Ableton Live’s Sampler is an incredible tool and you should be using it more! In the following tutorial, I plan on sharing some of the more advanced aspects of creating your own complex and versatile Sampler instruments.
Sampling Your Instruments
Sampling an instrument is an art. Let’s take a piano as an example. Just hitting each key once is only the beginning. To truly capture the essence of the piano you would need to hit each of the keys with different strengths, maybe 3 variations or more. You will need to mic different areas of the piano itself and the room. Then there are the variations of each of the keys when each of the pedals is pressed and even more considerations if you are really trying to do it right.
While I am not diving into the details of gathering your samples in this article I would like to draw your attention to a couple things worth considering. First, the big one, is Sampling in thirds. Most modern sampler instruments have high quality transposition algorithms and can handle a lot of the heavy lifting, because transposing one semitone is fairly transparent, meaning it's difficult for most listeners to tell the difference. If you are trying to save time, money and reduce file sizes this method is the best way to go.
By sampling the C note, you allow the transposition function of the sampler to move it up or down one semitone. So, that C note covers B, C, and C#. Then you would jump to D#, which would cover D, D# and E. You would continue this process and interval for the full range of the instrument. This cuts a 12 note octave into 4 notes (1/3).
Second, if you are going to be sampling a hardware or software synthesizer you should check out Tom Cosm’s External Resampler device. While it was built to work with external synths, there are ways to get it to work with VSTi as well. I did a review on it a while back here on Ask Audio and it is a game changer for such tasks! Did I mention it’s free??!!
Importing Multi Samples Into Sampler
Look at the screenshot below. You can see I’ve captured three variations of one octave from a bass guitar using the 1/3s method noted above. I have open, palm, and slap variations. The easiest way to get these into the sampler is to record all the notes you want to use in the sampler on one track per variation. Now, you can leave them all on one track and then use the sample start and sample end functions in Sampler to focus on each note’s section, but I find it easier and quicker to do the following.
I highlight each note’s section and cut it into its own clip. Then I name it properly; “bass – palm – C2” for example. Next, I right click each clip and “consolidate”. This cuts the clip into its own file and places it in the project folder.
Once I have all the samples ready I drop an instance of Sampler onto a new MIDI track then select all the samples and drop them into the sample panel of the Sampler.
When you drop the samples into the rack they will be sorted in alphabetical order. It’s not necessary, but I like to move the A samples to the bottom of each octave as that’s its position on the keyboard.
Root Notes & Key Zones
Click the Zone button on the Sampler to expand its hidden panel in Live. Now you should be able to see each of the samples you dropped into the rack. Click each one and change its RootNote parameter to the correct value. This tells Live what the note actually is and will help when Live then tries to transpose it if need be. Then take the Key Zones for each sample and reduce it so that it only covers the note’s value. The little “R” and the zone range should only cover one note, and that note should be the note’s actual value.
Workflow Tip: As we have 3 variations of the same octave we can Ctrl-Click to select all 3 of samples of the same note and move their root notes and zone ranges at the same time.
Next, we need to select all the samples and right-click. From the flyout menu choose “Distribute Ranges Around Root Key”. This will make each of the samples cover the note before and after its root note. The samples on the ends will extend to the end of the ranges so you will need to go in and manually set their ends. The zone area is how many notes the sample will cover or be transposed. Usually you would want the samples to cover the whole range of whatever instrument you are sampling, but here I am only doing an octave for demonstrative purposes.
Multi Samples & Velocity Zones
Right now, all three variations will play at the same time if you hit a key. That’s not great. So we need to jump into the velocity panel and do some more work. Take a look at the photo below. This is how I arranged my velocity ranges. The lower velocities will play the mute version, the middle ranges will play the open version, and 120+ will play the slap version.
Essentially, if I play the keys softly I will get the muted bass, regular pressure will give me the open bass, and if I really hit the keys I will get the slap bass. Also, the overall output volume will increase relatively, for the most part. Admittedly, there is a little bit of overlap from the mute to the open variations, but it doesn’t sound bad. If we wanted to get into instrument racks with multiple instances of Sampler we could make this thing really work the way it should without the overlapping.
Maybe that will be the next tutorial. Would you be interested in learning that?