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Creative Possibilities For Guitarists Using Ableton Live (Part 1)

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The common perception of Ableton Live is that it’s only for DJs or electro-techno-computer music. This is simply not the case. For guitarists, Live is an effective tool for composing, practicing and performing music in almost any genre. You can use Live as an arrangement tool, an effects device, or for creating ambient guitar loop collages. And this is just the beginning of what is possible. Live can help you with everything from quickly recording song ideas, to completing full compositions and large-scale productions. In short, using your guitar with Live is a powerful combination (and really pretty easy).

The first thing you see when you open Live 4 is the “Session View,” a blank canvas ready for you to paint your musical ideas upon. If you are familiar with recording, you will notice that the Session View resembles a mixing board, with faders and sends. The labels at the top of each strip should also look familiar: Audio, MIDI and Master. Each vertical column represents a track or channel. Before we begin recording, let’s use some accompaniment for inspiration. Use Live’s Browser to search for a simple drum loop on your hard drive. While the boxed version of Live comes with hundreds of different rock, pop and hip hop loops that are great for quick inspiration, you can get a huge assortment of professionally recorded and performed drum loops from Sweetwater online. Once you find a loop that you like, drag it from Live’s Browser on the left-hand side of the screen into one of the tracks labeled “Audio.” Then, start the loop by pressing its small triangular play button. (Of course, you could just play along with Live’s click track, but a real loop is more fun.)

For our virtual session, we’re going to use our ’57 Fender Strat plugged into a Vox ToneLab SE and then into a DIGI 002. Of course, you can use any audio interface or guitar amp-modeling device you choose, such as the Line 6 PODxt, or you can record your amp. You could even bypass the POD and use an amp modeling plug-in such as Native Instruments’ Guitar Rig or IK Multimedia’s AmpliTube.

To prepare for recording, set up Live’s preferences to receive audio from your interface. Arm a track for recording by pressing its Arm button at the bottom of the mixer. Since we are recording a mono signal, we need to tell Live this by choosing an input channel in the lower “Audio From” chooser, as shown below. (Note that you may need to check the View menu’s In/Out option to make this chooser appear.) Choose the mono signal of your audio interface. To begin recording, press any circular record button in the track’s Session grid. Live is already playing the drum loop, and now it’s time for you to play along. Live’s auto-monitoring automatically allows you to hear the source (your guitar) while recording. When you decide to play back the newly recorded loop by hitting its play button, Live will stop monitoring until you begin recording again.

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