Ableton Live is, undoubtedly, one of the most popular Digital Audio Workstations (DAW) we have today. It is used by some of the most successful music producers, live gigging musicians, and DJs to make music and perform live. But is Ableton Live good for beginners who are yet to learn music production?
Ableton Live may seem intimidating to someone who is used to a different DAW. However, for a complete beginner, it’s one of the easiest DAWs to learn. That’s because Ableton’s intuitive and straight to the point workflow makes it easy to jump right in and start making songs, even as a beginner.
As I mentioned earlier, some of the best music producers and DJs of our time have been using Ableton Live for years with no intention of switching. They are also a lot of unheard of musicians that love working in Ableton.
There are big forums, subreddits, and groups on Facebook dedicated to Ableton, including Ableton’s own forums. And most of its users preach about how simple and clean Ableton is and how easy it is to use. Even complete beginners get excited about how intuitive the DAW is after a few days of learning.
On the other side of the discussions are other musicians who complain about how difficult Ableton Live is. Most of these people find Ableton’s interface very confusing and hard to understand.
However, research has shown that people who find Ableton Live difficult to use are already familiar with a different DAW and are mostly used to working in that. But Ableton Live is not like other DAWs, so they find it relatively hard adjusting to Ableton’s unique workflow.
Let me talk about my experience with learning Ableton Live. I started producing music in FL studio, just like a lot of people. And then, after some months, I purchased the Novation Impulse MIDI controller (on Amazon).
After reading and watching so many reviews on this MIDI keyboard, one thing that was pointed out the most was that it works best with Ableton Live. That was when I decided to force myself to learn Ableton — so that I can make the most out of my MIDI controller.
My Novation Impulse purchase came with a free license for Ableton Live Lite. So, I downloaded and installed it.
The interface of Ableton Live seemed quite daunting the first time I opened the program. It was nothing like FL studio, a DAW that I’ve been working in for some months. I knew I had to be determined to learn this software without concluding it is confusing and hard to use.
I went on YouTube and binge-watched any beginner Ableton Live tutorial I could find. It took me two days to understand how Ableton works. And in a week, I knew my way inside the software. I started and completed three beats inside Ableton, all made with stock plugins and audio effects, but third-party drum samples.
I was nowhere near an expert level because this software is capable of so much more. However, I knew enough to make a full track. That was when I realized how easy it is to use Ableton. And I enjoy Ableton Live’s workflow way more than FL studio. In fact, for so many years, I haven’t worked in FL studio.
For a complete beginner who doesn’t know how to produce music, it may take you a few weeks to make finished songs inside Ableton. But it won’t be because the DAW is complicated, but because you don’t have the skill of composing just yet.
Reasons Why Ableton Live is Good for Beginners
What makes Ableton Live an excellent DAW for a beginner? We’ll look at some features that make Ableton a good fit for people who are just starting out with music production. I won’t talk about these features in detail because that’s not the point of this article. We’ll just look at how it benefits the beginner music producer.
Here are some reasons why Ableton Live is a beginner-friendly DAW.
1. “Straight to the point” workflow
The workflow in a DAW is an essential factor to consider as a beginner. That’s because, as music producers, we are creatives. And you don’t want the workflow of a DAW to hinder your creative process.
You want to be able to access the tools you need fast when a music idea comes, and Ableton’s layout makes that possible.
Ableton is designed with the beginner in mind. Why do I say this?
The interface is laid out in a way that you see everything you need to make music right on the screen. You don’t have to go through multiple pages and steps to find samples, plugins, and audio effects. Whatever you are looking for is two or three clicks away.
Ableton also made excellent use of the “drag and drop” function in computers. For instance, if you want to load an instrument or a sample, all you have to do is to drag and drop it in the main working area and start recording. To add an audio effect to an instrument or sample, simply drag the effect and drop it on the instrument or sample. It’s as simple as that.
Another advantage that Ableton Live has over other DAWs is, there are multiple ways to do one thing. And it’s one of the reasons why I love this software. But why is this important?
This is vital because after using this software for a while, you develop a personal style and workflow for producing music.
2. No dedicated mixer
Ableton Live not having a dedicated mixer is a disadvantage to many expert recording and mixing engineers, and I totally understand. Ableton not having a dedicated mixer makes it difficult to mix a lot of tracks fast.
However, it is also one of the reasons why Ableton is such an excellent DAW for creating music, especially for beginners.
For many DAWs, when you want to add audio effects to a plugin or sample, you’ll have to route it through a channel on the Mixer and then add the effects to that channel on the Mixer. Audio Mixer Routing can be very confusing, especially for a beginner. It took me a while to understand that in FL studio.
With Ableton, every plugin or sample loaded is automatically a channel. If you want to add an audio effect to a plugin or sample, simply drag and drop the effect on the plugin or sample, and that’s it.
This is not only great for beginners, who don’t know anything about audio mixer routing, but for professionals who want to get their ideas out fast.
3. MIDI and Key Mapping
Ableton makes it very easy to map any DAW parameter to a MIDI controller or a key on your computer. This means you can create your own shortcuts to important buttons and knobs that you want to instantly access at any time.
Although this feature is available in some DAWs, it’s not as intuitive as it is in Ableton. Most of the time, you’ll have to deep dive into the Menu before you can assign a Key on your computer to a button in a different DAW. But Ableton makes this process effortless.
How to Learn Ableton Live Fast as a Beginner
Here are my tips on how to speed up the time it will normally take you to learn Ableton Live.
1. Start with Ableton Live Intro
There are three editions of Ableton Live — Ableton Live Intro, Ableton Live Standard, and Ableton Live Suite.
Ableton Suite is the most expensive and comes with all the features, instruments, audio effects, and samples Ableton has to offer. Ableton Live Intro is the cheapest option available. It comes with some limitations but still has the core functionality of Ableton Live.
I recommend Ableton Live Intro for beginners because it is the most affordable version. It allows you to try out the program for a couple of months to decide if it’s the right DAW for you. You can then upgrade to the Standard or Suite once you have mastered it.
Also, for a beginner, having many features, instruments, and effects can be overwhelming. Ableton Live Intro gives you the essential features you need to get started immediately. Once you feel the need for the extra features, then you upgrade. You can check Ableton Live’s current pricing here.
2. Find a Beginner Course on Ableton Live
One of the best ways to learn new software is to find and learn a beginner course on that software, and Ableton Live is no exception. Fortunately, there are a lot of resources online that will help you get started with Ableton.
On the official Ableton website, you will find snippets of videos explaining various parts of the DAW, from how to set everything up to the different workflows inside Ableton. It covers every essential thing you need to know to make music inside Ableton. And it’s for free. You can check it out here.
If you aspire to be an electronic music producer, a course I’ll recommend is Noiselab’s Electronic Music Production Course. This is a three-part series course that teaches complete beginners how to produce electronic music in Ableton.
Part one of this course walks you through the basics of Ableton Live and everything you need to know to produce songs in this DAW.
Part two of the course will take you through EDM composition techniques and basic music theory. This is where you will learn how to program drums, writing melodies, chord progressions, quantization, the arpeggiator, and other fun and interesting stuff.
Part three will teach you how to mix your songs using Ableton’s stock plugins such as EQ, compression, reverb, and delay, and other creative effects. This part is also where you will learn how to sample like a Pro. By the end of Part 3, you are well on your way to becoming an excellent music producer.
There are also a ton of other music production and live performance courses on Noiselab’s platform that you get access to for being a member. Most of the instructors are Ableton Certified Trainers, meaning Ableton has endorsed them as some of the best instructors in the world.
Keep in mind that all of these lessons are made with the beginner in mind, so they are very easy to follow along and learn quickly. Feel free to check them out.
3. Get a MIDI Controller made for Ableton
MIDI controllers are hardware devices used to send musical notes and MIDI data to a computer or hardware synthesizer. Technically you don’t need a MIDI controller to produce music because you can program all the notes into the software with the mouse and keyboard.
However, for a beginner, I wouldn’t recommend you go with that route because it’s simply uninspiring to make music that way, in my opinion. Also, playing the notes into the software with a MIDI controller speeds up the process and makes music production more fun and enjoyable.
There are many MIDI controllers available today, and for a newbie, I recommend you pick a controller that integrates very well with Ableton Live and fits your budget and needs.
An Ableton compatible MIDI controller will automatically map to important parameters such as Volume Faders, Pan, Drum Rack, and more so that you don’t have to do it manually. An excellent MIDI controller that works with Ableton will save you a lot of time and hassle when you are starting out.
Feel free to check out my recommended MIDI controllers for Ableton Live. You will definitely find something that works for your needs and budget.
I hope this guide helps answer your beginner questions on Ableton Live.
In essence, Ableton Live is a DAW that provides a straightforward workflow that beginners will find very easy to learn. If you are on the fences, whether you should learn Ableton or not, why don’t you try it out? Ableton provides a 30-day free trial for anyone interested in trying out the program, and I think you should seize that opportunity.