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Ableton Live Racks: Creating an Instrument from Simple Waveforms

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Ableton Live is now an industry standard production and performance software. When it comes to instrument design and routing, other software like Reason or Logic may look more user friendly but once you get used to Live's rack system, you'll find out that Live has limitless routing and controlling possibilities.

In this tutorial, I'll try to explain how to create an instrument from simple waveforms and blend these two sounds together using the device chains.

Step 1: Creating the Instrument

Select an empty midi track and create an empty Instrument Rack. To do this, go to the instruments folder in your Live Devices then double click on the Instrument Rack.

Now, from the Live's browser, go to Samples > Waveforms > Components folder, there are quite lot of samples here you can use with this project. You may choose any you want, I will use "Spectral > Analog Saw.aif" for example. Click and drag the sample into the Instrument Rack you have created. Now a Simpler device should have been created like the one in the screenshot below.

Next, right click on the Simpler and select "Group". This command will create another Instrument Rack within the first we have created. Now click the little button "Show/Hide Macro Controls".

Now select the inner Instrument Rack, press CTRL/CMD + R to rename it, then enter the name of your sample, in my case it is "Analog Saw".

Step 2: Mapping the Macros

We are ready to set up now. If you play this instrument now you'll hear short sounds, so let's click on the "loop" button on the Simpler device to make the sample loop. Also enable "filter" and "LFO" parameters so we can tweak the sound.

We won't edit the sound directly in the Simpler device, instead we'll map some controls to the macro controllers. First right click on the filter freq and select "Map to Macro 1",

Like this you can map any control on the Simpler to the macros. Here's my mapping:

  • Macro 1 > Filter Freq
  • Macro 2 > Filter Res
  • Macro 3 > Filter Type
  • Macro 4 > LFO Attack
  • Macro 5 > Attack
  • Macro 6 > Release
  • Macro 7 > LFO Type
  • Macro 8 > Filter to LFO and LFO Freq: in this step I mapped two different parameters to the same macro control so that I can control those parameters with one knob, then right clicked on it and renamed as "LFO".

Now play some notes and tweak the knobs to find out how your mappings effect the sound, mine looks and sounds like this:

Step 3: Adding the Second Sound and Blending

From now on, adding extra sounds is really easy. Click the first Instrument Rack's "Show/Hide Chain Selector" button then select the "Analog Saw" chain, right click and select "Duplicate" or press CTRL/CMD + D to duplicate that chain.

Now go to the Simpler device's "Sample Display" area where the waveform is shown, when you mouse over you'll see a small "hot swap" button on the bottom right corner. When you press it, it will become orange and the sample you have loaded will be highlighted on the Live's browser.

Now you can select another sample from the browser, I will use the "Digital Spike.aif" from the same folder. Now go and rename the second chain we have created. All the macro mappings will be same here as we have duplicated the first one.

When you play this device two sounds will play together. To create a blend between these sounds click on the "Show Chain Select Editor [Chain]" button above the chain list. Now you'll see two lines for the both of the chains, the thinner one is "Fade Range" and the thicker one is "Zone". When you move your mouse over these lines your pointer becomes a square bracket "]" this way you can drag these lines. First, drag the "Zone" lines all the way up for both of the chains. Then for the first chain, go to the right end point of the "Fade Range" and drag this line all the way down. Do the opposite for the second chain. It should look like this:

Next, right click on the numbers above the bars and select "Map to Macro 1".

You'll see that the macros will appear and the first one is mapped to "Chain Selector". If you tweak it you'll see the orange bar above the zones is going up and down in the chains bar. You can now click to "Hide" the chain editor.

This macro knob is our blend control, if you play the device and tweak it you'll hear the morphing between two sounds. Here's an example:

From now in you can add more sounds and with the Zone and Fade Range parameters you can define the blending ranges of these sounds. I hope you find this tutorial helpful and clear. In the next tutorials I'll try to explain Effect Racks in Ableton Live.

Download the Play Pack for this tutorial (45 KB)


  • Ableton Live source files
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