Creating Custom Multibank Drum Racks in Ableton Live

Do you want a massive arsenal of drum samples available at your fingertips in real time, anytime you need it? Noah Pred shows how to create Multibank Drum Racks in Ableton Live that'll blow your mind.  

Requirements: Live 9, Sampler

Ableton Live's various Racks allow for all sorts of flexible routing and sonic manipulation, and the Drum Rack in particular has become a familiar sight for Live users since its inception with Live 7. Not only can you build and save your own custom drum kits, but you can place incredible effects chains not only on the entire kit, but on each individual drum sound as well. Using a clever combination of Sampler (available with Live Suite), Instrument Racks and Drum Racks, we'll examine how to create a monster drum kit with 128 easily selectable drum sounds on each individual Drum Rack pad. With a total of 128 pads available, this means you could in theory create a Drum Rack with over 16,000 samples, all sensibly organized and available in real time.


The first thing you'll need to do is navigate to the Drums folder in your browser. 

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Bring an empty Drum Rack into your set by simply double-clicking the Drum Rack icon or dragging it into your set, or onto an empty MIDI track. 

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Next, navigate to your Instruments folder in the browser and bring an Instrument Rack onto an empty pad in the Drum Rack. 

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Last but not least, in the same Instrument folder of the browser, grab an empty Sampler and drag it into the empty Instrument Rack you've placed on the Drum Rack pad, right where it says “Drop an Instrument or Sample here”.

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Before we start loading our Sampler up with drum samples, we're going to configure our Macros first. Click on the Sampler's Zone selection tab in the upper left of the Sampler device; now with the Zone area showing, click the “Sel” button in the upper right of the Zone to select the Chain Selector view. 

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Now, right-click anywhere above the numbers (0-127) displayed at the top of the Chain Selector area, near where the orange marker is – this orange marker represents the value of your Chain selection, which we'll come back to later – and from the contextual menu that appears, click “Map to Macro 1”. 

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Now if you click on the Macro view of your Instrument Rack, you should see that the Chain Selector has been mapped to the first Macro dial. 

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This step is crucial as it will allow us to scroll through our 128 samples that we'll eventually fill our Sampler with. Right now though, we're going to create a drum Sampler template that we'll use for each of our Drum Rack pads, so I'll choose a few parameters to map to the other Macros that I imagine will come in handy with most drum sounds – but feel free to experiment with other assignments if you wish. 

Using the right- or Control-click context menu by clicking directly on the Sampler parameter dial that I wish to assign, we can quickly make all the assignments necessary. First, I'll click on the Filter/Global tab of the Sampler and go to the volume envelope editor to bring the sustain value all the way down. 

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Now, I'll assign the Attack time to Macro 2 and Decay time to Macro 3; then I'll enable the Filter and assign the Cutoff Frequency to Macro 4. 

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I'll enable the Shaper and assign the Amount to Macro 5. Now I'll click on the Pitch/Osc tab and assign the Spread amount to Macro 6, then enable the Pitch Envelope and assign that amount to Macro 7, and, finally, assign the Transposition to Macro 8.

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Now that we have all our Macros assigned, let's go to our Macro editor by clicking the Map button at the top of our Instrument Rack device, and opening the Browser.

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For example, I don't want the Filter Cutoff to go below 333 Hz, so I've set that as the minimum value; I've constrained our Transposition range to -24/+24 st as twice that, which would be the default, is going to take us well outside of a musically useful range. I've also determined that I won't require attack or decay times longer than 3.33 seconds or decay times shorter than 7 milliseconds. 

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These are all educated guesses based on years of experience, but you should feel free to follow them as a template and/or adjust to taste. Now I'll click on the Instrument Rack's Map button again to exit Map mode, and set our two pitch-based Macros to a default of zero semitones by clicking the dials to select them and hitting the Delete key; I'll also set the Decay macro value to 333 milliseconds for starters, and bring the Cutoff all the way to the top so we can hear our full frequency range to start – and then I'll select each Macro and rename them (Command-R) more sensibly.

PRO-TIP: Right-click on each Macro to assign it a color from the context menu – this will give you color-coded parameter assignments for easy adjustments at a glance.

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Before we save our Instrument Rack as a default, we'll add a couple more tools to the rack. From the MIDI Effects section of our browser, we'll grab a Chord and place it before the Sampler in the Instrument Rack; this will allow us to instantly fatten our drum sounds by stacking them with higher and lower notes simultaneously. We'll also grab a Velocity so we can compress, randomize or humanize incoming note velocities later on; in this case I've placed it before the Chord but you can experiment with placing it after the Chord for different results. Now we'll click the Save button of the Instrument Rack; I'll name it “Default Drum Pad” for easy reference in the browser.

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Load It Up

Now it's time to start filling our Sampler. Live 9 offers some great browser configuration options; hopefully you've already got your Places set up to easily locate your drum samples with whatever folders you've stashed them in added to the Places tab; if not, just click the instructive “Add Folder” button to navigate your Finder/Explorer, and add them. I've navigated to the “classic kicks” sub-folder of the awesome Wave Alchemy Synth Drums collection.

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Now, I'll go back to the Sampler, click the “Sample” tab, and, having made a selection of multiple kick samples from the browser by using the Shift modifier key, I'll drag them all into the main Sample window, where it says “Drop Sample Here”. 

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Since I can see that I've only added the 36 of a possible 128 samples (as the number of contained samples is displayed in the Sample view window, I'll go back to my browser and find more kick drums, dropping them now (and this is important) into the sample list in the Zone view – as dropping them into the Sample window will replace the current sample selection – until I've got 128 in total; if you end up going over 128, you can select and delete them from the Zone view sample list until you hit the magic number. 

Now, right- or Control-click any of the periwinkle blue Zone selection bars in the Chain view of the Zone area, and from the context menu that appears, select “Distribute Ranges Equally”. 

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Voila! If we scroll through and examine our Chain Selector, we can see that each sample now occupies a single discrete value between 0-127; if you play a pattern on that Drum Rack pad and change the value of our Selector Macro dial, you'll “scroll” through each of the 128 samples, with one at each value. This makes it easier than ever to find the right drum sound easily, quickly, and in the context of your composition. 

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Now I'll name this first one accordingly (“Kicks”), then copy the Instrument Rack to the next pad in my Drum Rack by holding the Alt/Option (Mac) or Control (PC), modifier and dragging the entire Instrument Rack over to the next pad in the Drum Rack pad view. In this second instance, I'll select and delete all the kick samples from the Zone View sample list, and replace them with different samples from the browser, preferably of the same type of sound – perhaps snares, claps or hi-hats – then, once again, I'll distribute their ranges equally in the Chain Selector view as we did with the kicks, rename the rack pad appropriately, copy it again to a new pad, replace and distribute new samples, rename, and continue this process, in theory until our entire drum library is sensibly mapped to a single Drum Rack – or at least until a usable Drum Rack is ready to go.

PRO-TIP: Access the Drum Rack's integrated In/Out routing and internal Send and Return to add effects sends for the entire rack and configure your Choke groups for realistic hi-hat interactions.


Finally, once this is all configured, I'll save the entire Drum Rack to my library by hitting the Drum Rack's save button, and it'll be ready in the Browser whenever I need a go-to kit.

PRO-TIP: Create a default template including your ultimate Drum Rack and save it as the default set in the File/Folder tab of Live's preferences – all your new projects will include the ultimate Drum Rack straight away, though it may take some time to load all the samples.

It might take a few hours of homework and some configurational tinkering, but by combining Sampler's multi-sample functionality, controlling it with the Macros of an Instrument Rack, and placing it within the context of a Drum Rack, you'll have a potentially massive arsenal of drum samples available at your fingertips in real time, whenever you need it.

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Noah Pred is a Canadian record producer, sound designer, technologist, DJ, and Ableton Certified Trainer living in Berlin, Germany. Releasing dozens of records and touring extensively since the '90s, he currently teaches a wide variety of techniques for stage and studio at the BIMM Institute. For more information, please visit: http://... Read More


Great piece thank you. Is there a way to set up groups inside the drumrack using the 128s? I'd like to sidechain and process lets say only the bongos, open and closed hats and not the kicks and snares how do you go about?

if you select the chains you want then right click group you can get a group in a rack and apply fx only to these chains.
Absolutely love this idea and have been setting it up for the last few hours. However, I've added all my kick sounds to the sampler, I've distributed them evenly but can't get them to play. My selector control doesn't actually do anything and theres nothing coming through when i play the pad on the drum rack
Any ideas?

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