Ableton Live: Enhancing Your Mix Using Frequency Shifter w/ Josh Spoon + FREE Download

In this Ableton Live Tutorial, Dubspot Contributor and Ableton Live Certified Trainer Josh Spoon shows us how to use Live’s versatile Frequency Shifter effect to enhance sounds. Included is a FREE Ableton Live project to follow along with.

 Frequency Shifter

When hearing Ableton Live’s Frequency Shifter effect, you may think space music from Doctor Who, Forbidden Planet or any sci-fi movie from the 1950s. This often overlooked device is an audio Swiss Army Knife that can be deployed to create some interesting effects to your sounds. Let’s explore Live’s Frequency Shifter closer!

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The Frequency section has two modes: Shift and Ring. The Shift control is where we spend most of our time. Frequency Shifter works by shifting the Hz (Hertz) of the incoming signal either up or down using the Frequency, Coarse, and Fine controls. So if your synth is playing a C3 (130.81 Hz) and your frequency is 10 Hz, the result will be 140.81 Hz. Ring Mode controls the frequency that can be either added and subtracted from the input signal. For example, if the incoming audio signal (A) is a sine wave at 440 Hz and the Frequency is set to 100 Hz (B), the output will contain partials at 340 Hz (A-B) and 540 Hz (A+B).


The Frequency Shifter is built with two LFOs that can be used to modulate both left and right channels independently. It also has six waveforms to choose from for modulation. You can set the LFO rate with Hertz or sync to tempo. The Phase and Spin controls are great for stereo modulation.

Adding Character to the Mix

In the downloaded project, let’s listen to the final mix with a Frequency Shifter loaded on all the tracks in the Group named “Final.” Press the letter “a” on you keyboard to toggle between the enhanced mix and the original mix.

Here is the original mix.

Note: Make sure Live’s Computer MIDI Keyboard switch is turned off to access the keyboard toggle.


Shaping Drums

Frequency Shifter is a great tool for enhancing drums. It can be used to modulate the pitch of a few elements of the drums to make them stand out and give them some character. If you try to create this same effect manually, you would probably need to create multiple drum elements and/or open the Clip Envelopes and draw in your modulation. This excludes using the power of Live’s Simper and Sampler, though I’d argue that using Frequency Shifter is best for situations like this because it’s not bound to any sound and can be dropped anywhere in your live set.

Kick Enhancement

Before applying the Frequency Shifter effect, let’s first listen to just the drums.

We can hear on this basic 808 beat that the low end is present and the snare and hat groove is nice but doesn’t grab our ear with excitement.

Let’s enhance this loop a bit by dragging a Frequency Shifter onto each drum cell with a sound loaded and using the effect creatively for each individual element.

Begin by clicking on the “Kick” drum cell. Here we will create an effect that will start pitched up and then ramp back down to it’s original pitch over the course of two beats. To do this we’ll make the following changes to the device:

LFO / S&H Shape: Sawtooth Wave (ramp down)
LFO / S&H  Amount: 29.8Hz
LFO / S&H Type: Synced
LFO / S&H Rate: 1/2

When the kick hits on the downbeat of one and three, Frequency Shifter modulates the kick from about A1 to C0 in two beats. When the kick hits between beats one and three you get different modulations depending on where the downward slope is of the Sawtooth wave at that time. It makes for an interesting enhancement to your kick.


Your kick settings should look like this:


Snare Enhancement

Listening to the snare, we can hear only one timbre. The same snare sound occurs no matter if we raise or lower the volume. It’s like no effort was put in to the back beat. When you create music you want to invoke emotion in the listener and you can’t do that with robotic tones.

In order to spice this snare up, we are going to use the Frequency Shifter to modulate the pitch of the snare to make it sound like it is being hit more naturally – Like a drummer hitting a little bit off from the center of the snare. This will give it more feel and overall groove. Let’s begin with the following settings:

LFO / S&H Shape: Square Wave
LFO / S&H  Amount: 5.55Hz
LFO / S&H Type: Synced
LFO / S&H Rate: 1

Your snare settings should look like this:


Now, if we play the beat you can hear that the snare sound hitting on the two and four beat is different. That’s because the Square wave is shifting up for two beats and then down for two beats. The first snare falls on the up and the second on the down. It’s a subtle change in pitch that sits well in the mix.


Open/Closed Hat Enhancement

If we solo the open and closed hats, we’ll here relatively mono 808 hats. These actually sounds a little funkier then the other elements of the rack, but we can give it more space and have them dance to the groove with a few simple tweaks to the Frequency Shifters in each drum cell.

Let’s work on the closed hats first. To make some extreme changes to this sound, we are going to kick up the LFO / S&H Amount and also introduce some phase. By adding degrees of phase we are causing the hat sound to modulate through the stereo spectrum. This is great for adding movement with very little effort. Add this to the pitch modulation we have been learning and you have a vibrant hi-hat that doesn’t sound like one robotic sample anymore. Let’s begin with the following settings:

LFO / S&H Shape: Sine Wave
LFO / S&H  Amount: 563Hz
LFO / S&H Type: Hertz
LFO / S&H Rate: 0.5Hz
LFO / S&H Phase: 180˚

Your closed hat settings should look like this:


We can apply a similar effect to the open hats, except this time we will add Spread instead of Phase. Spread inverts the polarity of the left and right channels so that when the left channel wave is up the right channel is down, creating what feels like space between the two channels. This move makes the hats sound less of a mono signal. Let’s begin with the following settings:

LFO / S&H Shape: Sine Wave
LFO / S&H  Amount: 450Hz
LFO / S&H Type: Hertz
LFO / S&H Rate: 6.58Hz
LFO / S&H Phase: 0˚
Wide: On
Spread: 5.82 (If you want to get really extreme try pushing the Spread to “200-500Hz”)

Your open hat settings should look like this:


Clap Enhancement

The clap’s pitch is a little too low for me. I need a happier, less dark clap sound to sing through the reverb. So for the clap, we are going to use the Frequency Shifter to tune the sound. You are probably thinking, “But I can use Simpler’s Transposition for that.” Yeah you can but I find tuning drums with Frequency Shifter, in a lot of cases, feels easier for me to dial in what I want. Also, once I tune with Frequency Shifter, I still have the Transposition control available to easily pitch by semitones. Let’s begin with the following settings:

LFO / S&H  Amount: 0Hz (Turns off  LFO / S&H)
Frequency: 280Hz

Your clap settings should look like this:


Organ Enhancement

The Frequency Shifter excels at enhancing other sounds as well, and is not just for drums. Let’s take this mono organ loop for example and hear how Frequency Shifter can make it stand out. Listening to the loop, we can hear it has a lot of vibrato (pitch modulation) and tremolo (volume modulation). The sound needs to open up in the stereo spectrum and simulate back some of that Leslie Speaker sound that was lost when it was made into a mono signal. Let’s begin with the following settings:

LFO / S&H  Amount: 0Hz (Turns off  LFO / S&H)
Wide: On
Spread: 2.00Hz

Wide and Spread are our friend again. If you slowly turn the control, you will hear the organ start to open up and sing like you are at a gospel church.

Your organ settings should look like this:


Piano Enhancement

For the piano sound, we want to create both more vibrato and more tremolo to create a vibey but slightly dark sound. Applying Spread combined with Ring Modulation and then parallel mixing the effect with the Mix control will help with this approach. We haven’t talked about the Mix control at all because up until now it’s been set at 100% for everything. This knob is very useful, but you need to be careful. I find often settings from about 4-99% is distracting (if other settings are high) in most cases and tends to sound more sci-fi. However, I encourage you to experiment with the different settings, you may find a gem.

Blending the original piano signal and the effected signal will create a struggle between the differences in pitch which creates stereo width and makes the sound more unique. Let’s begin with the following settings:

LFO / S&H  Amount: 0Hz (Turns off  LFO / S&H)
Mode: Ring
Frequency: 2.75Hz
Wide: On
Spread: 0.31Hz
Mix: 29.4%

Your piano settings should look like this:


Final Mix

We added movement to the drums, width to the organ, and tremolo and vibrato to the piano. Going between the original mix and the final mix you can see how much life was added using just a Frequency Shifter. Hopefully you will look at this Audio Effect in a different light. As always open up the Live Set, begin to play and see what you can create with Frequency Shifter.



About Josh Spoon

Dubspot blogger Josh Spoon is an Ableton Live veteran, blogger, drummer, music producer, and live performer. Josh has a residency with the eclectic Los Angeles electronic music collective Space Circus, performing every first Friday of the month.


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