Creating Pitch Risers in Ableton Live

Are you looking for the perfect pitch risers for your electronic tracks? Bill Burgess shows how you can easily make your own in Ableton Live in seven quick steps.  

Tension and release are timeless hallmarks of all great music. So it makes sense to explore elements that achieve that effect for our own music. Now I'm not talking about the ridiculously ginormous and obese builds and breakdowns that the frat boys and girls love. I want to show you something a bit more subtle, but as effective. In this tutorial we are going to create 8-bar tension building clips using pitch that can be stored in your User Library and triggered during any Live set.

Step 1 - Select a Sound

For this example I use Clouds and Bells. You can find it the Categories Section under Instruments > Analog > Mallets > Clouds and Bells.adg. In Session View, drag the device to an available MIDI track. Right-click within the first Clip Slot and select “Insert MIDI Clip” (or simply double-click in the clip slot).

Pic 1

Step 2 - Build a Pattern

In the Clip View, enable the Draw mode using the B Key. Draw in some notes and create an interesting one bar rhythmic pattern. You can see in my example that I'm using D natural in 3 different octaves. I avoid complex intervals so that the clip can migrate among various sessions with a minimum of transposition. The empty notes are notes I've deactivated using the 0 (zero) key.

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Audio example 1:

Step 3 - Now Duplicate

Now we need to make this clip 8 bars. To do that, go to the Notes Tab of the Clip View and select the Duplicate Loop function. You can see my velocity layering more clearly in this diagram. For more on why unaccented notes will make you a whoop ass programmer to be contended with, you can refer to my drum programming course in Logic and Battery on

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Step 4 - Envelope Engage

Now we pull the rabbit from the hat. The clip tab in Clip View has three icons at the bottom. An “L”, musical notes and an “E”. Select “E”. It stands for Envelope. Up comes the Envelopes tab. Now we select the Device we want to automate. Our choices are MIDI Ctrl and Mixer. Choose MIDI Ctrl. The Control Chooser pull-down is directly below. Click holding it gives you a menu of gargantuan proportions. Choose the first item on the menu, Pitch Bend and be done with it. Now you have a line representing pitch in your MIDI clip.

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Step 5 - Drawing Clip Based Automation

With Draw mode off, click on the line segment to create a node at the beginning and one at the end, and then re-create an 8 bar automation rise seen in figure 5. Press playback and have a listen. The tension ratchets ever upward over the course of 8 bars. You can make your example fit mine in terms of pitch bend range, or you can tune your sweep to start and end on any pitch.

Pic 5

Step 6 - Automating a Macro

Now we are deep in it. “It” being clip based automation. Prepare to not shower for a few days because you are going to love this. Go back to the Device Chooser in the Envelopes tab. Replace the MIDI Ctrl selection with “Clouds and Bells.” In the Control Chooser directly below, choose Space. It's a Macro built into the Clouds and Bells preset.

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Now draw in some nodes and automate Space so that it go's from dry to wet in the course of 8 bars

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Here's what it sounds like:

Step 7 - Saving Risers to your User Library

Let's save this riser so that we can use it in other sessions. In the Places Section, go to User Library > Clips. Right-click and select New Folder. I've named mine Risers BB. Now drag your Clouds and Bells clip (renaming the clip is a good idea) to the newly created folder. Boom. Now it's available in every Ableton Session. A close look at my risers folder shows that I have a fair number of saved clips with Razor, FM8 or Sound Toys in the title. I make this point to remind you any third-party instrument or plug-in can be used within a pitch riser in Ableton. Cheers!

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Bill Burgess went to Berklee College of Music on a Buddy Rich scholarship, where he studied Film Score and Performance. After 5 years as a touring musician, he opened one of a handful of recording studios in Los Angeles based upon a then unproven platform now known as Pro Tools. As a producer/engineer he recorded nearly 25 CD’s and h... Read More


Ableton Weekly
Great tutorial! Linked to this in issue #36 of Ableton Weekly

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