Ableton Live's Preferences

This was also one of our blog posts, but I saw it fit to also make it a lesson in this tips and tricks course.

We’ll learn how to use Live’s Midi Preferences, and when to choose the right settings!

We’ll cover the following 5 things in this lesson…

  • How to setup a MIDI controller or keyboard to play instruments
  • How to control Ableton Live with knobs on a MIDI controller
  • Additional Custom MIDI Mapping and Track Routing
  • Mapping Controllers in User Mode with Track and Remote
  • Mapping and configuring 3rd party plugins

Watch the video below to get a quick understanding of using Ableton Live’s MIDI Preferences. For a more in-depth look at the 5 things mentioned above, we suggest reading the full lesson.

1. How to setup a MIDI keyboard to play instruments in Ableton Live

Below is a screenshot from the MIDI activity section of Ableton. This view is located in the upper-right corner of Ableton Live’s screen. This is a great quick reference to know if you’re getting a MIDI signal in and out of Ableton.

Let’s go to Live –> Preferences. In our MIDI Preferences tab, you can see I had a Push 2 controller previously connected. I will connect that later in this post (see #3), but first we’ll talk about how to set up a MIDI keyboard to play notes on a track.

If you’re completely new to MIDI mapping, notes are one form of MIDI data, and knobs are another form. Knobs send data to Ableton in what’s called “CC” or control change messages. I’ll connect my MIDI keyboard, which should display Input under MIDI Ports with 3 options: Track, Sync, and Remote. Turning on Track allows us to send notes into Ableton.

Now we need to Arm the track, (red button displayed near bottom) and we can see yellow dots flashing.

Let’s load an Ableton Instrument on the track from the Browser. Now when I hit keys, I hear the piano. This is how to play an Instrument on a track in the most basic way.


2. Control Ableton Live with knobs on a MIDI controller

If you want to control a parameter or knob in Ableton using a hardware knob, you need to enable “Remote” in MIDI Preferences. Let’s set the remote Input to On.

You’ll see a MIDI button (top-right corner) to enter MIDI Map Mode. After everything turns blue, select a knob with your cursor, then move the hardware knob on your controller.

You’ll now see a MIDI CC value assigned to that knob. Select the “MIDI” button again to exit MIDI Map Mode. This is a basic example of using Remote in MIDI Preferences.


3. Additional Custom MIDI Mapping and Track Routing

Ableton has a large number of controllers already pre-mapped for you, which are listed in the Control Surface drop down window. These controllers save time with custom MIDI mapping, and have default settings in Ableton to quickly plug-in and play.

When turning on and connecting your MIDI controller, you should see some new MIDI ports pop up. Let’s say you wanted to use the Push 2 for custom MIDI mapping. I’m going to enable track input on the Push 2.

To custom MIDI Map with the Push controller, you’ll probably want to enter User Mode, but this isn’t always necessary for all controllers. For now, I want to specifically discuss MIDI mapping.

When you press a pad on the Push, you’ll see the Push is sending MIDI signal to this track.

If we wanted to see the pads light up on the Push, we would actually need to turn on track “Input” and “Output” in MIDI Preferences as well.

To see pads on the Push 2 light up, I have to configure this track’s MIDI From and MIDI To as shown below. The last step is to either set the track Monitor to “IN” or arm it.

I will arm the track (red button is displayed), and now I see pads lighting up.


4. Mapping the Push 2 Controller in User Mode with Track and Remote.

If we wanted to MIDI Map a button or a knob from the Push in User Mode to a knob in Ableton, there’s a couple things we need to do. I’ll go to Live –> Preferences and enable Remote on the Input. You’ll want to make sure you select Ableton Push 2 User Port from the Control Surface drop down window in Preferences.

Let’s say I wanted to mute this track On and Off with a Push’s pad in User Mode.

I currently see pads lighting up, but I don’t see this pad lighting up after I MIDI Map it. This is because in order to get that LED feedback information, I need to go to the Push 2 User Port and turn on Remote for the Output.

Now my Push 2 will light up after I do MIDI Mapping.

5. Using 3rd party plug-ins CC values

Turning knobs on a MIDI controller while using 3rd party plugins in Ableton can change values and parameters, even if you didn’t map those values.

This last step can be confusing, but let’s go back to the piano keyboard.

We mentioned the track Input is for inserting notes into Ableton only. That’s not always the truth. Let’s take a third-party plugin, the Arturia Minimoog. I’ll play the notes on my MIDI keyboard.

Like I mentioned earlier, if you want to remotely control a hardware button or knob in Ableton, you need to have remote enabled.

There’s an option in MIDI Map Mode called Configure displayed on the plugin itself. Let’s say I wanted to map the cutoff frequency. Now I should be able to MIDI map the knob. I’ll select that parameter within the plugin, and then turn my hardware controller. Now you’ll see the Cutoff is mapped and displays on the plugin.

You should know that certain 3rd party plugins already have custom midi mapping.

Most plugins will have their own internal MIDI Preferences, displaying that certain parameters are assigned a “CC” value.

Because this plugin is pre-mapped, I won’t have to use Remote in Ableton’s MIDI Preferences, I can simply turn on Track and assign knobs I choose to my controller using Configure, as shown earlier.



In summary, this is what each button in MIDI Preferences does…

  • Track is for note data.
  • Sync is for sending MIDI clock information. You would very rarely use this, unless you are trying to set up a drum machine, or special hardware with Ableton Live.
  • Remote is for remotely controlling Ableton Live, so you can control a software button or knob with a hardware button or knob.