Understanding Ableton’s: Impulse – Everything You Need To Know

Abletons Impulse Instrument

Bi-weekly Live streamed lectures are only available to registered members of www.LearnAbleton.Spacefood.ca and 1 on 1 students. If you are interested in registering for 1 on 1 lessons please visit the Rates & Booking page. If you would like to purchase a membership to attend online lectures, please register here.


Computer MIDI keyboard switch Ableton Live
Computer MIDI keyboard switch Ableton Live

Computer MIDI Keyboard – If you are travelling or do not have access to a MIDI keyboard of controller, you will find the Computer MIDI Keyboard option quite handy! By engaging the Computer MIDI Keyboard button on the far top right of your window, next to your draw mode switch (or by using the key command: cmd + shift + k [mac] or ctrl+shift+k [PC]) you will be able to use your computer’s keyboard as a way to trigger notes within your Ableton session. Use this for sketching out drum or melody ideas on the go! – Playable buttons on your computer keyboard include: AWSEDFTGYHUJKOL – Z=Lower Octave, X=Raise Octave, C=Reduce velocity by intervals of 20, V=Increase velocity by intervals of 20

Recording Quantize – Ableton is able to automatically quantize the MIDI data from your performance as you record it! Enter the “Edit” dropdown menu to activate and adjust record quantize settings through the “Record Quantize” subsection. You have the option to quantize your MIDI input by Quarter Notes all the way to Thirty-Second Notes. Record quantization also includes the option to quantize your MIDI performance to a triplet grid.

Quantization Settings window Ableton Live
Quantization Settings window Ableton Live

Quantize Settings – Just as you can quantize your MIDI performance as you are recording it, you can make quantization adjustments to pre-existing midi or audio data within your clips. To quantize audio or midi data within your clip, first open you quantization settings window to select your preferred quantization grid. you can access this menu by right clicking within the detail view of your clip and selecting “Quantization Settings” (ctrl+click [mac]) or you can use the key command: cmd+shift+u [mac] or ctrl+shift+U [PC].  The quantization settings menu will allow you to select your preferred quantization grid plus a few extra settings to allow the dynamics of your performance to be preserved such as the amount of quantization (in percentage) and quantizing either the beginning or end of your midi notes to the grid.

Velocity editor Ableton Live
Velocity editor Ableton Live

Velocity – As you become familiar with the many characteristics of a musical performance (either using a melodic or percussive instrument) you will notice that slight volume differences per note impact the feeling and groove of your compositions. You will notice this immediately if you are recording your MIDI performances while using a velocity sensitive keyboard or drum pad. click and drag on the associated marker in the Velocity Editor. (To help you locate the velocity marker belonging to a MIDI note that may be stacked vertically with others, Live highlights the velocity marker for whichever note your mouse is hovering over.) Velocity changes will be shown numerically in a small display in the time ruler.

.adg – Ableton device group files (contains the preset for Instrument Racks, Drum Racks or Audio Effect Racks)

.adv – Ableton device preset (contains a stored variation of a Live device)

Impulses 8 Sample Slots Ableton Live
Impulses 8 Sample Slots Ableton Live

Sample Slots – 8 launch-able sample slots that include a launch button, mute button and solo button. Each slot can be played, soloed, muted or hot-swapped using controls that appear when the mouse hovers over it. Each of these individual slots are similar to Ableton’s “Simpler” by including adjustable parameters that effect the sound of the added sample. Sample slots in “Impulse” can be triggered on a MIDI keyboard by pressing the white keys within the octave of C3-C4 (C3 being the first sample in the far left sample slot of Impulse). These sample slots can also be triggered using ASDFGHJK on your computer keyboard when the computer MIDI keyboard is activated.

Hot Swapping – Hot-Swap Mode can be toggled on and off with the Q key, and establishes a temporary link between the browser and, for example, a virtual instrument. While in Hot-Swap Mode, you can step through samples or presets to audition them “in place,“ that is, within the instrument.

Fold Button – The fold button removes every unused midi note from your piano roll in your clip’s upper note editor.

Slot 8’s LINK button – The “LINK” button found in the farthers sample slot to the right of Impulse includes one extra control that is not in any of the other sample slots. The LINK button, when activated, will stop or “choke” the sample in sample slot 7 if it is currently playing. Sample slot 7 and 8 are intended to be used for an open and closed hat sound as, in the real world, can not be produced at the same time by an acoustic hi-hat.

Impulse Start Transpose and Stretch Parameters Ableton Live
Impulse Start Transpose and Stretch Parameters Ableton Live

Start Control – Defines where Impulse begins playing a sample, and can be set up to 100 ms later than the actual sample beginning.

Transp. (Transpose) control – Adjusts the transposition of the sample by +/- 48 semitones, and can be modulated by incoming note velocity or a random value.

The Stretch control – Has values from -100 to 100 percent. Negative values will shorten the sample, and positive values will stretch it. Mode A is ideal for low sounds, such as toms or bass, while Mode B is better for high sounds, such as cymbals. The Stretch value can also be modulated by MIDI note velocity.

Filter – As it is with most Ableton instruments, Impulse allows you to apply one of a few types of filters to each individual sound you have loaded into your 8 sample slots. Use the Freq knob to adjust the filter’s cutoff point (the frequency at which the filter begins to affect the sample). Use the Res knob to emphasize the cutoff frequencies by giving them a bit of a boost before the cutoff slope begins.

Saturator – Gives the sample a fatter, rounder, more analog sound, and can be switched on and off as desired

Drive – Boosts the signal and adds distortion

Envelope – Use the Decay knob to adjust the length of the sample, mimicking the decay parameter of a typical volume envelope control (ADSR)

Trigger Mode – Allows the sample to decay with the note

Gate Mode – Forces the envelope to wait for a note off message before beginning the decay.

Pan & Volume Controls – Each sample has Volume and Pan controls that adjust amplitude and stereo positioning, respectively. Both controls can be modulated: Pan by velocity and a random value, and Volume by velocity only.

Global Controls – Global controls that apply to all samples within Impulse’s domain.

(Sources: https://www.ableton.com/en/manual/live-instrument-reference/#impulse)