How To Turn Any Sound into an Electronic Instrument in Ableton Live

What would you say if I told you that you can turn a bird noise into an electronic instrument?

Would you believe me? Well…you probably should, because I’m about to show you how! BOOM!

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In this short how to I will show you how to turn a sound into an instrument using Ableton’s built in software sampler called, Simpler. Simpler is a very powerful sampler that you can use to get super creative with your productions when sampling audio. Tired of using preset sounds? Searching through a bank for something boring that somebody’s already used? This tutorial will show you how to make a totally original sounding instrument without having to synthesize it using a program outside of Ableton Live.

For this example we are going to use one of my favorite sounds…a bird squawking. SO. First thing’s first, select some sample material. NOTE: this does not have to be a bird noise, I’m just using one to demonstrate for this tutorial. So find some recorded sound that you wanna use. Make sure your sound is a .wav file before you put it into Ableton. Mine is not, so I’ll use itunes to re-import it as a .wav file. Wav files are not only Ableton compatible, but they are of a higher sound quality.

I have chosen a peacock squawk as my sample material. Heads up, it’s pretty loud.

Go find your browser/library on the left of Ableton Live and select the Instruments tab. Within the instruments tab, find an instrument called “Simpler.” Simpler is one of a couple samplers that’s offered with Ableton Live. You may have guessed this by the name, but it’s pretty simple to use. So double click on the Simpler to make a Simpler track. You should see the Simpler instrument show up on the bottom left of your screen.

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Now, find your sample and get it ready to drop. You can see the “Drop Sample Here” space on the top of the Simpler. Now drag and drop the sample in (either from your browser or your desktop, both work).!

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Now you can see the sample, but it’s too long right now, and it isn’t starting where I want it to. You can play the sample on your keyboard by pressing the middle row of letter keys (A-L). Make sure the circular dot at the bottom of a track button is red! And you should be hearing your sample played on different keys as you press them.

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Note the two grey areas on the sides of the sample. You can click and drag on those arrows to change the start and endpoints of the sample. So try that out and attempt to find an area of the sample that you’d like to use.

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Note that the green area is the area of your sample that will play, and the black area will not play. If you want to get a closer look at where your sample is playing, you can zoom in easily by clicking on the sample (a magnifying glass icon should appear) then dragging downwards (with your mouse) to zoom in or upwards to zoom out. You can select whatever size area you want, but personally to try and capture a more smooth and sustaining sound I will grab two cycles (waveform) of the sound. If you zoom in far enough on the sample you will see what we call a waveform clearly. Put simply this is the sound at its most basic level, expressed in the shape of a wave. There are different waveforms that synthesizers and electronic instruments use to create sound. Some of the most recognizable ones being a sine wave, a square wave, and a sawtooth wave. This is a sample we found, so the wave shape is one specifically original to the sound.  So I will grab 2 cycles of the wave.

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Now my sample is loaded up and honed in on the length that I want. I’ll be making an synth organ type sound out of this sample. To make this sound I want to make sure that my “Loop” button is on, that way the sound will loop and sustain like an organ would. You can see below that I didn’t change that many settings to design this sound, and considering it only took me a few minutes to make from start to finish, it sounds pretty good so far! From here on out get creative with the settings in Simpler. Just try out different buttons and settings to find out what they do, have a little fun experimenting and see what you come up with. I made some changes by adding Portamento to the sound, adding voices, velocity, spread, and resonance. These are all typical parameters on synthesizers, which is cool! because this is a sampler! Ableton gives you a lot of creative options in a pretty small and easy to use sampler.

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The last thing I’ll do just to round out the sound is to add a couple effects. If you want to add effects go back to your browser and find the Audio Effects tab. There are a lot of different effects to play around with, but for this sound I’ll just add some delay, some subtle stereo panning, and a little EQing. If these effects are foreign to you, don’t worry, effects can be confusing to use and difficult to understand. Here is a link to help you wrap your head around them, from our friends at Ableton.

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Now I wrote a few chords just so you could hear the sound in a harmonic context. You can obviously compose whatever you’d like though! Below is the original sample, then the sample looped, then edited using Simpler, and then with effects.

Original Sample Segment:

Looped Sample (+chords):

Edited w/ Simpler:

W/ effects:

And HERE, lastly, is it used in the context of an arrangement.

Put simply, the purpose of this “how to” was to show you how to drag and drop a sample into Simpler, to loop it properly, and get it sounding like an electronic instrument…rather than a bird squawking (in my case). Hopefully you have made something totally original out of your sound! If you want to learn how to use your sound in a full song and make some arrangements and tunes that you’re super proud of, come take Music Production with Ableton classes at MMMMAVEN! We’ll teach you all the skills you need to get producing music with Ableton Live! As always, comment with questions! Cheers,


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One thought on “How To Turn Any Sound into an Electronic Instrument in Ableton Live

  1. I just read 5 “guides” and they were so friggin confusing because they went into advanced Ableton features. I am new (like started yesterday) and I am reading a lot to learn about features. Your gyide made that process easy for me. It also gave me a greater sense of freedom within Ableton to really be creative. Thanks!

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