Ableton Live Midi Drum Tricks Tutorial

In this Ableton Live Midi Drum Tricks Tutorial we are going to explore various techniques that you can utilize to make your midi drums less robotic and more “real” sounding.

For starters when you open a new project in Ableton Live it will look like this:

Ableton Live1

You can either double click the drum sounds or drag it into the first midi track.

Now at the bottom it will show you the midi mapping of each sound which can be triggered by any midi controller – I personally prefer the Ableton Push to be extremely easy to use between the two.  

Here is a basic midi pattern:

You will notice that the little vertical lines at the bottom of the actual midi pattern are all even in height and each note is a solid red color.  The beat pattern sounds pretty decent however there are many little Ableton Live Midi Drum Tricks in this Tutorial that I will show you how to make them sound livelier and less robotic.  Now back to the vertical lines – those are the “velocity levels” of each midi note being hit or triggered.  I have found that when adjusting the velocity levels for each note or sound it will give it a more human feel to your drum pattern.  I will be adjusting the velocity levels to give you an idea of what it should look like:

Notice the Hi-Hat levels at the bottom and the coloring of the notes – Ableton makes it easy to distinguish how “soft” or “hard” each note is being played or triggered.  This can be achieved by clicking at the little bubble on the top of the vertical lines and dragging them down to your desired feel with the mouse or if you have the Ableton Push you can actually adjust the velocity on the midi controller.

Now that your drums are beginning to sound more “real” there are a few more tricks that Ableton has available to you and that is REVERB and COMPRESSION.  There are many different types of reverb effects and compression to choose from in Ableton’s massive library.  However, in this particular tutorial I will show you a general idea by picking a reverb setting that I personally like using for drums.

Now that the reverb effect has been added to the drums – I like to adjust the reverb manually to get the sound of my liking:

Notice how I decreased the Dry/Wet percentage knob – when it is too wet the drums sound distant and not as clear.  I have decreased the Dry/Wet percentage of the reverb to where I feel the drums sound the best.  However, it is a matter of preference and the type of music that you are trying to create.

On to some more tricks that can enhance your drum sounds – COMPRESSION.  There are several ways to use compression in your music:  you can add a compressor to a specific part or note.  For example, you can add compression to just the kick drum, the snare, the hi hat, etc. Or you can apply compression to the whole track or song.  If you want a little more BOOM to your kick you can add compression to just the kick drum.

The same can be done with the snare:

Another useful technique is to add another snare or counterparts to the drums such as a different hi-hat and moving the midi notes so that they are not perfectly quantized.  In the picture below I will show you had to add another snare to the same drum pattern and place that snare note just slightly off the original snare note to give it a unique feel to the drums.

Firstly, you will need to find a snare drum that you like and drag it to the “drum kit” where there is an available space:

Secondly, now that the new snare has been added you can now double click the blue bar to open the drum patterns.

Now at the bottom appears the original midi drum pattern but with the new added “Analog Snare”:


What you will need to do next is right-click anywhere in the grid of the drum pattern and under “Fixed Grid” it will usually default to 1/16 and change it to “Off”.

Now that the “Fixed Grid” is off you can place the “Analog Snare” close to the original snare in the drum beat.

Without the “Fixed Grid” you can move the notes freely without it sticking so that it stays in beat.

This is what the drum pattern looks like when you turn back on the “Fixed Grid”:

You can see that the “Analog Snare” is slightly off beat but when played at once it gives the snare more of a real sounding drum hit.

These are just some of the basic techniques to enhance drums in your music production but feel free to experiment now that you have an idea of different ways to enhance your drums.  Thank you for checking out Ableton Live Midi Drum Tricks Tutorial.

About the Author:
I was a bank manager for 9 years until recently when I decided to pursue my dreams of becoming a musician/artist. I’ve always played the guitar my whole life and learned several instruments over the years and decided that banking just wasn’t fulfilling to me anymore.
Instagram:  @overbite_productions
Twitter:  OverbiteP