Did you ever wonder why your Ableton library is full of really short “oneshot” samples? For the longest time, I didn’t understand why or how these sounds would be useful other than just adding them to a drum racks or effects rack. It was a complete aha moment when I realized that any of these samples can be used in Simpler as an instrument.

Simpler is a cornerstone device to Ableton Live. It’s used to create all sorts of instruments and is the base device to drum racks. Each sample or clip of the drum rack runs through a Simpler. Because Simpler uses a single sample, it might not sound quite as convincing as other similar VST plugins that sample multiple samples, but this really depends on how you adjust the simpler settings and how you are using it.

Either way, Simpler is great for getting a quick idea out of your head and into the DAW. It’s also a quick way to make a new weirdly unique instrument sound.

Just don’t get lost in the sauce!

The Three Modes of Simpler

Classic

Oneshot

Slice

Each of these modes work significantly differently, so I’ve found it useful categorize some distinct use cases.

Classic – Allows control over Frequency and Resonance adjustments.

Oneshot – Plays the sample once through, at the first marker in simpler sample window

Slice – A really awesome mode, lemme just say. Using splice, with transient mode set, you can increase or decrease the amount of slices. Also, if you need to place slices in different places, you can easily move the transient markers. This is a quick way to chop up a sample to play via a MIDI device.

Simpler samples don’t need to be just instrument or melody sounds — they can also be drum samples. If you add a sample to a Simpler that is in time with the BPM of your set, you can play the drum sample and at various different pitches. Holding down the keys longer will continue to play the sample so that you can use clips within the correct key. This helps me to make percussion side of a song feel dynamic, changing and still relevant by being in key. The change in pitch gives a different feel that the robotic repetition of perfectly identical sounds.

Another way liven up your drums and give variation is to select a patch, select the Simpler “Controls” tab, then Turn on LFO

Next you can increase the % of pitch and panning to give slight random changes. It’s helpful to change pitch only a few % to produce the minor variations that happen naturally with an instrument. Think snare hits varying at different spots on snare or hihats changing pitch at various pressures of the footpedal being pressed.

You can also create random pitch variation assigning the Random Device to an individual sample.

Yum.

Making Your Drums Feel Alive with Ableton Simpler

Velocity Effect Device

Velocity is one of the many Midi Effect devices that Ableton offers right out of the box. I was confused about the distinction between Midi Effects and Audio Effects, because some Audio Effects can be used on midi tracks and thus didn’t seem to fit the naming.

Midi Effects are simply effects added to the beginning chain of a MIDI device that effect how the MIDI is input to the channel. So, in the case of Velocity device, it effects how the Velocity data for a given Midi note will be assigned. On a Simpler — say the hihat of drum rack — we can make a quick adjustment to the Vol. > Vel. knobs (let’s try 70%) and add a Velocity device at the start of the MIDI device chain with the Random knob up to around 30.

This will add random variance to the velocity of the hihat, giving it the human-like sound. We can then record these velocities to another MIDI track so that our velocity information is saved to the MIDI, since just having it on the device does not “capture” the velocity variation. It will however, capture the velocity variation if you record your set from Session into arrangement or if you record from one channel in Session to another. This can be done by creating another MIDI channel, changing the channels input to the midi you want to capture and voila! You should see different velocity info than in your original midi.

Extra: If the Simpler tuning seems off from the correct keyboard keys, using the Tuner with Simpler can allow you to tune your Simpler to the correct keys.