Is Ableton Good For Composing? (Explained for Beginners)

If you’re looking to get into composing your music on a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation), it can be a daunting experience. With so many wonderful and unique music software options available, it can be overwhelming trying to make sense of what might work best for you.

In this article, we’ll dive into Ableton Live’s composing capabilities, and whether it’s the DAW that you’re looking for in your music production journey.

Here’s What you Need to Know about Ableton Live for Composing:

Ableton Live is a highly popular DAW for producing and composing music. Although favored among electronic and hip-hop producers due to its loop-based composition, Ableton performs outstandingly in recording, mixing, mastering, and more traditional electronic composition.

Macbook open with black headphones resting on keyboard

Where Do I Start?

Ableton is an impressive and versatile DAW that is good for so much, from recording to mastering.

But, you’re looking to get started using Ableton Live as a composition tool, but it’s all just so overwhelming. Don’t fear, you’re in the right place.

Here’s where to start:

A Decent Computer

If you’re looking to produce and compose music quickly and efficiently on Ableton Live, you’ll need to be working on a competent computer.

Ableton defines the minimum requirements for running Live 11 as follows:

Windows

  • Windows 10 (Build 1909 and later), Windows 11
  • IntelCore i5 processor or an AMD multi-core processor
  • 8 GB RAM
  • 1366×768 display resolution
  • ASIO-compatible audio hardware

Mac

  • macOS High Sierra 10.13 to Ventura 13
  • IntelCore i5 processor
  • Apple silicon
  • 8 GB RAM
  • 1280×800 display resolution
  • Core Audio compliant audio interface recommended

If you’re working on an older laptop or computer, you’ll be able to run a comparatively older version of Ableton Live.

However, it’s recommended that you upgrade as soon as possible, as many plugins and features don’t work when the software is outdated.

Headphones/Studio Monitors

When composing and arranging on Ableton Live, it’s crucial that you’re able to hear your audio crisply and clearly.

Studio monitors are the best way to get an accurate representation of your audio, as they are designed to give a detailed and balanced output.

  • There are near-field studio monitors available, like the PreSonus Eris E3 or M-Audio BX5-D3, which will provide you with an affordable and high-quality option for your home or studio needs.

Due to studio monitors being quite expensive and taking up space if you’re working from home, an alternative option would be using high-quality studio headphones.

  • Studio headphones come in all shapes and sizes, some closed, semi or open-backed, all providing a different user experience when listening to your audio.
  • Some affordable but powerful options for your first studio headphones could be the Beyerdynamic DT 240 Pro or the Sennheiser HD 280 Pro. These both offer wonderful detail and balance, allowing you to hear your music accurately and clearly.

Audio-Interface

An audio interface is a powerful tool when setting up a studio space. Everything communicates via the interface, from the computer to the interface to the studio monitors.

An interface is also brilliant at recording audio or instruments into your DAW. Vocals and guitars or even orchestral instruments like strings or horns can be recorded through an interface and imprinted onto your DAW tracks.

Some brilliant options for your first Audio-Interface could be the Behringer U-Phoria UMC202HD which packs an incredible punch for such an affordable product, or the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2, a similarly powerful option.

Please take a look at our article about common reasons Focusrite Scarlett has no sound with Ableton Live.

MIDI Keyboard

A MIDI keyboard is also a very helpful tool when looking to compose and arrange on Ableton Live.

Any software instrument of your choosing can be played and manipulated through your MIDI keyboard, which creates a world of possibilities when producing, writing, composing, and arranging.

This is especially helpful for composing, as you can create entire palettes of sound, such as orchestral string or horn sections or even percussion sections. This can all be created by playing your MIDI keyboard into your chosen software instruments on Ableton Live.

MIDI keyboards range from very basic, affordable options to far more complex and powerful, and it’s completely yo to you and your needs what type would work for you.

  • Good options for your first MIDI controller would be the M-Audio Keystation 49 MK3, an affordable but simple keyboard, or the Arturia Keylab Essential 49, a higher quality but slightly more expensive option.

Bear in mind, that all technological devices may glitch from time to time. Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered – check out our article with easy solutions for a MIDI Keyboard that suddenly stops working.

Microphone

Although not completely necessary for all recording and composition, a good studio microphone for all your vocal and instrument recordings will be very beneficial.

Studio microphones also range from affordable to unbelievably expensive, so it’s best to do your research when looking for the right option for you.

  • The Audio-Technica AT2020 is a very affordable and competent option for your first studio microphone, and the Rode NT1 will provide industry-standard quality.

When starting out with composing on Ableton Live, it’s essential to figure out what goals you’re looking to achieve, and what tools you can attain to best assist those goals.

For instance, if you’re just looking to try out some ideas and compositions for fun, it wouldn’t be recommended to spend all your money on the highest level of equipment, but rather grow your collection of gear as and when it’s needed.

What Version Of Ableton Should I Use?

Ableton offers three different editions of Live: Intro, Standard, and Suite.

Whereas Ableton Live Intro will do a decent job and recording and basic production, it falls short in composition and arrangement as it lacks all the additional features like instruments, effects, and packs.

This is where Ableton Live Standard comes in. With far more fire-power in its key features like software instruments and sounds, Ableton Live Standard offers a much more full-bodied option for your music composition, at an intermediate price.

But the real power and beauty of Ableton Live lies in its Suite option, as it’s stacked with added features and tools, a much bigger library size, as well as far more audio and MIDI effects.

Of course, all these features come at an added cost, as Ableton Live Suite is significantly more expensive than its two counterparts.

In the realm of composition, however, big libraries of sound are required, especially in orchestral music. This is why Ableton Live Suite would be considered the only real option if you’re serious about your composition work.

Ableton Live also regularly updates and upgrades its software to stay ahead of innovation and ideas within the world of music software.

Ableton Live 11 is the latest offering from Ableton and comes highly recommended as it includes improved comping and linked-track editing. This was previously not included in Ableton Live 10, and both are very useful features for editing and composing.

Ableton Live 11 also boasts new technology in MIDI Polyphonic Expression (MPE), allowing for individual note expression for bends, slides, and pressure within a chord. You can edit pitch, timbre, and pressure variations for individual notes in a new tab called Clip Detail View.

This is incredibly helpful for composition as well. Such detailed and accurate sound adjustments mimic the human aspect of performance, allowing digital audio to have a rich and real feeling.

It is very important to note that Ableton does not have an in-built autosave feature. Always save your project files regularly!

Does Ableton Have Music Notation?

Music notation is a key ingredient in the creation and composition of music, especially in the realm of orchestral and classical music.

Ableton Live, unfortunately, does not offer native music notation functionality but don’t worry, there’s a quick and easy fix.

Using a third-party program like MaxScore 2 allows for quick and convenient music notation in Max and Ableton Live, with support for arrangement clips as well as MIDI Polyphonic Expression.

MaxScore 2 allows for more flexibility than a traditional program like Sibelius, adding increased workflow and notation styles.

Can I Import Sheet Music to Ableton?

Classical musicians and composers, the world over use sheet music or scores to notate and transcribe music.

But is it possible to import that sheet music into a DAW like Ableton live?

Unfortunately, it’s impossible to import sheet music into Ableton Live without using a third-party plugin. The good news is that is possible, just perhaps a bit cumbersome.

Using third-party programs like MuseScore or Finale, which are built for handling sheet music and notation, you can export MIDI information into the selected software instruments on Ableton Live, bringing your sheet music to life.

Can I Export Sheet Music On Ableton?

Unfortunately, Ableton Live does not support being able to export sheet music either.

In a similar fashion to importing sheet music into a DAW, one can export MIDI clips to MIDI files from Ableton Live, and then import these MIDI files into a dedicated sheet music and notation program like Sibelius or MuseScore.

Although Ableton Live excels in many spheres when it comes to notation and sheet music, it lacks the support and functionality that a composer would need to use it as an everyday tool.

Does Ableton Have Good Orchestral Sounds?

Quality orchestral sounds are paramount when composing or arranging in your preferred DAW.

It’s important to investigate all your options as a composer, as the quality of your digital instruments can make or break your compositions, sometimes even elevating you to a higher level.

When it comes to native orchestral sounds within Ableton Live, it’s widely accepted that they can definitely provide a foundation for a beginner, but are not considered the industry standard in composition.

There are, however, some attractive qualities in Ableton Live’s orchestral sounds and packs.

First off, Ableton orchestral packs are handy in the sense that they are included in Ableton Live Suite, so no extra costs are incurred. They also provide a broad scope of orchestral instruments, even including less common ones like Alto Sax or Crotales.

Another bonus of Ableton Live orchestral packs is the inclusion of both section and solo recordings. In instruments like Violins, Cellos, Violas, and Double Bass, one can select an entire selection to play or just the solo individual instrument.

These samples are also CPU friendly as they are native to Ableton Live, meaning you can work quickly and effectively without being worried about overworking your computer.

Where Ableton Live’s orchestral packs fall short are in the nuances of orchestral sounds, the kind of intricacies that are hard to replicate without human input.

This is where dedicated big orchestral sample libraries like Spitfire, OrchestralTools, EastWest, CineSamples, and Cinematic Studio outshine the native Ableton Live sounds.

These types of sample libraries spend all their efforts recreating the feeling and spirit of real human musicianship, which will always put them a cut above native sample library packs.

Sources

Ableton Live Different Editions

Ableton Live System requirements