Often the hardest part of starting a new musical project is simply figuring out where to start. Most producers today begin with a drum beat, and leave the musical part last. I would wager to guess that’s because music theory can often seem complicated or even unapproachable.

But what if I told you that there’s a toolbox inside Ableton that will remove that fear and allow you to generate chords, melodies, and sequences without an ounce of musical theory training?

It’s called the Midi Effects section, and it’s great.

Whether you’re totally new to Ableton, or a longtime user, Ableton’s Midi Effects section offers some pretty fantastic opportunities. Located in the left hand menu, below the audio effects, the midi effects are a series of plugins that dictate what happens when a note is played.

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Unlike an audio effect, midi effects are placed BEFORE the synth plug-in.

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There aren’t as many effects in the midi section. But though they are small in number, they are powerful in nature. If you use these correctly, you can press one note and generate a whole musical soundscape.

Let’s go over what each of them does.


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Unless you’ve taken some music theory classes, you’re probably not familiar with all the various scales and modes. With the scale plug-in place you no longer need to worry about knowing any of that. Simply grab one of the presets, and the scale plug-in transposes all notes to be in key. No more wrong notes!

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Don’t like the scale? Then change it out, or build your own by playing around with the square grid interface. By doing this you’ll actually begin to understand the different scale sounds, and how the notes all relate to each other. For beginners though, check out this handy list of scales and what they “sound” like.


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This plug-in allows you to play many notes by only pressing one. Adjust the six knobs, and build large complex chords.


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This plug in either repeats a note you are playing, or outlines the chord being played. It offers a wide array of ways to control this process, and is perhaps the most powerful midi effects plug-in. Spend some time playing with this until you learn the controls. The most important controls are style, rate, gate, & steps. If you want to learn more, watch here.

Here’s a great example of what an arp sounds like

Note Length

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Controls how long all notes being played last.


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Used to adjust the pitch of any incoming midi notes up or down.


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Exactly as the name implies, this plug-in generates random notes anytime a midi note is played. This can be used to create some light variation, or when cranked all the way up, can generate total chaos.


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a plug-in that allows the user to control the softness or loudness or each note played.

These are all powerful tools on their own, but best used together. Here are some of my favorite combinations.

Scale + Chord (+ Arp)– Allows you to build chord progression by just pressing one key at a time. Throw on an arp and outline these chords!

Arpegiator + Velocity – This gives those repetitive sequences some texture.

Arpeggiator + Random (+ scale) – Total chaos! It takes what’s coming out of the arpeggiator, and creates a sequence of random notes. Throw the scale on afterwards to keep the madness all confined to a single key.

As you can see, these are powerful tools that eliminate a lot of the musical guesswork, and can allow a producer to generate new ideas quickly. For more info about classes, and free workshops, visit our website!

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