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Understanding Ableton Live 8's New Groove Engine

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Ableton has introduced a huge list of new features into the latest version of Live. Amongst some of the highlights are new instruments, new warp algorithms and even several new effects plug-ins.

All these features are impressive (and some of them definitely deserve their own tutorials), but one of the most important updates for many users is the introduction of a brand new groove engine, so let’s get stuck in and see how it works.

Step 1 - What is a groove and why use them?

Before we dive into the ins and outs of Live’s new groove engine, let’s take a quick look at what a ‘groove’ actually is.

When a musician performs a piece of music a natural groove is created. Depending on the style of music, mood (or ability!) of the musician and timing of the other performers, the groove will vary infinitely. Of course sometimes we don’t intend to introduce a groove into our music and we may just think what we have played is out of time—but even a phrase played with sloppy timing contains its own individual groove.

A lot of people’s initial way of dealing with any sort of sloppy playing or overly swung parts is to quantize them to a rigid 16th grid so everything falls into place. This can work in some situations but often the result feels artificial and a little robotic.

The answer is to apply grooves to your performance, this way things will feel a little more human and match other parts in your project. Live’s introduction of the groove engine is a welcomed change as previous versions were a touch limited in this area.

There are many ways to apply grooves from presets to creating your own custom patterns. Live 8 even allows you to extract grooves from existing audio or MIDI but we will look at each of these methods as we go.

Step 2 - Ableton’s Groove Library

Live 8 supplies not only the ability to create your own grooves but also a pre-made library of existing grooves. Some of these grooves are musical in nature and some are taken from other software and machines that are famous for their preset grooves and swing timing.

Opening the groove library is really straight forward and just involves hitting the dedicated groove button to the left of Live’s existing browser interface. This action should bring up an area called the ‘groove pool’, which shows you which grooves you currently have loaded and the groove library above it.

You can drag any number of grooves from the library into the groove pool. Don’t worry at this point—they have no effect on your project but they can be edited, previewed and applied in real time once they are in the pool.

The Ableton groove library and groove pool

Step 3 - Previewing and applying grooves from the library

Once loaded in the pool a groove can be dragged onto any audio or midi clip in your project and the effects can be previewed in a totally non-destructive manner. This means that no permanent changes will be made to your parts until you apply them yourself.

To the left of the clip parameter area there is now a small groove area, with a drop down menu and ‘commit’ button. This shows you the current groove associated with your clip and also allows you to presently imprint the effects of the groove onto your MIDI or audio.

At this point I should point out that if you are auditioning a new groove, you will only hear and not see the effects of the groove data on your clip. The MIDI notes or warp markers will not actually move until you commit the groove in question.

This system makes it really easy to switch between various grooves in real time and hear the effect they have on your clips and if you don’t like the result you can easily reverse it.

The new groove section in the clip parameter area.

Step 4 - The Groove Parameters

When a groove is loaded into the groove pool you will notice that there are several parameters after the groove’s name. These are various values you can edit and will really help you shape the amount of groove that is applied to your part.

I’ll blast through each column and give you a quick run down of what each one does.

Base - This simply chooses the resolution that the groove works with. Everything from a 1/4 to 1/32 of a bar can be used here. Most people will be happy using 1/16, and this setting works best with drum patterns. Saying that, every situation is different so experiment with them all.

Quantize - Regardless of which groove you are using this value will apply quantization to your part based on the resolution you are using. So if you are set to 1/16th this will apply quantization to this value. Using this is a great way to tidy up your part before you apply any groove.

Timing - This is the parameter that actually applies the groove specific data and will have a different effect depending on which groove template you have loaded.

Random - This will introduce some random movements to the notes in your sequence, this is really useful for humanizing very static or rigid performances.

Velocity - Turning this value up will introduce alterations to the velocities of your notes and this will be synced with the specific groove. So pushed or pulled notes will either be louder or quieter.

The groove pool parameters.

Step 5 - Extracting grooves and saving them as your own

Extracting and saving your own grooves has been made really simple in Live 8. It’s really just a case of right-clicking on the part in question and choosing ‘extract groove’ from the contextual menu that pops up.

Extracting a groove from an existing part.

Once extracted this new groove will be immediately available in the groove pool and can also be moved to a new folder in the groove library for later use on other projects. This extraction process can be used on audio or MIDI and can be really useful when trying to match the feel of a sample or pre-recorded performance.

Renaming your new groove.

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