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Drum Layering is an essential skill to ensure you are getting the most power and punch out of your samples

Here are 3 ways more efficient ways to audition and manipulate your layers with ease, whilst keeping your project organised!

Step-By-Step Video & Project File Download

Rather learn from watching a video? Click the button to go straight to the video explaining every step of how to make the drum racks are made as well as useful tips on how to get the most out of them.

Problem 1 – Organisation

Abletons drum rack device is an easy go-to instrument for pulling a folder of your favourite samples into a project.

Usually only a handful of these samples will actually end up becoming part of the track. And this can make clip view extremely messy, even when the ‘fold’ button is engaged.

Whilst this seems like a minor issue, It can actually lead to lazy drum programming and lack of attention to detail with moving midi drum parts before or after the beat to enhance the groove.

Problem 2 – Sample Surfing

Whilst hotswapping is a very welcomed feature, there is a slightly more efficient way of switching through your favourite sample banks using macro controls. This method allows not only the ability to flick between all your favourite samples with a single macro knob, but also the option to manipulate every paramater of each and every sample in the drum rack concurrently.

How Can I Solve These Problems For Better Drum Rhythms?

The bottom line is that once you have a few folders of your favourite samples,
you can create 1 simple drum rack, which will allow you to create endless possibilities of drum kits and rhythms, without the need to ever leave the drum rack!

Improved Layering

The upshot of this is that you can now layer up your drum parts in context, allowing you to make Sample, envelope, EQ and compression decisions on the fly to see if the layers gel together straight away.

Keeping Things Tidy

Even though these drum racks house your entire sample collection, they still keep things nice and neat in clip view, so you only see the samples you use. This ensures you can see whats going on at a glance, and allows you to make groove and timing edits with ease.

Download The Project Files Here

Click the watch button to access the tutorial video and project files for free!



Rack 1 – Using Samplers Zones

The first rack uses a sampler device housed inside a drum rack which has been pre-mapped to allow for control over the most important parameters when sample layering such as pitch, eq, gain, attack and decay.

This mapping is very simple, so feel free to map this yourself. The important thing to remember is to group the sampler device with itself using the Cmd + G shortcut. This is imprtant because it will give you access to the samplers macro control panel.

All you have to do is simply place your favourite samples into the Zone section of the sampler device as seen with the kick samples in the picture below.

Distribute Ranges Equally

Once all of the samples have been places in the zone area, we can select them all to find out how many samples we have. This can be a maximum of 128 samples.

Currently all of our samples will be triggered at the same time from a single midi note, which isn’t going to sound too good. so we need to drag the blue chain selection bars for our samples up to the maximum number of samples (In this case 120 kick drum samples)

By right-clicking on our samples, we can now select ‘distribute ranges equally’ which will map our samples across the max range of 120 that we just set.

Finally enter macro map mode by pressing the ‘Map’ button on the macro control panel, everything highlighted in green can be mapped.


We need to map the ‘chain selector’ to a macro control, this chain selector is the orange slice at the top of the zone/chain panel.

Macro Mappings To Suit You

When in macro map mode, with the browser open, we can fine tune our mappings as well as invert ranges. These parameters have been set to make your life easy when layering. But feel free to adjust them to suit your own needs.

Project Management

A downfall with this method,
is that when we save these racks to our user library, we will be referencing an awful lot of sample files.

This can cause the files to go missing and stop the racks from working properly if you move your sample files and folders around on your computer.

Using the ‘Manage Project’ or ‘Manage User Library’ bunction from Ableton Lives ‘File’ dropdown menu can allow you to collate all your samples into the project. Alternatively this can be done using the ‘Collect All And Save’ function.

But What If Theres A Better Way?

For those of you that use your same favourite sample banks over and over again in every project, there is a much better way of using these racks and managing your samples that only requires ableton to reference a single .wav file.

This can help Ableton load the racks and samples much faster as well as easing the load on the CPU. Our second rack below demonstrates how this can be done.

Rack 2 – Referencing a Single File With Samplers Zones

This rack is essentially exactly the same as our previous one. However this time we are only using a single .Wav file to house all of our favourite kick samples.

This does take a small amount of work to initially prepare but it is well worth it for your go-to sample banks.

Firstly, Ensure your samples are all the same length. This can easily be done by dragging your samples into Ableton’s arrangement view using the ‘Alt’ key so each sample is on its own track. It’s then just a case of using the loop brace to specify the length of time that you wish to export.

Then the final step is to export, remembering to use the ‘export each individual track’ function.

House Keeping

Once you have exported your samples, they will now be the same length,
but will probably need renaming if you want to keep things really organised. To do this right-click all your samples and select ‘rename’ from the dropdown.
From this rename panel you can re-format your samples. In this case I have formated them to ‘Kick_1″ up to “Kick_120”.

Creating the Single Reference File

Using the browser, navigate to your new sample folder with the sample bank that you wish to use as a reference file.

Set Abletons Arrangement View beat grid to the same value as the length of your samples. The best way to do this is to set your project BPM to 120. In this case i have set the grid size to 1/4 notes for each kick drum.

Pull the kicks onto a single drum track, You will see that they will all be the same length, and equally spaced apart as per the grid quantisation.

Consolidate these .Wav files together and this is now your new single reference file which houses all your favourite parts.

Preparing The Sampler Device

Now drop the reference file into the sampler. Right-Click the sample start/end area and change the display from ‘Samples’ to ‘Seconds’.

Use these controls to isolate the first sample, Set the sample end before you set the sample start as this is the most efficient way to do it.

Go into the zone area and duplicate the chain, repeat the sample isolation process for the next sample in the reference file.

Repeat this process for every sample in the file and you will end up with a sampler like the one below.

Is It Worth The Hassle!

Absolutely! This process may take 20 minutes or so to initially set up, but can allow you to have a drum rack of all your favourite banks of samples, so you’ll never need to use another drum rack again! And where most drum racks such as this would be hard to keep organised and speedy, This one would only be referencing a minimal amount of .wav files. So there is much less CPU usage and also much less files to go missing or corrupt!

Rack 3 – Using Simpler The Chains Selector

This final rack is once again the same concept as the previous racks, however it is made using the Simpler device instead for those that don’t have access to sampler.

Rather than using ‘Zones’ Simpler uses “Chains” and the ‘Chain Selector’ which is essentially exactly the same. The upside of using this method is that when the chain selector macro knob is turned, the samplers GUI will visually update provided the yellow ‘sample select’ arrow button is activated. This can be seen in the top left of the chains panel.

One thought on “3 Ways To Layer Kicks Using Ableton Drum Racks

  1. Pingback: 20 Quick Tips In Ableton Live 9 For Improving Workflow - Studio Slave

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