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Ableton Note

Sketchpad App For iOS By Simon Sherbourne
Published December 2022

Ableton’s first app puts a Live‑compatible ideas machine in the palm of your hand.

Ableton NoteNote is an aptly named iOS app from the makers of Live, providing a musical notepad for capturing ideas on the go. It mirrors Live’s Session View workflow, with drum, sampler and synth tracks. Your creations can be kept in sync across multiple devices and opened in Live via a new Ableton cloud service.

Note is Ableton’s first venture outside of Live, Push and sound packs, and they are taking it in cautious steps, starting with a fairly focused feature set. This seems wise. There are lots of phone‑ and iPad‑based music apps that promise lots of features but are just no fun to use. It sounds like Ableton want to get the basics right, get feedback and build from there.

Take Notes

Note presents you with a simplified version of the Live clip launch grid, with columns representing tracks. Icons at the top represent the instruments used on each track, which are mobile versions of Live’s Drum Rack, Wavetable synth, and Sampler devices. There are no audio tracks so all clips are MIDI‑based. The sound presets you choose determine which instruments are used; there are no restrictions on which instrument goes on which track, but there is a limit of eight total tracks and eight clips per track.

Once you’ve chosen a preset or tapped on an empty clip slot you jump to the play/capture view, which sports a virtual trigger pad at the bottom and sound macro controls above. Disconcertingly at first, as you start playing you see notes appearing in the pattern lane in the middle. Fear not, nothing gets committed without your say‑so. The capture system is ingenious: it’s essentially doing what Live’s retrospective record functionality does, but it’s more visible, and for me more usable. To make the ghost notes stick you tap the commit button at the bottom. Or you can tap X or stop playback and the notes will be cleared.

Like Live, when you’re in an empty slot you can choose to record to a free length, or start with an empty clip of one to eight bars. Likewise you can decide to work with a pre‑determined tempo and a click, or to record freeform and have Note figure things out afterwards. Again this is a Live feature that I’ve never got into the habit of using. It works really well here, and I grew to trust that I could play a pattern and Note would guess the tempo and trim/extend the end of the clip to loop correctly.

Ableton have thought carefully about what you are really going to do with some spare time on your phone or iPad, and have zeroed in on capturing ideas with drum kits, synths and samples.

As well as the pad grid there’s a jumbo pad mode, which records velocity based on how high up your screen you tap. In synth and sampler patches, a global key and scale setting for the Set determines which notes are shown in the grid, and you can also choose a keyboard view and perform with velocity by varying where you tap the keys. All instruments have a Note Repeat option with a range of subdivisions including triplet variations.

I did try plugging a mini‑keyboard into my iPad, but Note does not currently support external MIDI. This is consistent with Ableton’s focused use case for Note, which is simple handheld capture...

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