Drum Programing with Ableton Live

Drum Programming With Ableton Live

This tutorial is a introduction to midi drum programing using Ableton Live and Drum Racks. To start off we will be making a basic 1 bar drum loop, and then quickly expand the basic drum loop to dynamic 32 bar drum pattern.

The first thing we need to do is open Ableton Live and load a drumrack into a midi track.

To load a drum rack Open the live browser, select the live devices, open the instrument folder, open the drum racks folder, open the kit folder, and select a drum kit.


Pick any kit you like but don’t take to long because we can audition other kits later when we have the loop created. For now I will be using a kit from Ableton’s Session Drums.


Next we need to create a 1 bar midi clip in an empty clip slot on the midi track. To do this right click (pc) or cmd click (mac) on the first cell in the midi track that you put the drum rack in. then select insert midi clip. You will also notice the hot key command for the insert midi clip action which you could use, or just double click the cell to create a midi clip.


When inserting a midi clip, clip view should be automatically selected, you can also switch between clip view and device view by pressing shift+tab or you can also select either view on the bottom right of the screen. In order to re-size the clip view move your mouse just above clip view, the mouse will turn into an up/down cursor, then click and drag the clip view to be as big as needed


Now take a look at the note ruler section of the clip, The note ruler is located on the left side of the clip and contains the names of the different pieces of the drum kit. IE: kick, side stick, snare hit…You should notice that your mouse cursor turns into a hand holding a magnifying glass. In the note ruler section clicking and dragging left and right will zoom in and out. Clicking and dragging up and down will move the note rule section up and down.






Now lets set the grid, right click (pc) cmd click (mac) in the midi note editor section to open your context menu for the midi note editor. Take a minute to look over all your options then select fixed grid 1/16. This will enable us to place notes down on the grid quantized to 1/16th notes.




Now lets program a basic break beat. Their is two ways to enter notes with the mouse, one is draw mode (pencil tool) and the other is using the regular mouse pointer. first we will talk about using the regular mouse pointer to enter midi notes. make sure that draw mode is off. At the top of the screen you will see a pencil icon, if it is yellow click it off, alternatively the hot key is ctrl+b for pc and cmd+b for mac.








with draw mode off double click to insert a note to trigger the kick drum on the 1.0, and the 1.3 now double click to insert a snare on the 1.2 and the 1.4 The note divisions are listed at the top of clip view.







this is a very basic one two beat.. not very exciting but can be useful in some situations (country and punk rock). From here we can play with the tempo and feel of the beat by adjusting the global tempo and moving around the second kick drum. Advance the kick drum to 1.3.3 and set the global tempo to 172.. that is a basic Drum and Bass beat. Now slow down the global tempo to 96, instant hip hop.






Try adding in another kick on the 1.1.3 then move it up to the 1.1.4 Feel free to play around and find a basic rhythm and tempo you like. I will be using the Hip Hop pattern shown in this picture at a tempo of 96 bpm.







now lets drop in some closed 1/8th note hi hats. Double click to enter Hi hat closed on the 1.0, and 1.1.3, then look down at the bottom of the clip view and you will see little vertical lines with circles on top. these lines are the velocity value’s. Move the velocity for the Hihat one 1.1.3 down a little to add some variation to the hi hats. you will also notice the note color will get darker or lighter depending on the velocity setting.






Another thing I would like to do is “humanize” the hats so as not to sound like a machine. so lets open up or context menu by right clicking (pc) or cmd clicking (mac) on the midi note editor. select “off”, which you will see just under 1/4.






Now we can move the Hi hats free of the grid by clicking an dragging or clicking the note to select and using the arrow keys. Lay back the first hat a little bit off the one by moving a tiny bit forward in time. Then rush the second hat by moving the note a little bit back in time, but not to much.. we are humanizing a drummer with good timing here. This method also has an added benefit of allowing the kick drum to have the dominant transient over the hi hat which will bring out kick drum more and give it more punch and definition.







We shall now use the glorious duplicate function of Ableton Live to quickly copy and past the hi hats across the bar. First we need to turn our 1/16th note grid back on. you could open up the context menu by right clicking (pc) or cmd clicking (mac) and selecting 1/16 or you could use A super special hot key. Ctrl+4 (pc) Cmd+4 (mac) which will toggle on and off the grid. Now click and drag starting from the 1.2 back to the 1 to select just the hi hat’s You will notice a little yellow line towards the top of the clip view that defines you selected area, and the selected notes will be darker then the rest. Make sure you only have the two hi hat notes selected and the selection start from 1 and ends on 1.2






Now you can open your context menu and select duplicate or just use the hot key ctrl+d (pc) cmd+d (mac). The notes will in essence be copied and pasted to the 1.2 and the 1.2.3 now just select duplicate or use your hot key of ctr+d (pc) or cmd+d (mac) two more times to finish out the bar.







Listen to your beat. Lets lay back the first snare hit a little bit.
Click and drag to select both the snare and the hi hat This time
instead of turning of the grid click on the snare then hold down alt
(pc) as you move both the snare and hi hat notes at the same time. Lay
back the notes of the grid just a little bit then release the mouse
button before releasing alt (pc). this will enable you to move the
notes free of the grid without turning the grid off. You can also
modify the velocity by holding down alt (pc) the clicking+dragging on
the note to increase or decrease the velocity. Now for the snare hit
on the 1.4 and rush the hit a little by using the same method but
leave the hi hat where it is at. your 1 bar drum loop should now look
allot like the image below.







We need to touch up one last thing before moving on, notice the kick

drum at 1.3.3, it is hitting a little after the hi hat which is taking
energy away from the initial punch of the kick. since the kick drum
is a very important element in modern music I like to go out of my
way to ensure it has a dominance in the mix with out being over
bearing. we can accomplish this by either rushing the kick drum so it’s
initial transient hits before the hat or laying back the hat to
accomplish the same thing.. I am actually going to do both in order to
ad some more character to my drum loop.





I generally spend most of my time working on this 1 bar loop, my goal
is to make a solid drum loop, to hold down the grove, and have enough
character to hold interest as a 1 bar loop. When I feel like I have a
banging 1 bar drum loop I start duplicating and tweaking.

So now click on the loop bracket which is located at the top of clip
view to select the entire bar and all the notes. The use your hot key
command to duplicate the bar ctrl+d (pc) cmd+d (mac)basic_drum_programing_tutorial_20





Click on blank space with in the midi note editor to deselect all the

notes. now we are just going to modify the second bar just a little
bit. All I am going to do is move the second kick drum from 2.1.4 to
2.1.3 to ad a slight variation.






With that slight variation added We will now drag the loop start back
to the one so that we have a 2 bar drum loop






Wash, Rinse, and Repeat!

make sure that you have the 2 bar drum loop selected then use the
duplicate function again. ctrl+d (pc) cmd+d (mac). I highly recommend
learning your short cut key commands, but if nothing else ad the
duplicate command to your arsenal of short cuts asap. You can use the
duplicate command all over Live.
So now we have the last 2 bars selected of a 4 bar loop, make sure to
deselect the midi notes then edit the last bar a little bit. Silence
is one of the most expressive things in music so all I am going to do
is remove the last closed Hihat. After you have made a minor edit to
the last bar drag the loop start back to the 1 and listen to your 4
bar loop. feel free to make any further edits that your feeling.






I bet you can guess whats next, yup duplicate again. now edit the

last bar. for bar 8 I want to do a small snare fill. I find the
adaptive grid very useful for programing flams and rolls. The
adaptive grid creates more grid lines the if you zoom in and less if
you zoom out, in fact its the grid I use most. Open up your context
menu for the midi note editor by right clicking (pc) or cmd+click
(mac) and select narrow under adaptive grid.





Now we can quickly zoom in and out to create a nice little snare fill

and the end of bar 8. For my loop basicaly added a flam to the snare
hit at 8.4 by adding a snare hit just before 8.4 and lowered the
velocity to create the flame effect. then I added another snare at
8.4.3 with a similar flam. Flams are like subtle accents that
drummers use to add excitement and anticipation. Another handy thing
that helps when programing drum parts as the loop gets longer. rather
then wait for the cycle you can scroll your mouse just below the loop
bracket and it will turn into a speaker. when you click play scrub
the play marker to the nearest interval based on your global
quantization. (IE: my global quantization is set to 1 bar so if i
click before the 8.3 the loop will play from bar 8 but if i click
after bar 8.3 it will play the next bar)basic_drum_programing_tutorial_26





When your happy with your snare fill on bar 8 move your loop start

back to the one. Press space bar to stop the clock. Ableton is great
because you can start a session, keep the music rolling, and tweak on
your track all day. This can become a problem though. your mind may
loose track of the one which could through off your thinking. so i
like to refresh by stopping the clock and resetting my mind to sync back
up. In doing so I find that the double snare hits at bar 8 is a
little much so I removed both the flam and the snare hit from the end
of the bar. Since this is more of a Hip Hop beat I want it simple and






Most of the time I stop at 8 bars then go work on my bass line, but

for this tutorial we will continue on to 32 bars. so select all 8
bars by clicking the loop bracket at the top of clip view then use
the duplicate command ctr+d (pc) cmd+d (mac). deselect the midi
notes and zoom into bar 16. For this i want to set my start marker to
bar 16 so I can just use my space bar to quickly here my edits. on
the left of clip view you will see some boxes and 3 little circles,
make sure that the circle with the notes is yellow which will enable
you to see your note box.





Now set your start position to 16, 1, 1

this will enable us to quickly start the loop from bar 16 so we can
hear out edits as we make them.





I basically move my kick drum to the 16.3, deleted my hi hats after

16.3 and added some snare hits with varying velocities to create a
bata pop sound. If you need help understanding how to program fills
do what all good drummers do, learn some rudiments. check out Vic
firths page, it is an awesome resource to learn and understand drumming.




Finally lets move that start marker back to the 1, and since we where
talking about the note box and our loop is starting to get pretty
long take a look at the position and length under loop in the note
box that is located to the left of clip view if the little circle
with a note in it is yellow. you can just quickly type in your
parameters for your loop bracket here. set position to 1 and length to





now Listen to your full 16 bar loop from the beginning. I’m not to

into that fill I programed on bar 16, I don’t think it sits well with
the loop. So made a few changes by removing the hi hat on 16.3 and
changing the kick drum on 16.3 to a snare and adjusting the timing
and velocity of all the snares in the fill.






Finally lets duplicate 1 more time, click on the loop bracket to
select all 16 bars and use the duplicate function ctr+d (pc) cmd+d
(mac) Again, I will just edit bar 32 by zooming in and tweaking the
fill on bar 32 to add variation to the 32 bar drum loop




when your finished tweaking bar 32, set start to 1, position to 1,

and length to 32. listen to your Drum pattern and feel free to make
any tweaks that you see fit with in the patter. when your finished
don’t forget to save your work. From here you can actually duplicate
the midi clip and tweak the new clip to create another pattern that
will go with this clip you just created. don’t forget practice makes
perfect so go make a bunch of drum patterns in different styles and
of different lengths to get a good feel. In now time you will be
able to crank out dynamic drum patterns in a matter of minutes.


Thank you for reading this tutorial and fell free to leave a comment,
ask questions, or make a request for future tutorials.

Austin Ableton Tutor
Jimmy Allison