Ableton Note Expression Pitch Bend Not Working? (3 Issues)

Ableton Live is a widely popular Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) that offers a whole bunch of powerful tools and features. One of these features is Ableton’s “Note Expression”.

In this article, we’ll jump into how Note Expression can be used in Ableton and give you some solutions to 3 issues you might be facing.

Ableton Live logo on gray background

Before we get going, this article is about Ableton Note Expression–not to be confused with Ableton’s new app called Ableton Note.

Alright, let’s solve your problems!

Your Instrument Might Not Be Compatible With MPE

MIDI Polyphonic Expression (MPE) is a feature within Ableton that assigns different control parameters to individual notes in a MIDI clip.

This means that MPE-capable devices can control multiple parameters of every note in real-time, making your instrumental performances even more expressive and dynamic.

It’s a great way to take your MIDI productions to the next level!

But are all MIDi instruments compatible with MPE? Let’s find out.

Unfortunately, not all instruments are compatible with MPE.

MPE is far more expressive than traditional MIDI, in that it assigns a separate channel for each individual note or voice an instrument is playing, rather than sending all the data on a single channel.

This means that MIDI instruments and controllers don’t have the same detailed functionality as MPE.

Here are some examples of MPE Instruments:

  • ROLI Seaboard Rise 2 – A world leader in MPE controllers
  • Keith McMillen QuNeo Red – An ultra-compact pad MPE controller
  • Jamstik: Studio MIDI Guitar – A guitar MPE controller with fully built-in MIDI capabilities

MPE opens up exciting new possibilities for live musicians and producers with the development of more expressive controllers and music software. This means that there are now many creative opportunities to explore, allowing you to take your performances to the next level.

MIDI Note Expression is Not Showing

Ableton Live offers some powerful tools when dealing with MIDI, one of them being Note Expression. If you’re having any issues with Note Expression, you’re in the right place. Let’s troubleshoot some common problems.

If you can’t see where to adjust and manipulate your MIDI notes, here’s a simple guide to finding Note Expression in Ableton.

  • First off, navigate to your desired MIDI’s Clip View.
  • In the Clip View window, there are three tabs in the top left corner: Notes/Sample Tab, Envelopes Tab, and Expression Tab.
  • In the Expression Tab, you’ll be able to adjust each MIDI note’s Slide and Pressure accordingly

Another problem that you may be encountering is within the Note Expression Tab is that your Pitch Bends are not showing up in your piano roll. Don’t worry; it’s a simple fix.

  • In Ableton Live, your Pitch Bend lines won’t be displayed if your note fold option is activated.
  • The Note Fold option will hide rows or key tracks that do not contain MIDI information.
  • If toggled on, you won’t be able to manipulate the pitch, so make sure to turn it off when using Note Expression.

Please also read my article about common issues with Ableton Clip Envelope (with solutions!).

Note Expression is Not Changing Your Notes

Note Expression within Ableton Live is a wonderful feature that can really help elevate the sound of your MIDI instruments, adding feeling and a human touch to the notes.

It can be frustrating when it is not changing your notes in the way you want it to.

Let’s figure out why this might be.

Check that your Instrument or VST/AU plug-in is compatible with MPE

Not all plug-ins allow for MPE functionality within Ableton, so it’s best to check the user manual of your VST or AU plug-in to get a better understanding of compatibility.

It’s important to note that not all plugins automatically tell Ableton that they are MPE-capable.

If you’re working with a plugin that doesn’t seem to be responding to MPE data, you can simply right-click on the plugin and manually enable MPE.

Just be sure also to check that MPE is enabled within the plugin itself if necessary.

Make sure to also turn on MPE within Ableton’s MIDI preferences for your MPE controller. This will ensure that you’re getting the most out of your controller and can take full advantage of its expressive capabilities.

Check that you’re automating the right part of the Note Expression

There are multiple different functions within the Expression Tab, such as Pitch, Slide, Pressure, and Velocity.

If you’re having trouble adjusting the Pitch Bend, ensure you’re not changing the Slide feature instead.

Within the Expression Tab, Pitch Bend is located on the note itself.

Once you’ve selected the desired note you want to manipulate, a line will appear in the middle of it. You can click on this line to add breakpoints, which you can then move in the intended fashion.

Note that the Slide feature differs from Pitch Bend, and operates uniquely. Where Pitch Bend will actually change the pitch of the note you’re adjusting, Slide will alter unique parameters within a sound, often used for crescendos and expression.

Final Thoughts

Note Expression within Ableton Live is a surefire way to liven up your MIDI instruments, allowing for greater dynamic control and more human expression in your music.

Be sure to play around with it, testing different parameters and learning all the ins and outs of Ableton’s unique interface.

In my experience, trial and error is by far the best way to get the knack of music software like Ableton Live, especially when it comes to a feature as versatile as Note Expression within MPE.

Although perhaps frustrating at first, it will give you the best and most well-rounded knowledge of the software and push you to make more dynamic and interesting music.


Editing MPE on Ableton Live