5 Ableton Live Tips from Dubspot Instructors – Pt 1: Thavius, DJ Kiva, Hatsis, Cellitti, DJ Ceiba

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. We believe that no matter how experienced you are, there’s always room to improve. In the spirit of constant improvement and sharing, we’re continuing our free tips from dubspot instructors series. In the first installment of our new 5 Ableton Live Tips from Dubspot Instructors series, Thavius Beck offers MIDI mapping tips, DJ Kiva offers advice for recording and working with vocalists, Matt Cellitti on composing film scores in Ableton Live, Michael Hatsis aka Banginclude on creating an organized sound and loop library, and DJ Ceiba on the ever present West African clave rhythmic pattern in popular music.

Thavius Beck: When MIDI mapping any parameter with a range in value (like a fader, a knob, filter frequency, etc.), not only can you set the minimum and maximum values of the range, but you can also invert the minimum and maximum values. To do this, just hit the MIDI button in the upper right corner to enable the midi map mode, then map a fader, knob, or row of buttons to a parameter in Live. Now on the left you will see the what you have just midi mapped, and you will also see the minimum and maximum values (which can be changed). If you right-click on any of those midi mappings, you will be able to invert the minimum and maximum values as well.

This is helpful when you want the same knob, fader, or row of buttons to control two different things in two different ways. For instance, I could midi map the same knob to control the Filter Frequency and Resonance of my AutoFilter plugin, and use it as a Low Pass Filter. If I did that, I would more than likely invert the range for just the Resonance, so that as I cutoff the higher frequencies, the resonance increases, giving me a more resonant low end when I do filter sweeps. If you haven’t already, try it out!

Michael Hatsis: One of the things that most successful producers I’ve met have in common is the use of templates and a well organized sound and loop library. Separate your music time into 2 parts sound design sessions (making tools and organizing them) and composition sessions (getting music done). The idea is that if you have a good set of tools at your disposal when you are in one of those really creative moods, you can keep the flow going and quickly finish tracks.

I’ll spend a few hours a week creating, organizing and hunting for sounds, and then I’ll organize them in my personal sound library for later use.

Creating your own sample library doesn’t necessarily mean you have to make something from scratch. If you’re new to sound design, you can just go through Ableton’s Library and/or your Plugin’s presets and find sounds that you like. Then organize them according to their category, i.e. Bass, Lead, Kick Drum, Clap, Stab, etc. If it’s a plugin, group it to a rack and drag it to your browser, and next time you add it to a set, all of the plugins settings will be restored.

I also spend a fair amount of time grabbing bits from my music library and from sounds I’ve found in movies, YouTube, vinyl, etc. Don’t reinvent the wheel. When I’m done with a song, I’ll grab the individual tracks and add them to my library. Live makes this very easy, Just drag the track from the title bar into the browser and that track will be stored as an .als file. When you drag it back into Live, all of the tracks clips, devices, mixer settings, arrangement and automation will be restored. This works great for drum phrases and complex transitions and builds. Again, drag one to your library to create a Live clip or .als then drag it in your next track and tweak it to fit the song.

Matt Cellitti: Believe it or not, I actually use Ableton to do all my movie scoring (why would I want to learn another DAW that might do it better, when Ableton handles it just fine). I’ve been scoring some horror movies lately and I like to try to get each instrument track done in one take while playing along with the video. This allows me to be more spontaneous and go with my gut feeling in terms of adding automation parameters (filter sweeps, delay/reverb sends) and arranging build-ups or slow-downs with the keyboard.

One of the most important things I learned to do is to add multiple Locator Points to the Timeline so that I can see what changes to the video are coming. Simply watch through the video first and right-click to “Add Locator” in the timeline at the parts of the video that are important to highlight with dramatic changes. Make sure to rename these Locators appropriately so you can distinguish between “Zombie Head Squash” and “Zombie Throat Rip”. Then as I am playing through and tweaking filters or adding notes, I know when these important video cues are coming so I can accurately put myself in position to add the drama fo yo momma.

DJ Kiva: When recording vocalists, here’s a method to improve your workflow in Live. In Ableton create a single audio track and set the audio I/O tab to receive from your vocal mic and switch the track monitor mode to “off” for zero latency recording. Next, duplicate this track 4 to 8 times, select these tracks, and group. Place a vocal processing effects chain onto the vocal group channel containing a de-essor, compressor, and EQ. Now you can easily record multiple vocal passes with your vocalist until you get the “winning take.”

DJ Ceiba AKA Brotha Sean on West African CLAVE Rhythmic Pattern

As a professional traditional drummer and Ableton Live user, I incorporate notes from a West African and Afro-Caribbean rhythm called clave into my drums and bass whenever possible. More than just a high-pitched wood instrument, clave is the time keeper and rhythmic inspiration for well over a hundred styles of music.

There are MANY types of clave (each perfectly suited to a different music) and it can be a one or 2 measure figure. The most basic 1-measure figure (assuming we’re in 4/4 time and we begin on 1) is as follows: in Ableton MIDI grid 1, 1.1.4, 1.2.3, 1.3.3, 1.4. For 2 measures, it’s 1, 1.2.3, 1.4, 2.2, 2.3.

In the context of traditional music from Africa and the diaspora, rhythms and improvised solos are often created with the clave in the musician’s mind. We play with this basic phrase by shifting it around, accenting some notes and depreciating others, adding notes and flourishes, AND leaving it entirely and coming back to ideas that you’ve already established.

In the context of electronic music, there are thousands of established examples of clave (or parts of it) being used consciously and unconsciously.

Here are three examples:


1) shaker: lower the velocity of straight 16th note hi-hat/tamborine/shakers & raise the velocity on (or near) clave. this works for the one AND 2 measure claves.

2) rap music: put the kick on 1 measure clave & keep the snares on the 2 & the 4. experiment with starting the whole kick/clave figure on different beats adjusting as needed (for instance, the “funky drummer” uses the first 3 notes & begins on beat 2.3.3).

3) dance hall: (depending on your tempo) the basic dancehall kick & snare uses the first 3 notes of the 2 measure clave beginning on 1 (kick-kick-snare or kick-snare-snare). try using parts of the 1 measure version for moombahton!!

It’s always good to set your groove engine on swing (somewhere between 25 & 40) when you use this method!

Above all, once you get the hang of how to make clave in its 1 & 2 measure versions, treat it like my description of the traditional drum approaches, experiment with where and when the notes occur and spread the rhythm across different instruments.

Enjoy bringing the soul out of your music!

Don’t miss part 2 of 5 ableton live tips from Dubspot instructors: Nalepa, John Selway, DJ Excess and Pat Cupo.

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.

  • Tim Maguire
  • 8/17/2011

I like the idea of the tip series.

This is a great starter.

  • 5 Ableton Live Tips from Dubspot Instructors – Pt 2: Nalepa, Selway, Cupo, Excess | Dubspot Blog
  • 8/17/2011

[...] 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 [...]