Ableton Live: Simpler. The Synth You Didn't Know You Had

It doesn't get much simpler than sampling in Ableton's Simpler. While it is one of the most intuitive samplers out there, Simpler can be used in many innovative ways: for example, as a synthesiser!  

When I meet new people that claim to be ‘in’ to Ableton Live, I’m generally surprised to find that they still regard it as more of a loop program than a DAW with amazing ability. C’mon, Ableton went way beyond simple loops years and years ago! But yes, its initial claim to fame is loops, and there’s no disputing that.

Though Ableton offers many different packages with different prices for Live, I’m pretty sure that it’s the regular old Ableton Live that most people purchase. And, this would make good sense. The Ableton Suite, even as a download, is a whopping $699. Granted, this includes all of the instruments, sound banks, and more. But, it’s still $699 vs. $499.

Also, Ableton offers the $99 dollar intro version, which is a steal, and is no slouch compared to the full version. But, like the $499 full version, it doesn’t really have instruments like the Suite...oh, yes it does.

In this particular tutorial, I’d like to draw your attention to one instrument that comes in both the intro, and the full version of Ableton Live that is far more powerful than it’s regularly given credit: Simpler.

Simpler Explained

By definition, Simpler is a sampler. But, if you understand samplers, you’ll understand that a sampler is just a synthesizer that uses audio files as oscillators, as opposed to your regular old analog, digital, FM wave or whatever you’re in to. 

Now, think about this for a second: if a sampler uses audio as an oscillator, couldn’t I just drop a simple recording of a sawtooth waveform, or a triangle waveform, or some other complex waveform and use the sampler like a synth? Absolutely! What’s more is that Simpler is actually extremely simple to use as opposed to many of the other basic soft synths included with many other DAWs. Let’s see it in action.

Step 1 - Drop An Audio File In Simpler

Currently, in my Ableton project, I have a single recording of a sustained note from a synthesizer. 

I’d like to use this sustained note as an oscillator (or sample) in Simpler. Ultimately, I’d like to make a bass synth.

To do this, from the Live Devices, I will drag Simpler in to the Clip/Device drop area.

Next, I’ll drag my synth recording in to the 'Drop Sample Here' section of Simpler.

Step 2 - Make It Loop

Now, I’ll set my Simpler to loop the sample audio file that I’ve placed in to it, by enabling the loop function, and adjusting the Fade, Length, and Loop knobs till it plays without any hiccups within the looped playback.

Step 3 - Change The Polyphony

Also, since this is intended to be a bass, I’ll reduce the number of voices allowed to 1. This will allow me to make one of those stylin’ bass lines that keeps me out of trouble because it’s one key at a time. I can’t technically make a mistake with note overlaps. Right?

Step 4 -  Create A Sequence

Before I go in to any additional tweaks, I like to actually write my bass part, then go back and modify as needed. I’ll record a MIDI clip of my bass part.

Step 5 - Modify Filter Settings

Next, I’ll turn on the Filter. I’ll put it in LP24 (Low Pass 24 dB Slope), give full strength to the Filter Envelope, and adjust the Frequency and Resonance accordingly. See the figure below.

You’ll notice I also adjusted the Filter Envelope so that the decay is at 1.53s. This will give the bass that sweeping effect.

And there you go, instant bass synth of your own creation within Ableton Live! Try some other audio files, see what you come up with. And remember, don’t forget the filters, envelopes, polyphony, etc to make the synth, I mean sampler behave the way you want it to.

For a more detailed exploration of Ableton Live's Simpler join Laura Escudé, renowned experimental performer, cutting-edge musician, and one of the most popular Ableton Live Certified Trainers, in Live 8 102 - The Simpler Sampler.

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


Hey GW! Zingarelli from the Apple store San Fran.(We trained together, if your saying, who the F!#% is this!)
Ironic I get a comp. MPV account and here you are providing excellent tutorials! No surprise there. Hope your doing well and keep up the great work!!


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