Practicing with Ableton: Click Tracks and Reference Tracks Why practice our instruments with Ableton? Using Ableton in our practice can help us become better musicians. It offers — Click tracks that change meter and tempo along with our music — Slowing down recordings for transcription or playing along — Easy recording so we can learn by listening to ourselves The Metronome The metronome on/off toggle is the the blackand-white circles at the top right of the screen: Press Play or spacebar to run. Metronome Volume In Session View, on the Master track there is a knob with headphone logo. (If you don’t see it, click the “M” circle to the right of the master track) Metronome Routing In Session View, on the Master track, the “Cue Out” menu lets you choose which output channel the metronome goes to. Setting the Tempo See the box that reads “80.00” above? Click it and type your tempo. You can also click and drag it up or down. Hold down the COMMAND key to fine tune. Tapping in the Tempo Feel the tempo you want, and then click TAP 4 times in that tempo. Simple Click Tracks (No time signature changes, no tempo changes, no fixed duration.) In Session View, you can assign a tempo and time signature to Scene by adding it to the name of the scene. Rename the scene by selecting a number (under Master) and typing COMMAND-R. Give it a name (e.g. the name of the song) and add the tempo and time signature after in the format: 150bpm 4/4 To make it playable, there needs to be some kind of clip in that scene, so put an empty clip on a midi track by double clicking where you want the clip to appear. Make sure the metronome is on and trigger the Scene. !!! Compound Time in Ableton Ableton always treats the quarter note as the “beat” in “beats-per-minute”, even in compound meters like 6/8. This is dumb. We have to work around it by converting our tempi: multiply by 3/2. 80bpm 6/8 (in real music, where there are 80 dotted quarters in a minute) in Ableton is 80*3/2 = 120bpm 6/8 (120 quarter notes in a minute) (Another way to think about it: that’s 80 times the ratio of the dotted quarter to the quarter.) If you’re using a dotted-sixteenth as the pulse (x/16), you’ll need to divide the converted tempo by two. Bespoke Click Tracks For music with changing time signatures or tempi, it’s best to make our own. Making our own clicker From Categories > Instruments choose Impulse and drag it to an empty MIDI track (or the open area that says “Drop Files and Devices Here”) You can choose any sounds from Categories > Samples to be your click, but it’s hard to beat the metronome sound in Ableton. Here’s how you find it: In the Finder, go to Applications and find Ableton Live. Control-click it and choose “Show Package Contents” Contents > App-Resources > Misc > Metronome > Samples Drag each of the two Metronome audio files into the pads of the Impulse: We’ll want to use this instrument again someday, so let’s save it: click the “floppy disk” icon in the top right of the Impulse and give it a name. Marking Sections It is supremely helpful to label our click tracks thoroughly. We mark out sections in Ableton with Locators. In the Arrange window, click so the orange cursor is on the downbeat of the section. Click the Set button to the right. This creates a marker on the timeline. Select it and change the name (control click > Rename) to something useful. Making our First Bar Set the initial tempo and time signature. In the Arrange view, select one bar on our Impuse track. Control click the bar and choose “Insert MIDI Clip.” Double click it to open the clip below. Add a MetronomeUp note on the downbeat by double clicking where it should go. Add a Metronome note on each other beat. To change the volume of any one note, drag the pink stick up below it up or down. Name it by clicking again on the MIDI Clip in the timeline and pressing COMMAND-R. Give it the name of the time signature. Now you can drag out the edge of the Clip and it will repeat as many times as you need. Alterately, you can duplicate clips by holding Option while clicking and dragging. Changing the Time Signature Control click on the Locator bar and choose Insert Time Signature Change. The Tempo Graph Click the arrow next to the Master track and make sure Mixer and Song Tempo are selected below. The numbers below set the bounds for the graph, so it’ll make it a little easier for you to work if you set them to be the slowest and fastest that you’ll need for this music. The pink line to the left represents the tempo. If it’s a dashed line, we need to make an initial node by going to bar 1 and clicking once right on the pink line on the downbeat. Inserting a tempo change: the way of exactness Click the orange cursor in the bar where the tempo change happens. Set the new tempo on the top left of the screen. Click Record and then Play, and then Stop. Click the extra nodes on the right side of the recorded area to remove them. Accelerando and ritardando You can click anywhere on the pink line to make a node and then drag it up or down. Hold down the Option key and click a sloping segment to bend it into a curve. Delete a node by clicking on it. Make a Mistake? Inserting and Deleting Time Miss a bar? Made one too many? No need to redo all your following work. Select how much time you need to create or cut anywhere in the Arrange window, and choose from the Edit menu Duplicate Time or Delete Time. Adding Cues In the open area underneath your tracks, control click and choose Insert Audio Track. Make sure that Ext. In is chosen. Arm the track by clicking the record button on its right. Go to the place you want the cue, click the Global Record button and Play. Record yourself speaking the cue. If you didn’t put it in the right place, you can drag it where you need it. Drag the edges of the Clip to exclude what you don’t need. !!! Not behaving the way you expect? Probably this arrow is orange… or this one is… This means that Session View is overriding Arrangement view. Click them to get the Arrangement to play exactly the way you see it. When you’re practicing… Looping If you’re practicing with a click track, you’ll often want to focus on a few bars at a time. To do this, just select those bars and press COMMAND-L. This will set the Loop Area to your selection (the braces on the timeline) and turn looping on. To turn Looping off, click on the green loop toggle: The Reference Track Syncing a recording of a performance to your click track is a great practice tool. Importing a Recording Just find the audio file in the Finder and drag it to the open area under your click track. Double click the Audio Clip so that it opens up in the Sample Editor at the bottom of the screen. Setting the Start Point Your recording probably won’t begin exactly on the downbeat, so find that point in the file, click it to place the orange cursor there, and then control click and choose Set 1.1.1 Here. Listen to it and see if matches up with your beats. If the music is complex at all it probably won’t, and you’ll need to push and pull it around manually to make it fit. Here’s how: Control-click again at 1.1.1 and choose Warp from Here (Straight). This gives you a clean slate to work with. Set the Time Signature Notice that in the Sample Editor the clip has its own timeline based on its own time signature (see far left under Clip). This is unfortunate for our purposes, since we worked so hard on our own timeline, but it makes a lot of sense in most of the ways you’ll use Ableton. To avoid confusing the Sample Editor bars with the Global Timeline bars, I find it’s useful to change the Clip time signature to the basic subdivision, like 1/4 or 1/8. We won’t be able to see where our file lines up with our Global timeline in the Sample Editor4 but at least we will be able to easily see when things are on or off the beat. Warping Since the performers in the recording won’t have played to your exact click tracks and may have all kinds of imperfections in timing and tempo, we’ll need to push and pull the audio around to make it fit our grid. Ableton is really good at this. Creating Warp Markers A Warp Marker basically lets you say: “take THIS part of the audio and put it HERE.” Look for a strong impulse in the waveform - probably a beat. Double click on the dark grey part of the timeline over it and a green Warp Marker will appear. Drag that marker left or right to line it up with the grid, and it will compress and expand the audio to fit. !!! Note about Warp Modes There’s no way around it: warping degrades sound quality. Ableton has a number of different modes that help you minimize this. Beats, Tones and Texture are optimized for different kinds of sonic materials. Try these first, using their options (Grain Size, etc.) to fine-tune. Complex and Pro do a really good job when none of the others are working (usually because you’re stretching the sound farther than a little bit), but the sound quality is worse than when the others are working well. Re-Pitch works more like tape: speed it up, and the pitch goes higher. This can be useful but not here. Warping Workflow Select the first bar in the Arrangement window and press COMMAND-L to hear it loop. Open the audio in the Sample Editor and watch it run. Make and move Warp Markers until the beats of the music line up with your clicks. Look for large landmarks to line up first — strong downbeats. Select the next bar, loop it and repeat. Sometimes it will be useful to loop longer segments. Try finding and setting the first and last bar first. That will get everything close. If you feel like you’re getting lost, you can wipe the slate clean ahead of you by clicking to a position in the sample, control-click > Warp (your tempo) from here. Hint: start at the end. Warp the last bar’s downbeat (in the audio) to the last bar of your timeline. This will get everything close. Then proceed through the Warping Workflow to fine tune each individual bar. When you’re practicing… Slow it down. Once your reference track is correctly warped, you can slow down the tempo and the track will slow down with it. If you have tempo changes in your Master Song Tempo graph, you’ll want to slide all your nodes at once: first select the region behind them. Play along with the reference track (or count, or conduct, or do “bad solfege”) Muting the Reference Track When we practice with a click and reference track, we’ll often want to hear just the click track only. To mute a track, click the green track number button. Recording Yourself Recording ourselves is a great way to develop faster as musicians. A little bit of distance from our performance shows us all sorts of things we never noticed about our playing. Hearing ourselves is the feedback that lets us learn — and this is hearing ourselves better. Make a New Track Create menu > Insert Audio Track Set the Input To show Inputs / Outputs in Arrange view, click the I-O button to the right of the Master track. Choose Ext. In to record from a microphone: Want to hear yourself Auto. Want to hear not recording? hear yourself when when you record? Choose yourself even when you’re Choose In. Want to not you’re recording? Choose Off. “1/2” means that it’s going to record a stereo track from inputs 1 and 2 from your system. If you’re plugging a mic in, you’re probably just going to use 1 mono input, so you can choose that from the drop down. Arm the Track To “arm” is to get a track ready for recording. Click the record button so that it’s red: Don’t see the record button? Choose M below: Recording Now turn on Global Record at the top of the window: Click on the bar you want to start with… and press Play (or spacebar).