Ableton Live: Rhythmic Marker System

Got a remix project on the go? (See the iZotope & MPV prizes on offer in the SongCraft Contest - ends 13-Jan-2013)... find out how Ableton's marker system will add to your box of tricks!  
Ableton Live is widely known as one of the best remix platforms on the market, period. The ability to easily import MP3, AIFF, and WAV files, only to have them instantly warped, is only part of the equation. In reality, the Session View of Ableton is remix tool number one in this amazing DAW.

In a simple grid, you can set up scene after scene that are filled with loops of your own making, or loops from others. You can even mix in MIDI, soft synths, and more.

The Session view is amazing, but it's actually not the only way to remix. You can also use the arrangement view just as effectively if you prefer a more linear way of working. Like every other DAW platform, there's automation, multiple undos, and so on. One other very effective way to use the Session view is through the innovative marker system that the Ableton Live team added several versions ago.

In this quick tutorial, we're going to go over a very cool way to use the marker system to do some very cool realtime remixing.

Let's check it out!

Step 1- Assign Some Markers in Your Mix

Assigning markers in your Ableton project is easy, but you need to know where to look. In the Arrangement view, notice the Set button in the upper, right-hand corner. It will have two arrows on both sides of it...

Set button.

Go ahead and place your Arrangement Insert Marker (you know, the pulsing, pink line that tells Ableton where to start playing) where you'd like to place the first marker. I'm placing mine at the beginning of my song.

Arrangement Insert Marker.

When you've got it where you want it, press the Set button. You'll notice that immediately after pressing the Set button, it will change to the Del button. This just means that you can go back and delete the marker again by pushing this button, as long as the Arrangement insert marker is still in the position of your new marker.

Del button.

Now, add some more markers where they are pertinent in regard to your arrangement. For instance: A marker for your verse, chorus and bridge. To label each marker, simply select the marker arrow and do a Command-R, this will allow you to name the marker.

Add more markers.

Step 2- Make Them Musical

Now for the fun part! Press the Key button in the upper, right-hand corner of Ableton. This will put you in to Key Map Mode, which allows you to assign buttons in Ableton to buttons on your QWERTY Keyboard.

Key Map Mode.

Now, select your first marker and assign it to Q, then assign the next marker to W, the next to E, and so on, till all of your markers are accounted for...

Assigning markers to Q, W, E.

When you're done, press the Key Mode button again, this will take you out of Key Map Mode....

Key Mode button is off.

You'll also want to make sure that the Computer MIDI Keyboard button, next to the Key button is not lit. If this is on, your QWERTY presses will also be triggering soft synths, etc.

Step 3- Play

Now, try this marker system out while the song is playing! Note how you can jump around from marker to marker, but it's always in time. If you want to adjust it from one Bar, use the Global Quantization Setting to change to 1/2 Bar, etc. There's a lot of fun to be had with markers, enjoy!

Sound Designer, Musician, Author... G.W. Childs has worn many hats. Beginning in the U.S. Army back in 1991, at the age of 18, G.W. began learning electronics, communications and then ultimately audio and video editing from the Department of Defense. Upon leaving the military G.W. went on to work for many exciting companies like Lu... Read More


Gary Hiebner
Great article G.W. Nice to know around to different parts in the Arrangement View as well.
Matt Sharp
Very informative article, I'm constantly blown away by all the different approaches there are to making/performing music in Live.

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