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Tips for Using Ableton Live’s MIDI Preferences

Updated: Aug 11, 2022

In this article, we'll look at tips using MIDI Preferences, and when to choose the right settings for different use cases.

We’ll cover the following 4 things in this post…

  1. How to setup a MIDI controller/ keyboard to play instruments

  2. How to control Ableton Live with knobs on a MIDI controller

  3. Using a Control Surface

  4. Mapping 3rd Party Plugin Parameters

1. How to setup a MIDI keyboard to play instruments in Ableton Live

Below is a screenshot from the MIDI activity section of Ableton. This view is located in the upper-right corner of Ableton Live’s screen. This is a great quick reference to know if you’re getting any MIDI signal in and out of Ableton.

Let’s go to Live –> Preferences. In our Link/ Tempo/ MIDI tab we turn on our MIDI controller's Input to TRACK to play MIDI notes into clips, etc.

2. Control Ableton Live with knobs on a MIDI controller

If you want to control a parameter or knob in Ableton using a hardware knob, you need to enable “Remote” in MIDI Preferences. Let’s set the Remote Input to On. You’ll see a MIDI button (top-right corner) to enter MIDI Map Mode. After everything turns blue, select a knob with your cursor, then move the hardware knob on your controller.

You’ll now see a MIDI CC value assigned to that knob in the Browser on the left side of screen. You can control the max and minimum values of that parameter in how it's moved.

If you’re new to MIDI mapping, notes are one form of MIDI data, and knobs are another form. Knobs send data to Ableton in what’s called “CC” or control change messages.

3. Using a Control Surface

Ableton has a large number of controllers already pre-mapped for you, which are listed in the Control Surface drop down window. These controllers save time with custom MIDI mapping, and have default settings in Ableton to quickly plug-in and play. When using a controller like the PUSH 2, I recommend setting this as a Control Surface including the Input/ Output as well. This will make the pads light up on the Push 2.

To custom MIDI Map with the Push controller, you’ll probably want to enter User Mode on the Push.

If you want to learn the Push 2 controller, become a Live Producers Online Member and access all courses, including the Push 2 MIDI Controller Features & Functions Course Join the community of Ableton Live producers and take your skills to the next level. Click here for membership details

4. Using 3rd party plug-in CC values

Automating effects with 3rd party plugins is a great production trick. You can move parameters on software outside Ableton to create cool effect changes. As mentioned earlier, if you want to remotely control a hardware button/ knob in Ableton, you need to have Remote enabled. There’s an option in MIDI Map Mode called Configure displayed on the plugin itself. You'll want to click the arrow to see this option shown below....

Let’s say I wanted to map the cutoff frequency in this plugin. I’ll click Configure, then select that parameter within the plugin. Now you’ll see the Cutoff is mapped and displays on the plugin shown below....Then you would repeat step #2 to MIDI map this Cutoff parameter to your MIDI controller.

You should know that some 3rd party plugins already have custom midi mapping. Most plugins will have their own internal MIDI Preferences, displaying that certain parameters are assigned a “CC” value.


In summary, this is what each button in MIDI Preferences does…

  • Track is for note data.

  • Sync is for sending MIDI clock information. You would very rarely use this, unless you are trying to set up a drum machine, or special hardware with Ableton Live.

  • Remote is for remotely controlling Ableton Live, so you can control a software button or knob with a hardware button or knob.

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