Ableton sampling tutorial

Ableton sampling tutorial DEFAULT

Make the most of Ableton Live’s Sampler

Samplers have been responsible for the birth of countless genres, thanks to allowing users to load in and record sounds and recontextualise them into something new. Fortunately, Ableton Live features two modern-day sampling devices within the DAW, namely Simpler and Sampler.

In this Ableton Live Tutorial, Liam O’Mullane shows you how to load in sounds to these devices and play them with your MIDI controller. Liam also explores root notes, key zones, one-shot drum hits, how to share your Sampler instrument with friends, plus applying distortion, modulating sounds and making use of envelopes.

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Those of you who already know Live inside and out, but are looking to explore other DAWs may want to check out our Logic Tips Series, following a similar pattern to this course.

For more expert advice, tips, interviews, news and reviews visit Subscribe to the MusicTech YouTube channel now for weekly DAW tutorials, new product news and much more.


How to flip samples using Ableton Live's Simpler

A cornerstone technique in hip-hop since the advent of the sampler, sample flipping is quite simply the process of slicing up a beat or loop and rearranging it - traditionally using the pads of an MPC groovebox - for use as the basis of a new track.

In this tutorial, we'll show you how to do it using Ableton Live’s nifty onboard sampler. For more on old-school sampling techniques, pick up the February 2019 edition of Computer Music.

Step 1: ‘Flipping’ samples is a classic hip-hop technique that works well in other genres, too. For a perfect example, check out how Gang Starr’s DJ Premier flipped jazz guitarist Vic Juris’s Horizon Drive for the Mass Appeal beat. The source of the sample went undiscovered for years before someone figured it out.

Step 2: Slicing samples used to be a laborious process, but most DAWs nowadays feature a sampler plugin that includes some kind of auto-slice function. In Ableton Live, that'll be Simpler. Drop an audio file onto the device, then hit Sliceto have it automatically sliced at its transients.

Step 3: Now we can play the sample slices back using a MIDI keyboard, or program them in the piano roll. We’ve created a new clip and programmed a fresh melody using the same sounds from our sample. Spend some time experimenting here until you find something that works.

Step 4: Simpler won’t always get the slices absolutely spot on. You can go back to the device if necessary and adjust the slice positions manually by dragging the position markers left and right until it sounds just right, without chopping off the transient at the beginning of each note.

Step 5: The classic version of this technique was usually created with an Akai MPC or E-MU SP-1200. For a similarly retro sound, use a vintage sampler plugin or bit-crusher. Here we’re trying D16 Decimort 2, set to a preset that channels the 12-bit vibes of the Akai MPC60.

Step 6: We’re going for a slightly more modern sound, though, so we’ll ditch Decimort and use some other processing instead. A gentle compressor smooths some of the jarring dynamics we’ve introduced, and some very subtle reverb helps to glue the sound back together.

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The Pareto principle, also known as the 80/20 rule, states that, for any given tool or technique, roughly 80% of the outcome comes from using just 20% of the available resources. Looking at the way many of us use Ableton Live, this 80/20 rule very likely applies to Simpler and Sampler; with most of us only ever scratching the surface of what these devices are capable of. This is fine of course if you’re happy with the musical results you’re getting, but what else could you do with that other 80%?

Enter Evan Chandler, aka electro-boogie artist Slynk. His recent tutorial video showed off a whole bunch of techniques that explored the creative possibilities of using Live’s Vocoder not just for vocals. In a similar vein, Chandler’s new tutorial video dives deep into Simpler and Sampler to demonstrate some fun, under-the-radar tricks for slicing up samples, generating melodies and making your own bass synth (or donk machine). In addition, Slynk drops lots of pro tips on how to use Simpler and Sampler with filters, arpeggiators, LFOs, envelopes, and the mysterious ‘Zn Shift’ parameter.

Check out more Ableton Live and Push tutorials.

Keep up with Slynk on his website, Facebook and Soundcloud.

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EASIEST Way To Sample in Ableton Live - #FigureItOut

Simpler is a powerful, but easy to use stock sampler which ships with all versions of Ableton Live (Intro, Standard and Suite). Though it’s got a small footprint, this versatile instrument has a lot of functionality under the hood.

Uniquely, Simpler employs Live’s warp modes allowing you to stretch samples to match your projects tempo regardless of which note you play. It also has several sample modes which allows you to get really creative with your sampling.

Classic and 1-shot mode allow you to create a filthy bass or angelic pads in seconds using sample packs like Bass House or Chill Pads. You can use slice mode to create some classic vocal chops with a vocal pack like Urban Pop & Vocals 2 in no time at all.


Simpler Quick-Start Guide
        Import a Sample
        Start/Loop Points
        Playing Samples Across the Keyboard
        Tuning Samples
        Filter, LFO and Amp ADSR
Using Different Sampling Modes
        Sampling in Classic Mode
        Using 1-Shot Mode
        Editing in Slice Mode
Warp Modes Explained
Advanced Filter Controls
LFO Programming
Pitch and Amplitude Envelopes



To load a sample into Simpler you just drag and drop your desired sound into the instrument. You can drag your sample from the browser, arrange window or session window. 

In this tutorial we’re going to be using the Exmoor Emperor - Celestial Downtempo taster pack which can be downloaded for free.

We’ll start by loading the sample ‘EMP_120_Eb_Melody_Synth’. The waveform will appear. 

If we want to reverse the sample this can easily be done via the right click menu.



This sample is a long loop, but we want to cut it down to just one note so we can use it as an instrument. This is easily done by trimming the sample. By dragging the handles at either end of the sample you can crop it to the desired length. To make sure you crop the sample accurately you can zoom right in to your waveform.

To guarantee you don’t get any unwanted clicks or pops at the beginning or end of your sample, make sure the ‘SNAP’ button is activated. This means that the sample automatically crops to the nearest zero crossing. To permanently trim the sample you can select ‘crop sample from the right click menu.


Now we have a sample loaded and trimmed in Simpler we can start making music! Play a few notes with your computer or MIDI keyboard and you’ll find you’ve got a pretty nice sounding instrument. 

However, it’s worth noting that the note you play on your keyboard won’t necessarily relate to the note that Simpler plays. This is because Simpler automatically selects C3 as the root note, even if your sample isn’t a C. Luckily this is easily fixed.


By opening the ‘Controls’ tab in the top right of Simpler you can fine tune the pitch of your sample. Here, below the pitch envelope, you will find the ‘Transp’ (transpose)  and ‘Detune’ parameters. By adjusting these you can make sure your sample matches the keys you play.

Top tip: if you load Ableton’s Tuner after Simpler in the effects rack you can tune Simpler just like a guitar!


In the ‘Sample’ tab, beneath your waveform, you’ll find basic filter, LFO and amp ADSR controls. 

The filter controls allow you to adjust the filter type, the rolloff and resonance. Additionally you can select one of several filters modelled on classic analogue hardware. These also give you the option to add drive to your sound.

To access the full power of the LFO you’ll have to open the ‘Controls’ tab, we’ll cover that in more depth later. From the ‘Sample’ tab you can alter the LFO shape, rate and whether it syncs to the tempo of the project or not.

The amp envelopes are standard with a knob for Attack, Decay, Sustain and Release and a Volume parameter to adjust the gain of your sample.


Simpler is unique in that it allows you to choose between three different sampling modes. You can change which mode you’re using via the options to the left of the waveform. We’ll cover each sampling mode here, starting with Classic


When a sample is dropped into SImpler it will automatically load in Classic mode. Classic mode allows you to construct a polyphonic sampler instrument and is the only mode which allows you to loop samples. 

Looping samples is great for creating pads and synth leads as it allows notes to play indefinitely. To create a loop with Simpler you must first activate the ‘LOOP’ button. Now you can adjust the various loop parameters. ‘Start’ adjusts where the sample is triggered from when you first play it, it does the same job as cropping the sample; ‘Loop’ sets where the loop will play from each time the sample loops; ‘Length’ determines at what point in the sample Simpler will loop back to the point determined by the ‘Loop’ parameter; ‘Fade’ will apply a crossfade to the looped sample, smoothing the sound. 

In our example we’ve created a smooth organ type sound by looping the tail of our sample with a long fade.

You can set the number of voices of your Simpler instrument via the drop down menu and enabling the ‘Retrig’ button means that the amp envelope will retrigger every time a note is played.

As with every other sample mode you can select a warp mode too. We’ll cover this in more depth in the Warp Mode section.


1-shot mode is a basic monophonic mode which is ideal for drum sampling or basslines. There’s no looping functionality here so it’s not ideal for pads or leads.

The only controls you get are ‘TRIGGER’ and ‘GATE’ mode. These effects what happens to the sample when you release your keyboard key. When ’TRIGGER’ mode is on the sample will play all the way through as soon as a MIDI note is played, even if the note is released, until another note is played. ‘GATE’ mode will only play the sample whilst a MIDI note is being played.


Slice mode is excellent for creating UKG vocal chops or slicing up breakbeats. It analyses your sample and slices it up into mini samples, assigning each one to a different MIDI note. We’ve loaded a beat loop called ‘EMP_135_Acousta_Drums_Full_1’

Like in 1-shot mode you can choose between ‘TRIGGER’ and ‘GATE’ mode. You also have the ability to select how the sample is sliced via the ‘Sliced By’ dropdown menu. 

‘Transient’ mode will analyse the sample and slice it at each transient, you can adjust the sensitivity to change how small a transient has to be to be a slice point. ‘Beat’ mode slices the sample at each beat division, you can change the division value from the ‘Division’ drop down menu. ‘Region’ divides the samples into an equal number of regions, again the number of regions can be changed via the ‘Regions’ menu. Finally ‘Manual’ mode lets you place your own slice points.


Ableton’s Warp modes are one of its strongest assets and Simpler comes with them built into its UI. Warp mode stretches samples so that they fit the tempo of a track no matter their original speed. This is great for sampling because it means that pitching samples up won’t make them really short or vice versa when pitching samples down. 

There are several different warp modes.

Beats works best for drums or other audio clips that have strong transients. It slices the sample up and then repeats each slice depending on the ‘Mode’ and ‘Env’ settings you choose. Under the preserve menu you can choose how Warp mode determines where the beats fall. 

Tones mode works best for samples with clear pitch structure like vocals. The ‘Grain Size’ allows you rough control over the average grain size used.

Texture is great for creative sound manipulation as well as working with polyphonic sound sources. You can use the ‘Flux’ setting to add randomness to the Warping process.

Re-pitch causes simpler to act like a traditional sampler, simply speeding up or slowing down the clip to pitch it up or down.

Complex and Complex Pro mode combine elements of all the other warp modes and as such are great for entire tracks which combine, beats, melodies and polyphony. However, they both require a lot more CPU than the other modes. It's worth freezing tracks that use it.

The formant setting in Complex Pro mode determines how well formants are preserved when transposing. This allows you to maintain the tonal quality of a sound even when massively repitched. The envelope setting can be left alone for most samples but can be adjusted for taste.


You can get a lot of control over Simpler’s filter under the ’Controls’ tab. Here you get a graphical representation of the filter and control over a few more settings. 

You can keytrack the filter with the ‘Key’ parameter so the cutoff frequency adjusts with the pitch of the notes you play. Additionally the ‘Vel’ setting causes the cutoff to vary with the velocity of the notes played.

You can also adjust the filter envelope which controls the cutoff once the notes have been pressed. This works just like a normal ADSR envelope with the ‘Amount’ determining how much the envelope effects the cutoff by.


You can assign the LFO’s modulation destinations in the Controls tab too by setting the percentage of the ‘Vol’, ‘Pitch’, ‘Pan’ and ‘Filter’ parameters. Additionally you can set the Offset, Attack and Keytracking of the LFO as well as toggling Retrigger off and on.   


The amp envelope also has a visual representation under the Controls tab with a few extra controls above it. Most importantly you can set the trigger mode, determining whether the envelope repeats or not.

There’s also a pitch envelope which allows the pitch of the sample to change over time depending on the ADSR and the ‘Amount’ you set.


Here you’ll also find the more basic global controls such as Pan, Spread, Transpose, Detune and Glide.



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