Ableton Live Tutorial: Sub Bass Layering Techniques w/ Dan Salvaggio + Free Download

In this Ableton Live tutorial, Dubspot’s Dan Salvaggio aka Curl Up shares his approach to layering Sub Bass and splitting frequencies using Live’s Operator device and Instrument Racks. Check out our Ableton Live Music Production Program, classes start soon. Enroll Now!

ableton_live_tutorial_subbass_rev2In electronic music production, it is often said that a simple sine wave is sufficient to carry the bottom end of your tune. While this may be technically true in most cases, there are a number of ways to take things further to add some interesting texture to your sub bass.

In this article, we will expand upon our sub bass sound utilizing Ableton Live’s native devices for frequency splitting and layering. Additionally, we’ve included the Instrument Rack from this demonstration below, for free!

Free Download | Ableton Live Sub Bass Layering Instrument Rack

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To start off, we’ll need to create the infamous simple sine. For this, we’ll be using oscillator A in Live’s Operator, set to a sine wave. We only need the low, sub 100 Hz frequencies for this layer, so we’ll activate Operator’s filter set to lowpass (12dB), cutting below 100 Hz as shown below:

1_simple sine.jpg

Building Up

Now let’s add some personality to this patch! We’re going to create an Instrument Rack by selecting the Operator device and pressing cmd/ctrl+G or by right-clicking on the device and selecting “Group.” On the very left of the Instrument Rack, you’ll notice four nodes. The third down from the top brings up the rack’s Chain List. There we will find our sub bass patch, named “Operator.” Let’s duplicate this by holding down cmd/ctrl, clicking on the device in the Chain List window, and then dragging down below it and letting go.

2_Instrument Rack.jpg

Solo the top layer by clicking on the “S” square. Select the device and refer to oscillator A once more. Let’s switch it up by changing the wave type from sine to square (sq3, specifically). This layer will be our mid and high range texture. Let’s change the lowpass filter to a highpass filter (12dB) and push it up to about 250 Hz, which will allow it to gel with the sine layer much more smoothly.


Unsolo the first layer, play them together and we’ve already gone miles from the simple sine!

Finishing Touches

While this is already sounding solid, let’s take it all the way, shall we?

We can start by cleaning up the sine layer with some EQing. Let’s roll off those low frequencies below 40 Hz with a highpass filter, and then treat those low-mids with a lowpass filter set to around 130 Hz. Doing this will give us more room in the mix for the other elements in the song. We’ll follow this up with some light compression to add a bit of punch and reduce dynamics. Lastly, we’ll insert a Utility device to the end of the chain, and bring the width all the way down for a mono signal. Note: It’s helpful to make adjustments like these while listening while both layers playback together, so you’re able to make tweaks to taste.

4_Sine Processing.jpg

 Our square layer could use a bit of love as well. We don’t need much here, so we’ll add an EQ to minimize any overlap between the two layers; A highpass filter set to around 200 Hz will do nicely. In addition, we’ll roll off some unneeded high frequencies with a lowpass filter set to 2 kHz.

5_Square EQ.jpg

 Almost home! Let’s gel these two layers together by adding a Glue Compressor outside of the Instrument Rack. Doing so will affect both layers. Once more, we don’t need a ton of compression here. Finally, we can adjust the volume of each layer within the Chain List to get the desired mix.

6_final compression.jpg


Let’s hear it!

In a few short steps, we transformed a very basic sine wave sub bass into a much more colorful sine/square hybrid. The beauty of this technique is how versatile it is. Instead of a square wave, try a more extreme wavetable from a synth like Massive or Serum. Keep experimenting until you find something you like! Additionally, you can learn infinitely more about sound design, wavetables, oscillators, layering, and more in our Sound Design program.


- Dan Salvaggio aka Curl Up

Ableton Live Producer Certificate Program

The flagship of our music training, with every Ableton Live course offered at the school. After completing this program, you will leave with a portfolio of original tracks, 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: Beats, Sketches, and Ideas
  • Ableton Live Level 2: Analyze, Deconstruct, Recompose, and Assemble
  • Ableton Live Level 3: Synthesis and Original Sound Creation
  • Ableton Live Level 4: Advanced Sound Creation
  • Ableton Live Level 5: Advanced Effect Processing
  • Ableton Live Level 6: Going Global with your Music

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 tracks. 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.

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