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How To Open Piano Roll In Ableton (Full Guide)

How to open a piano roll In Ableton Live?

Want to know how to open piano roll in Ableton? There are two ways. In the Arrangement View, double-click on a MIDI clip located at the top of the MIDI Channel. On Session View, double-click on an empty MIDI clip slot or an existing one. This will open a piano roll on Ableton even if you are not using a MIDI keyboard. 

Since its release, Ableton Live has earned quite the name for itself for not just being a live performance tool but an excellent Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) to use for recording music as well. 

The piano roll is one of the crucial elements to master. Although it may look complicated at first, spending a little time understanding it will make your workflow very smooth. 

Read on to find out about the Ableton piano roll and how to use it like a pro:

What Is A Piano Roll?

What Is A Piano Roll

Any melody that you play or draw corresponds to MIDI notes that are arranged on a piano roll. 

A ‘piano roll’ stores and plays back data. 

The piano roll gives you information on not just synths but also guitars and basses, as long as they have a MIDI output.

Setting Up A Piano Roll In Ableton

The session and arrangement view is one of the features that make Ableton Live unique and gives it an edge over other DAWs such as Logic, ProTools, FL Studio, or Cubase. 

Switch between Ableton's Arrangement and session View
Switch between Ableton’s Arrangement and session View

You can access your piano roll in both these views. 

While one is excellent for triggering clips live, the other will enable you to record different layers.

On the ‘session’ view, you have to select or add a new MIDI channel and assign a corresponding instrument to it. 

You can then create a clip. 

This opens up the piano roll on the bottom, below the browser and the title track bar.

You can manually select the number of bars on the arrangement view and then create a MIDI clip for the channel. This will also open your piano roll, which will appear at the bottom.

Adding Notes To The Piano Roll In Ableton

Once you have set up the piano roll, the next step is to add information to it. 

Adding Notes To The Piano Roll

If you record a melody or groove using a MIDI controller (1), then these notes will reflect on the roll when you play them. 

After recording your piece, you can check the piano roll and then edit them as needed.

If you do not have a MIDI controller, you can also ‘draw’ the notes on the role using the ‘pencil’ (2) shaped icon on the top right of your screen, which stands for ‘Draw Mode.’ 

It is important to remember that if you choose a drum kit instead of a melody instrument, the piano roll will show you the kit’s elements such as ‘kick,’ ‘snare,’ etc., instead of musical notes. 

The functionality remains the same. 

Editing Notes In Piano Roll

After you have recorded or drawn notes onto the roll, the next step is quantizing your music and making adjustments.

If you want to change, for example, a ‘D’ note or chord to a ‘C,’ then you select it and drag it down by two semitones. If you want to transpose an octave higher or lower, use the same process and place it in the correct position by checking the Y-axis. 

You can use your mouse or your keyboard, depending on whatever you are more comfortable with. 

When we record music, it is often not perfectly in time and needs to be adjusted. 

To make changes to the length of the note or its start or endpoint, select and drag it while referring to the Y-axis

The good thing about technology is that you can select multiple notes and edit them simultaneously instead of painstakingly adjusting every single note!

For drums, similarly, you can swap elements using the X-axis and time-correct using the Y-axis.

Adjusting Velocity In Piano Roll

Velocity’ refers to the loudness or softness a note or chord is played. If you want your music to sound organic even though you have drawn the notes on the piano roll, then it is essential to adjust the velocity. 

You can also edit your note velocities in case your recording take is not perfect.

Below the keys on the piano roll, you will find a section that says ‘velocity.’ This is often minimized or hidden, in which case you will have to expand it by pulling it up. 

Adjusting Velocity In Piano Roll

The velocity appears as a graph. On the left, there are numbers that range from 1 to 127Here 1 is the softest, and 127 is the loudest

This is called the ‘Expression Editor Lane.’ 

You can adjust the volume by selecting your notes and dragging them up or down as needed. 

Fine-tuning Your Music

Apart from making adjustments to the length and velocity of the notes, the piano roll in Ableton Live also has some interesting features such as doubling or slowing down the tempo of the notes, changing the time signaturereversing, or inverting them, and setting your clip as a loop. 

Fine tuning Your Music

You can also automate your clips on the piano roll. 

Closing The Piano Roll

Now that you have recorded and edited your music on the piano roll, you will probably want to adjust the instrument sound. 

To exit your piano roll, you can simply click on the ‘Device,’ which can be found at the bottom, extreme right on the Ableton window

Closing The Piano Roll 1

This will open up the instrument. 

If you want to open up the piano roll again, you can find it to the left of ‘Device’ at the bottom of your screen.

Related Questions

Does Ableton have a piano roll?

Yes. It’s at the bottom of your screen. A piano roll is an essential part of every DAW and is used to write record, and edit music. The piano roll represents all the musical notes and the time signature they are played in. Additionally, they also give you information about the instrument itself and the different octaves and bars. 

How do you cut a MIDI note?

You can select a note and drag it using either your computer keyboard or your mouse to change it.
Windows users need to use the keys’ Ctrl+X‘; for MAC users, it is ‘Command+X.’

How do you add a new track in Ableton?

To add a new track, go to ‘Create‘ on the top header of Ableton and ‘Insert Audio/MIDI/Return Track.’ You can choose between audio or MIDI. An audio track refers to information stored either in WAV or AIFF format. A MIDI track stores the MIDI information of the track. 

How do you click on a note in Ableton?

Use your computer keyboard or mouse to select a note. Click on it. This will open it up on the piano roll.

What is a drum rack in Ableton?

A drum rack is a virtual drum kit. Like a drum kit, a drum rack or pad will have the different elements of the kit such as bass drum, tom, snare, hi-hat, cymbals, and even percussion elements such as a clap or cowbell. 

What is a pencil tool?

The pencil tool lets you draw MIDI notes on a MIDI channel. It is represented by a pencil icon found on the upper-right side of your computer screen. The pencil tool can also be used to write automation and map the velocity of the notes. 

What is a MIDI instrument?

A MIDI instrument sends and receives MIDI information from a controller such as a MIDI keyboard to your computer’s CPU. You can use VSTs or default instruments of your DAW to assign a sound to them.

Can you convert MIDI on Ableton?

You can convert MIDI to an audio track if you have assigned an instrument to the MIDI track. You can choose to export the audio in WAVAIFF, or even MP3 format. This is applicable for drum racks as well. 

What is a note editor?

A note editor lets you make changes to your notes. You can use it to make changes to your chord progression or drum pattern, quantize your notes and change their velocity.

How do you copy and paste a note in Ableton?

Windows users can use ‘Ctrl+C‘ and ‘Ctrl+V‘ to copy and paste notes.
Mac users can use ‘Command+C‘ and ‘Command+V‘ to do the same. You can also use your mouse, manually select the note that needs to be copied, and paste it using the drop-down menu that appears using a right-click.