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Ultimate Ableton Live 9: Part 4 – Synths & Samplers

Learning Ableton Live the right way: From the basics to the advanced, from Ableton Certified Trainer J. Anthony Allen.
Jason Allen
2,389 students enrolled
Produce music using Ableton Live
Use drum samples to edit, arrange, and create unique drum beats on your own.
Work with Ableton's powerful Racks interface
Create sounds from scratching using all of the Ableton Live Instruments

For years I’ve been teaching Ableton Live in the college classroom. As a University Professor, my classes are sought after, and, frankly, expensive. I believe Ableton Live can be learned by anyone, and cost shouldn’t be a barrier. This class uses the same outline and syllabus I’ve used in my college classes for years, at a fraction of the cost.

This is Part 4: Synths & Samplers

This is a really deep class – tons of content, tricks, and tips. I’ll go through all of the Ableton Live Instruments in this class, with considerable detail on each one. We will also talk about synthesis tricks and tips, getting most out of your samplers, and tons of production tips. Topics include:

  • Synthesis Basics
  • Types of Synthesis
  • Physical Modeling Synthesis
  • Elements of Synthesis
  • Live’s Analog Instrument
  • Live’s Collision Instrument
  • Live’s Electric Instrument
  • Live’s Impulse Instrument
  • Live’s Tension Instrument
  • Live’s Operator Instrument
  • Live’s Simpler Instrument
  • Live’s Sampler Instrument
  • Multisamples and Zones
  • Sampler Orchestras
  • Racks!!!!
  • Instrument Racks
  • Chain Selector
  • Macros in Racks
  • Drum Racks
  • Choke Settings
  • The External Instrument
  • …and much more!

I will be making 6 (six!) complete classes in order to bring you the most comprehensive manual on Ableton Live production techniques ever created. Each class has Sets, sessions, and experiments for you to try on your own and follow along with.

And of course, once you sign up any part, you automatically get huge discounts to all the upcoming parts (the next 5!) of this class.

You will not have another opportunity to learn Ableton Live in a more comprehensive way that this. Start here.

J. Anthony Allen is an Ableton Certified Trainer, and a PhD in Music Composition and master of Electronic Sounds. His music has been heard internationally in film, radio, video games, and industrial sound, as well as the concert hall and theater.

He currently as an adjunct professor of composition at the University of St. Thomas, Macphail Academy of Music, and the CEO of Slam Academy in Minneapolis.

Praise for other classes by J. Anthony Allen:

  • “I’ve had Live Lite for a while but never quite understood how to use it because of the different options in how to arrange audio. This course explains exactly how to do that and get the most out of Live.”
  • “Great overview – I would start here for sure if you are just getting your feet wet with live. clear and to the point. session walkthroughs are great. looking forward to more”
  • “I have never had any formal training in music at all. Trying to learn all the notes and how everything translated was a serious challenge. After going thru this class, Dr. J has totally brought down the barriers. The content was very useful and was easy to grasp for me.”

    Welcome & Overview


    Welcome to the class! This video is just a quick overview of what we will be talking about in this class.

    Working with Live's Instruments

    The Live Instruments

    Step 1 in this class is figuring out the difference between Plugins and Instruments. We tackle that in this lesson.

    A Quick MIDI Refresher

    If you've taken the other Ultimate Ableton Live classes of mine, you are totally up to speed with how MIDI works, but just for fun, lets run through a few key important concepts to refresh our memory.

    MIDI Clips

    You should already be pretty familiar with MIDI clips, but in this segment we will do another quick review to make sure we are all on the same page.

    Important Key Commands

    Attached here is a big big big list of all the Ableton key commands. Its huge. Don't bother memorizing it, but for this class I'll be using a handful of key commands all the time, so do pay special attention to the following:

    35.19: Working with Plugins and Devices

    35.12: Key and MIDI Mapping

    Synthesis Basics

    Synthesis Basics

    A quick overview of this section, and introduction to the "Key Synthesis Elements."

    Synthesis Types

    There are many different kinds of synthesis. We will mostly be working with FM, Physical Modeling, and a touch of a few others. I'll explain the differences in this video.

    Synthesis Elements

    The "4 Key Elements" to synthesis are the main building blocks that will get you understanding all synthesizers quickly. Learn these concepts and you will always be able to make sound on any synthesizer.

    Live's Analog Instrument

    Live's Analog Synth

    A few notes about how we will be approaching the Analog Instrument.

    The Basic Outline of Analog

    First, we will walk through the basic outline and signal flow of Analog, paying special attention to our "4 Key Elements."

    Programming Analog

    Now its time to get down and dirty: In this lesson we will program our own sounds, and explore some of the parameters in Analog.

    LFO and Other Parameters

    A few extra features available to us in Analog, that we will also find in most of Ableton's Instruments.

    DOWNLOAD: The Analog Patch I Built In This Section

    Here is the session from this section. Download it, play with it, riff on it, enjoy!

    The Ableton Live Instruments

    All The Ableton Live Instruments

    Lets talk about Instruments - all of them!

    Live's Collision Instrument

    First up: Live's Collision Instrument. A powerful physical modeling synth.

    Programming Collision

    In this video we will program a sound with Collision. I'll give you the patch that I made in this video in the next segment.

    DOWNLOAD: Collision Patch from the Previous Lesson
    Live's Electric Instrument

    The Electric Instrument is a model of an electric piano (like a Rhodes organ). In this segment we will explore its basic outline.

    Electric Basic Outline

    Walking through the key elements of Electric, looking for familiar parameters and anything new.

    Electric Preset Study

    For this instrument we will deconstruct one of the presets that comes with Ableton Live - so you already have these files on your computer.

    Live's Impulse Instrument

    Next up: The Impulse. Great for drums and many other things. First we will look at its interface features and learn a little about it.

    Building Grooves with Impulse

    In this section we will make some music with Impulse and see what we can do with it.

    Live's Tension Instrument
    Tension Preset Study

    Lets poke around and look at some of the Tension presets, and explore the different parameters using them.

    Live's Operator Instrument

    Last but not least (for now) is the Operator. This is a mammoth synthesizer capable of amazing sounds and amazing diversity.

    Programming Live's Operator

    Like before, in this section we will look at a few of the Operator presets, using files you already have on your computer to learn more of the ins-and-outs of Operator.

    The Ableton Live Samplers

    The Simpler and The Sampler

    What is the difference between a synthesizer and a sampler? Not much, actually.

    Using Simpler

    First we will look at the Simpler - a simplified sampling instrument. Most of the controls here will be familiar to you.

    Using Sampler

    Next, we move on to Sampler. This is a grown-up version of Sampler, but has a deceptively simple (looking) interface. The key to its power is hidden in the "zones" tab, which we will look at next.

    MultiSamples and Zones

    In most sampling instruments, you will be working with more than one sample. This is how you set up a sampler to hold multiple samples, and make really expressive instruments with it.

    An Orchestra Library Example

    In this section I'm going to open up a orchestra library sample pack that I have, using a Sampler. Its got about 300 different samples in it, so lets walk through how they are triggered.

    UPDATE: The Live 9.5 Simpler

    Whats new?

    Live 9.5 came with a newly updated Simpler. Here are a few of the new features of the New Simpler.

    Live 9.5 Simpler - Classic Mode

    The 9.5 Simpler has three main modes. First, we will look at the "classic" mode.

    Live 9.5 Simpler - 1-Shot Mode

    The second new tab in the 9.5 Simpler is the 1-Shot Mode.

    Live 9.5 Simpler - Slice Mode

    The last, and most powerful, new mode in the 9.5 Simpler is the Slice Mode.


    Instrument Racks

    What is this thing called Racks that I've been raving about? I promised you it would be something amazing, so here it is. First an explanation of what it is.

    Chains and the Chain Selector

    The Chain is a key element to Racks, as is the Chain Selector. How to create chains, and use the Chain Selector in this video.


    Macros are like the dashboard of the Rack. Super powerful if you take advantage of them. Here is how.

    Some Rack Presets

    In this video I'll dissect some Instrument Rack presets, so we can see what is inside them, and what makes them work.

    Drum Racks (A Little Review)

    We've seen Drum Racks before in some of the previous Ultimate Ableton Live classes that I've made. Now that you know what Instruments Racks are, Drums Racks should make a lot more sense. So lets have another look at them.

    The Choke Setting

    Drum Racks have a few special features that we can do that are specific to drum sounds. The Choke setting is a great one for building dynamic (and realistic) sounds.

    Sends & Returns in Drum Racks

    The External Instrument

    The External Instrument

    The External Instrument is our gateway to talking to any physical synthesizers that you might have access to. Live can control those synthesizers and get audio from them. There are a few setup hurdles to jump through, but I'll walk you through it in this video.

    Closing Thoughts

    Parting Thoughts

    Thanks for watching! Leave me some good comments if you enjoyed the class, and check out some of my other classes!

    Up Next....

    The next class in the series: Ultimate Ableton Live Part 5!

    Bonus Content: MIDI Effects

    You can spice up what you are doing in your synths by using some MIDI effects. We will talk a lot about this in the next class (Ultimate Ableton Live 5), but here is a little bit on MIDI effects just to get you started with it.

    Bonus Lecture: Discount Offers & Mailing List

    There is so much more to learn!

    You can view and review the lecture materials indefinitely, like an on-demand channel.
    Definitely! If you have an internet connection, courses on Udemy are available on any device at any time. If you don't have an internet connection, some instructors also let their students download course lectures. That's up to the instructor though, so make sure you get on their good side!
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