Tempo is the most fundamental aspect in music composition, recording, and production, above musical elements such as rhythm, melody, or harmony. There are 6 main ways you can change the tempo in Ableton to suit your productions or performances, and I will group them in 2 general categories (static and dynamic).
Static techniques are hard-set and best suited for production, while the 1 dynamic technique I shall demonstrate is better suited for performance, but you will find that this technique will provide you utility when recording a live band, or many instruments at once.
I shall be using BPM and tempo interchangeably throughout this tutorial as tempo refers to the general speed of a song (fast or slow) or in classical music terms, Legato – slow, or Andante – walking speed, and how a performer should sing or play concerning the speed of the song. Whereas the BPM (beats per minute) is the specific time range of a song.
When you purchase Ableton and install it, you will see that the default tempo in Ableton is always set to 120 BPM. Here is how you go about changing tempo in Ableton Live.
- Slide up or down – this technique is simple, allowing you to quickly change your tempo. And by holding down the shift button, you can finetune the tempo.
- Type in – this technique will provide you utility when you know the tempo you want to work in. you simply type in the tempo you want, and Ableton will align your samples, MIDI, and grid to match the set tempo
- Tap Tempo – this technique will provide you utility when working with a general feeling or idea of a son you want to compose, without knowing the exact BPM
- Change default tempo – if you are a producer in a specific genre and do not want to always change tempo every time you open live, this technique will help you save time. You can later finetune your tempo once you get a general feel of your song.
- Lead & Follow – This technique will provide you with utility when file sharing your session files. When sharing audio tracks with another producer, you can create a tempo track that will make Ableton change tempo to match this tempo track’s BPM
Slide Up or Down
This technique will allow you to glide directly to your preferred tempo with ease by simply using your mouse to set the tempo of your project. This is how you go about it:
Using your mouse, click on the tempo toggle on your trackpad or your left mouse
button, and hold
Glide up and down to change the tempo of your project.
If you hold down shift in this technique, you can finely change your tempo by a factor of 0.10
This is a straightforward way to change your tempo. Here is how you go about it:
Click on the tempo toggle
Now use your keyboard to type in your preferred tempo
This simple technique allows you to play in your tempo. I find utility in this technique, when I am working with imported audio samples, and want to match the project tempo to the audio sample. Here is how you go about changing tempo with this technique:
If working with a sample, import your sample and unwarp it so it keeps its original tempo.
If you are not using any samples and are trying to compose from scratch, you can skip this step.
Use your mouse or trackpad and tap click on the tap-in tempo toggle to change the tempo of your project to the tempo you prefer, or a tempo that matches your imported audio sample.
When tapping in your tempo, you may not always get the exact tempo you want and may need to finetune the tempo.
Lead & Follow
This technique is best when sharing your audio samples with another producer. You can use any audio track to change or guide Ableton. Here is how you can go about it:
Create a new live set and create an audio track.
Now import a sample from the shared files, preferably a drum loop, or any of the percussive elements looped for a certain length. For this demonstration, I shall use a print of all the drums in the song. You will notice the difference in tempo between the session and the audio sample
To change your project tempo to match the sample, select the Follow/Lead toggle. By default, all imported samples follow the set Ableton BPM.
When Lead is on, you will notice that it will now become impossible to change Ableton’s tempo.
This function will continue to affect Ableton’s BPM for as long as the clip is active. The lead function will stop at the end of the clip, making this technique an excellent performance tool, when different songs at different tempos are queued in the arrangement view.
Change Ableton’s Default Tempo
This technique will save you time on startup when you know your style and genre you produce, as well as the genre’s typical BPM. You can change Ableton’s default tempo so that Ableton will always open a new live set to this tempo. Here is how you go about it:
Open a new live set and change your tempo with either of the first 2 techniques I have demonstrated above.
Save your live set by going to File and selecting Save Live Set As Default Set.
Every time you open a new live set, it will open with this tempo. You can change your default live set again through this technique.
Tempo Follower – this technique will provide you with utility when recording a full band while working with a click track. You can use an incoming audio signal or MIDI signal to change your tempo in real time.
This technique will provide you utility when recording a full band while working with a click track. You can use an incoming audio signal or MIDI signal to dynamically adjust the tempo in Ableton by incoming transient or MIDI inputs in real time. Here is how you do about it:
Enable the ‘follow’ function in Ableton’s Preference settings under Link Tempo MIDI.
Click on the Hide/ Show. This will now reveal the ‘follow’ function in your session.
While still in the preferences window, you can select which input Live will source tempo.
In any case, I recommend you select a sound source that has a distinct pulse and is transient because sources with an unclear or dynamic tempo change may make Ableton take a little longer to discern tempo changes.
There are 6 ways to change the tempo in Ableton, and each one of them can provide utility depending on the use case. My favorite techniques by far are the Dynamic Tempo follower technique and Static Lead & Follow technique, as it allows fluidity and flexibility when recording bands, or a live show, and when performing using Ableton.
Every genre has a general tempo range. For example, Hip-Hop songs usually fall in the 80 – 100 BPM range while on the other hand, Drum and Bass songs come in at about 160 – 180 BPM. However, in some instances, that range is not limited.
The tempo you choose to record, compose or perform in, heavily influences the genre and feel of your song. Explore the different ways you can use tempo change to bring your performances and productions to life. Have Fun!