Working with sampled drum loops is a lot of fun, but some times you may find you want to change or enhance the individual sounds of the drums in ways that is not possible with a single wav file. Another issue could be that you found the perfect beat but there is no clean drum break in the source so that you can just sample a clean drum back. What you can do is manually extract the beat into a midi clip then use what ever drum sounds you want to layer with the original sample or just use the midi file on its own.
Lets get Started
Load your source wav file on an audio track in Ableton’s arrangement view. Create a midi track underneath and insert a midi clip. Load the midi track with a drum kit instrument and then unfold both the midi track and the audio track so that you can see the wav file and empty midi clip. Listen to your source file while zoomed in to one bar. Take a good look at where the kick, snares, hats, and other elements are happening in time. Allot of times you will be able to see the event in the wav file especially since drums have very dominant transients.
Now go into your midi note editor of your midi clip and add notes that correspond with the events in the wav file, add a kick drum where the kick drum happens, snare where the snare happens…. Just do a few at a time for now.
If you have your midi track unfolded you will notice that you are able to view the midi notes on the track itself. This makes it really easy for us to line up the midi notes with the source audio.
Add some more notes. You will probably notice that the original drum loop may not be in perfect time. You could either warp the audio file or move the midi notes free of grid to line up with the original file, preserving the original groove. This can be accomplished by turning off your grid in the midi note editor using CTRL 4 (pc) or CMD 4 (mac). Another good shortcut for moving notes free of grid is by clicking on the note and holding down the ALT (pc) or CMD (mac) key, This will allow you to move free of grid without turning off the grid.
We also need to set the Velocity of the midi notes to mimic how hard the drummer is hitting the drums. The velocity can be modified by moving the red lines up or down to increase or decrease the velocity. Alternatively you can also use a short cut, hold down ALT (pc) or CMD (mac) the click the note and drag up and down to increase or decrease the velocity of the note. Notice that this short using the same keys as the move free of grid short cut but opposite order. This is really handy for fast editing.
That is basically it, just work your way down the loop or song using your eyes and ears to line up each midi note. I highly recommend doing this method of you want to learn how to become better at programming drum beats. This is like when guitar players learn other people’s songs, you learn some of the basic skills and tricks that the artist used to create their music. Drums are based on rudiments, another drill that is a lot of fun and a great learning experience to actually program rudiments. It will have the same effect on you as a drum programmer as it does on a drummer. It will teach you the muscle memory of what you hear in your head so that you can create what you are imagining much easier and more efficiently.
Thank you for reading this tutorial and fell free to leave a comment, ask questions, or make a request for future tutorials. I also offer private lessons, class, and workshops.
Don’t forget to check out my band Lux Divon.
Austin Ableton Tutor