Synths & Software
Setting up your device
Ableton Live is a very powerful software when it comes to music-making. Started in 2001, it quickly became one of the most popular DAWs on the planet, thanks to its unique workflow and approach to live performance. In this tutorial, we will cover how you can use your Playtroniсa device with Ableton Live, whether it is for playing an instrument or launching samples. If you want to try out Ableton Live for free, download the trial version here.
Always start with connecting your Playtronica device to the computer using a USB cable. That way you make sure that Ableton Live will detect your device when you open the software.
Open Ableton Live. Go to Preferences in the Live menu, and click on
Now activate your device as a MIDI input by turning "On" on the "Track" and "Remote" buttons (This works exactly the same way for Playtron and for TouchMe).
And voilà, your device is ready to be used as a MIDI controller! If you don’t know what a MIDI controller is, check out this tutorial.
Creating a track
Select an instrument from the "Instruments" menu on the left of your screen, and double-click on it. This automatically creates a track with the instrument that you chose.
We will later see that you don’t necessarily need to use an Instrument, but for now, let’s stick to that.
Select your device as the MIDI input of the track.
Note: if you leave the MIDI input as “All Ins”, your Playtronica device will work as well, but if you have other controllers connected, all of them will play the same instrument!
Arm your track: this will allow you to actually play the instrument, a bit like turning on your guitar’s amplifier.
You are ready to play!
Using Ableton Live with Playtron
Playtron can be used in several different ways inside of Ableton Live. Let’s take a look at some examples.
Controlling an Instrument
As we have seen previously, the first thing we can do is to insert an Instrument in a MIDI track and control that Instrument with your device. This Instrument can be from Ableton’s library, or from your own Plug-ins / VST library.
When you use Playtron to control an Instrument, Playtron acts as a keyboard: if you press “A1” on Playtron (or the object connected to A1), it will play an A. If you press “B1” it will play a B, and so on. So if you connect 16 objects to the 16 inputs of Playtron, you will have a full range keyboard to play with!
The Drum Rack
Ableton Live has a powerful device called Drum Rack, which is often used as a sampler. A sampler allows you to insert various audio samples and then play them. You can also insert loops or instruments in a Drum Rack, but we suggest starting with audio samples only.
How to find the Drum Rack?
Go to the "Drums" menu located on the left of your screen, and select "Drum Rack" by double-clicking on it. This will automatically create a new track with an empty Drum rack on it.
Notice that there are 16 available slots available, which is exactly the same number of inputs on Playtron, and that they all correspond to a certain note (a Drum rack actually has much more than 16 slots, but we’ll stick to 16 for now). What this means is that if you insert a sample in the C1 slot, for example, you play that sample by hitting the C1 input (or the object connected to it) on your Playtron! Is everything ok so far? Then Let’s keep going.
Note: before going any further, don’t forget to select Playtron as the MIDI input of the track, and arm the track, as we’ve seen in the previous chapter.
Alright, you can now insert various samples in the Drum Rack: drums, synths, vocals, sound effects, you choose! You will find samples in the "Samples" menu located on the left of your screen, or you can use your personal sample library.
Tip : Use the search bar for faster results by hitting [Cmd + F] on Mac or [Ctrl + F] on Windows.
To add samples to the Drum Rack, simply drag and drop them in the empty slots. When you’re done, your Drum Rack should look a bit like this.
On the left are your samples, every sample corresponding to a note, and on the right are various options that let you modify your samples. The nice thing with the Drum Rack is that, as we said before, slots correspond to notes, which correspond to the 16 inputs of Playtron. So no need for MIDI mapping (we’ll cover that in the next chapter), just play with Playtron and have fun! To learn more about the Drum Rack and how you can manipulate your samples, check out this tutorial.
Loops in the Session View
Ableton Live is famous for its Session view, which was invented for live performance purposes, and is very useful when using Playtron. It looks like this:
Each vertical track is an instrument or part, and on each track are various clips that you can trigger. For live performance, it is great to work with loops that you can trigger on the spot, and stop when you want.
Obviously, before we jump in, the first thing you need to do is to create your piece of music! You can always use clips from Ableton Live, that you will find in the "Clips" menu, and start from there.
Tip: use loops but also one-shots to make your live performance feel even more lively!
A clip has different launch modes. When you click on a clip, this menu appears on the bottom.
Click on the "clock" button on the bottom left to open the Launch menu.
As you will notice, you have different launch modes you can use. By default, it is set on Trigger, which means that each time you trigger the clip, it starts over from the beginning.
One mode we find very useful is the Toggle mode. It allows you to launch the clip when you trigger it, and stop it when you trigger it a second time. A play/stop button basically. More info on clip launch behaviors here.
Now comes the interesting part, where we need to map the clips to Playtron’s inputs.
To do that, click on the "Midi" button on the upper right corner of the screen, which activates the MIDI mapping mode. If it’s activated, every “mappable” element on the screen turns blue, and a new window appears on the left of the screen. Each time you map something, it appears in that window.
To map a clip to one of Playtron’s inputs, follow these simple steps :
- click on the button of the clip
- Touch the object connected to Playtron that you wish to use for triggering that clip
This should immediately be listed in the window on the left: the name of the Playtron’s input you touched, in our case A1, and the clip mapped to it.
By looking at the clip in the Session View, you can also see what it is mapped to.
Once you’re done with mapping the clips, quit the MIDI mapping mode by clicking on the "Midi" button again. You’re all set to play!
Using Ableton Live with TouchMe
As a MIDI controller, TouchMe allows users to control virtual instruments inside Ableton Live. You are able to set the scale and root note directly on the device, and the area that you touch and the intensity changes the musical notes. Let’s take a look at how you might use it inside Ableton Live.
Controlling an instrument
By now you should be familiar with this feature, as it is the first thing we learned in this tutorial.
- > Go to the Creating a track chapter to learn how to insert an instrument on a track, then select your device as the MIDI input, arm your track, and play.
Another feature we haven’t seen yet is how you can control multiple layers of instruments. By layers we mean instruments with different sounds, creating a more complex soundscape to play with. One way of doing this is to create several tracks with the same instrument on them,
for example, Analog in the "Instruments" menu, but setting each individual instrument to different settings. One could be an octave up, while the other could have a different envelope, etc. Another way of doing this is to insert different instruments on each track, for example, Analog, Wavetable, and Electric, to have even more sonic possibilities.
Of course, you could add different audio or MIDI effects on each track, for more complexity. And if you have your own VST/plugins library, use it! You can also use the Instrument Rack for stacking instruments, find it on the instrument list on the left of your screen. Always keep in mind that to actually play an instrument live, it needs to be armed:
Ableton Live has many MIDI effects that can be very useful when using TouchMe. You’ll find them in the "Midi effects" menu on the left of the screen.
The Pitch device
Pitch lets you control the desired pitch, or root note, of an instrument.
You can do that on TouchMe as well, but Pitch becomes interesting when you build multiple layers of instruments. Let’s say you have three different instruments, and you want to harmonize them: one could have C as the root note, one has A, and one G ! While TouchMe gives the same root note to every instrument it is controlling, Pitch lets you set individually the pitch of each instrument.
The Scale device
Another cool MIDI effect is the Scale device. It looks like this:
It can change the notes that you play, or even cancel them out. You can also transpose the range of the notes. This means that whatever notes you play on TouchMe, or whatever scale it is set to, Scale will control the MIDI notes that are played no matter what. This gives you increased precision on what you want to achieve with TouchMe.
The Arpeggiator device
TouchMe reacts to the area and intensity of touch, and sometimes it can get a bit tricky to play live. The Arpeggiator device allows you to play an arpeggio on a given tempo. It looks like this:
What is interesting with this device is, apart from the arpeggiation, that it is synchronized with the tempo of the project, meaning that every note will be played on time!
You can change the speed or “rate” with this button.
Try using the presets that Ableton offers with the device, or create your own!
The MIDI Quantize device
This is probably the most interesting device when it comes to playing on time, rhythmically. It is not included inside Ableton Live, so you’ll need to download it here.
Similar to Arpeggiator, MIDI Quantize sticks the notes that you play to a grid, according to the project’s tempo. Another cool feature of MIDI Quantize is the shuffle option, which gives some swing to your playing.
Note: The word “quantize” basically means “sticking the MIDI notes on a grid”.
Check out the video below for a live explanation.
If you wish to take TouchMe to the next level with Ableton Live, check out these tutorials made by the artist and Playtronica user Stav German.
Check out how to use our devices with other software here.
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