Ableton Live Techniques: Non-Linear Creative Strategies and Composition

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Authored by Erin Barra, Loudon Stearns


Course Code: OMPRD-383

Next Term Starts June 25

Level 3

Level 3

3-Credit Tuition


Non-Credit Tuition


This course is for students who are interested in taking a deep dive into composing with Ableton Live by leveraging unique and powerful linear and non-linear creative techniques inside the software. You will master a number of linear and non-linear compositional practices that are only possible using advanced Ableton Live tools and techniques.

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By the end of the course, you will be able to: 

  • Collaborate remotely with another producer and manage all necessary files in the process 
  • Use Audio Effect, MIDI Effect, Instrument, and Drum Racks in Live to complement user-specific workflow 
  • Interact with Live in real time, using computer generative techniques 
  • Incorporate visuals into Live sets 
  • Experiment with song form 
  • Create an environment for improvisation
  • Integrate improvisation into your production and compositional workflow 
  • Create strong musical connections to stories and narratives found in your compositions 
  • Create a generative Max for Live patch
  • Learn about possible career paths which leverage Live’s unique non-linear functionality
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Lesson 1: Sample Manipulation and Session View Review

  • Importing/Managing Samples in Session View
  • Clips
  • Warping
  • Simpler
  • Assignment 1: Collaboration Preparation

Lesson 2: Collaboration and Arrangement View Review

  • Downloading, Opening, and Managing a Collaborators Session
  • Session to Arrangement
  • Editing, Automating, and Exporting
  • Collaboration Techniques and Philosophies
  • Assignment 2: Collaborative Arrangement

Lesson 3: Collaging: Prepping for Greatness

  • What Are Sonic Signatures?
  • Selector Kits
  • Racks: Drum, Instrument, Audio Effect, MIDI Effect
  • Building a User Library
  • Assignment 3: Developing Your Sonic Signature

Lesson 4: Reactive Compositions

  • Follow Actions and Launching Behaviors
  • Dummy Clips
  • Unlinked Envelopes and Chain Selector
  • Creating a Reactive Composition
  • Assignment 4: Create a Reactive Composition

Lesson 5: Filming to Score

  • Images and Video
  • Film Scoring in Reverse
  • Real-Time Visuals
  • Recording and Exporting Video
  • Assignment 5: Video Editing to a Score

Lesson 6: Development Analysis

  • Exposition and Motivic Development
  • Development and Contrast
  • Recapitulation and Productive Repetition
  • Assignment 6: Development Analysis

Lesson 7: Jamming

  • Why Jam?
  • Jamming Techniques 1: Duo
  • Jamming Techniques 2: Solo
  • Session—Arrangement
  • Assignment 7: Jam

Lesson 8: Improvised Composition

  • Assess the Jam
  • Edit the Jam
  • From Jam to Playground
  • Playground Jam
  • Assignment 8: Improvised Composition

Lesson 9: Prosody

  • Prosody 1
  • Harmonic, Melodic, and Rhythmic Prosody
  • Sonic, Workflow, and Form Prosody
  • Assignment 9: Define Your Final Project

Lesson 10: Stable/Unstable

  • Prosody 2
  • Stable/Unstable Harmony, Melody, Rhythm
  • Stable/Unstable Phrases, Pacing, and Systems
  • Outlining a Plot
  • Assignment 10: Rough Draft

Lesson 11: Being Effected

  • Prosody 3
  • Prosody of Effects Processors
  • Spatial Prosody
  • Critical Listening and Assessment
  • Assignment 11: Final Project Submission

Lesson 12: Looking Forward

  • Career Possibilities
  • Generative Max Programing 
  • Interview with Adriano Clement
  • Interview of with Steve Nalepa
  • Interview with Shantell Ogden
  • Interview with King Britt
  • Assignment 12: Peer Review



Completion of Ableton Live Fundamentals or a strong understanding of the basic functionality of Ableton Live is required.

Required Textbooks

None required

Software Requirements

  • Ableton Live 10 Suite*
  • Max for Live Essentials Pack (included with Live 10 Suite)

*Berklee Online and Ableton have come together to offer an educational discount on Ableton Live 10 Suite. Once you enroll in the course, you will be able to purchase the software at the discounted price through the Required Course Materials link on your My Home page.

Mac Users

Windows Users

Hardware Requirements



Author & Instructor

Erin Barra has been a key player in the creative process of many projects from conception to final master to stage performance. With a wide ranging skill set (educator, songwriter, producer, multi-instrumentalist, music technology consultant), she enables people to create content they're personally invested in and execute their ideas.

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Specializing in music technology integration, she works with artists and bands looking to integrate laptops and digital technologies into their writing, production and stage setups, and has developed, taught and executed several music technology curriculums at the open source (Coursera and ROLI), K-12 (Beats By Girlz), and collegiate levels (Berklee College of Music, Berklee Online).

An authoritative voice in music technology education, she is an associate professor in the Songwriting department at Berklee College of Music and is one of the leading product specialists for the Berlin-based music software company Ableton. A natural collaborator, Erin has had the opportunity to work with an array of artists, from Grammy winners like John Oates, George Massenburg, Kathy Mattea, and Elliot Scheiner, to those at the front lines of the independent movement like Res, Miles Robertson, and Ari Raskin. She holds a degree in Songwriting from Berklee College of Music and has 20+ years of keyboard/piano experience. Read Less


Author & Instructor

Loudon Stearns is an associate professor at Berklee College of Music, a course author and instructor at Berklee Online, and an active media-artist. Within the Contemporary Writing and Production department at Berklee College of Music, he prepares students to work as independent composers and producers in a technology-laden music industry. Online, he focuses on the latest electronic music styles and music-technology innovations, showing students how to analyze contemporary styles and use the latest music technology in their own works. An innovator in both education and art, Loudon authored a Massive Open Online Class, "Introduction to Music Production," that has provided high-quality free education to hundreds of thousands of students, received an award from the University Professional and Continuing Education Association for "Excellence in Teaching" and received the "Excellence in Media Art" award from the Emerson College Visual and Media Art department.

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Holding a Bachelor of Music in Contemporary Writing and Production and Bass Performance from Berklee College of Music, and a Master of Fine Arts in Media Art from Emerson College, Loudon pulls from a broad range of skills in the creation of his own multi-media performances that include live music, projection-mapping, dance, visual art and interactivity. Of particular interest is using the entire world as a performance space by using internet streaming to coordinate numerous performers and audiences on vastly different parts of the globe. The technical and aesthetic challenges of this type of performance are new and exciting and require the sort of broad skill-set that Loudon has developed through his extensive institutional and self education in music, sound, performance, motion graphics, photography, programming, and construction. Read Less

What's Next?

When taken for credit, Ableton Live Techniques: Non-Linear Creative Strategies and Composition can be applied towards these associated programs:


Contact our Academic Advisors by phone at 1-866-BERKLEE (U.S.), 1-617-747-2146 (INT'L), or by email at

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