Ableton Live Class 2 & 3 :: Session View & MIDI

With our course overlapping the holidays at the end of the year, a few students and I missed the second and or third class. I was vacation in Japan and missed both. The cool thing about taking classes at DubSpot is that if you miss a class, you can catch up during lab time, or at a makeup class. Jon scheduled our makeup class to cover the main points from class one and two (navigating around the interface of Ableton Live) and focus on what we missed in class three, which was all about MIDI.

Musical Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI) is an industry-standard protocol at enables electronic musical instruments such as keyboard controllers, computers, synthesizers, sound cards, samplers, drum machines, and other electronic equipment to communicate, control, and synchronize with each other. Holding up the M-Audio Axiom 25 MIDI keyboard, Jon showed the class that MIDI does not transmit an audio signal or media – it transmits “event messages” such as the velocity of musical notes to play, controlling signals for parameters such as volume, vibrato and panning. As an electronic protocol, MIDI is notable for its widespread adoption throughout the musical industry. Jon emphasized the key to becoming a successful producer in Ableton Live is to become a good MIDI editor, thinking of music not in terms of a classical piano keyboard, but thinking like a mad scientist is the best way to find new ways to create music on software programs.

For the rest of the day we worked in the session view of Ableton Live, it’s primarily used to organize and trigger sets of sounds called clips. These clips may be arranged into scenes which may be triggered as a unit. For instance a drum, bass, and guitar track might comprise a single scene. When moving on to another portion of the composition – a new scene – some or all of those parts might differ and could be triggered in parallel. Jon showed us how to program a beat using two MIDI tracks, and explained that customizing our clips would create interesting dynamics, allowing sections in a song to breathe, creating more a groovy sound. The session view is the basis of improvisation. It was at this point that Jon drew our attention to the projection screen to talk about understanding note duration and divisions.

Jon brought up the website: and told us that the position and duration of any given note is essential for western style musical production – excluding abstract / experimental music. While Jon did go through years of music school to learn how to read and write musical compositions, Ableton Live users only need to understand the basics of musical notes and bars. For instance, engaging the metronome to have a tempo reference plays four quarter notes in a bar; the backbeat hits on the two and four of the bar, and 1/8 notes are subdivided beats that are associated with the high hat sound in house and trance electronic dance music. Most importantly, Jon told us to listen while we work, train our ears to really hear what our eyes overlook on the computer screen.

As class wrapped up, we were given our first homework assignment, to create a musical sketch of two or more MIDI tracks that incorporate a melody and beat in the session view. We will use this in class four when we begin to make a remix. Now that I had my first homework assignment, I had to get Ableton Live on my personal MacBook. Being unsure which specific version I should purchase as a beginning student, Jon recommended I download a two week trial version that includes: Ableton Live7, Sampler, Operator, Electric, Analog, Tension, Extensive built-in step-by-step tutorials, Localized software menus, tutorials, and PDF reference manuals.

The download process was very easy and quick, I logged into the Ableton site, clicked the ‘Downloads’ link, selected the Ableton Live 7 Trial Version, chose my language ENGLISH, my operating system Mac OS X, input my email and clicked ‘download’. Immediately I was downloading the trial version and was told to log into my email account to grab the trial serial number to complete my download. Jon mentioned that Ableton Version 8 was coming out this year, and if we purchased Version 7 now, we will be able to upgrade to Version 8 for minimal price. As for the moment, Iam now able to get my hands dirty and develop more experience in deciding which specific program to actually purchase in two weeks: Ableton Live LE, Ableton Live 7, or Ableton Suite.