Ableton Live Techniques: Creating Complex Sequences

Dubspot’s Rory PQ explores Generative Music and demonstrates an effective technique used to generate complex sequences of music using Ableton Live’s native devices.

Ableton Live

Generative Music

Generative Music is a term popularized by composer Brian Eno in 1995 to describe music created by a system that is ever-different and changing. The concept of Generative Music is to create entirely random music with a selection of sonic materials resulting in a constantly changing stream of audio that never repeats itself. Brian used an analog delay system consisting of two side-by-side reel-to-reel tape recorders playing at varying speeds to create his famous ambient music.

Early techniques used to generate randomized music was achieved with a unique tape looping technique discovered by Robert Fripp called Frippertronics. This technique uses two reel-to-reel tape recorders configured so that the tape travels from the supply reel of the first machine to the take-up reel of the second, allowing sound recorded by the first machine to be played back later on the second. The audio of the second machine is then routed back to the first, causing the delayed signal to repeat while new audio is mixed in with it. This approach to recording sound creates a degenerative delay, which can be controlled by increasing or reducing the distance between the machines.

Generative Music with Ableton Live

Ableton Live is a perfect example of modern technology that provides MIDI Effects with randomizing features that allow us to easily and effectively produce generative music. This tutorial demonstrates an effective technique used to generate complex sequences of music using Live’s Random device and Drum Rack.

Hat Sequence Example

Bass Sequence Example

Step 1 | Setup

  • Start by creating a MIDI Track with the shortcut command Shift+CMD+T.
  • Creating a new MIDI Clip with the shortcut command Shift+CMD+M.
  • Load up Live’s Random MIDI Device and Drum Rack Instrument on the new MIDI Track.
  • Load the Drum Rack with a selection of samples. The samples can be anything you want. For example, if you are aiming to create a random bass sequence, then fill the Drum Rack with bass sounds. If you plan on creating complex drum sequences and fills, then fill the Drum Rack with percussive sounds. This technique can be applied to any type of sound to create unique variations.
  • Optional Tips: Create a choke group in Drum Rack to avoid sounds or loops from playing over each other and causing clutter. All chains in the same choke group will silence each other when the next sound is triggered. Also, for more control over the sound, it’s recommended to Macro Map controls such as Attack, Decay, Sustain, Release, and any other parameter you use to shape your sounds. The best way to Macro Map the same control for multiple instances of Simpler or Sampler is to first Macro Map the control and then right-click the same control and choose “Map to all siblings” from the context menu.

Ableton Live

Step 2 | MIDI Pattern

  • Create a MIDI pattern in the new MIDI Clip. This can be a long sustained note or a more complex sequence of notes. The MIDI notes can be placed on any sound in any order. Their purpose is to trigger sounds so that the Random device can randomize them.

Ableton Live

Step 3 | Recording Results

  • Create a new Audio Track with the shortcut command CMD+T.
  • From the input chooser in the mixers In/Out section, select the track with the Random device and Drum Rack.
  • Arm the track to record and hit play on the MIDI Clip loaded with all your sounds to record a minute or so of audio.
  • While the audio is recording, adjust the Chance control on the Random device to generate sound variations. The sounds will become more randomized the closer you get to 100%. Alternatively, you can automate the Chance control so that the pattern is always different every time you playback the clip. You can also adjust the Choices control to choose how many different samples will be triggered. If you load a lot of samples, then 24 may be a more suitable number.
  • Play through the recorded audio and pick out your favorite parts. You could even go further and chop different parts out and then combine them to create a more structured pattern.

Ableton Live

Bonus Techniques

Other MIDI devices such as Scale, Velocity, Note Length, and Arpeggiator can be used to control the behavior of the MIDI notes in your pattern. For example, create wild fills by placing Arpeggiator after the Random device and adjusting the Rate control to increase or decrease the speed of the note pattern.

Hat Fill Example

Ableton Live


Ableton Live Producer Certificate Program

At Dubspot our world-class instructors provide the most complete and cutting-edge Ableton Live learning experience. The Ableton Live Producer Certificate Program is the flagship of our music training. 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.

About This Program

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.

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


  • Dubspot’s complete Ableton course load: six levels/48 class sessions
  • 132 hours of hands-on instruction
  • Additional lab hours to work on assignments in Dubspot’s onsite facilities
  • 24/7 access to Dubspot Online’s Ableton Live course videos
  • Access to the course videos for one year after course completion

Additional Information

Visit the Ableton Live course page for detailed information on this program here.

If you have questions, please call 877.DUBSPOT or send us a message.