Ableton & Piano Roll: 7 Common Questions (Explained)

Ableton Live has a powerful and user-friendly piano roll, used the world over by producers and musicians.

The piano roll can be used to create MIDI clips in Ableton Live’s session view or arrangement view, where features like automation or quantization can be applied.

Every DAW(Digital Audio Workstation) has its own visual representation of what the piano roll will look like, along with unique workflow and features.

Let’s dive into some common questions about Ableton Live’s piano roll.

Screen shot of Ableton Piano roll

Where To Find the Piano Roll?

The piano roll is a necessity for every DAW because within it all your music MIDI writing and creation happens!

Here’s where to find Ableton Live’s piano roll:

  • The easiest way to open Ableton Live’s piano roll is to simply double-click on the top section of a MIDI clip in Arrangement View
  • Or, double-click on an empty or existing MIDI clip in the Session View.

Once a MIDI clip is selected, the piano roll can always be found on the bottom right-hand side of the screen, just to the left of the Device View Selector.

How Important is the Piano Roll?

Because the piano roll is such a prominent part of music production, it’s important that you have a clear understanding of how to get the best out of it.

Ableton Live’s piano roll is one of the most important features to master within your DAW because it becomes a crucial part of your creative process where you construct the foundations of your music, such as chord progressions, bass lines, and even melodic hooks.

Shortcuts and intuitive design are elements within DAWs that help create a quick and concise workflow and enable your music creation to happen without any technical hiccups.

Ableton Live has sometimes been criticized for its piano roll.

Here are some concerns users have had with Ableton’s piano roll:

Many producers and musicians have noted that Ableton Live’s piano roll lacks certain features and shortcuts that are prevalent in other DAWs like FL Studio or Logic.

A scissor tool that can slice your MIDI notes into different parts is a mainstay feature on other DAWs but isn’t available on Ableton Live’s piano roll.

There are also a bunch of other features that FL Studio, for example, will offer in their standard piano roll, such as shortcuts for converting chords to arpeggios, strums, flams, note selection inversions, and random note selections, amongst others, that Ableton Live just doesn’t offer.

This can be frustrating, as these simple shortcuts and designs enable the user to create and compose with speed and ease, allowing for a much more pleasurable user experience.

So although Ableton Live excels in so many areas within its design, its piano roll seems to fall short in a few areas. Hopefully, they update their piano roll soon so that the user experience gets even better,,

Can I Change the Size of the Piano Roll?

Sometimes when you’re working on a piano roll, you need to zoom out to be able to see more of your MIDI notes. Or sometimes, you need to zoom in so that you can adjust your musical notes more precisely. Luckily, Ableton offers many ways to switch up your piano roll view.

Four ways to resize Ableton Live’s piano roll:

Number 1:

The easiest way to resize Ableton Live’s piano roll is to move your mouse to the edge of the session/arrangement view and piano roll windows. Your cursor will change to the resize icon, where you can then click and drag up or down to resize the piano roll to your liking.

Number 2:

You can also adjust the zoom level of the piano roll by using the “+” and “-” keys on your keyboard. Once the piano roll is selected, the plus and minus keys can be used to zoom in (great if you want to make some more micro adjustments) or out (great for adjusting multiple notes at once).

Number 3:

Within the piano roll, there is also a space just to the left of the piano keyboard where your cursor will change to a magnifying glass. Once clicked, you can drag left and right to zoom in and out of the width of the piano keys. This is helpful to see all your notes at once, or to adjust one at a time.

You can also double-click on this magnifying glass to reset the size of the piano roll back to its original state.

Number 4:

Another simple option that laptop users can use for zooming and resizing, is to use the two-finger pinch method on the trackpad. With two fingers on the trackpad, one can spread the two fingers to zoom in or contract to zoom out, and even move side to side or up and down with both fingers.

Can I Change the Time Signature of the Piano Roll?

Time Signature is a key ingredient when working on a project that ensures that all the different instruments and elements are working in harmony.

But sometimes, you do need to change up a time signature of a particular clip, and not the time signature of the entire song.

Here’s how to change the time signature on Ableton Live’s piano roll:

Each MIDI Clip within Ableton Live has its time signature. When a MIDI clip is selected, the time signature is located on the left of the piano roll, in the Clip View section.

Once located, you can adjust to any time signature, regardless of the project’s master time signature.

The global time signature of a project can be located at the top left of the screen on Ableton Live. The time signature numerator can be adjusted by dragging up or down to select the number of beats per bar, whereas the denominator can be dragged up or down to adjust the length of a beat.

It’s important to note that changing the time signature of a track will affect the timing of the notes in the piano roll and the arrangement view. So, you may have to adjust the timing of the notes to fit the new time signature.

What Does Fold Do On the Piano Roll?

The fold is a useful tool on Ableton’s piano roll; let’s find out what it does.

The “Fold” button within Ableton Live allows you to hide or collapse any rows or key tracks that do not contain any MIDI notes. This can be very useful for simplifying a more complex MIDI sequence or even focusing on specific sections.

This is an awesome feature for drum rack users, as it gives you a clear picture of the drum elements that are in use, without all the clutter of the other unused sounds.

When folding the piano roll for more traditional instruments like synths or keyboards, it hides the rest of the musical scale, which can be confusing and unhelpful.

Be sure to “unfold” the piano roll if you can’t see where you are on the musical scale.

Please also read our easy troubleshooting tips for when your MIDI keyboard suddenly stops working.

Can I Change the Look of the Piano Roll?

The look of the piano roll is referred to as the grid and it is possible to change this.

Here’s how you can change the grid of Ableton Live’s piano roll:

Ableton Live’s piano roll can be adjusted to create different MIDI patterns.

Once a particular beat subdivision is selected, you can position your MIDI notes accordingly.

To adjust the grid, right-click anywhere on the piano roll and select from a bunch of options, from a fixed grid to an adaptive grid.

How Do I Change Velocity in the Piano Roll?

Velocity within your MIDI notes determines how hard or soft the notes are played, which will often alter the sound and tone of your instrument. This makes it a very important tool for creating dynamic and interesting music.

Here’s how to adjust the velocity of your MIDI notes:

Within the Ableton Live piano roll, velocity can be found below your MIDI notes in the velocity editor section.

  • All you have to do is click on one or more MIDI notes and drag up or down while holding “Command”.
  • Alternatively, you can select the actual velocities below and adjust them individually. Each note has a velocity range from 0 to 100 in volume.
  • If the MIDI velocity editor isn’t visible, make sure to click the small triangle at the bottom left of the note editor window, which will open up the velocity editor window.

How Do I change the Theme Look of Ableton?

Although Ableton Live isn’t known as the sleekest or prettiest of DAWs, it’s still one of the world’s most popular because of its stacked features and unique layout.

Ableton’s look and feel are however adjustable, with a bunch of settings to choose from.

Here’s how to change the theme look of Ableton Live:

  1. Start by opening Live’s preferences in the top menu bar.
  2. Then, select the ‘Look Feel’ tab in the preferences window.
  3. Next, select the ‘Theme’ drop-down box and choose your selected version.
  4. You can also adjust the color hue and intensity, as well as gridline darkness and overall brightness.

Adjusting the hue and intensity allows you to filter through a whole bunch of different colors, which can brighten up Ableton Live and make it more fun to look at.

But beware not to adjust the theme to be too bright, as extended use will be strenuous on your eyes, and will cause fatigue when you’re staring at the screen all day producing or stuck on mixing a song for a long period.

Final Thoughts

The piano roll is a MIDI editing tool that allows users to visually edit MIDI data, including velocity and notes, in a virtual piano roll interface. It’s a really helpful tool for creating and editing MIDI recordings and adjusting the timing and pitch of the notes after they’re played in.

The piano roll is a powerful and important tool in anyone’s Ableton Live production journey. It’s important to become very familiar with its layout and format because mastering it will allow for a much quicker workflow, which means more output of your music!

As with many different features and tools, each DAW offers a unique user experience, and it’s up to you to figure out what works and what doesn’t for your musical needs.

Although Ableton Live isn’t known for having the best piano roll, the user can develop skillsets and workarounds to use the piano roll in just as efficient ways as other DAWs.

It’s mostly down to practice, and familiarity with the user interface. Practice makes perfect!