Ableton Live

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Ableton Live
Ableton Live logo.png
Ableton Live 10
Ableton Live 10
Stable release
10.1 / 28 May 2019 (2019-05-28)
Written inC++
Operating systemMicrosoft Windows, macOS
TypeDigital Audio Workstation

Ableton Live is a digital audio workstation for macOS and Windows. In contrast to many other software sequencers, Ableton Live is designed to be an instrument for live performances as well as a tool for composing, recording, arranging, mixing, and mastering, as shown by Ableton's companion hardware product, Ableton Push. It is also used by DJs, as it offers a suite of controls for beatmatching, crossfading, and other different effects used by turntablists, and was one of the first music applications to automatically beatmatch songs. Live is available in three versions. Intro, Standard, and Suite. The current version of Live is "Ableton Live 10".


Ableton co-founders Gerhard Behles, Robert Henke, and Bernd Roggendorf developed Live from homemade software Behles and Henke had created to facilitate their live music performances as Monolake, releasing the first version of Live in 2001 as commercial software.[2][3] Ableton Live is written in C++. Live itself was not prototyped in Max, although most of the audio devices were.[4]



Live's user interface is composed of two 'Views' – the Arrangement View and the Session View. Live utilizes audio sample or MIDI sequences, referred to as Clips, which are arranged to be played live (i.e. triggered) or played back in a pre-arranged order. MIDI triggers notes on Live's built in instruments, as well as third party VST instruments or external hardware.

The Session View offers a grid-based representation of all of the Clips in a Live Set. These clips can be arranged into scenes which can then be triggered as a unit. For instance a drum, bass and guitar track might comprise a single scene. When moving on to the next scene, which may feature a synth bassline, the artist will trigger the scene, activating the clips for that scene.

The Arrangement View offers a horizontal music production timeline of Clips that is more similar to a traditional software sequencer interface. The Arrangement View is used for recording tracks from the session view and further manipulating their arrangement and effects. It is also used for manual MIDI sequencing.[5]


The Intro version of Live includes four instruments (Impulse, Simpler, Instrument Rack, and Drum Rack) and the Standard version of Live additionally includes External Instrument, with users having the option to purchase additional instruments. By contrast, Live Suite includes all available instruments.

  • Impulse - a traditional drum triggering instrument which allows the user to define a kit of up to eight drum sounds, each based on a single sample. There are a number of effects available such as basic equalization, attack, decay, pitch shift, etc. Once the kit is defined, rhythms and beats are created through Live's MIDI sequencer.
  • Simpler - a basic sampling instrument. It functions using a single audio sample, applying simple effects, and envelopes, finally applying pitch transformations in the form of Granular synthesis. In this case, incoming MIDI does not trigger drums as it does in Impulse, but selects the final pitch of the sample, with C3 playing the sample at its original pitch.
  • Drum Rack - a sampler for drums. MIDI notes trigger individual "Simplers" so rather than triggering one sample at multiple pitches, individual samples are triggered at predefined pitches, as is suitable for MIDI drum programming. As is usual with Ableton almost anything can be drag dropped to or from the drum racks; for example, one can drop an audio clip or any MIDI device onto a drum rack note.
  • Instrument Rack - allows the user to combine multiple instruments and effects into a single device, allowing for split and layered sounds with customized macro controls.
  • Analog - simulates an analog synthesizer.
  • Bass - a monophonic virtual analog bass synthesizer.
  • Collision - a mallet percussion physical modelling synthesizer.
  • Drum Synths - 8 devices for creating drum and percussion sounds via synthesis.
  • Electric - an electric piano instrument.
  • Operator - an FM synthesizer.
  • Poli - a virtual analog synthesizer that combines subtractive and FM synthesis
  • Sampler - an enhanced sampler.
  • Tension - a string physical modelling synthesizer.
  • Wavetable - a wavetable synthesizer featuring two oscillators and remappable modulation sources.

Ableton also has available a selection of Add-on Sample Packs with which a user can expand the sound libraries for their instruments.

  • Session Drums - a collection of sampled drum kits.
  • Latin Percussion - a collection of sampled latin percussion hits and loops.
  • Essential Instruments Collection - a large collection of acoustic and electric instrument samples.
  • Orchestral Instrument Collection - a collection of four different orchestral libraries, which can be purchased individually or as a bundle: Orchestral Strings, Orchestral Brass, Orchestral Woodwinds and Orchestral Percussion. The Orchestral Instrument Collection is included upon purchase of Live Suite but must be downloaded separately.

Dedicated hardware instruments[edit]

Akai Professional makes the APC40 mk II, a MIDI controller designed to work solely with Ableton Live. A smaller version, the APC20, was released in 2010. Though there are many MIDI controllers compatible with Ableton, these Akai units try to closely map the actual Ableton Live layout onto physical space. Novation Digital Music Systems has created the "Launchpad" which is a pad device that has been designed for use with Ableton. Ableton has also released their own MIDI controller, the Push, which is the first pad-based controller that embraces scales and melody.[6] In November 2015, Ableton released an updated MIDI controller, the Push 2, along with Live 9.5.[7]


Most of Live's effects are already common effects in the digital signal processing world which have been adapted to fit Live's interface. They are tailored to suit Live's target audience – electronic musicians and DJs - but may also be used for other recording tasks such as processing a guitar rig. The effects featured in Ableton Live are grouped into two categories - MIDI effects and audio effects.

Audio Effects MIDI Effects
  • Amp
  • Audio Effect Rack
  • Auto Filter
  • Auto Pan
  • Beat Repeat
  • Cabinet
  • Channel EQ
  • Chorus
  • Color Limiter
  • Compressor
  • Convolution Reverb
  • Corpus
  • CV Clock In
  • CV Clock Out
  • CV Envelope Follower
  • CV Instrument
  • CV In
  • CV LFO
  • CV Shaper
  • CV Triggers
  • CV Utility
  • Delay
  • Drum Buss
  • Dynamic Tube
  • Echo
  • EQ Three
  • Erosion
  • Arpeggiator
  • Chord
  • Envelope
  • Envelope Follower
  • Expression Control
  • LFO
  • Melodic Steps
  • MIDI Monitor
  • MIDI Effect Rack
  • Note Echo
  • Note Length
  • Pitch
  • Random
  • Rotating Rhythm Generator
  • Scale
  • Shaper
  • Velocity

Live is also able to host VST plugins and, on the macOS version, Audio Unit plug-ins as well as Max for Live devices since Live 9.

Working with audio clips[edit]

Sasha playing a DJ set using Ableton Live running on an iMac G5.

In addition to the instruments mentioned above, Live can work with samples. Live attempts to do beat analysis of the samples to find their meter, number of bars and the number of beats per minute. This makes it possible for Live to shift these samples to fit into loops that are tied into the piece's global tempo.

Additionally, Live's Time Warp feature can be used to either correct or adjust beat positions in the sample. By setting warp markers to a specific point in the sample, arbitrary points in the sample can be pegged to positions in the measure. For instance a drum beat that fell 250 ms after the midpoint in measure may be adjusted so that it will be played back precisely at the midpoint.

Some artists and online stores, such as The Covert Operators and Puremagnetik, now make available sample packs that are pre-adjusted, with tempo information and warp markers added. The audio files are accompanied with an "analysis file" in Live's native format (.asd files).[8][9]

Ableton Live also supports Audio To MIDI, which converts audio samples into a sequence of MIDI notes using three different conversion methods including conversion to Melody, Harmony, or Rhythm. Once finished, Live will create a new MIDI track containing the fresh MIDI notes along with an instrument to play back the notes. Audio to midi conversion is not always 100% accurate and may require the artist or producer to manually adjust some notes.[10] See Fourier transform.


Almost all of the parameters in Live can be automated by envelopes which may be drawn either on clips, in which case they will be used in every performance of that clip, or on the entire arrangement. The most obvious examples are volume or track panning, but envelopes are also used in Live to control parameters of audio devices such as the root note of a resonator or a filter's cutoff frequency. Clip envelopes may also be mapped to MIDI controls, which can also control parameters in real-time using sliders, faders and such. Using the global transport record function will also record changes made to these parameters, creating an envelope for them.

User Interface[edit]

Much of Live's interface comes from being designed for use in live performance as well as for production.[11] There are few pop up messages or dialogs. Portions of the interface are hidden and shown based on arrows which may be clicked to show or hide a certain segment (e.g. to hide the instrument/effect list or to show or hide the help box).

Live now supports latency compensation for plug-in and mixer automation.


Major Releases
Version Released Release information
Live 1.0 30 October 2001 Music performance software for triggering pitch- or tempo-synchronized looped samples, with editing, effects, VST plug-in hosting, and recording features.
Live 1.5 28 April 2002 (Free update to Live 1 users) Added ReWire 2 support, render to disk, reverb effect, ability to create and save a default Live Set template, bi-directional MIDI capability for use with outboard MIDI control surfaces.[12]
Live 2.0 22 December 2002 Added 3 new time-warp modes (Tones, Texture, and Re-Pitch), multi-channel tape-style recording in Arrange view, new tempo track, improved automation and MIDI control, new effects, numerous user interface enhancements, and new user manual.[13]
Live 3 10 October 2003 Added envelope automation for loops and clips, four new effects (Compressor II, EQ Three, Resonators, Utility), additional MIDI keyboard modes, and DJ-style crossfader.[14]
Live 4 28 July 2004 Added MIDI clips, virtual instrument hosting, improved signal routing, Automatic Jamming, Scene level tempo control, automatic Scene advance. New sample player (Simpler), drum sampler (Impulse), and five MIDI effects Chord, Pitch, Random, Scale, Velocity).[15]
Live 5 24 July 2005 Improved file and library management, improved MIDI and audio clip editing, improved device management, new MIDI arpeggiator, five new audio devices (Beat Repeat, Phaser, Flanger, Auto Pan, Saturator), ability to edit multiple clips, new audio clip Warp mode (Complex), scrubbing and locators added to Arrangement view.[16]
Live 6 29 September 2006 Apple QuickTime video support, multiprocessor and multicore support, track freeze, audio clip management improvements, file browser and project management enhancements, improved MIDI and keyboard mapping functions, two new effects (Note Length MIDI, Dynamic Tube), one new optional instrument (Sampler), improved Operator, Saturator, and Utility devices, and improved mixer.[17]

As of version 6, Ableton also offered a stripped-down version of Live called Live LE, with limitations on the number of audio channels and effects MIDI channels.

Live 7 29 November 2007 New Drum Rack, enhanced audio engine, streamlined outboard hardware integration, three new optional instruments (Analog, Electric, Tension), support for time signature changes in both Arrangement and Session views, Export Audio/Video functionality, multi-lane automation, new Compressor (replaces Compressor I and II) and Spectrum plug-ins, new Spectrum analyzer. Live 7 Suite introduced, including Live 7 and six premium instruments (Sampler, Operator, Electric, Analog, Tension, and Drum Machines).[18] Ableton later released a feature-limited version, Live 7 LE.
Live 8 2 April 2009 On 17 January 2009 Ableton announced version 8 of Live, with integrated Max/MSP platform Max for Live, Share Live Set integrated online collaboration feature, new audio file warping engine, Groove Engine, track grouping, programmable clip crossfades, improved MIDI editing pane, streamlined parameter panel for plug-ins and automation, new physical modeling synthesizer device called Collision, six new effects (Looper, Vocoder, Multiband Dynamics, Limiter, Overdrive, and Frequency Shifter), zoom in/out, MIDI clip and audio file preview, assignable colors for tracks, scenes, and instrument rack chains and macro controls.[19][20]

Suite 8 included Live 8 and twelve premium instruments (Collision, Corpus, Latin Percussion, Operator, Sampler, Electric, Tension, Analog, Drum machines, Session Drums), as well as Essential Instrument Collection 2 and a library of sounds.

Ableton also released Live 8 Akai Professional APC Edition and Live 8 Launchpad Edition, customized feature-limited versions of Live to be included with hardware controllers, with the APC Edition bundled with the Akai APC20 and APC40, and the Launchpad Edition bundled with versions of the (Novation Launchpad.

Live 8.2 22 September 2010
Live 8.3 2 April 2012
Live 9 5 March 2013 On 25 October, 2012 Ableton hosted a preview event for Live 9. New features such as integration of Max for Live and the Push hardware controller were announced and demonstrated. Later announced features in Live 9 include a Glue Compressor as well the ability to add curves and shapes to track automation among many other updates. Ableton Suite 9 included Max for Live, dramatically increasing the size of the Max for Live community and holding significant promise toward grassroots enhancements in Live by community members creating their own Max for Live devices.

Suite 9 also further expanded the soundware library included in version 8.[21]

Live 9.2 29 June 2015
Live 9.5 2 November 2015 In conjunction with a new version of Push, Live 9.5 included an updated version of Live's sampler, Simpler. New analog modeled filters, improved meters and waveforms, three new Max for Live synthesizers (Bass, Poli, Multi), and new graphic arpeggiator.[22]
Live 10 6 February 2018 The tenth version of Live offered new devices, improved workflows, a redesigned library, and easy controlling, ever-closer Push integration.

Live 10 Suite additionally included a host of new effects (Drum Buss, Echo, Pedal) and a new instrument (Wavetable).

Live 10.1 28 May 2019 The Live 10.1 update added additional arrangement and automation controls, custom wavetables in Wavetable, and other minor improvements.


The large international community of users and education around Ableton Live has helped the software grow in popularity. Across the globe, there are Live User Groups and online communities for musicians learning Ableton Live. In 2017 Ableton took this a step further with their educational initiative.[23] This allowed users of Push, a controller for Ableton Live, to trade in their Push 1 unit in exchange for a Push 2 discount. The older Push 1 units were then donated to schools around the world to help inspire kids and adults to explore digital based music production.

To help the music community with the ever growing flood of online schools and trainer, Ableton created a certification program called Ableton Certified Trainers[24]. As of 2018 there are only 280 professional educators that have been hand picked by Ableton for their extensive knowledge and skill with Ableton Live, Push, and Max For Live. Currently there are trainers in 53 countries offering instruction in 33 languages.

Notable Ableton Certified Trainers include Thavius Beck, Isaac Cotec (Subaqueous Music[25]), Brian Funk (AfroDjMac), James Patrick of Slam Academy, and Laura Escudé.

There is also a large community of online blogs, user groups, and websites dedicated to growing the Ableton Live user community.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Ableton Live End Use License Agreement". Archived from the original on August 19, 2014. Retrieved August 18, 2014.
  2. ^ Battino, David; Richards, Kelli (2005). The Art of Digital Music. San Francisco, CA: Backbeat Books. p. 3. ISBN 0-87930-830-3.
  3. ^ Slater, Maya-Roisin. "The Untold Story of Ableton Live—the Program That Transformed Electronic Music Performance Forever". Vice Media LLC. Retrieved 8 August 2019.
  4. ^ "Prototyping explained by Live co-creator Robert Henke". Archived from the original on 2011-07-07. Retrieved 2010-11-18.
  5. ^ "A brief history of Ableton Live". Future Music. Future Music Publishing Quay House. Retrieved 13 August 2019.
  6. ^ "Using Push — Ableton Reference Manual Version 10 - Ableton". Archived from the original on 2014-11-10.
  7. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2017-10-23. Retrieved 2017-06-27.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link) Resident Advisor News: Ableton unveils Push 2 and Live 9.5
  8. ^ "The Covert Operators - Ableton Live Packs". Archived from the original on 2011-08-07. Retrieved 2011-08-05.
  9. ^ "Puremagnetik". Archived from the original on 16 December 2008. Retrieved 2008-12-17.
  10. ^ "Hands-on with Ableton Live 9: Audio to MIDI". MusicRadar. Archived from the original on 2016-03-03. Retrieved 2016-02-23.
  11. ^ Tusa, Scott. "Getting Started with Ableton Live". O'Reilly Digital Media. Archived from the original on 2009-04-09. Retrieved 2009-04-19. This user-friendly program was designed for live performances by musicians who wanted to use the recording studio like a musical instrument. As performers and recording engineers, they felt stymied by the non-real-time nature of typical audio programs, so they wrote their own.
  12. ^ Pallanck, Laura. "Ableton Live 1.5". Mix. Future Plc. Retrieved 8 August 2019.
  13. ^ Sasso, Len. "Ableton Live 2.0". Electronic Musician. Future Publishing Limited Quay House. Retrieved 8 August 2019.
  14. ^ Anderton, Craig. "Ableton Live 3.0". Electronic Musician. Future Publishing Limited Quay House. Retrieved 8 August 2019.
  15. ^ Sasso, Len. "Ableton Live 4.0". Electronic Musician. Future Publishing Limited Quay House. Retrieved 8 August 2019.
  16. ^ Sasso, Len. "Ableton Live 5". Electronic Musician. Future Music Publishing Quay House. Retrieved 9 August 2019.
  17. ^ Sasso, Len. "Ableton Live 6.0.1". Electronic Musician. Future Publishing Limited Quay House. Retrieved 9 August 2019.
  18. ^ Anderton, Craig. "Ableton Live 7". Electronic Musician. Future Publishing Limited Quay House. Retrieved 9 August 2019.
  19. ^ Rothwell, Nick. "Ableton Live Suite 8". Sound On Sound. SOS Publications Group. Retrieved 8 August 2019.
  20. ^ "Ableton Live 8". MusicRadar. Future Plc. Retrieved 8 August 2019.
  21. ^ Rothwell, Nick. "Ableton Live 9 & Push". Sound On Sound. SOS Publications Group. Retrieved 13 August 2019.
  22. ^ Wilson, Scott. "Ableton Live 9.5: An incremental update with lots of surprises". FACT. VF Publishing. Retrieved 13 August 2019.
  23. ^ "Education Initiative - Ableton". Archived from the original on 2018-02-16.
  24. ^ "Certified Training | Ableton". Retrieved 2019-01-11.
  25. ^ Subaqueous. "Homepage". Subaqueous Music. Retrieved 2019-01-11.

External links[edit]