Can I Record On Ableton Without Tempo? (Explained)

You’ve probably heard the word ‘Tempo’ before, and probably have a good idea of what it means too, but what does tempo mean in the context of recording music in a DAW ( Digital Audio Workstation)?

Tempo within music is the pace or speed at which a piece of music or song is played. It is usually measured in beats per minute (BPM) and can range from very slow to very fast. The tempo of a piece of music helps to create its overall mood and feel and can affect the listener’s emotions and sense of time.

Tempo within DAWs is often quite rigid, especially in the modern age of music, so what happens when you’re looking to record without any defined tempo on a DAW like Ableton Live?

Here’s Whether Recording on Ableton Without Tempo is Possible:

Recording into Ableton Live without tempo is totally possible! All you have to do is turn off the metronome and hit record. Ableton’s global tempo settings will not affect whatever you’re recording into Ableton, and you can export your music without a master tempo.

Screenshot of Ableton Live DAW warp settings

What is the Purpose of Ableton’s Tempo?

Now that we know what tempo can be described as, let’s figure out how tempo relates to Ableton Live.

Within Ableton Live, the tempo is the speed at which a piece of music is played. This is expressed in beats per minute (BPM), which is the number of beats that occur in one minute.

In classical music terms, the tempo of a piece is often explained by an Italian term, such as “Allegro” or “Lento,” which gives a general idea of how fast or slow the music should be performed.

But in the electronic world of Ableton Live, the tempo is set numerically, allowing for more precise control over the speed of the music.

Ableton Live’s tempo is crucial when creating music because it allows you to synchronize different elements of your music, such as drums, basslines, and melodies, to make sure that they’re all in sync and sound good together.

You can also change the tempo throughout a song using tempo automation, creating builds and drops, or matching the tempo to the energy of a live performance. This requires a bit more Ableton know-how but can be a very useful tool when thinking about live sets.

Basically, the entire purpose of tempo within Ableton Live is to give you a consistent and customizable foundation for your music and production, allowing you to create the exact feel and energy you want in your next big hit.

How Can I Record on Ableton Without Tempo?

The easiest way to record on Ableton without tempo is by turning off the metronome and pressing record.

You can also record without a set tempo using the “Looper” device, which is a built-in Ableton Live feature that allows you to record and loop audio in real time. You can just start recording without setting a tempo, and the Looper will automatically create a loop that is in time with your playing.

Here’s how to record without a set tempo using the Looper:

  1. Start by adding the Looper device to your MIDI or audio track.
  2. Press the Record button on the Looper to start your recording.
  3. Play your real or virtual instrument or sing into your microphone.
  4. Press the Record button again to stop recording and create a loop.
  5. You can then repeat steps 3 and 4 to add extra layers to the loop, adding that extra bit of spice!

Record without changing global settings:

Another way to record without a set tempo is to simply just record without changing your global tempo settings. In this way, warping won’t affect your recordings. Ableton Live always has a default tempo of 120 BPM when starting a new project, but this master tempo won’t affect your recordings unless you change it.

In summary, while Ableton Live’s tempo is set by default when creating a new project, it is possible to record without a set tempo using the Looper device or by creating a new project and not changing the tempo after recording.

Please also read our easy guide to understanding why Ableton is hard to learn.

Can I use Warp Without Recording to Tempo?

If you’ve used Ableton Live before, you’ve probably heard of the term “Warp”. Warp is a feature designed by Ableton that aligns your audio clips to the tempo of your project.

This is especially useful in situations where you have recorded an audio clip that was not played particularly well or in time with the tempo of your project, or even when you want to use another sample or loop that was recorded at a different tempo.

Warping allows you to stretch or contract an audio clip while maintaining the original pitch and tonality of the recording, meaning you don’t lose the sound of your clip when changing its tempo.

So now that you’ve recorded into Ableton Live without a master tempo, can your recording be warped?

The short answer is yes, you can use the Warp feature in Ableton Live without recording to tempo.

Ableton Live’s Warp feature can be applied to any audio clip, regardless of whether it was recorded in time with the tempo of the project or not.

When you apply the Warp feature to an audio clip, Ableton Live uses its unique technology to analyze the audio and determine the placement of beats within the clip. You can then set “warp markers” to define the placement of beats, and Ableton will stretch or compress the clip to match the tempo of your project.

Warping is a key feature in Ableton Live because how it allows you to use a wide variety of audio sources, including recorded performances, samples, loops, and more, in your productions. It provides you with a flexible and powerful way to manipulate your audio and is a must-have for any Ableton Live user.

Can I Change the Tempo After Recording?

So you’ve recorded in your musical masterpiece, but what if you’re wanting to change the tempo post-recording?

We’ve got some good news for you!

You can absolutely change the tempo in Ableton Live after recording. In Ableton Live, the tempo can be adjusted at any time, before, after, or during recording, and any audio or MIDI clips in your project will be automatically adjusted to the new tempo.

Here are some ways to change the tempo in Ableton Live:

Adjusting the Master Tempo: The simplest way to change the tempo is by adjusting the value in the “Tempo” field in the top left of the control bar.

Using the Tap Tempo Button: You can tap the “Tap Tempo” button in the control bar to set the tempo based on the time between your taps.

Automating the Tempo: You can automate the tempo using the Automation lanes in the Arrangement View. To automate the tempo, simply add an automation lane to the Tempo field and create automation clips to control the tempo over time.

The great thing about Ableton Live is that once you have adjusted the tempo, any audio or MIDI clips in your project will automatically adjust to the new tempo.

Due to Ableton’s really strong ‘warping” functionality, your song won’t lose any of its sound quality, texture, or tonality. You can now experiment with different tempos and find the one that makes your song sing!

What Happens If I Change the Global Tempo Settings?

Due to Ableton Live’s design, if you change the global tempo settings, it will affect the tempo of all audio and MIDI clips in your project.

This means that if you increase the tempo, all audio and MIDI clips will play back faster, and if you decrease the tempo, all audio and MIDI clips will play back slower.

This change in tempo will, of course, affect the timing and overall length of each individual audio and MIDI clip, as well as any effects that are synced to your master tempo, such as delays or reverbs.

Because of Ableton’s unique “warping” ability, changing the global tempo will not affect the pitch of your audio and MIDI clips, it will only affect the timing and length.

Can Ableton Calculate My BPM?

Ableton Live has technology that can identify a BPM of a song all on its own, just by analyzing your file.

Follow these steps to get Ableton Live to calculate your BPM:

Step 1: Enable ‘Auto-Warp Long Samples

First off, we have to make sure that “Auto-Warp Long Samples” is enabled.

  1. To do this, head to Ableton’s “Preferences”
  2. Now, select the “Record Warp Launch” tab.
  3. Toggle the “Auto-Warp Long Samples” option to “ON”.

Step 2: Import Audio

The next step is to create an audio track and import in your desired sample or song. You can do this by simply dragging and dropping your file into the audio track from Live’s “Browser” or straight from your computer.

Step 3: Open Clip View

Next, open up the “Clip View” of the audio file you just imported. You can do this by double-clicking on the clip itself, which will open up a new window displaying a bunch of different clip properties, as well as the waveform of the actual audio.

Step 4: Identify the BPM

The final step is to locate the BPM that Ableton will have figured out through its analysis. This tempo can be located in the “Seg. BPM” box in your “Clip View”.

This will be Ableton’s best estimate of the original tempo of your audio clip.

It’s important to note that if you use this method on a new project, Ableton will instinctively change the global tempo settings of the project to match the tempo of your imported audio clip. This can be handy if you’re looking to work from this tempo, but if not, it’s easy to change the master tempo at your discretion.

Final Thoughts

All in all, recording without tempo in Ableton Live can be a pretty creative and flexible approach to music production, especially if you’re working on more of an experimental or free-form style of music.

On the flip side, working without a tempo can also be quite challenging, especially when you’re trying to align and synchronize different elements of a project.

It’s also important to note that some features in Ableton Live, such as its warping and quantization functions, are specifically designed to work with a defined tempo, so you may find that you’re limited in terms of the processing and manipulation you can do with your recordings.


Audio Clips, Tempo, and Warping