recording Connection today.

Get your music production certification and build your music production and audio engineering skills by learning with an industry professional near you.