ABLETON BASICS: How To Produce With Nothing But Your Laptop

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Gear. It’s all musicians ever talk about. From guitar players to beat makers, collecting gear is somewhat of a lifestyle. However, it’s an expensive hobby, and makes your production station an ever growing beast.

This habit though is born of necessity. Most DAWs are pretty hard to use without at least one or two pieces of external hardware to help control it. But not Ableton. By learning a few hot keys, and understanding all that the interface has to offer you can for the most part produce without any external controllers. You don’t even need a mouse! Just your laptop and Ableton installed.


Let’s get down to business.

How To Enter Midi Notes Without A Keyboard

While a midi keyboard might be nice, it’s not necessary with Ableton. However, you’ll need to understand the key mapping set up.

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Notes: AWSEDFTGYHUJKOL (the middle and top row)
Lower One Octave: Z
Raise One Octave: X
Lower Velocity: C
Raise Velocity: V

Here’s how to utilize it. Insert a midi instrument, create a new midi clip, and then press the headphone icon.

headphone icon

Now, when you press and hold a note, and then click the right arrow key, you should see notes being entered! As long as you hold the note, and press the arrow key, the length of the note will increase. You can also just click the arrow keys to move around in the staff/clip. If you accidentally made it too long, just click and hold on to the note, and press the left arrow key, and the length will decrease.


Another way to edit is to drag your mouse to the upper left or right corner of the note until the icon that looks like this [ or this ] appears. You can then drag to your desired note length. Confused? This is much easier done than said! Try it out now, and you’ll quickly find out how intuitive it is.

NOTE: You can do all the exact same things if you hold down MULTIPLE notes!


Clip View Tools

You can transpose notes by simply selecting them and then pressing up or down on the arrow keys. If you press shift and then an arrow key, it will transpose the notes up or down an octave.







This button takes selected notes and reverses their order







This button takes selected notes and inverses them







This will take the current midi clip and double its length. You can use this before you even enter a single note to get a clip of your desired length.







Extends the length of every note to the end of the bar! Great way to make luscious long chords!

Lastly, let’s discuss how to record clips live instead of methodically entering them in.

The easiest way to do this is to arm the track by pressing this button…

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And then pressing record and playing out your idea on your keyboard. This isn’t always perfect though, and requires some quantization and editing afterwards. But that takes too much time! Just set Ableton to auto quantize your recorded clips by going to the Edit Menu, Select Record Quantization, and then choose what division works best.

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Looking to record without pressing stop though? Can do! This handy tricks saves ton of times when creating beats with drum racks, or building harmonies on top of melodies. Once again create a midi clip, arm the track, and then press the circle icon on the top menu.

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Now, when you go to record, it will continuously loop and record whatever you play.

With auto-quantize on, it’s like having your own custom drum machine/loop station.

There are of course tons more tip and tricks for producing without any gear, but these are truly the essential basics. Armed with this knowledge you can turn that next boring train or bus ride into a productive music session!

Does any of this confuse you, or are you feeling like you want to learn more about Ableton? Then check be sure to check out out our state of the art facilities and DJ/Ableton Production classes here in Boston! Our instructors, like Subalias, are established producer, and can teach you what it takes to become an expert beat maker.

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