Ableton Tutorial: Groove Extraction

Which is Worse: A Little Sloppy or Too Perfect?

When I first started using computers and sequencers to make music, I thought timing issues would be a thing of the past. I'd never have to worry about making beats that were off time, because there was a grid timeline I could line everything up to.  Well after making a few super-tight recordings, I began to realize that some of the passion and excitement in my songs was missing.  This is the moment I learned there was something wrong with having everything perfect.  My beats were so perfectly in time that they felt mechanical.  Nothing is ever easy is it?!  Things are either too messy or too perfect!

It's so easy to create very mechanical robotic music these days.  I find myself really valuing all of the things I used to see as problems in the analog world.  Tape saturation, quality decay, and less than perfect timing are things I now, quite ironically, long for.  (Let my Super Tape Drums, or my Tape Hiss and Vinyl Crackle Pack, or my VHS Rack be examples of this quest for the right dose of imperfection).  Fortunately there are some pretty cool things you can do to emulate and recreate these desirable imperfections.

Get into the Groove!

Ableton has an amazing feature, that I think is waaaaaay underused: Groove Extraction.  It allows you to take the timing of an audio clip and apply it to another clip, often a MIDI drum track.  Think of it like this: just as you can sample a riff from a song, Groove Extraction allows you to sample the feel of a song.  In the video I give you an example.  I program the drum intro to "Walk This Way" by Aerosmith.  It's a cool beat, but since every snare, hi hat and kick drum are exactly on the grid, it sounds mechanical.  I then extract the groove from the Aerosmith version and apply it to the MIDI track I made.  Suddenly there's feel.  That's because Joey Kramer of Aerosmith has an incredible feel to his playing.  Though he is an extremely tight drummer, he isn't playing perfectly on time.  It's the subtle variations that makes the drum part groove.  Check out the video and see what I mean.


  Pro Tip: you can save the grooves into your user library for later use! Just click the save icon in the Groove Pool and Live will save it.

Pro Tip: you can save the grooves into your user library for later use! Just click the save icon in the Groove Pool and Live will save it.

Learn How To Play Live with Ableton Live

If you enjoy these Tips and want to take your learning to the next level, check out my video course: Live Performance with Ableton Live.  In it, I show you tons of tips and techniques on how to get your music out in front of an audience.  It's a very practical, no nonsense kind of course, and the reviews have been great.  More info here.