Mastering scenes in Ableton is the key to great live performances and improvised jams…
When Ableton Live was launched, it was, as the name suggests, aimed at live performance of electronic music.
The key to this was the session view. In this, each ‘channel’ had a series of clips slots, in which audio files could be loaded, and triggered at will. The Ableton audio engine kept the whole thing locked perfectly in time, and playing without glitches.
Time passed, and Live was updated, tweaked and tuned. Its feature set became far better equipped for those who preferred to use it as a compositional tool, but crucially, its live performance tools evolved, too.
One such development was the introduction of ‘scenes’.
But what exactly are scenes in Ableton?
Just hit this button to switch everything on…
The word ‘scene’ is used to describe a horizontal row in Ableton’s session. Why is a seemingly mundane thing as a horizontal row of clips given its own name?
The answer lies to the far right of the session window, in the master channel. You’ll notice that on each scene in this channel, there’s both a triangle ‘play’ symbol, and a number, increasing in value from top to bottom.
Pressing these triangle symbols will trigger all of the clips in that scene. Like everything in Live, these can be assigned to MIDI notes or even computer keys. If you’re using an Ableton Push 2 controller, or Launchpad, this has a row of buttons specifically for this purpose- one of the reasons it’s such a great tool for live performances.
What can I use scenes for?
There isn’t a single defined use for scenes in Ableton. Like many things in this DAW, it’s entirely dependant on how you use the software.
Most commonly, however, they are used so the user can easily create an arrangement structure without having to trigger lots of clips individually.
For example, you can copy clips from your arrangement into different scenes, so that you have all of the elements for different sections of your song arranged as different scenes (intro, verse, chorus, breakdown, outro etc). By hitting the scene buttons, you experiment with the arrangement of your track, in real-time. No dragging and dropping blocks here.
If you’re performing live, you can have the ‘skeleton’ track arranged as scenes, so that, again, the arrangement can be changed according to the audience’s reaction, whilst other elements are played live over the top. This is how artists like Madeon tend to work.
Combining scenes with envelope settings truly unleashes their power- you can have two identical scenes, but one with FX parameter sweeps (or other track parameter sweeps) via an envelope.
It’s only a small part of this incredible DAW’s armoury, the scenes is really powerful creative tool. Try them yourself, and see…
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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.