Audio to MIDI in Ableton makes creating a track from nothing but a guitar and random stuff easy and fun
When version 9 of Ableton was announced, one of the features that caught the attention of most users was the new audio to MIDI functionality.
The idea of audio to MIDI is not entirely new- it has appeared in other software packages as a feature, but generally speaking, its functionality is limited, it’s a bit cumbersome to use, and the results can be a bit hit and miss, to say the least.
Looking at the ethics of speedy, trouble free workflow that have underpinned Live for the past decade, it’s easy to see why audio to MIDI in Ableton was so anticipated.
And, with three separate modes for melodies (monophonic musical passages), harmonies (chords/ polyphonic musical passages) and drums, each easy to use and effective, it does not disappoint.
Here’s a mini guide to using these features, with little more than a guitar and stuff lying around on the desk.
Ready your desk…
1. First, I recorded a ‘desktop drum track’. Yup, that’s right- I played a drum part on my desk, with a pen and a little cardboard box (for a wireless dongle, if anyone is looking for the same sound… ;-)).
This was dropped into Ableton, and edited into a 1 bar clip.
2. Then, I used a guitar (An Ibanez AC240 OPN) to play a simple bass-line. Again, a 1 bar clip was created in Live 9.
3. Finally, with these elements looping nicely, I recorded a chord sequence over the top.
Here’s what they sounded like…
Next, we need to create MIDI from these clips.
1. Right click the drum clip in the session window, and a menu will open up. Simply select ‘Convert drums to new MIDI track’ from Ableton’s audio to MIDI options.
2. Once it has finished working, you’ll have a new MIDI clip set up with a drum rack.
3. You’ll most likely want to tidy things up a bit (particularly if you played without a click), but you’ll see the drum hits you played now cleverly transformed into MIDI notes, which you can move around to kick and snare sounds, or whatever you would like them to play. Remember, the beauty of this is the uniquely human feel it preserves.
4. Right click the bass-line clip and select ‘Convert melody to new MIDI track’ from the audio to MIDI options.
5. The clip will appear on a track with an electric piano sound. Repeat steps 2 and 3 to tidy it up.
6. Right click the chord clip, and select ‘Convert harmony to new MIDI track’.
7. This will appear on a track with a piano sound. Tidy this up, as required.
Now, you have the MIDI equivalents of all of your played parts, and can change the sounds used however you might like, or edited the notes themselves, creating variations, of expanding upon the original performances.
Here, I’ve simply changed a the drum kit to Danny Byrd beatbox from the presets included in Live 9 Suite, changed the bass sound to Rhythmic Octaves Bass, and changed the chords to MKI2 Crunchy piano, and added a phaser effect.
I created another MIDI track, and copied the bass MIDI clip to it, but used the Airy Tube Bass sound to add a bit more low-end.
A jazzy flute was also dropped in with a bit spacious reverb. Oh, and that clanky percussive sound you can hear was me, playing my coffee mug with two pens, pitched down, with a bit of added reverb. Easy, eh?
The inspiration that audio to MIDI in Ableton provides is simply staggering. So quick, and so intuitive, you’ll barely believe the power you have at you fingertips.
You can download the session file for this project below.
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Joe is a contributor for the Dawsons Music blog. Specialising in product reviews and crafting content to help and inspire musicians of all musical backgrounds.