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How to use Ableton Live’s audio-to-MIDI conversion to reimagine your loops

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(Image credit: Ableton)

Sometimes we find ourselves wanting to use an audio loop or phrase (let’s take an example of some chords), but we maybe wish those chords would trigger a different sound or instrument, or we could change some of the sequence of the chords. 

Or maybe we have an idea of a melody that we can hum or sing, but aren’t sure what notes we’re actually singing and therefore unable to play these notes as MIDI.  

Live offers a range of conversion options for these occasions to help extract MIDI information out of audio material. In this example we’re going to work with an audio loop of piano chords which we will convert to MIDI, then edit the notes and change the instrument that these chords will be playing.

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(Image credit: Ableton)

Step 1: After importing an audio clip into Live, we’ll right click/control click on the clip and choose Convert Harmony to New MIDI Track. We’re using harmony conversion since the audio here consists of multiple notes played at once, therefore it’s a polyphonic sound. Live creates a new MIDI track and inserts a default instrument on it resulting in a conversion, but we can change this to any instrument.

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(Image credit: Ableton)

Step 2: Click the MIDI clip to use the MIDI Editor. If you know the key of the original audio loop you can set the Scale Settings in Clip View to check that all converted MIDI notes are in the desired scale. Sometimes Live detects and extracts extra notes, but these could be easily edited out now. 

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(Image credit: Ableton)

Step 3: You can also use MIDI effects such as Scale, to transpose the chords, or to keep control of random notes. The arpeggiator will also give a significant change by allowing further creative processing to the original sequence.

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(Image credit: Ableton)

Step 4: As the final step, we can go ahead and find a different instrument that we prefer for these chords to be playing or we can get creative and design our own sound for total control. In my example, I picked a fairly laidback synth lead sound where I adjusted the attack on the amplitude envelope attack to accommodate the arpeggiation better.

Anna Disclaim is a London-based audio engineer, producer, educator and Ableton Certified Trainer. She offers both classroom and individual tuition for all levels and abilities.