Creating MIDI from Audio in Ableton Live: A Comprehensive Guide

Apr 26, 2023

Ableton Live provides four conversion commands to transform audio into MIDI:

  1. Slice to New MIDI Track
  2. Convert Harmony to New MIDI Track
  3. Convert Melody to New MIDI Track
  4. Convert Drums to New MIDI Track

To achieve the best results, use clear attacks, isolated instruments, and uncompressed, high-quality audio files.

Slice to New MIDI Track

The "Slice to New MIDI Track" command allows you to divide an audio clip into chunks and assign them to individual MIDI notes. This is particularly useful for transforming rhythmic or percussive audio material into a MIDI track that can be manipulated with ease.

To choose slicing divisions and a slicing preset:

  1. Right-click (Win) / CTRL-click (Mac) on the audio clip and select "Slice to New MIDI Track."
  2. In the dialog box, use the top chooser to select a slicing division. You can choose from various beat resolutions or opt for slicing based on the clip's transients or Warp Markers.
  3. Select a desired slicing preset from the Slicing Preset chooser.

Remember that a Drum Rack can contain a maximum of 128 chains, so if your choice would result in more than 128 slices, you need to adjust the slice resolution or select a smaller region of the clip to slice.

Convert Harmony to New MIDI Track

The "Convert Harmony to New MIDI Track" command identifies pitches in a polyphonic audio recording and places them into a clip on a new MIDI track. This is useful for extracting chords and harmonic structures from audio recordings.

For a step-by-step example:

  1. Import an audio clip into Live, right-click/control-click on the clip, and choose Convert Harmony to New MIDI Track.
  2. Click the MIDI clip to use the MIDI Editor. Set the Scale Settings in Clip View to check that all converted MIDI notes are in the desired scale.
  3. Use MIDI effects such as Scale or Arpeggiator for further creative processing.
  4. Replace the default instrument with a different instrument or design your own sound.

Convert Melody to New MIDI Track

The "Convert Melody to New MIDI Track" command is designed for monophonic audio, identifying pitches and creating corresponding MIDI notes on a new track.

To convert melody to a new MIDI track:

  1. Import the monophonic audio file into Ableton Live.
  2. Right-click on the audio clip to open the context menu.
  3. Select the "Convert Melody to New MIDI Track" option.

The new MIDI track comes preloaded with an Instrument Rack that plays a synthesizer sound, which can be adjusted or replaced with another instrument.

Convert Drums to New MIDI Track

The "Convert Drums to New MIDI Track" command is tailored for percussive audio, detecting drum hits and creating a new MIDI track containing the corresponding MIDI notes.

To convert drums to a new MIDI track:

  1. Create an audio track and import the drum sample file.
  2. Right-click on the audio waveform within the track and select "Convert Drums to New MIDI Track." Ableton will generate a MIDI version of your drum sample on a new track.
  3. Select the new MIDI track to begin editing. If the MIDI note editor doesn't appear at the bottom of the screen, press Shift + Tab to open the window. You can now move, add, and delete individual notes, apply effects, swap out sounds and samples, and more to create your own MIDI beats.

Remember that the Convert Drums command works best with unaccompanied drum breaks, and using high-quality audio files such as .wav or .aiff will yield better results. You can also optimize the conversion by adjusting transient markers in the audio clip before running the conversion command.

Final Thoughts

Ableton Live's audio-to-MIDI conversion capabilities offer musicians and producers a powerful tool for transforming and repurposing audio material. By understanding and mastering the four conversion commands—Slice to New MIDI Track, Convert Harmony to New MIDI Track, Convert Melody to New MIDI Track, and Convert Drums to New MIDI Track—you can unlock new creative possibilities and streamline your workflow.

Remember, these conversion features are not available in the Intro and Lite Editions of Ableton Live. Make sure you have the appropriate version of the software before attempting these techniques.

With practice and experimentation, you'll be able to harness the full potential of Ableton Live's audio-to-MIDI conversion tools, creating unique and inspiring music in the process. Happy music making!