Creating MIDI tracks and instruments
Control surfaces are MIDI devices which have buttons or keys which will control Ableton directly. MIDI ports are different; they can be control surfaces, but they can also be physical ports that MIDI devices can plug into. They can also be virtual. To enable our MIDI control surfaces to work with Ableton, we have to use the buttons to enable certain features called Track, Sync and Remote.
- Track allows MIDI notes to be sent or received by each port.
- Sync sets the chosen MIDI port to be a MIDI clock slave. This means that if you were to connect a drum machine to Ableton via MIDI, you can enable Sync on the drum machine’s output port to send a MIDI clock signal. The drum machine will then follow Ableton’s tempo, and play in sync. You can also do this the other way around, and set Ableton to be a MIDI slave, following an external signal.
- Remote allows an external MIDI source to act as a remote control for parameters in Ableton itself. This means that if you have a keyboard which is connected to Ableton via a MIDI cable, you can map any knob on that keyboard to control tempo, or volume, and effect or anything!
For the purposes of using a MIDI keyboard to record some notes in, we will enable track for the input of that port. If your keyboard also has knobs or faders, you may also want to enable remote.
Now that we have MIDI coming into our session, we can create a MIDI track. In the top bar select Create > Insert MIDI Track, or use the keyboard shortcut Cmd + Shift + T (Mac) / Ctrl + Shift + T (PC)
Your new MIDI track will not be able to create sound until we add a virtual instrument, which will convert MIDI into audio. To add an instrument, open the browser using the disclosure triangle in the top left of the screen, or use Cmd + Option + B (Mac) / Ctrl + Alt + B (PC). Ableton’s built-in instruments are found in the instruments tab. Choose one and double tap it to place it in the MIDI track. If you want to use one of your own virtual instruments, these will be found in the Plug-ins tab.
If you are not getting any sound when you play your MIDI keyboard, double check that the Arm Session Record toggle at the bottom of the track is red, and that monitoring is set to “auto”.