Exploring Effect Categories in Ableton Live

Introduction

Hi. I am Darran Kelinske from Austin, TX in the USA. This lesson is for week 3 of Introduction To Music Production at Coursera.org. I will be teaching you about the different effect categories. These categories include dynamic effects, delay effects, and filter effects.

In this lesson we will be using our audio recording from last week’s assignment (found below). Additionally, we will be using Ableton Live to explore an effect in each effect category.

 

Dynamic Effects

To begin, we will look at dynamic effects. Dynamic effects control amplitude. Amplitude is perceived by the listener as loudness.

One device that we have available in Ableton Live that provides dynamic effect capabilities is the Compressor. From the Ableton Live manual we can get a good understanding of how the Compressor works.

“A compressor reduces gain for signals above a user-settable threshold. Compression reduces the levels of peaks, opening up more headroom and allowing the overall signal level to be turned up. This gives the signal a higher average level, resulting in a sound that is subjectively louder and ”punchier” than an uncompressed signal.”

Furthermore, the manual describes the two most important parameters on the compressor device:

“A compressor’s two most important parameters are the Threshold and the compression Ratio.

The Threshold slider sets where compression begins. Signals above the threshold are attenuated by an amount specified by the Ratio parameter, which sets the ratio between the input and out- put signal. For example, with a compression ratio of 3, if a signal above the threshold increases by 3 dB, the compressor output will increase by only 1 dB. If a signal above the threshold in- creases by 6 dB, then the output will increase by only 2 dB. A ratio of 1 means no compression, regardless of the threshold.”

Full Source

After reading the description from the manual, the idea of the compressor starts to make sense conceptually. The compressor is compressing the amplitude of the waveform by removing the peaks in amplitude. Below, you can see a screenshot of the Compressor device applied to an audio track in Ableton Live.

Screen Shot 2014-02-20 at 7.37.59 AM

Delay Effects

Next, we will discuss delay effects. Delay effects control propagation qualities. One device we have available in Ableton Live that provides a delay effect is Reverb. The Reverb device allows us to simulate the environment an audio recording might be played in by delaying the propagation of all or parts of the audio recording. The full description of the parameters available in the Reverb device can be found in the Ableton manual here.

A Reverb device added to an audio track can be seen below.

Screen Shot 2014-02-20 at 7.47.53 AM

Filter Effects

Lastly, we will discuss filter effects. Filter effects control timbre. An example of a filter effect found in Ableton Live is the Auto Filter.

This device allows us to filter out particular frequencies in the audio sample. For example, using the Auto Filter as a Low-pass filter we can allow frequencies lower in the spectrum to pass through while preventing frequencies higher in the frequency from being reproduced. In effect, we are filtering out the high frequencies.

Screen Shot 2014-02-20 at 7.57.27 AM

A full description of the Auto Filter can be found here.

Review

In this post, we reviewed the three effect categories we have discussed so far. These categories include dynamic, delay, and filter effects. We also looked at a device from each category that is available in Ableton Live. If you can, experiment and play with the different devices in your DAW. This will help further your understanding of how the various devices impact sound.

Thank you for reading and please post any questions or comments below. Or feel free to contact me using social media.

Recording a Software Instrument using MIDI in Ableton Live

Introduction

Hi. I am Darran Kelinske from Austin, TX in the USA. This lesson is for week 2 of Introduction To Music Production at Coursera.org. I will be teaching you about adding a software instrument, recording midi, and quantizing in a DAW. The DAW I will be using in this lesson is Ableton Live.

In this lesson we will be recoding MIDI using an MPK mini. This is a portable USB-Powered 25-key keyboard that also includes 8 drum pads (pictured below). The MPK mini will need to be connected to the PC you are recording MIDI with. The song we will be recording is called “The Ash Grove” and is taken from a beginners piano book.

 

 

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Setting up the MIDI Instrument

To begin this task we will need to setup our MIDI instrument in Ableton Live. To do this, I created a new Ableton Project, named RecordingMidiWithAbleton,  and then removed all of the tracks except for one MIDI track. I then renamed this MIDI track to Piano.

Screen Shot 2014-02-12 at 3.53.57 PM

Next, I searched for a Piano Instrument in the top left search box.  This produced a “Grand Piano” instrument which sounded nice. MIDI Instruments can be downloaded from Ableton.com. This instrument entry needs to be placed over the Piano MIDI track to specify that this MIDI track is using this instrument to produce sound.

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Setting up the Click and Countoff

Setting up the click and countoff in Ableton is done in the top left of the GUI. To do this, we will need to enable the metronome by clicking the metronome button. When enabled, the metronome button will be yellow. To set the countoff we will need to click the drop-down button to the right of the metronome button and select the appropriate countoff time. In this example, we are using 1 Bar.

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Recording the Instrument

Before recording, it is good practice to practice your performance. Loudon continuously reminds us that there is not substitute for good performance and this is true. After getting comfortable with the music, I clicked the record button and pressed play. After a 1 Bar count off, everything that was played was recorded Ableton Live. The recorded MIDI notes can be seen in Arrangement View in the image below.

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Quantization

If you click on the above image, you can see in detail that there is plenty of room for improvement on both timing and velocity. To improve the timing we can quantize the MIDI track. To do this, I first selected all of the recorded notes and then right-clicked the selection. From the right-click menu I selected Quantize settings and set them similar to what Loudon suggested. I am using 1/8th note quantization, adjusting from the start, with 20% quantization.

Screen Shot 2014-02-13 at 6.57.11 AM

After running quantization, you can see the start of the MIDI notes get tighter to the grid. This is expected. Some of the notes that were originally played were off to the extent that they are getting quantized to the wrong start. These notes will need to be hand corrected by manually dragging the MIDI note to the correct position. After some more quantizing, manually correcting velocity, and manual correction of a few of the notes, the final MIDI recording can be seen and heard below.

Screen Shot 2014-02-13 at 7.22.49 AM

Copying the MIDI Track

Once we get the the MIDI track where we would like it, we can copy it from Arrangement view to Session view. To do this, right-click the title of the recording in Arrangement view and click copy. You can then paste this into session view.

Arrangement View:

Screen Shot 2014-02-13 at 7.06.27 AM

Copied MIDI recording in Session View:

Screen Shot 2014-02-13 at 7.07.18 AM

Review

In this post, we covered quite a few things. We first found and selected a MIDI Instrument. We then recorded MIDI using a MIDI keyboard. After we made the initial recording, we began cleaning up the recorded MIDI notes using quantization. Lastly, we copied the recorded MIDI notes to session view so that the clip could be launched in future recordings.

The Ableton Project for this post can be found here: RecordingMidiWithAbleton Copy Project

Thank you for reading and please post any questions or comments below. Or feel free to contact me using social media.

 

Visualizing Sound

Hi I am Darran Kelinske from Austin, TX in the USA. This lesson is for week 1 of Introduction To Music Production at Coursera.org. I will be teaching you about visualizing sound using Ableton Live and other tools available for MAC OS X.

In this lesson I will show you where to find different tools to visualize sound and explain some of the concepts related to visualizing sound. The tools we will explore in this post are an oscilloscope, spectrum analyzer, and sonogram.

Oscilloscope

To begin, we will look at an oscilloscope. An oscilloscope is used to visually display the waves that sound make in a medium. Time is displayed on the horizontal access and amplitude is displayed on the vertical access. By counting the number of waves for a particular 1 second time period we can express the frequency of the sound in hertz.

Using Ableton Live and a free plugin, Blue Cat’s Oscilloscope Multi, we can view the differences in frequency of each sound wave while playing different notes. After installing the plugin, I created a simple Grand Piano track that plays the note C on different octaves. The track can be seen below (click to expand).

Screen Shot 2014-02-06 at 7.23.20 AM

 

Now, let’s play the track while watching the Oscilloscope. We can see that when we play C4 we have around 10 peaks in a .02 second period.

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When we play C3, an octave below C4, we can see that there are five peaks in the same time period. As you go up by an octave the frequency doubles and as you go down by an octave the frequency halves. There is no correlation between amplitude and frequency.

Screen Shot 2014-02-06 at 7.30.21 AM

 

As we can see, one of the drawbacks of the oscilloscope is determining the frequency of a sound. This requires us to manually count and sum each peak in a one second time period.

Spectrum Analyzer

Next we will look at the spectrum analyzer using the same piano track that we were working with earlier. A spectrum analyzer measures frequency on the horizontal access and amplitude on vertical access. A Spectrum Analyzer is built into Ableton Live and can be accessed by performing a search for Spectrum in the top right.

Playing C3 while watching the spectrum analyzer shows that the largest peak is at around 262 Hz. If you hover over the peak Ableton will display the note and the frequency in the bottom left of the spectrum analyzer. While the mouse cursor is missing in the screenshot below, the peak that is seen here is C3 and is noted in the bottom left of the spectrum analyzer.

Screen Shot 2014-02-06 at 7.37.53 AM

Now, let’s play C2 which is an octave below C3. In the spectrum analyzer we can see that the frequency for C2 131, which is half of C3. This is in line with the observations we made while using the oscilloscope.

Screen Shot 2014-02-06 at 7.42.52 AM

One disadvantage of the spectrum analyzer is that it displays characteristics of sound at a particular time it and does not give you a picture of how sound is changing over time.

Sonogram

A sonogram allows you to view frequency, amplitude, and time in a single pane. Frequency is displayed on the vertical access. On the horizontal access time is displayed and on the z axis amplitude is displayed.

I was able to find a free sonogram called Sonic Visualizer to use for this post. After exporting our Grand Piano track (can be downloaded here: VisualizingSound), I loaded it into the Sonogram in Sonic Visualizer.

Here we can also see that as we play lower notes, the bottom frequencies of the sonogram are darker. We can also easily determine each particular note that is played as there is a distinct break between each note displayed on the sonogram. We can also see the harmonics that are related to each note.

Screen Shot 2014-02-06 at 7.54.47 AM

Thank you for reading my post on Visualizing Sound. This is a new domain for me and I enjoyed learning and writing about some of the ways we can visualize sound. All of the tools mentioned in this post come with free demo’s or are included in Ableton. If you have any questions, please comment below or contact me using any of the methods listed on the site. Thanks again.