Quantizing MIDI and using Grooves in Ableton Live

Evening all. Today we’ll look at MIDI quantization in Ableton Live. If you’re unfamiliar, quantization is the method used to remove or reduce the rhythmic errors from your MIDI clips (or any MIDI notes). If you record anything into Ableton using a MIDI keyboard or other controller, there will always be a certain amount of rhythmic imprecision (unless you’re Mr Data, but even he strived for that human touch….anyway). Quantizing the notes you played in will snap them to a predefined grid based on a number of beats or fraction of a beat or meter value. It basically tightens up your playing, winner!

Here’s a before and after screenshots of a badly played in set of notes which are then quantized using a grid size of 1/16 notes. Keyboard Short cut: Ctrl-U

Before

After

As you can see the notes were snapped to the nearest 1/16 beat division. Notice the note highlighted, this note was actually intended to be played a 1/16 note later, but it was played so badly its ended up in this position. Remember that Ableton doesn’t know what you intended to play, quantizing isn’t perfect and it won’t work miracles.

Changing the Grid

To set the grid value to different values, right click and select Quantize settings to get to the menu (Ctrl-shift-U). The setting you want to use is the value of the shortest beat interval between the notes you played. For example, if you have a set of notes and 2 of them are separated by 1/32 beat, the you should quantize the notes to the 1/32 value. If most other notes are 1/16ths, then quantize the 1/32 note individually to the rest.

TIP: Quantize using the note end setting to get your notes to end on your chosen beat division.

Keeping it real

There are circumstances where you may not want such rigid adherence to a grid. You may want to retain some imprecision to keep a human feel, whilst still wanting to tighten it up generally. In that case you can select a % amount to quantize.

Setting the amount to 50% will mean the notes are moved half way between the original place you played them in and the selected grid division.

Using Grooves

All of the above will produce a result that is based around a fairly rigid and inhuman grid. What you may want is something with a little more “groove”. The Groove is the rhythmic feel of a performance like having “swing”, and its something that can be easily lost when you quantize MIDI.

Ableton allows you to apply different Grooves, or rhythmic feels to your own MIDI clips. It’s a simple process but one that isn’t too obvious. Here is the very quick step guide:

Quick Steps:

  1. Open the Groove Pool (click the little waves button). This is where the Grooves you want to use for this track are placed. They will be available to all clips (including Audio)
  2. Locate the Ableton Library in the file explorer
  3. Drag a groove from the Groove folder to the Groove pool. This is a set of files containing the differect Grooves you can apply.
  4. In the MIDI clip, select the Groove you’d like to apply
  5. Click Commit
  6. Your MIDI now has this Groove applied to it, hit play to hear the result.

Ok, so what just happened? You can see what’s going on if you drag a groove file onto a track and look at the detail view.

Here you can see that the Groove is actually just another MIDI file with a set of notes programmed in. It’s these notes that are used to “quantize” your MIDI clip. Instead of a rigid grid, Ableton uses this more natural meter to snap your note to. Notice also that there is velocity information here too, this is also applied to create a more natural groove. This is how you can achieve that “swing” to your tracks in Ableton. Have a look through the grooves folder and play around committing them to your MIDI tracks. You’ll be surprised how much you can get out of this, and how much it can add to the feel of your song.


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