Why is Ableton Hard To Learn? 5 Typical Issues (Explained)

Whether you’re just starting out in your music production journey, or trying to become a professional producer, there can often be a steep learning curve and challenges on the way.

Ableton Live is among the most popular and powerful Digital Audio Workstations (DAWs) in the world and is jam-packed full of features and tools, but can also often be difficult to get a handle on.

In this article, we’ll run through 5  problems that users might face when trying to learn how to use Ableton Live.

Two computers open with midi keyboard on desk

Ableton’s Non-linear Workflow can be Intimidating

Workflow is crucial when learning how to produce music. It allows you into a productive and more creative headspace quicker, entering into a mental flow that allows for faster work and richer quality.

Ableton Live has a unique and individualistic workflow compared to other DAWs, which could make it confusing for new users who are used to the more traditional linear layout for recording and arranging. 

Ableton has the popular “Session View” which is often used for live performances and real-time manipulation of audio and MIDI clips. It’s a standout feature but can also be intimidating for new users.

It’s also important to note that once the workflow of Ableton Live is mastered, it quickly turns into a very rewarding and high-performing DAW. So while it might be tricky to get the hang of initially, it’s also well worth the effort to learn Ableton’s ins and outs.

The best way to get used to a DAW’s workflow is to practice, and that means a lot of trial and error. While there are a bunch of tutorials online which can help inform and guide you, getting stuck into the nitty-gritty of the software will be the best way for you to learn.

The “Session View” on Ableton provides a unique “loop” or “clip” based method of writing and arranging. Its nonlinear approach, while perhaps being unfamiliar, will open up a completely different way of creating music, often allowing for ideas to be opened up quicker.

Ableton Has A Lot Of Features To Get Used To

While, of course, a vast array of features and capabilities is something that’s both exciting and desirable, it can also be overwhelming for new users.

Ableton Live offers countless plugins, effects, and virtual instruments, and mastering them all can be scary and time-consuming.

There are a lot of complex routing options, MIDI and audio mapping, and things like custom automation which can be difficult to understand, especially for users who have limited experience with music production and DAWs.

This can also be a great thing, as once you’ve dug in and spent the time to learn Ableton Live, all these features and tools make it such a powerful and versatile DAW.

Ableton Plugins

Ableton stock plugins and effects are known to be of very high quality and standard, meaning you’re able to write and produce without the need for external VST plugins, which can often be expensive and power-hungry, especially for those just starting on their music production journey.


Ableton also has a different way of routing and bussing compared to other DAWs, which isn’t necessarily more difficult, but different.

Routing (or bus routing) refers to sending multiple tracks all into a stereo ‘grouping’, which can then be manipulated or controlled as such.

Like learning any new DAW, once you understand the method, Ableton Live’s routing and busses are quite intuitive and clear and allow for a simple workflow.

Audio Grouping

Ableton Live also has a way of grouping audio which is actually considered to be much more user-friendly than other DAWs. Instead of having to route or bus audio, one can just create a “Group”, where all the tracks included will be able to be processed as a single track.

This is incredibly handy for mixing purposes, where effects can be applied, volume adjusted, as well as other parameters like panning can be applied, all within the group at the same time.

Ableton 11 has also implemented a new feature where “Groups” can be created in existing groups, allowing for further and different manipulation of a collection of tracks, which are already within another group.

There are a bunch more features within Ableton Live that, while being difficult to get used to, result in a high-output DAW that provides you with a lot of useful tools at your disposal.

Ableton’s website also offers lessons in the “Help” section, and of course, there are many tutorials and lessons on Youtube which can help you learn the platform quickly and painlessly.

Ableton Seems to Have a Complex Interface and Terminology

The interface of Ableton Live is designed to have quick access to a bunch of tools and functions, but it can look overwhelming at first for those who are unfamiliar with the software.

Ableton Live’s interface is divided into different sections, such as:

  • Session View
  • Arrangement View
  • Browser
  • Groove Pool

These all have different functions and features that can take time to master.

Ableton Live has its own unique terminology for certain features and functions, which can be confusing for new users who are not familiar with the software’s lingo. For example;

  • Clips
  • Scenes
  • Tracks
  • MIDI mapping

These can be difficult to understand for those new to DAWs and other music production software.

For those who know different DAWs, a lot of these terms and features are known to be unique to Ableton and will be unfamiliar to any users who have experience with alternative DAWs like FL Studio or Logic.

Every DAW has its pros and cons when it comes to layout, and Ableton is no different. Once you’re familiar with the look and feel, Ableton Live actually becomes really intuitive, cutting down your music writing and production time, and allowing for a smooth and sleek experience.

It does, however, provide a very different user experience to its competitors, where the learning curve might be steep, and take a while to get to grips with Ableton’s unique interface.

This comes down to a matter of preference, where every DAW might work for every user. Ableton tends to shine for those looking to create quickly with the “Session View”, as well as users who are looking to incorporate music software into their live performance.

Ableton Can Have Some Difficulty With Integrating MIDI Controllers and Instruments

Anyone who has used MIDI controllers knows how finicky they can get, especially when learning how to MIDI map and control.

In this sense, Ableton Live provides a wide range of options for MIDI mapping and control, but the process can be complex, especially for someone who isn’t quite used to DAWs.

Understanding how to route MIDI signals from their hardware controllers and instruments to Ableton Live, as well as how to assign and map different functions and controls to the hardware can be daunting work.

Compatibility issues can also be a real pain, especially when trying to integrate hardware controllers and instruments with Ableton Live. Some hardware may not be fully compatible with Ableton Live, which will cause problems with functionality or difficulty in mapping controls.

This problem isn’t unique to Ableton Live, as MIDI mapping and control are known to be tricky for almost all producers and all of their preferred DAWs. But as technology has grown over the years, these types of compatibility issues have become less and less common.

Mac has made especially significant advancements in terms of compatibility, as hardware is almost always “Plug and Play” on a Mac operating system.

Nonetheless, Ableton has great lessons for MIDI mapping on their website, as well as troubleshooting tips on their forums if you become stuck.

For more, check out our article for troubleshooting tips for a MIDI Keyboard that suddenly stops working.

Ableton’s Piano Roll Can Be Tricky To Learn

Every DAW has something called a “Piano Roll”, which is a feature that allows you to see and edit MIDI notes and information. The piano roll is a mainstay feature of any music producer, especially in the electronic sphere where virtual instruments and software are so widely used.

It’s widely known that Ableton’s piano roll tends to be less user-friendly than a lot of its competitors, especially in DAWs like FL Studio and Cubase, where they tend to shine.

Ableton’s piano roll can come across as clumsy and cluttered, and can often take more getting used to than others. This is especially true if you’re changing from a different platform to Ableton Live, as it has a very different interface and feels.

This will be more annoying for certain people than others, especially those who like to draw in notes in the piano roll to create their music. This is where a DAW like FL Studio shines and allows for a much more intuitive approach.

Ableton Live’s piano roll can still work for you, but it does take some time to get used to, and might mean you need to forego some shortcuts and tools that other DAWs do offer.

Final Thoughts

Every DAW has pros and cons and certain features or processes that make them more difficult to learn than others. It comes down to a matter of preference, and also down to putting the time in to learn and master your craft.

Ableton Live is worth getting used to because of its unique workflow and boundless features, which are predominantly designed for live performance and real-time music production.

Features like the “Session View” and its clip-based workflow are completely unique to Ableton Live and will take getting used to for a beginner or someone who isn’t familiar with Live. But in the same breath, they are powerful tools for creating ideas quickly and easily, meaning they’re well worth the time spent learning and practicing.

Other features that might take time to learn like “Groups” or Ableton’s unique routing system are also well worth the investment, as once learned, they offer invaluable depth and prowess to your music production experience.

All in all, Ableton has a steep learning curve, and often times unique user experience. While being difficult to initially navigate and learn, this provides the user with a powerful and profound DAW in the long term, one which is well worth the time spent to learn its intricacies and strengths.


Groups – Ableton New Features