Ableton Live Performance Tip: Dummy Clips for Quantized FX

Dummy clips, despite their name, can be intelligently used in Ableton Live. Joshua Casper sows how to use them to add variation to drum & synth loops by syncing them to tempo and quantise parameters.  

In this tutorial, I will show you how to set up a set of dummy clips that, when triggered, will affect whatever audio is being routed to it and will shut off on beat when you want it to—synced to your project’s tempo and global quantize parameters.

This technique is great for adding a bit of variation to drum or synth loops, while requiring very little in terms of attention and care. Perfect for live performance situations.

Let's Start

First, find a groovy drum break and drop it onto a new audio channel. Then duplicate that channel. Rename channel 1 to “Break” and channel 2 to “Dummies”.

Make sure the In/Out panel is showing. Here we need to route the audio from channel 1 to channel two. In the “Audio Out” drop down select the “Dummies” channel. Then on the Dummies channel, change the monitor mode to “In”. This should deactivate the clip in the channel. This is indicated by removal of the coloring of the clips. Next, rename the clip in the Dummies channel to “Dry”.

audio routing dummy clips

Now, duplicate the Dry clip 5 times so you have a total of 6 clips. While leaving the first clip labeled “Dry” rename each of the other clips as “Repeat 1”, “Repeat2”, … “Repeat 5”.

Adding Effects

Drop an Audio Effect Rack onto the Dummies channel. Expand the chain area and right-click on the rack where it says “Drop Audio Effects Here”.  You should get the option to “Create Chain”. Do so. Then click the chain and duplicate it 5 times. Name them the same as the clips on the channel.

audio effect rack create chains

Next, drop some effects on the channels. I suggest starting with a few of the beat repeat presets first. Hence the clip and chain names. Though you can use whatever you want, just remember to leave the first chain empty.

Here is what I put on my chains. Some of the presets have been tweaked a bit. 

  • Dry – Empty
  • Repeat 1 – Beat Repeat “Airpusher”, Reverb “Forest Floor”
  • Repeat 2 – Beat Repeat, “Brain Dance”
  • Repeat 3 – Beat Repeat “Chopping Block”, Reverb “Forest Floor”
  • Repeat 4 – Beat Repeat “Squishy”, Reverb “Forest Floor” 
  • Repeat 5 – Beat Repeat “Slap Back”, Reverb “Forest Floor” 

Note about the Beat Repeat effect. 

You may want to pay attention to the output mode of the Beat Repeat as they will give different results and one might be more desirable than the other.

  • Mix Mode – Blends the original signal and the repetitions.
  • Insert Mode – Mutes the original signal when repetitions are playing, passing it otherwise.
  • Gate Mode – Passes only the repetitions, which is useful when the effect is on a return track
beatrepeat output modes

Finally, drop a limiter after the rack to make sure we never get too crazy and overload the output signal.

beatrepeat example chain limiter

We need to do one more thing in the rack before moving forward. Click the “Chain” button to show the chain selector. Here we want to move each of the chain selectors for the beatrepeat chains to their own “Zone”. We want Repeat 1 to be on Zone 1 – 1, Repeat 2 to be on 2 – 2 and so on.

dummy clip chain selector set up 

There is one last thing to do before we can start to jam and test our FX settings. We need to go into each of the repeat dummy clips and change their zones to the corresponding chain in the rack.

Click the Repeat 1 dummy clip and make sure you can see the clip envelope settings. If you can’t then you just need to click the E on the bottom of the Clip View panel.

From the Envelope Panel’s drop-down menus select “Audio Effect Rack” from the top one, and “Chain Selector” from the bottom one. 

Next, double-click anywhere on the clip’s automation line. Take that one point and drag up to “1”. The whole line should move. We aren’t looking to go from one value to another. We just want the whole clip to by linked to the zone.

Repeat that process for each of the 5 “Repeat” dummy clips. Success!

dummy clip internal setup

Now we can jam!

Trigger the first scene and you should hear the drum loop as it is naturally. Then, while the drum loop is playing, trigger the “Repeat 1” dummy clip. You should hear the drum loop get effected. Then you can just click the “Dry” dummy clip to go back to normal. 

The rate at which the change will take place will have to do with the global quantize settings which can be found at the top of Live. 

ableton live global quantize parameter

Also, if all that wasn’t cool enough, the tails of the FX are kept intact. I think that is awesome. If I add a bit of reverb to the chain, for example, it is allowed to fade out naturally even after you have deactivated the dummy clip. 

That is something to keep in mind when designing your FX chains though as it can give and it can take away!! A ridiculously long delay line, for example, is probably something to stay away from.

Also, don’t be afraid to switch out the Beat Repeat for something else. On top of that, the dummy clip’s actual contents don’t matter or have any effect on the output sound. 

Learn Ableton Live in the AskAudio Academy here.


Joshua Casper is an accomplished live performer, DJ, producer, and music educator. His specialties are centered in and around Ableton Live and Native Instruments. His educational material has been featured on and as well as a myriad of large music production websites. His music has been featured on Read More


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