Connecting Hardware Instruments to Ableton Live

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You see it in the store every time you go: that beautiful, expensive synthesizer. You love the way the knobs feel on your fingers, and the way the keys respond to your touch. But, “I’m not really a hardware person, I’m an software person,” you think to yourself. And, oh, how wrong you are.

Ableton Live makes it incredibly easy to use external, hardware instruments with software instruments.

There are a few different methods to do this, so let’s run down the two most popular ones:

1. Sampling A Performance

This method requires an audio interface of some sort, but doesn’t require a MIDI interface. Simply plug the audio output of your instrument into the input of your interface, and set up an Audio track.  Once signal from the instrument shows up in Live, you are all set to record your keyboard part!  After you’ve recorded, you can move around and slice audio to taste. You can even slice different performances and sounds together to get cool, new sounds and progressions.

2. Connecting via MIDI

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This is the more complicated of the two methods. This method requires both an audio and a MIDI interface. Luckily, most audio interfaces these days come with a built in MIDI interface. Some hardware instruments can also transmit MIDI via USB, cutting the MIDI interface out of the equation. Either way, you’re going to need to both audio AND MIDI connections between your computer and your hardware instrument.

Instrument Window

Once you’ve set up your connections, you’ll want to set up an “External” instrument on a MIDI track in Live.

External Instrument

Select “MIDI To” and make sure that it is going to the appropriate destination, either your interface or the instrument itself, depending on the connection.

MIDI To

Now, select “Audio From” and make sure that it is set to the appropriate input. Otherwise, you Live won’t receive audio from your instrument.

Audio From

You should now be all set to send MIDI from Live to your instrument, and receive audio from your instrument.  Now you can edit MIDI in Live, and the instrument will respond accordingly.

From here, you basically want to add Method #1 to this process. Open up a new Audio track, and select the input that your instrument is going in to. Make sure your MIDI track with the data to be sent to your instrument is enabled. Now, hit record and wait. By the end, you will have an audio track that has all of the corresponding MIDI changes that you sent to the instrument (notes, filter cutoffs, etc.). You can now disable (or delete) your original MIDI track.

You can, of course, combine both methods by slicing and moving around audio that you obtained from Method #2, making your productions even more cool and out there.

If you are interesting in learning how to use Ableton, and how to use hardware to make music, take a look at our master program. On top of Ableton and Synthesis, we also teach DJing with Serato. Email me today and we’ll get started.