5 Ableton Live Tips from Dubspot Instructors – Pt 2: Nalepa, John Selway, DJ Excess, Pat Cupo

No matter how experienced you are, there’s always room to improve. Here at Dubspot, we’re surrounded by talented, creative, and generous individuals who are always willing to share production tips, tricks, and techniques to anyone looking to improve their production skills or performance abilities. In the spirit of constant improvement and sharing, we’re continuing our free tips from dubspot instructors series. In the second installment of our new 5 Ableton Live Tips from Dubspot Instructors series, Professor Nalepa offers composition and workflow tips, John Selway talks about building organic grooves, DJ Excess offers advice for sampling and chopping audio samples in Ableton Live using the Slice to New MIDI Track function, and Pat Cupo offers our final two tips – be cut-throat about slimming down your Sample Pack and an essential tip for writing/composing your music.

Professor Nalepa: Here’s a composition tip for getting something interesting going relatively quickly that involves Live’s built-in MIDI Effects. Once you’ve written an inspiring melody, you can take that same part and use it to drive several different instruments. There are two ways to do this. You can copy the MIDI file and paste it onto other MIDI tracks with different instruments on them, or you can just use Ableton’s routing section and set up those other instrument tracks to receive MIDI from the track that has the MIDI file on it. If you choose the latter option, you have to make sure you set Monitoring on those tracks to In.

Once you’ve got that going, add various MIDI effects to vary up the part for the different instruments. Say you’ve written the original melody in the middle range, you can add a bass synth on another track with the MIDI Pitch Effect set to -12 to octave down the part. Experiment with adding Arpeggiators with different rates for different synths. The Note Length MIDI effect is nice in combination with Arpeggiators. Set the Note Length to Sync Mode and choose 1/4 and use it to extend shorter notes in your melody while having the Arpeggiator set to play at a faster rate like 1/16. Placing a Random MIDI Effect followed by Scale allows you to add some variety to the part. You can MIDI Map a knob or fader to control the amount of Chance on the Random plug-in, leaving it at 0% will maintain the original melody while turning it up to 100% completely alters it. If you drop the Random Effect followed by a Scale set to the key of your song, the notes will vary but always be in tune. MIDI Effect Racks allow you to set up different chains of MIDI effects, say several Arpeggiators with different rates.

Ableton’s MIDI Effects are a powerful set of tools that are definitely worth exploring. They enable you to quickly take one melodic idea and turn it into a cornucopia of sound.

John Selway: When working on techno grooves in Live, I like to set up controllers for one – or some – of the main elements that I want to automate, and jam out with them in real time, performing and changing the sound as I record into the Arrangement view. As I play, I try to create tension and release, anticipating an overall arrangement shape but doing it in an organic way, instead of just copying out blocks of 8 bars, 16 bars, etc. Then, working in the Arrangement view, I use the shape of what I’ve recorded to guide how I add elements and build up the full track. This process can give the overall construction of the track a more spontaneous, natural feeling.

DJ Excess: When sampling and chopping audio in Ableton Live using the Slice to New MIDI Track function, I usually insert the Velocity MIDI Effect in the same MIDI Track with a Fixed Output in order for the volume levels to be the same when triggering each of the Drum Rack’s cells from any controller that sends velocity messages. To do this, insert the Velocity MIDI Effect in the same MIDI Track that contains the Drum Rack created by the “Slice to New MIDI Track” function. Now adjust your Mode to Fixed and your Out Hi to your desired value making sure that your audio doesn’t clip in the reds in your Track Volume.

Pat Cupo offers our final two tips.

Sample Packs: Be Cut-throat – Ableton has provided us with a nice little sample library – go ahead and dig in. When you have the time, make sure you listen to the library in the File Browser. Eventually you’ll come across samples that you know you’ll never use – delete them. Be cut-throat. Focus on the samples you’ll actually use. The same goes for most of Live’s presets for instruments and effects (delete those too).

Ableton Live: Start in the Arrangement View – In the good ol’ days, the early to mid 1700′s when J.S. Bach was working it, composers performing their own music had one workflow: 1) Write the music on the blank page, 2) perform it with an instrument. If you find yourself writing tons of sketches in the Session View – the default view – but aren’t finishing tracks, try this: Write everything in the Arrangement View (the blank page). You’ll have no choice but to think “in time”, and time is music’s thing. Save the Session View (the instrument) for performing. By the way, it’s totally cool to like Bach – he wrote dance music too.

In case you missed it here is part 1 – ’5 Ableton Live Tips from Dubspot Instructors : Thavius, DJ Kiva, Hatsis, Cellitti, DJ Ceiba’.

Ableton Live Producer Certificate Program

See dates and register for NYC and online classes!

The flagship of our music training, with every Ableton Live course offered at the school. After completing this program, you will leave with 4 completed tracks (EP), a remix entered in an active contest, a scored commercial to widen your scope, and the Dubspot Producer’s Certificate in Ableton Live.

What’s Included:

  • Ableton Live Level 1: Shake Hands with Live
  • Ableton Live Level 2: Completing Your First Track
  • Ableton Live Level 3: Production Essentials
  • Ableton Live Level 4: Sound Design & Instrumentation
  • Ableton Live Level 5: Advanced Composition & Production
  • Ableton Live Level 6: Taking Your EP Global

This program is about learning Ableton Live by going through the entire process of being an artist, by developing your own sound through a series of sketches and experimentation. You will also learn the ins and outs of this powerful software through a series of exercises designed to help you master the steps involved in producing your own music. After a level of getting familiar with the tools that Ableton has to offer, you will then develop your sonic ideas into full length songs – one per level. You will be exposed to a variety of approaches to arrangement and composition, storytelling techniques, ways of creating tension and drama in your music. At the end of the day, it is the sum total of your choices as an artist that define your sound, and levels 2 – 6 will give you the experience of actually completing tracks to add to your portfolio.


  • Ableton Live Core & Advanced: 6 levels
  • Dubspot’s complete Ableton course load
  • 132 hours of hands-on instruction
  • Additional instructor-supervised lab hours


  • Ableton Live Core & Advanced: 6 levels
  • Dubspot’s complete Ableton course load
  • 60-80 hours of high quality videos
  • 3 hours of instructor-led chat sessions per week
  • Direct video & audio feedback from instructors

For more start dates and information about payment plans, please call 212.242.2100 or 1.877.DUBSPOT (1.877.382.7768) or send us a message.