How to Import & Export MIDI Clips in Ableton

Not many engineers know how to import and export MIDI files until they’re well into their careers. This happened to me as well! The most common use case for importing and exporting MIDI files is when you’re collaborating with other producers or musicians, mostly pianists and beatmakers using MIDI keyboards or drum pads. If you are new to this, you should check out my article on export settings as well as the different encoding formats in Ableton here.

Recommended Read: Import and Export MP3 and Stems in Ableton

Exporting MIDI

Unlike audio, which you export from Ableton’s export menu, MIDI is exported in session and can be exported from both the mix and the arrangement view. In both these views, you can only export one clip or track at a time. The process is exactly the same otherwise. This is how you do it:

Step 1: Select your clip and make sure that all the notation is correct and quantized.

selecting MIDI clip Ableton

Step 2: right click on your clip and select Export MIDI Clip (or use the shortcut Cmd + Shift + E on Mac, or Ctrl + Shift + E on Windows)

export MIDI clip ableton

Step 3: name the clip appropriately and the save location.

save MIDI clip ableton

MIDI clips in Ableton are encoded as .mid files

Tip! If you do not want to export one clip at a time and save time, you can consolidate your audio clips and repeat these steps

consolidate clips ableton

Importing MIDI

There are two ways to import MIDI in Ableton; you can either drag and drop the clip, or use the ‘import MIDI’ feature in Ableton.

Drag and Drop

Step 1: Under the Create options, select Create MIDI Track (Cmd + Shift + T on Mac or Ctrl + Shift + T on Windows)

insert midi track ableton

Step 2: Drag and drop the MIDI Clip into Ableton

drag and drop midi clip ableton

‘Import MIDI’ Feature

This step is a bit longer but you will achieve the same results.

Step 1: Create a new MIDI track or use an existing MIDI track and select the point where you would like to import the clip

point where import clip ableton

Step 2: go to create and select Import MIDI Clip

import midi file ableton

Step 3: Select the MIDI clip from your browser

select midi clip ableton

Tip! In both of these import methods, Ableton will ask you if you want to import tempo and time signature data. I recommend you know the exact tempo and time signature of the clip before you import. If you select ‘yes’ this will keep the original data of the clip. If ‘no’ then your clip will snap to the session’s tempo and time signature.

import tempo and time signature ableton

Pro Tip

You can also convert audio into MIDI so you can import and export the sample as MIDI. Simply right-click on the track and select your MIDI conversion preference.

convert harmony to midi track ableton

Final Thoughts

If you share audio, you need to consider a lot more to make the most out of your samples. If you look at my writings on sampling, and Dithering, you will notice that you can run into multiple errors when importing and exporting audio.

Using MIDI allows for a lot more versatility. You can load and create many instruments from the same clip. Likewise, you can also edit a particular notation or key of your clip. You get a lot more control than as compared to an audio sample. Know when to apply these techniques and have fun!

Collins K