Ableton Live Techniques: Synthesis and DSP

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Authored by Loudon Stearns, Erin Barra


Course Code: OMPRD-379

Next semester starts September 23

12 Weeks

Level 3

Level 3

3-Credit Tuition


Non-Credit Tuition


Building on the skills learned in Ableton Live Techniques: Fundamentals, you will explore how the many synthesizers and audio effects in Ableton Live can be used in contemporary music production. This includes building unique synthesizer timbres, performing with synthesizers to capture the full expressive capability of the devices, polishing mixes with the standard dynamic, spectral, and delay effects, and creating new audio textures using Ableton’s unique audio processors. 

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

  • Employ a practical understanding of subtractive, additive, frequency modulation, physical modeling, and Wavetable Synthesis types
  • Utilize a practical understanding of audio effects
  • Deliver unique projects based on a wide range of styles and emotions
  • Use all of the unique synthesizers and effects in Ableton Live
  • Develop a custom synthesizer in Max for Live
  • Effectively use dynamic, spectral, and delay effects in contemporary music production
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Lesson 1: Big Concepts Overview

  • Ableton Synthesizers and Effects
  • Max for Live
  • The Language of Sound and Synthesis
  • The Classic Processing Chain
  • Assignment 1: Create a Beautiful Sound with Synthesis and Signal Processing

Lesson 2: The Delay Spectrum

  • Building Delay Effects
  • Modulation Makes Music
  • Types of Synthesis
  • Delay Effects in Practice
  • Assignment 2: Create Ambient Music

Lesson 3: Racks: Series and Parallel Signal Flow

  • Basic, Advanced, and Rack Effects
  • Build a Subtractor Synthesizer
  • Synthetic Drums
  • Collaborating in Sound Design and Composition
  • Assignment 3: Create Techno Music

Lesson 4: Subtractive Synthesis 

  • Distortion and Filtering
  • Build a Two-Oscillator, Two-Filter Synthesizer
  • Multiband Devices
  • The “Vocal Mode” in Synthesis
  • Assignment 4: Tell a Story with Sound

Lesson 5: Subtractive Synthesis II

  • Analog Synthesizer Overview
  • Creating Analog Pad Presets
  • Analog Vocal Lead
  • Hybrid Instrument Creation
  • Assignment 5: Score a Short Film

Lesson 6: Additive Synthesis With Operator

  • Operator Overview
  • Building an Additive Synthesis Hammond Organ Preset
  • A Modulated Pad
  • Build a Sidechain Compressor
  • Assignment 6: Build a Banger

Lesson 7: FM Synthesis

  • Vibratus Maximus
  • FM Groove
  • Sidechaining: Beyond Volume
  • Stereo Signals in a Stereo Space
  • Assignment 7: Robot Lullaby

Lesson 8: Wavetable Synthesis 

  • What Is Wavetable Synthesis?
  • Evolving Pluck
  • Airy Pad
  • Dynamic Range Manipulations
  • Assignment 8: Remix a Song

Lesson 9: Wavetable Synthesis II

  • Wavetable Modulation
  • Modulated Bass with Push 2
  • Synth Chopper and Morpher Racks
  • Multiband Dynamics
  • Assignment 9: Synthesizer Relay

Lesson 10: Physical Modeling

  • Physical Modeling Overview
  • Expressing Yourself through Synthesis
  • PM Percussion
  • “Melodisonic” Hooks
  • Assignment 10: Six-Dimension Improvisation

Lesson 11: Build a Synthesizer From Scratch (Max for Live)

  • Max for Live Interface
  • Max for Live Oscillations and Envelopes
  • Max for Live Filters
  • Creating an Interface
  • Assignment 11: Reflection and Integration

Lesson 12: Reverb

  • Sampling a Room
  • Convolution Capabilities and Limitations
  • Convolution Performance
  • Reverb Freeze Synthesizer
  • Assignment 12: Create a Custom Live Pack


Prerequisites and Course-Specific Requirements 

Prerequisite Courses, Knowledge, and/or Skills
Completion of Ableton Live Fundamentals or a strong understanding of the basic functionality of Ableton Live is required.


  • No textbooks required


  • Ableton Live 10 Suite or higher
  • Max for Live Essentials (separate installation included with Live Suite)


  • MIDI controller
  • Audio interface
  • One of the following studio monitoring options (both recommended):
    • Studio monitors (pair), such as JBL 305Ps or better, as well as necessary cables
    • Over-ear studio headphones, such as Sennheiser HD 600, Sony MDR-7506, Philips SHP9500, Audio-Technica ATH-M50x, etc.

Student Deals
After enrolling, be sure to check out our Student Deals page for various offers on software, hardware, and more. Please contact with any questions.

General Course Requirements

Below are the minimum requirements to access the course environment and participate in Live Classes. Please make sure to also check the Prerequisites and Course-Specific Requirements section above, and ensure your computer meets or exceeds the minimum system requirements for all software needed for your course. 

Mac Users

PC Users

All Users

  • Latest version of Google Chrome
  • Zoom meeting software
  • Webcam
  • Speakers or headphones
  • External or internal microphone
  • Broadband Internet connection


Loudon Stearns


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

Erin Barra


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, tech, and education, Barra is the Director of Popular Music at Arizona State University, Executive Director of Beats By Girlz, course developer for Berklee Online and former Associate Professor at Berklee College of Music in Boston. Specializing in composition, performance, and creative music technology application, she has worked with and represented companies such as Ableton, Splice, ROLI, MusicTech, Moog, and iZotope. She has presented at Loop, NAMM, SXSW, Moogfest, Gearfest, KIEM, Future of Music Coalition, Yale’s EXPOL, and Re-Mixed Media Festival. Check out Barra’s work as an artist on all platforms, and catch her live electronic performances on YouTube. Read Less

Dennis DeSantis


Dennis DeSantis is a composer, sound designer, percussionist, and author. He received a Doctor of Musical Arts degree from the Eastman School of Music. His electronic music appears on labels such as Ghostly, Global Underground, Cocoon and Kanzleramt, and he has performed throughout North America, Europe, and Japan. DeSantis is the Head of Documentation for Ableton, and previously worked as a sound designer for Native Instruments.


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