Ableton Live – Worship, Subdividing the Click

Alrighty Kids, here’s some info about our journey switching from Pro Tools to Ableton Live for running click, loops and tracks for live performance, specifically in our worship services.

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Up until a few weeks ago, we used Pro Tools as our on-stage software to create and run loops, sequenced programming and a click track. I do most of my music creation via Pro Tools – whether a simple loop for a worship song, or a full, complex video score. So using Pro Tools to play some or all of those audio elements in conjunction with a live band was totally natural. ESPECIALLY since you can create a click track using the “Click” plug-in and route it to a specific audio output, apart from, say, a stereo loop track.

Pro Tools also allows “Markers”, which we would use as the start of the next song. You can tab to them, or select them with the mouse in a special Markers Window. There is also the powerful ability to input tempo changes, time signature changes, and click subdivision changes at those markers, or anywhere in a song’s timeline.

If you’d like more info on running loops via Pro Tools in a live performance situation, check out: Gear Questions: Pro Tools running loops

So Pro Tools is very powerful in many cases – but not all…

While I see myself using PT as a main Digital Audio Workstation for song creation, video scoring, and audio recording, it still falls short in many areas that we need, specifically our live performance / worship services.

Enter Ableton LIVE…

While I was not unfamiliar with Live and its concepts from years past, there were still some things that fell short for me. But many of those have been addressed/changed/tweaked and generally improved over the last few versions.

However, the biggest dislike I had – and still have – of Live is its internal click.

I mean, it’s horrible.

First, the click tone is obnoxious, and cannot be changed without highjacking the root library in your computer’s Operating System (NOT advisable for the faint of heart). And second, you cannot subdivide the click PROPERLY.

Sure, other sites or videos show someone manipulating the song’s tempo and/or time signature, but that’s not the way it should be. I SHOULD be able to enter the proper tempo and time signature of a song, and have the ability to choose a click tone and subdivide it.

Why do I want to subdivide a click? Because if you’re playing a song at anything less than about 110 bpm, your ability as a singer or instrumentalist to “lock into the groove” of a song is GREATLY increased when you can hear/feel the subdivisions of a measure (1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &).

So for me, even now, Ableton Live is a great program, we WANT to use it for all that it can bring to a live performance (MIDI mapping to external pads/triggers, easy song tempo change without messing up other songs later down a “timeline”, etc.), but it still has this one giant FLAW – the click.

It’s kind of like dating the best person in the world – but they smoke.


So this was my Everest. I wouldn’t switch to Ableton until we could figure a way around this click issue.

Well, after lots of research and brainstorming – and a few trials, errors, and less-than-satisfactory solutions, Jared Hamilton and I came up with a winner.

Or at least the winner until something better comes along or Ableton gets their act together…


If you’ve used Redrum in Reason or Boom in Pro Tools 8, or any pattern-based drum machine, you’re already ahead of the game….

Basically, we created an instance of Impulse, Live’s drum pattern sequencer, imported a desired click tone, and created MIDI notes in the sequencer to trigger the sample as desired (quarters for fast songs, quarters and 8ths for slower songs). We even increased the velocity (thus volume) of the downbeats to help define where the “1” is…

Then we saved the instance of Impulse (with the desired sample and MIDI data) as a clip to the clip library. That way, in the future you can just drag that Click clip into an audio column in about 2 seconds – never having to create a click clip from scratch again!

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OK, here’s are the steps…

#1 – TURN OFF the horrible internal click of death.

From this:

Picture 7.png

To This:

Picture 6.png

Ahhh, much better…

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STEP #2 – Create an instance of IMPULSE:

Impulse can easily be found by clicking on the Live Device Browser (yellow icon on LEFT underneath the arrow). Click on Impulse and drag it into a MIDI track or “Clip/Device Drop Area” (big grey area that says “Drop Files and Devices Here”.

So that’s totally easy. 🙂

Picture 8.png

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For us, we love using the MPC click tone from the Pro Tools click plug-in. We’ve used it for years now, and all our players are fans. It’s distinct enough to establish tempo, but subtle enough to not drive you crazy or interfere with the sound you’re trying to create as a band.

But that’s just us – you can use a cowbell, woodblock, or car horn for all I care 🙂

So now drag that sample (audio file) into the first “audio sample slot” in Impulse. Below, you can see my MPC Click sample in the far left sqare. It’s greyed-out to show that an audio file has now been assigned to that slot.

NOTE: You may wish to change the DECAY or other parameters to suit your taste.

Picture 3.png

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STEP #4 – ENTER MIDI DATA in Impulse’s Sequencer Window

Just double click on the grid where you want the click sample to activate.

Here’s an example of a sub-divided click (1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &):

Picture 2.png

And here’s a simple quarter-note pattern:

Picture 1.png

Note the VELOCITY increase for the downbeat of the bar (lower half of the window). You can play around with this until you get what tones / volumes you desire for the downbeats.

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STEP #5 – RENAME and SAVE CLIP(S) for future use

OK, now the hard part’s done. And by saving this clip, you can then easily drag and drop desired Click Clips into a session as you desire.

Picture 9.png

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If you’re already using Ableton for a multi-song set, you’re probably familiar with how tempos are set for the different songs using the Master Scenes.

Using the Rename feature (click on a box and type z-R), you can then type the name of the song, its TEMPO (be sure to add “bpm” after the tempo), and its time signature. (Press RETURN when you’re done!)

Now, when you click on that Master Scene box in the future, the click (and any other audio files/loops/programming, etc.) that you’ve imported along that horizontal scene will start at the exact tempo you’ve typed in.

Here’s an example of a recent Ableton Live set used for a live worship service performance.

Picture 10.png

All of those scenes had Click clips, while only some of those scenes also had count-offs, loops, and programmed tracks as needed.

Picture 11.png

While you can manually activate the scenes by clicking them, you can also map them to either keys on your computer or – more effectively – by MIDI-mapping them to an external controller. Products like M-Audio’s Trigger Finger and Novation Launchpad are widely used, while we currently use the Akai Professional LPD8 due to its smaller footprint.

But that’s a different story…

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There you go, kids! Have fun – and here’s a special treat: A download of the Click Clips and MPC Audio sample!

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7 thoughts on “Ableton Live – Worship, Subdividing the Click

  1. Yo dude. Great stuff on using impulse, especially if your creating loops and need to be recording a click track to the loop. Very helpful. It’s very easy to change the click sound and subdivisions to the click in Ableton though. For the Subdivisions you just have to right click on the master scene that you want to change and hit “Edit Launch Time Signature.” Then you will see the time signature (4/4) highlight. Just change the numbers to what ever you want. The first number would be for where you want your accent to be, if you want one, and the second number is what the subdivision will be. For instance… the default is 4/4, so your subdivision is going to be quarter notes and your accent is going to be on the 1. If you have a slower song you just change the bottom number to 8, for 8th notes, and your top number to what ever you want for the accent. I personally don’t like having the accent because of wanting to be flexible if someone happens to mess up and get off a beat. So, for example, what I do to not have an accent is to put all of my time signatures at 1/4 or 1/8 to just have the tempo with no accents. This actually puts the accent on every note so you hear no difference at any time. You do this for every scene and just hit the master play button for that scene when you want to start the next song. It changes the click to what ever tempo and time signature you have it set at, even without stopping the previous song. Just keeps right on rollin to the next song’s click. As for changing the click sound, I don’t mind the Ableton click so I use that one, but here’s a great video showing how to change it to whatever you want. Email me if you have any questions. Hope this helps.

    Jay >

    • Forgot to mention that I am using Live version 8 and that if you have an older version it could be different. Sorry 🙂

      Jay >

  2. So I didn’t see an email address to contact you with so I figured just a comment would do. Anyway, I’m curious about the whole keyboard rig yall are running; how its wired, basically everything yall have on the riser. I have the opportunity to rewire the keyboard rig @ the church I play at and want to do it right. I’ve been tinkering around with it for the past few weeks and I’m slowly getting there. Anyway, I run 3 keyboards. A midi synth, weighted grand keyboard, and a motif for my organs & other stuff. I use 5 direct boxes, 3 for the keyboards & 2 for loop-click. So from the keyboards I run into the DI’s to the FOH via XLR, but I also run the 1/4″ out into a small mixer for my IEM mix. Its complicated I know, but I don’t want to make the already sinfully loud stage volume louder & muddy the FOH mix even more.

    So the worship leaders are finally getting around to setting up the stage in a sensible format. I’ll be upstage right corner, opposite the drums, & they want to throw me on a riser. Sounds cool to me, but I was just curious before I re-set everything up & get a riser built… Should I customize the riser for anything? Is there a better way to run the signals? Basically if you were in the position to customize your own ‘keys world,’ what would it look like?


  3. Thanks Reid and Jay for some great tips and advice! I’m in the same boat: using Protools for the creation of the loops and textures and running them live in Ableton. I recently started just bouncing the click from PT as I bounce the loops and tracks and just import that.

    What’s your workflow in getting the audio from PT to Ableton? Do you just bounce a file from PT and import it, or run them in re-wire while creating stuff and record it in? I’m still experimenting with the best way to do this, especially with more involved tracks and would love to hear what others are trying.

    • Complete audio export from ProTools (or any DAW you like), then import into Ableton.

      This allows us to port it to multiple machines on multiple stages. One master creation machine with lots of software & plugins (aka mine), then multiple stage laptops with only Ableton installed (one laptop per stage, multiple stages / campuses).

      Also, it should be noted that Ableton itself can function as the host DAW for loop/track creation. It’s not as user-friendly for this purpose as ProTools or Logic (or other DAWs) are, but still, can be done and mastered, especially if you’re on a budget.

  4. Is the cheapest possible MIDI keyboard really the same thing as using an expensive one for this program?. . Any suggestions on which MIDI keyboard to buy?. . Is there any way to use the computer keyboard that I’m typing on in place of a MIDI music keyboard?.

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