Ableton Note for iOS

Posted by James Cullen on

I've recently done a bit of an overview on mobile music making, and in particular covered some of the best apps out there right now for making music on your mobile devices. 

Well, I'm sure you can imagine how excited I was to find out that none other than Ableton are launching their own iOS music device called Ableton Note.

It's pitched as 'an app for musical sketching' and it looks really cool from what I've seen of it, so let's take a dive into it and see what features it's packing.

Your musical Notebook


Note looks great. It takes the familiar Ableton Live UI (which, let's face it, you either love or hate) and transports it onto the format of an iOS device.

You can use Note on either your iPhone or iPad.

The first point to make about Note is the distinction between the two types of mobile apps that established computer based DAW developers usually make.

There tends to be either a fully housed mobile DAW, containing as many of the features of a fully fledged DAW as it's possible to get into a mobile device, and then there's the other category.

This second category is where Note falls into, and it's when a developer makes an app that serves as a companion to their computer based DAW.

So, with that in mind, Note is an app which is designed to help you get your musical ideas down in a familiar format while you're out and about, or away from your DAW. 

You're using Note to start your new ideas, and its focus is around facilitating fresh creation and helping your find direction for your musical ideas. 

You can incorporate it into your regular music making routine, and then transfer the ideas you make into Live (more on that later), or you can just use it as a musical sketch pad to jot down your ideas ready to develop further when you get back to Live.


The basis

Note is a place to start ideas. That's the name of the game. Part of Ableton's aim around introducing Note is to allow you to hone the skill or starting music, or easing into a creative headspace.

I personally really love this. Beginning music is one of the most difficult parts of the process for a lot of producers, and it's amazing that Ableton are putting in the effort to introduce a new member of their software family specifically aimed at helping this process for producers.

The coolest thing around this is the integration with Ableton Cloud, which allows you to sketch out ideas in Note, upload them to the cloud server and then continue them in Live when you're next at your workstation.

The devices available in Note are all your familiar devices from Live, just with stripped down parameters. But bringing a Note set over to Live allows you to carry on with all parameters back in place.

So let's look into the options for creating in Note in a bit more detail.


It's all about beginnings.

It goes without saying that all of us have a different approach to how we begin our music.

Perhaps you find a specific sample you like and work things around that? Or maybe you focus on your drum beat first and build your tracks up from there?

Note comes with 56 Drum Sampler kits, 261 synth sounds and 36 Melodic Sampler instruments. These options for creating your music are a “curated selection” of what Ableton Live has to offer. Using the same synth engines and samples, but stripped down for use in Note.

Whatever way you start your tunes, Note has you covered.



If you're a beat maker first and foremost, this is most likely where you'll start things in Note. 

 Using the 16-pad grid, you can get your beat ideas down in a quick and intuitive way. 

Use finger drumming on your device's screen to record some ideas, and then you can quantize the drum pattern to tighten up any loose timing.

It's worth noting that you can't create MIDI clips like you can in Live and then draw in your notes, you have to play things in first.

While this may not suit everyone's style of making music, it's a great way to introduce some new techniques into your repertoire of how you mak tunes.



Picking from a range of preset sounds, you can jam out some melodies in Note using a 25 pad  grid or piano roll.

What's really cool about this is the fact you can either record notes using a chromatic scale, or set the preference to a pre-determined scale, so you know the notes you're playing are all going to be in key.

You have eight parameters to tweak, and two effects to adjust the timbre of your sound. But remember, you can edit these in much more detail once you import your projects into Live itself.


I've always been a lover of DIY sampling.

Sure, people can buy super high quality Zoom recorders and record their samples in as high a quality as possible, but this just isn't accessible to everyone.

Using Note, you can record samples up to 60 seconds in length directly using your phone's microphone, and then edit them to create sounds for your music. 

Record percussive hits into Drum Sampler or more tonal sounds into Tonal Sampler to make your own instruments.

You can edit the samples, adjusting the pitch, filtering them and cutting them down to size. You can also add effects to create some really unusual sounds.

This is one of my favourite features of Note. Since it doesn't allow you to work with audio tracks directly yet, being able to record in audio and use samples is a nice addition. What's more, is that there's a built in library of samples already present for you to work with.


Improvisation and Variation

When you're playing and jamming into Note, all you have to do is hit the MIDI  Capture button to keep it. Note will automatically detect the tempo and length, and create a loop for you. 

You're then free to quanitze, make changes or even add to it. The ability to record one melody line or rhythmic part and then go over and play more on top of that is seriously impressive. Note also records any automation changes you make when jamming back through your clips, so you're able to get some complex results in a fairly straightforward way.

But what's more, is that Ableton's Session View is also present in Note, allowing you to create clips and launch them to create different variations of your ideas. You can use 8 tracks, each of them with up to 8 clips on them to mess around with different arrangements.

It's a really great tool for jamming out smaller ideas and getting the basis of a beat ready to go.


Noteworthy and exciting

That was a bad pun, I know. But I couldn't resist.

I think that Note represents a really exciting step for Ableton, and more specifically, for the possibilities of how we make music with their softwares.

Bearing in mind that this is only version one, and we are likely to see more features added with updates throughout Note's lifetime, things are looking really exciting.

There are a few small minor niggles, such as not being able to work with audio, the lack of any type of preset saving - you can edit Drum Racks by mixing and matching samples, but you can't then save this a preset to use again. You also can't import your own presets from the full version of Live. Perhaps we will see this functionality in the future.

It's also worth pointing out, like we said in the intro, that Note isn't supposed to be a tool to allow you to make complex arrangements or finished tracks. Sure, we have Session View, and there is some level of mini-arrangement available across the 8 tracks you can use. But there are no follow actions for the clips for automatically triggering or looping ideas.

You can export your track as audio, but there's no dedicated, timeline-style Arrangement View like there is in Live.

But this shouldn't come as huge problem for users of Note. If you go into it knowing it isn't going to be somewhere you'll be making your next big tune, but instead somewhere for you to jam out ideas for it, you'll be pleasantly surprised.


So, I'm really excited to see the development for Note, and can't wait to get really familiar with all of its features.

There are some really good videos out there showing all of it's features and functionality, and this one below is the best.


Ableton Note is available iPad and iPhone on the Apple App Store. It costs $6/£5/€7,and you can find more info on Ableton's site.

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