How to Reverse a Sample in Ableton

Reversing a sample is a production technique where you make your samples play backward. The use case is almost always exclusively creative. This technique is often employed when sampling or resampling clips, making beats, or when creating rises to signal an incoming beat drop or a change in mood or style.

In Ableton, you can reverse both audio and MIDI samples. While there are a few different ways to reverse audio samples, MIDI samples can only be reversed in the clip editor view. You will notice that your playback will not sound reversed, but your MIDI notation arrangement will most definitely be.

Here is how you execute this technique:

  1. Arrangement view (Audio samples only) – this is a two-step technique, but you will ultimately get the same results.
  2. Clip Editor (both Audio and MIDI)– this technique gives you an in-depth look at your sample as you reverse it
  3. Sample Editor (Audio samples only) – this technique will require you to load your samples into the sample editor plug-in, and then reverse the sample creatively

Audio Samples

Audio sample reversal has many sub-techniques, each having a unique use case, as well as different advantages and drawbacks. Let’s start with the arrangement view:

Arrangement View

You need to be in Ableton’s arrangement window to execute this technique. It allows you to select exactly where you want the reverse effect to be heard. If you are working with long samples, and only want to reverse a specific portion, you will need to crop the sample by highlighting the portion of the sample you want to be reversed.

Step 1: highlight a portion of your sample

highlighting a portion of the sample in ableton

Step 2: right click on the highlighted sample and select crop, or you can use the shortcut Cmd + E on MacBook or Ctrl + E on Windows

cropping the sample Ableton

Step 3: once you have identified the clip you want to reverse, right-click your sample, and select reverse, or you can just press ‘R’ instead.

reverse clip ableton

Clip Edit View

This technique allows you to reverse your samples in both Mix and Arrangement views. This is how you use the Ableton clip editor to reverse audio samples:

Step 1: Double-click on your sample to open your clip editor.

open clip editor ableton

Step 2: Click on the reverse-clip toggle to reverse your sample.

reverse clip toggle ableton

Sample Editor

Reversing an audio sample using the sample editor is very easy as it can be done with the click of a button. You can use either one of the two sample editors available natively in Ableton Live or a third-party sample editor plug-in, these plug-ins allow for more control over your samples. I shall use Sampler by Ableton for this demonstration.

Step 1: load your sample into your sample editor.

load sample in sample editor ableton

Step 2: Click the reverse toggle to play your sample in reverse.

reverse toggle ableton

Note! Some third-party audio effects plug-ins may have the ‘reverse’ toggle controls to make your samples play backwards.

MIDI Samples

With MIDI samples, there is only one way to reverse MIDI clips using the clip editor view. You can reverse the sample in both mix and arrangement views. If you are working with longer MIDI samples, you may need to crop your samples using the same technique shown in the Audio Samples section above.

Step 1: Select the clip you want to reverse and double-click on it to open the clip editor.

selecting clip and opening clip editor ableton

Step 2: simply click on the reverse toggle to reverse your clip.

reverse clip ableton

Note! This technique will not necessarily sound right in some instances and you may need to repitch specific notes to match the key of your production. Unless this is what you are going for, then there will be no need to repitch your notations.

Tip! Some VSTi plug-ins come with a reverse effect toggle or preset to make your audio output sound reversed. For example, Addictive Key’s Modern Upright’s, Reverse Attack Preset.

addictive keys

Tip! You can also reduce the attack of your audio sample by using the attack control option in your sample editor. You can do the same for your MIDI samples if your VSTi plug-in allows for pitch, frequency, or volume envelope control. If you make the attack slower, it gives off the rising effect you get from reversing your samples.

pitch envelope

Final Thoughts

Sample reversal is a nifty little trick that I highly recommend in your productions to inspire or build upon ideas. It will help you create cool abstractions from which ideas will blossom. Try and reverse your samples, especially at the beginning of your production if you seem to have a creativity block. Explore the different techniques in your productions, find your favorite, and have fun!

Collins K