Creative Live Looping Techniques In Ableton Live

Many live producers and performance artists rely on looping as a way to build a sonic landscape and craft unique shows that vary every time. Beatboxers, finger drummers, and musicians of all types have taken advantage of a loop-based performance. New DJTT contributor Underbelly shares how anyone can use Ableton Live to create a loop workflow that is just as good as any hardware solution.

There are two main components in the live looping track – the Instrument Rack that houses our sounds, and the Audio Effect Rack that contains our loopers and gain knobs.

Instrument Rack

This rack is composed of four chains – in this case, drums, bass, comps, and leads. You can set the number of chains to be however many you like, however it is critical that you distribute the MIDI ranges equally so that only one instrument is active at any given time. Do this by dragging out a single chain and right-clicking “Distribute Ranges Equally”. I’ve also assigned a MIDI knob to the orange chain selector on top for easy access between instruments.

Audio Effect Rack (Looper)

At first glance this rack looks exactly like the first – the MIDI ranges are distributed in the same way, and the same knob that controls the chain selector in our Instrument Rack also controls the selector in this one. Instead of housing instruments, however, within each of these chains is a Looper and Utility gain knob. This means each instrument in the Instrument Rack has its own dedicated Looper to which it exclusively sends audio: we use the Utility simply to control volume.

A footpedal triggers all four Loopers.

  • One press and the Looper starts recording
  • a second press and it begins playback
  • a third press and the Looper starts overdubbing
  • a quick double press stops playback of the Looper

Because all four Loopers are triggered by the same pedal, it is possible for one Looper to be recording actual audio from the active chain in the Instrument Rack, while the other three are simply recording silence. To remove these silent loops, I’ve assigned the bottom four black keys of my MIDI keyboard to the ‘clear’ button on each of the Loopers. Similarly, each white key to the left of the black keys is assigned to the ‘undo’ button on the Looper for easy recovery from messy overdubs.

IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER: my MPD32 uses the ‘red-box’ mapping to trigger clips in session view from the drum pads like an APC. You can download the red-box script in the following link, but without changing the mapping of your MPD using the EDIT mode the MIDI assignments in my template set WILL NOT WORK.

Questions? Post them in the comments section below!

  • Tony Rodrigues

    All links off

  • Paul McSimoff

    Hi!How i can download this template?

  • myk

    how did you assign the double tap to the pedal?

  • Jeff Newton

    Can this be done with AUDIO INPUTS? I’m a saxophonist. I have a Boss RC-505 looper. Can either this way of using Abelton (or the “Kid Beyond” way) do as well or better than the RC-505? Of course, I’d need to bring an audio interface to the gig….. If the answer is “Abelton,” which method within Abelton is better for my purposes (which are live Jazz saxophone and piano along with looping for drums, etc.). Also, if “Abelton” is the answer, would “Push” or “Push 2” be the preferred controller (in addition to my piano)? Or one of the Akai MPC-types? Thanks!

  • Thanks for great vid and template, really appreciate your time and energy!! Blessings to you!!!

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  • josh b

    Simple yet All in One. Nice! I use this approach and load a whole rack of homemade massive presets. Making scrolling through 15 bass womperz easy and fun.

  • Vader Trackerz

    Lol just RTFM

  • Filippo EFF

    really pleased to see how djtechtools is always involving new people who often propose interesting tutorial like this 😉 Great Tips Man!

  • goblinz

    thanx for the article, there are always gonna b nobs… what you gonna do.. I for one think DJ TT is up there with the best when it comes to resources for production, and if you have not had a go on a midi fighter, you really are missing out. this looper thing would come in handy, yes you can just rec into a clip.. but to have a looper tool ready to go will always be kick ass, the self tempo setting thing is the main draw, thanx again

    https://soundcloud.com/goblinz

  • Mutis Mayfield

    It has not much sense looping audio in this way with Live… (You could do it in session view with some mapping) it will be better doing it with midi (if you are working with vst or instruments) like this:
    http://youtu.be/JAA3PkWBHuY (only 7 years old yay!)
    And you could find some useful maxforlive (not so buggy than looper) loopers.

    Finally, if you are going to use only audio, the traktor looper + remix decks/freeze (for druming and so) will be faster and powerfull in realtime performance setup which is live looping main goal over composition techniques. Soundscapes.

    Jm2c and glad to see some “innovation” in djtt.

  • coolout

    it’s been 3 or 4 years since I’ve used Ableton like this, but I remember another approach to using multiple chained loopers in a rack is to select different loop lengths. You can have say one looper that does 4 bar loops, another that does 1 bar, etc. That way you’re not stuck playing patterns all the way through the same 4 bars or you can do odd looping patterns for polyrhythms. You can set the tempo quickly by creating a 1 bar loop (no need to use a pre-made loop or metronome) and then make your longer patterns. you just have to mark your knob correctly to know which looper you’re using without staring at the screen.

    • Hey Coolout; much respect. I used to see you at Blue Bar in Nashville.

      • coolout

        What up QE? Yes, from humble beginnings…

  • Unit27

    One really cool thing Looper can do that normal Live clips can’t is set the tempo of the set. You could combine them by recording drums or an instrument first at any tempo you want into looper, Live will follow that tempo and start playing, then record other layers into clips, other loopers, or by layers into a single looper.

  • Vader Trackerz

    an other thing, give to us mad zack and his “real” tricks, since 3 or 4 months your post aren’t great as the older

  • Vader Trackerz

    it’s really complicated for nothing
    ableton is a looper
    why use a looper in a looper for create????

    looper is a tool for dj, not for produce or doing something live, you already have clips and rec fot this dude 🙂

    • Stewart Emmerson

      Bit narrow minded that like its being creative.

      • Vader Trackerz

        bit narrow minded? no just waste of time, not the same 😉

        • Stewart Emmerson

          I think it is when you say looping only for DJ or am I reading it in a different context. Doing it in the way mentioned is good for workflow and you don’t have to have loads of clips which iam thinking would ease up on the CPU plus you can be more spontaneous with your performance as nothing is planed out and you can go with the flo

  • Victo

    Nice Tricks man, I really need to buy a pedal for m Push to trigger recording in Loop Plugin.
    I like your “rotary” chain selector, it’s a great idea.

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