How To Emulate A TB-303 With Ableton’s Operator

Famous for helping shape the electronic music landscape, learn how to emulate Roland’s flagship bass synthesizer – the TB-303 – with Live’s Operator.

The TB-303 bass synthesizer, released in 1982, is for known its harsh leads and squelchy bass lines. It helped create the Acid House movement in the mid 1980’s and has been used over and over on multiple tracks since. Costing around $2,000 for the hardware version, you can now emulate an accurate sound with Live’s Operator synth. Here’s how:



1. Loading Operator And Programming The Sequence

First, load Operator into an empty MIDI track in Session View.

An initialized Operator loaded into a new MIDI track.

Next, double click in the first empty clip slot to create a new 1 bar MIDI loop. I’m going to program my own sequence in the Piano Roll, feel free to copy this one or write your own. Here’s mine:

Here is what the sequence sounds like untreated:

2. Programming The TB-303 Patch

The first thing we’re going to do is turn Operator into a monophonic synth. To do this click on Live’s Global Shell:

The location of Operator’s Global Shell

Once you’ve done that, locate the Voices section in Operator’s middle panel. Change it to 1.

Changing Operator into a monophonic synth.

Our next step is to activate Operator’s filter and change it to a 24DB lowpass.

Activate Operator’s filter section for control of the 24DB lowpass filter.

With the filter tab still selected, in the middle panel change Operators filter settings to 70.0 ms of decay, Freq<Vel to 70% and the filter envelope to 50%.

Changing Operator’s Filter settings.

Now, click Operator’s Oscillator A panel.

The location of Operator’s OSC A panel.

In the middle section, change the decay to 1.5 s, the Waveform to SqD and the sustain to -inf dB.

The TB-303 has two waveforms, a square and a sawtooth. Operator has both of these wave types. “Square D” and “Saw D” sound the best for this application.

Now, one last step in getting the operator to sound like the TB-303.

Click on the Operator’s Pitch Panel shown here:

Operator’s Pitch Panel.

Once you’ve done this, in the middle section of Operator, enable the Glide option.

Enable Glide to get a more accurate TB-303 sound.

If you play the clip, you should hear it starting to take shape.

3. Adding The Saturator And Mapping The Macro Controls

Now that we’ve got all of the basic settings programmed in the Operator, lets add some distortion, as well as macro knobs we can use to control the important parameters.

Start by adding Ableton’s Saturator to this track.

Next, the settings you want for the Saturator are as follows:

  1. Drive – Set this to around 12dB. You will be able to control this later on.
  2. Curve Type – Change this to “Soft Sine”.
  3. Soft Clip – Turn this setting on.
  4. Output – Change this to around -6dB to compensate for the excess volume from the drive.

At this point you should have a much fatter sound. All we need to do now is group the two devices and map them to some Macro controls.

Start by clicking on the Title Bar of both devices. Shift+Click to select them both. Once they’re both highlighted orange, you know you’ve done it right.

Right click on either of the Title Bars and select “Group” from the menu.

Grouping both devices will allow you to use the Macro controls.

Once the two devices are grouped. You can assign Macro controls by right clicking on the desired control and choosing any of the 8 “Map to Macro” options.

Mapping parameters to Macro Controls.

For this tutorial we’re going to map the Filter Frequency (Macro 1), the Filter Resonance (Macro 2), the Filter Envelope (Macro 3), and the Saturator Drive (Macro 4).

Next, enter Map Mode located on the Instrument Rack title bar.

We only need to change a one parameter in Ableton’s Instrument Rack Map Mode.

Locate your Macro Mappings window (it’s where your Live’s File Browser usually is) and change the Min Fe Amount from -100% to 0%.

That’s it! Now map your Macro controls to your favorite MIDI controller and have fun!

Here is my the result with some Filter and Resonance tweaking:

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6 Tips For More Efficient MIDI Note Editing

Here are a couple of tips and shortcuts you can use to make editing MIDI notes in Ableton Live more efficient.

Here are 6 tips to work more efficiently when editing MIDI Notes in Ableton Live’s Piano Roll view.



1. Double Click To Draw And Erase Notes

A few people overlook this one (including myself for awhile). In Live’s MIDI Editor instead of entering “Draw Mode”, double click to draw in notes in a desired area. Double click the note to erase it.

Double click to add and erase notes in Ableton’s MIDI editor.

2. Hold Shift+Up Or Down Arrow To Change Octaves

While your note(s) are selected, hold down the shift button and press the up or down arrow key will automatically shift an octave up (up arrow) or down (down arrow).

3. Select All Notes With Ctrl+A

Sometimes it can be hard to see note values if they are an octave or two higher. Rather than hunting every single down down, just hit Ctrl+A to select all the notes in Live’s MIDI editor. Use the above octave shifting tip in conjunction with this to change the octave of whole sequences.

Notes that aren’t even seen in the higher register are selected with Ctrl+A.

4. Use Ctrl+1 And Ctrl+2 For Grid Changes

If you’re set to a fixed grid, Ctrl+1 can shrink your Grid Snap all the way to the point of it being turned off. Live has the unbelievable ability to shrink the grid all the way to 16,384 notes per measure!

Use Ctrl+1 to shrink Your Grid lines. Check out the bottom right of the screen. 1/16,384 means 16,384 grid lines per measure.

Ctrl+2 will enlarge the Grid Snap to 512/1. Which is essentially one grid line every 512 measures. Once again, a ridiculous amount of grid control.

Ctrl+2 enlarges the amount of space between grid lines. The lowest it will go is 512/1 or 1 Grid Line every 512 measures.

5. Change Velocity By Holding Alt

Change the velocity of notes quickly by holding Alt while clicking on the note and either drag up or down with your mouse. This is a great way to quickly add a human feel to programmed MIDI notes.

Change MIDI Velocity data quickly by holding Alt, clicking and holding on the note and dragging up or down.

6. Quick Change To Triplet Mode With Ctrl+3

Great for changing your grid quickly back and forth between triplet and and standard grids. I like to program drums in fixed 1/16 or 1/8 grid mode, and mess with triplet options for some pretty interesting rhythmic patterns.


Have any tips you use to edit MIDI notes more efficiently in Ableton Live? Share them by leaving a comment below!

How To Get Ableton’s Drum Rack To Act Like An MPC

Enter the world of the famed MPC through Ableton’s Drum Rack. With this tutorial, you’ll be slicing samples like a ninja in no time.

The MPC is one of the most crucial pieces of gear in hip-hop production. The ability to load an audio sample, slice it to pieces, then re trigger the slices with 16 pads has become an art form. With Ableton Live’s Drum Rack, you can almost perfectly emulate this technique. Here’s how:



1. Drag And Drop The Sample

First, find a sample you’d like to flip, locate it in the file browser, and drag it into an Audio Track in Live’s Session View.

Dragging the file from Live’s browser into an Audio Track in Session View.

For this tutorial i’m going to be using a sample I found on the future producers forum. I have no idea who the artist is. All I know is that it’s a Japanese Soul group (probably from the 60’s or 70’s).

Here is what the song sounds like

Here is a link to the file.

2. Unwarp (If Auto Warp Is On)

Once you’ve dropped it into Live’s Session View, two things are going to happen.

If you have auto-warp turned on, Live is going to automatically try and determine the BPM of the sample. For this particular song, Live has figured about 150 BPM. A good try on Live’s part, but the sample is actually about half of that: 76 BPM.

Live’s Waveform Editor. Live does a good effort at setting warp markers, but we’re going to get the most control by setting them ourselves.

Live misread the tempo at double the speed.

So, under Live’s waveform editor, you un-warp the sample.

Warp On.

Warp Off.

Finally, after unwarping the track, it helps to move the start point in the wave form editor to the beginning of the song. Live’s auto warp had moved the start point forward.

The un warped start point set to the actual beginning of the song.

3. Find The BPM Manually

Time to find the tempo of the song. Like I said before, if you have your setting at auto warp, you’re looking at 150 BPM, if not, it should still read Live’s default (120 BPM).

To find the correct tempo of this file, we’re going to use Live’s tap tempo button.

Personally, I like to map Live’s tap tempo button to one of the keys on my MIDI controller (it beats clicking a mouse), just make sure you un map it after you’re done.

To do this Right click the tap tempo button and click “Edit MIDI Map”. Then double click the “Tap Tempo” button when it turns dark blue and press a key on your keyboard. Make sure you have the right control surface selected in your preferences.

It helps me to assign my tap tempo button to a key on my MIDI keyboard.

Now this next part takes practice. With your metronome off, trigger the song from the clip slot, and try to feel the count.

Don’t start counting until the first kick drum hit. It’s after the first couple (violin?) hits in the beginning.

Count 1 and 2 and 3 and 4 in time with each snare and kick. In this particular song you can hear it. The kick lands on the one, the snare on the 3 and so on. Follow the snare and kick.

The first kick drum hit is very important, start counting from here.

If your time keeping is decent, your tempo should read in the ball park of 76.

I got 75.50 BPM after counting along to a couple of measure, i’ll round up to 76.

Double click the tempo and type 76 into the BPM to now set the overall project to 76.

4. Start Adding Warp Markers

So, you’ve got the project set to 76 BPM, now is a good time to set some warp markers.

Remember that kick drum hit at the beginning of the song? This is a great place to set my starting warp point. I’ll do so by zooming in on the first kick hit and dragging my start marker as close to the beginning of the kick as possible.

The first kick is a good starting point for warping this track.

Now, right click on the start marker, and select “Warp From Here Straight”. This will give you a single starting warp marker without warping the rest of the track.

Now, drag your opening loop brace to the same position as your first warp marker (this should lock on now that a starting point is established.)

The first loop point is on the first kick of the song, a good start.

I mentioned I wanted this to be a 4 bar loop. Before we start warping this track, lets set up the loop braces. The opening brace is set perfectly on the opening kick hit, so lets finish the full 4 bars by clicking our loop button on and double clicking the loop length number below it and typing a 4 (bars), 0 (beats), 0 (sixteenths). It should look like this.

A 4 bar loop set up in Live’s Loop section.

Time to start setting the warp markers.

For this particular sample, i’m going to set a warp marker every kick and snare (remember the 1, 2, 3, 4?). To help us out we’re also going to enable our metronome, this will ensure tight timing.

Make sure Live’s metronome is enabled while warping, this will help with timing.

I personally prefer to not be locked to a grid while placing my warp markers, so I am going to set my grid to off by right clicking on the top part of my waveform and choosing “Off” under the “Adaptive Grid” section.

I prefer the freedom of no grid when placing warp markers.

Time to start warping. Lets place the next warp marker on the second beat of this loop, which is the first snare hit.

Start by finding the first snare transient, it’s a little bit ahead of the 1.2 on the beat ruler. Double click as close to the beginning of the snare as you can to set your second warp marker.

The second warp marker is set, but we still need to line it up with the second beat of this bar.

Click on the green part of the warp marker you just set, and drag it so it lines up right underneath the 1.2 on the beat ruler.

Optional: You can turn the grid back on to get it to land exactly on the 1.2, this may take away from the “human feel”.

The snare is now lined up with the 2nd beat of this bar, it’s pretty simple after this point.

At this point you’re going to repeat the same process for every kick and snare. Kick on 1.3, snare on 1.4, kick on 2, etc.

Here is a video of me warping the whole loop.

5. Slicing The Sample To 16 MIDI Notes

Our last step is to cut the sample into 16 slices that can be triggered from our MIDI device.

Start by right clicking the clip slot where the sample is located and choosing “Slice To New MIDI Track”

Slicing the audio file to a new MIDI track, your first step to MPC nirvana.

You will be presented with an options screen at this point. Choose “Create one slice: Per Warp Marker” and use the “Built in 0-Vel” slicing preset.

These options most resemble an MPC.

Hit okay and Live will automatically slice your track at the warp markers, ready to be played.

There are just a few more options left.

Once your track gets sliced, Live will open the new track in Ableton’s Drum rack. To really get the MPC feel, you’ll want to set the release at it’s fullest.

Setting the release all the way up in Ableton’s newly created Drum Rack.

Next open the chain list on the drum rack. The button is on the left side and looks like this:

After the chain list is open navigate down a little bit further to the I/O section of the menu that just appeared. It looks like this:

Your drum rack should now look something like this:

Our next step is to edit the choke settings of our recently opened I/O section of our drum rack. We’re going to set the choke to 1 on each channel. This emulates the choke action of an MPC. (One slice kills the other slices audio).

Setting the choke to 1 allows one slice to “kill” another slice.

Once you’ve set all of the channels in the choke section to 1. Try firing off a few of the slices with your MIDI controller. Pretty close to an MPC, isn’t it?


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Ableton Live Quickstart Guide – Part 1

This guide is presented as a way for new users of Ableton Live to read less and do more. Get accustomed to the basics quickly, and start making music right away. I’ll present step by step instructions and only the information you need to get started. Here is Part 1:

Enter Ableton’s Session View

The first thing you see when you open a new Set is Live’s “Session View”. Live has automatically created an audio track and a MIDI track for you.

Ableton Live’s Default Session view. Usually seen when creating a new Live set.

Our first step is to trigger an audio “one shot” (a single snare hit in this case).

1.) Locate Live’s File Browser to the left of the screen. Notice to the left of the browser are three buttons that have small folders with numbers on them. Select the first.

2.) If you don’t have Live’s built in Library selected, do so by clicking the light gray box at the top of the File Browser (mine says Library in the screen shot above). Select “Library” from the pull down menu.

3.) Now that you’re inside of Live’s Library, click the small arrow that is left of the folder labeled “Samples”. You should see the folder expand into a three sub-folders labeled “Components”, “Loops” and “Waveforms”. This is how most navigating is done in the File Browser.

4.) Repeat step 3, only this time, open the folders titled “Waveforms” -> “Drums” -> “Snare”. You should now see a list of audio files, starting with Snare-AmbientLoudPunch-Stick-Hit-Hard.aif. Click the audio file and if you have the audition button enabled (located near the bottom left of the File Browser) you can preview the file.

5.) Click and drag Snare-AmbientLoudPunch-Stick-Hit-Hard.aif from the File Browser into the Audio Track. The audio file should now be in the Clip Slot 1 of the Audio Track.

6.) Click the “Play” button on the snare drum clip that is now inserted into Clip Slot 1. If you hear the not-so-subtle “thwack” of the snare drum, congratulations, you’ve learned the basics of triggering clips in Session View! Make sure you hit the stop button on your transport panel. (If you don’t know where that is, read my tutorial on Breaking Down Ableton Live’s Control Bar).

This may seem a bit dull, but the new found knowledge of dragging clips from Live’s File Browser, and triggering it in Session View is one of the most primitive, yet often used aspects of Ableton Live.

Next up, working with loops.

Breaking Down Ableton Live’s Control Bar

Maybe not the most exciting subject in the world, but a great reference for beginners and Ableton veterans alike. Take control of Ableton by learning the Control Bar Interface.

Getting familiar with various aspects of Ableton Live’s interface is the key to efficiency. Ableton’s Control Bar is no exception, this guide was mainly set up as a reference, but may be read top to bottom for a full understanding of all of Live’s controls.

Live’s Control Bar

The small area at the top of Live’s interface is known as the control bar. As it’s name implies it’s meant to control different aspects of Ableton Live. It features a transport panel for controlling playback and recording, a MIDI section, loop settings, a CPU load meter and a hard drive overload indicator (just to name a few).

  1. Metronome And Tempo Settings
    1. Tap Tempo Have a song or audio file, but not sure what tempo it is? Click this button (or better yet map it to a MIDI key) while rhythmically counting “1 and 2 and 3 and 4” to yourself. Every time you count a number click the tap button. If your timekeeping is decent, you’ll find a close approximation of the tempo.
    2. Tempo Use this to adjust the tempo of your overall track. Click and hold this button with your mouse button and drag up to set the tempo higher, and down to set it lower. Alternatively, you can double click this box and enter a number with your keyboard. Make sure you hit enter to commit the tempo.
    3. Nudge Up/Nudge Down This handy tool will allow to shift the tempo of your set ever so slightly. Ideal for synchronizing with live musicians, or other sources.
    4. Time Signature Change the numerator (the first number) and the denominator (second number) of your time signature. The most commonly used time signatures are 4/4 and 3/4. Feel free to get experimental with signatures like 5/4 and 7/8.
    5. Metronome The official timekeeper of Ableton Live. To use it, simply activate it by clicking on it. Next, hit play on the transport panel, and you’ll hear the metronome keeping time for you. You can also right click the metronome to set the amount of count-in bars.
  2. Transport Panel
    1. Follow This option can only be used in Arrangement View. When your Live set is playing in Arrangement view, use this option to have Ableton Live “scroll” or “page” along while the project plays.
    2. Arrangement PositionThis will change the position of your “play head” by bars, beats, and sixteenth notes (from left to right). Also mainly only used in arrangement view, but can also be used to scrub audio loops in session view.
    3. Play/Stop/RecordEither click the play button or hit space bar to begin playback in Live.

      Clicking the stop button (or hitting the space bar during play back) once will stop playback exactly the time you activated it, clicking stop twice will bring you back to the beginning of your arrangement.

      The record button is not just for recording audio, but will record any automation, record clip launches into arrangement view and any property changes to a clip.

    4. Overdub Say you’re recording a MIDI performance on a loop. By default, Ableton Live will automatically overwrite any notes you’ve played once the loop starts over. Live does, however, store all of your takes within the clip.

      If this option is enabled, Live will simply write all of the MIDI notes with each pass. So, for example, if you play three C notes, and on the next pass, you play three G notes, both notes will play back.

    5. Back To Arrangement When playing back clips in Session View, this button will turn red. What this means is that if you have launched 2 out of 5 tracks in Session View and go back to Arrangement View, you’ll notice these tracks have been grayed out.

      What does this mean? Well, even if you have edited the same clips in Arrangement View, none of that matters , since they are being triggered or looped back in Session View. In short, when you’re in Arrangement View, disable this to get accurate playback of your arrangement.

    6. Global Quantization Menu Go into session view, drop a clip in, and trigger it. Now immediately after triggering it, try to re trigger the clip by hitting the play button next to it. Notice how it doesn’t instantly react when clicked? This is due to Live keeping your clips in sync with each other through global quantization.

      For example, if you have your global quantization set to 1 bar, it will take a whole 4 counts before your clip is re launched. For anyone wanting to use Ableton Live as a live performance tool needs to get used to these clip launch settings

    7. Draw Tool A handy tool that allows you to freehand automation information, and also draw and erase MIDI notes in the piano roll window.
  3. Loop Settings
    1. Loop Start/Punch-In PointThis option allows you to change the location of your loop brackets in Arrangement Mode. Just like the Arrangement Position section, this is broken down into bars, beats and sixteenth notes. Great for slightly nudging your loop brackets.
    2. Punch-In/Punch-Out ButtonsEnable the punch-in button to only start recording once the cursor has reached the beginning of the loop brackets you’ve set. Enable the punch-out button to stop recording once it’s reached the end of your loop brackets. This is great for dropping a performances in and out of certain parts.
    3. Enable/Disable LoopsEnable the punch-in button to only start recording once the cursor has reached the beginning of the loop brackets you’ve set. Enable the punch-out button to stop recording once it’s reached the end of your loop brackets. This is great for dropping a performances in and out of certain parts.
    4. Loop/Punch-Region LengthThis option will allow you to set the length of your loop brackets. It is organized in bars, beats and sixteenth notes.
  4. MIDI Settings/Hard Disk And CPU Meter
    1. Computer MIDI Keyboard Activate this button to use your QWERTY keyboard as a MIDI control. Ctrl + Shift+ K is the the short cut for turning it on and off.
    2. Key Map Mode Switch With this toggled on, you can map certain parts of Live (knobs, triggering clips, on/off switches, etc) to your QWERTY keyboard. Once you’ve entered key map mode, parts of Live will turn orange, these are areas that can be double clicked, then have a key assigned to them. Make sure to exit Key Map Mode before continuing.
    3. MIDI Map Mode Switch Pretty much the same thing as Key Map Mode Switch, except this is used map your MIDI controller to certain parts of Live. For example, I have physical knobs on my MIDI keyboard, if I wanted to control the filter cutoff knob on the “Analog” soft synth, I would enter MIDI map mode. When areas of Live have a blue overlay on them, double click the cutoff knob on screen, make an movement with the knob on the MIDI keyboard, and exit MIDI map mode. Note: you need to enable the “remote” section under the MIDI preferences.
    4. CPU Load Meter Depending on how powerful your computer is, you can only have so many things going on in Live at once. Some computers can handle 2 effects and 1 soft synth, while others can handle hundreds. Keep an eye on this meter, and if you get audio drop outs and glitches, you may be pushing your processor too hard.
    5. Hard Disck Overload Indicator Just like your CPU, your hard disk can be overloaded as well. This usually lights up when you have too many files playing at once. Once again, depending on your hardware, some computers can handle more than others.

How To Set Up Audio Preferences In Ableton Live

Once you have chosen what type of audio card you will be using for Ableton Live and installed the drivers, it’s a good idea to make sure that your audio card is interfacing properly with Ableton.

In order to get to the Audio Preferences panel in Ableton Live, you’ll want to first go to “Options -> Preferences” as illustrated by the screen shot below:

After you’ve clicked preferences, you should be presented with this panel:

Now lets break down each section, so you have a better understanding of how to set up your audio preferences in Ableton Live:

Audio Device Section

  1. Driver Type – There are various driver types out there depending on your audio card. The most common you will run across include:
    • MME/DirectX – Window’s built-in driver
    • ASIO – The most common driver used with audio interfaces
    • Core Audio – Apple’s built in audio driver. Very low latency for onboard sound.
  2. Audio Device – This is where you will choose the audio device you would like to use with Ableton Live. In my case, I have installed the ASIO drivers which came bundled with my M-Audio Firewire Solo and chosen that as my primary sound device.
  3. Channel Configuration – Click on the “Input Config” to enable or disable inputs on your audio interface. It is recommended to only enable inputs you will be using, this will help to reduce the load on your CPU.

    The “Output Config” is handled the same way as your “Input Config”, just enable or disable the outputs you would like to route from Ableton to an external source. There are many routing possibilities you can use here; as an example you can set up a separate cue mix for a DJ setup. The same goes for unused outputs taking a hit on your CPU.

  4. Hardware Setup – Clicking on this button will bring up the options menu specific to the audio driver and device you have selected. For example, the M-Audio Firewire Solo has it’s own options panel outside of Ableton Live, this option will open that panel.

How To Choose The Right Audio Card For Ableton Live

So, you want to start making music with Ableton Live, but aren’t really sure which audio card is right for the job? As a first step, it’s a good idea to have a basic understanding of what audio card options are out there.

There are mainly two types as follows:

Your Onboard Sound Card

If you don’t want to pay anything for for a sound card, almost every computer has one built in. The only problem is, these are usually so basic that you are limited to a very simple single audio input (usually one that only works with cheap microphones) and they have issues with latency (essentially audio lag).

Typical soundcard inputs found on your PC. The 1/8″ size of these jacks means you will need an adapter for most pro level microphones. The green usually indicates sound out, while the pink indicates sound in (where your microphone or line in cable goes)

A much more simplified version of an onboard soundcard can be found on a Mac. Pictured is the side view of a Macbook Pro.

People have gotten by using their built in sound card, but I highly recommend shelling out a little money for more of the features you get with an audio interface.

An Entry Level Audio Interface

A good audio interface will give you low latency (no lag), high quality inputs, and an overall higher quality of recorded sound. They are usually in the form of a breakout box (not inside of your computer) for easier access to inputs and outputs.

For most computer musicians, an audio interface with 2 inputs will usually suffice. It’s nice to have these 2 inputs because if you ever want to record external audio in stereo, you have the option.

For an entry level audio interface, I recommend the M-Audio Mobile Pre USB. It’s portable, lightweight, and has two XLR inputs (for microphones) and two line in balanced 1/4″ inputs (for synth, guitar, etc.).

The M-Audio Mobile Pre USB is a typical modern audio interface. It has minimal latency, is portable, and very easy to set up.

Once you’ve chosen the audio interface you feel is right for you, and installed it (after reading the manual that comes with it of course!). You’ll want to get set up Ableton Live to work properly with your new audio interface.


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