Modifiers extend the functionality of any kind of productivity software. where would we be if word processing programs didn't let you change a g to a G with the shift key or allow the c key to copy data to the clipboard by holding down the cmd key? Thesis: the caps lock, shift, control, alt, & command keys greatly extend workflow in any kind of software, Live included. Here are some of the many tricks & features modifiers unlock in Ableton Live.
Start/stop via spacebar is probably the most commonly used shortcut in Live, but it's even more useful if you know you can also resume playback by adding a simple modifier. This does exactly what it sounds like - hold shift & press space to start the transport back up where it was stopped.
How often do you have to pause a track to say something to a collaborator or listener? With this shortcut, you don’t have to find your way back to where things were left off.
versatile key mapping
I’ve talked a lot about the benefits of key mapping, but because there are so many keys dedicated to Live’s functions by default, there aren’t a lot of free ones left for custom mappings. As it happens, Live distinguishes between lower-case & upper-case keystrokes, so caps lock (or shift) effectively doubles the number of keys you have available.
This allows you to use keys already used by Live - like b for draw mode - for other purposes - like B for metronome on/off - while still preserving the default Live shortcut.
Most Live users are familiar with holding shift to push midi notes up or down an octave in the piano roll. What is less well-known is that this principle works on just about any transpose knob as well.
If you’re using the native synths, midi pitch devices, or clip transpose, just click the dial, hold shift, & press the up or down arrow key & the value will jump by 12 semitones to the next octave. This is definitely a time-saver as you have to fiddle with knobs.
fine tune values
On the other hand, if you want to make granular adjustments to a dial, just hold down the cmd key to make fine tuned adjustments.
This saves heaps of frustration when you want to set a value just right. Holding command also lets you ignore the grid when you move clips & midi notes so you can make incremental changes to their position as well - this can be huge for manually humanizing "clicked in" electronic music.
A similarly useful tool for clips in the arrangement view & midi notes in the piano roll is to duplicate by dragging while holding ctrl.
I will rarely click in a new midi note in the piano roll as I almost always drag & duplicate from existing ones. It’s a much faster & much less bulky way of working with midi, I have found. You can even duplicate multiple midi notes to move motifs around your scale. cmd + d works great for this as well.
Automation envelopes can quickly get out of hand, especially if you recorded them in. It’s necessary to have a lot of breakpoints for accurate resolution, but that can make it a hassle to make adjustments to the curves. Fortunately, you can hold shift to drag breakpoints over other nodes & erase them as you go.
If you don’t know about this one, it should save you loads of time as you won’t have to individually delete individual nodes to give yourself more room to make adjustments.
Similarly, you can hold alt & drag an automation envelope to make smooth curves between breakpoints. This obviously makes natural sounding exponential curves a breeze.
There are a lot more tricks to automation like this you might not know about - if you want to learn more techniques, check out my article on Advanced Automation.
It’s easy to run out of screen real estate when adding new tracks to arrangement view. You usually have to group & collapse tracks or thin out as many as possible, but you need not resize them all one-by-one. All you have to do is hold alt when resizing a track lane & all of the others will follow suit.
Note that this doesn’t adjust all the tracks to the same size - it only distributes equal changes in size “steps” to all tracks (i.e. if one track is one “step” larger than the rest, it will remain one “step” larger than the rest). A quick way to make all your tracks the same size is to use alt to collapse all of them (you can click the collapse button beside the track name) & then hold alt again to resize them to the width you want. Also keep in mind if you select multiple tracks using shift or cmd you can resize only the selected tracks, no alt required.
I usually recommend turning off exclusive arm & solo, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t useful to be able to switch off other tracks & engage a new one with one click. Holding cmd does just this.
cmd + click overrides whichever you have set in the preferences. If you have exclusive solo on, for example, hold cmd & click a second track to solo it as well. If exclusive solo is off, cmd will turn off solo on the first track as it engages it on the second one.
time editing tools
These are life-savers if you don't know about them, & I've found far fewer producers don't than ought to. Holding shift when pressing using the regular clipboard shortcuts to include time in your cut/paste/duplicate.