How to Sample/Edit Audio in Ableton Live

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If you’ve ever used Ableton, you probably know how versatile of a DAW (digital audio workstation/music production program) it is. Just by opening the program it’s pretty clear that there is a lot at your disposal. Ableton is a great program designed to work with MIDI (musical instrument digital interface) information. MIDI is a technical standard that describes a protocol/digital interface that allows a wide variety of electronic musical instruments, computers and other MIDI devices to connect and communicate with each another. You can play and write complex music using MIDI in Ableton along with controlling synths and much more. However, Ableton supports audio (sounds, recorded using microphones) as well.

Audio Sampling is one of the most common techniques in electronic music production today. Rooting back to hip hop, artists have sampled just about everything by now. Sampling is the technique of digitally encoding music or sound and reusing it as part of a composition or recording. A remixing of sorts, of a single sound or segment. Perhaps the most used sample of all time is the Amen Break, a short drum break lasting just four bars.

Ableton allows us to use audio in a seemly endless amount of ways, whether that be dragging and dropping loops, plugging in drum samples to a drum rack, or sampling in Ableton’s Simpler plug in. In this short tutorial, I’ll touch on a few different ways to incorporate and edit audio, using Ableton Live.

The easiest way to sample in Ableton Live is simply by dragging and dropping. As long as the audio segment you’d like to use is in a .wav format, you can simply drag it from a folder or  from your desktop directly into the arrangement or session view. If the file is an MP3, you can change it to .wav format using the itunes encoder.

Open a blank session and find a bit of audio that you’d like to use. You can either use a file from your Ableton Browser, or find it on you desktop/finder. Generally I prefer using the Ableton browser to find samples and files because it’s easier to grab files and drag them into a session from there. You only need one window to find what you need and apply it. If you use your desktop or finder on your computer it can be annoying to navigate multiple windows and drag things into place quickly. For this example I’m using a sample that came with Ableton Live when I bought the DAW. Using the browser, I’ll navigate to the “samples” folder, and find what I need. I’ve highlighted the browser area below.

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Cool! Now I found my sample and all I have to do is press “tab” on my keyboard – that will open up the “arrangement view” where I can build a song.  Next, simply drag your sample onto a track.  Tracks are what we call the horizontal (in arrangement view) rows in which we can edit audio or record MIDI notes. Notice that when you drag the sample over, your track will automatically turn into an Audio Track (if it was a MIDI track before). Ableton recognizes that we are working with audio so it switches the track from MIDI to Audio. Ableton is wicked smaahht.

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Make sure when you drag your sample in the track that it’s on is expanded or dropped down so you can see the waveform. To do this simply click the arrow on the track (next to the track name) so that it faces downwards.

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Now that we’ve got an audio sample placed on an audio track, we can start to edit it! This is the fun part. There are so many ways you can mess around with audio in Ableton. Firstly though, we need to know how to navigate the arrangement view a bit better in order to make some edits. You can see the audio there on track one, but what if you want to get a closer look at it? Easy, move your cursor (mouse) just above the track numbers on the top of your session. Hover the cursor in that dark grey area and your cursor should turn into a magnifying glass. Now you can seamlessly click and drag up and down (vertically) with your mouse, and the track will zoom in and out to your liking.



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Now that we have a good look at our audio (displayed as a waveform) we can start messin’ with it. To chop up the sample, or remove/erase part of it simple click and drag over a selection of your audio and press the delete key on your computer keyboard.


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now delete!

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You can go pretty crazy with this, and chop things up into little bits of audio if you want. You can also copy an audio region and paste it elsewhere on the track, or on a different track. Do this by selecting an area of audio (like we did before) then on your computer keyboard press “command+C”. Now the region is copied.  Find a place where you want to paste it then click your mouse there. Now on your keyboard press “command+V”. This should paste the audio where you want it. The audio region will stay copied, until you copy something else. You can also do this by right clicking on a clip. Instead of selecting to delete audio, you can also just click and drag it to resize the sample. To do this move your cursor over the start or end of the audio clip above the waveform where a colored box is displayed. When you find the right spot, your cursor will change into a bracket. Now click (while the bracket is shown) and you can drag the sample to shorten or lengthen it. You can also loop a sample this way by extending it past its own length. Meaning, once there is no sample material left, the sample will start over and loop; you can do this pretty much infinitely. Here’s a picture of where to click for the bracket.

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The last thing I’ll show you for today is a menu where you can make different edits on an individual audio clip. To do this just double click on the audio clip (click on the top colored part not the waveform). Now a larger view of the sample should open up on the bottom of the arrangement view. You can expand that window to get a better look at it.

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This is the window we would use to effect the timing of a sample using Warp Mode. But we won’t get into that for this tutorial. Instead, note the menu at the bottom left of the screen, the Sample and Clip editors.

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There are a lot of useful tools on this editor. The two controls that I use the most on are the volume fader and the transpose knob. The transpose knob is useful as a creative tool, to change the pitch of a certain sample, but also as a more practical tool to transpose a sample into the key of your song. To do this, simply grab the triangle and transpose at will. Do note however, this may alter the tempo of your sample. Transposing up (turning knob right) will make the sample faster and transposing down (turning left) will slow the tempo of the sample.

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The volume fader, just to the right of the transpose knob (labeled 0.00 dB), controls the individual volume of your sample. This can be helpful when working with audio that was recorded too quietly, or when processing audio through different kinds of effects. The “Rev.” button will reverse any clip meaning the start point will switch with the endpoint and the sample will play backwards. This is a lot of fun when editing and chopping up vocal bits. You can also save the edits you’ve made to a given sample with the save button. Under the clip menu, you can change your clip color, rename the sample or select the time signature. You can do so many creative edits with these little menus, they’re great for making quick changes on the fly. Here is an example of some heavy audio sampling, where I used cutting, transposing, looping and all the other techniques demonstrated in this tutorial. Listen for these edits in the female vocals.


Hope this helps you out if you’re getting started with Ableton and editing audio samples! Intersted in learning more? Take one of our classes. Drop us a line below to get more information.


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