Ableton Live Clip Triggering With a Keyboard

One of the cool DJ techniques with Ableton Live is to trick multiple clips using keyboard keys. You could in principle ‘play the keyboard’ and constantly trigger various clips, resulting in interesting (or not) combinations.

Now, how to map this with a keyboard, that’s the organizational issue. Some are looking into so called POT USB keyboards — these are matrix-style keyboards with rows and columns of keys, and you could program these to any key values. The problem with these are usually the price, as well as driver availability for MacOSX. But you could then create any kind of triggering system you want.

Now, there’s the lofty standard keyboard… I tried to experiment tonight with this kind of mapping. For the first audio column I mapped the cells as Shift-1, Shift-2, Shift-3, and so on, with Shift-0 being to stop the clip. The new row was Control-1, Control-2 and so on up to 9, and the third, Option-1, Option-2…

Now, I really like four tracks when doing this, but you can’t find another control key, and the Apple (Command Key) is used by Ableton Live, so I used the numeric keyboard, 1, 2, 3 and so on.

Then I also renamed the column headers so I knew what control key controlled what row.

I could get pretty far with this, it was indeed like playing an electronic accordion with material! Note, I didn’t check if a default key binding was overridden, but Ableton Live didn’t complain when I did this…

Now, I don’t mind the mouse, if I use four-bar Global Quantization, I have four bars of time when I could turn on and off various clips. The problem with the number scheme is that you could just have a range of 0 to 9 with number keys, and if you reserve 0 as stopping the clip (good to have) then you are down to just nine rows of clips.

I tried to map the keys using rows of alphanumeric keys, a, s, d and so on, but it just didn’t feel natural.

Maybe a combination of this kind of mapping and the mouse is a good combination. Anyway, with some training you could achieve very complex arrangements, provided you have tracks chopped into clips, or other clip material. Make a test version, save it, and make it read-only as a file, and you could then later just open this template and use it for specific DJ purposes.


  1. Hi Kent

    Thanks for the post. I am also looking for how to trigger clips in a 4 channel arrangement. I have recently bought a kenton killamix and have been using that, it works quite well. on midi channel one i have the row of buttons controlling clips 1-8 on ableton channel 1, and so on. However, this can be a problem as i have tempo and volumes on channel one and do need to swap between.

    From what you have posted though I could use the three functions with the numbers, and dedicate one to my killamix. Not sure how well this will work, but as you say, maybe a combination could be the answer. The KMX is so small i couldnt see a time when i dont have it around.


  2. Yes, it’s worth exploring. Some might like it, others not. I’m still testing this out. An external keyboard is nothing bad to have on a gig — it does not look like DJ gear, but it might function fine.

    Now, high resolution touch screens, that’s the way to go, but we don’t have commercial solutions available yet…

  3. I’m actually having a hard time re-mapping the keys. I want to change F9 from master record to unmute track 9. i’m a little confused about how to do that. What steps did you take, if you don’t mind?

  4. I’m not sure you could change Live’s default keyboard mappings — unlike in Logic where everything is configurable.

    Personally I try to avoid remapping keys, main reason is that then I could jump from one system to another, even others’ setups, and remember how the default configurations are. But sometimes there’s indeed a need to remap keys. You could always ask Ableton to put in a feature to remap their default keys.

  5. hi! it is very nice to see another ideas of mapping for ordinary keyboards-clip triggering. my m-audio trigger finger is just too ‘valuable’ only for simple triggering clips and different simple ‘on/off’ functions. so i plugged external my laptop, mapped it in columns and painted them with different colours, with the stickers for the prices (you know,small-ones from the shops or markets,stores… with a price on it ). they even glare in the dark(not too much like neon-lights but enough) what is important for live gigs. an what is more important you can write on them and change very quickly,they are cheap,come in preety big packaging(cca 100 pieces/pulley).
    now,another story is HOW will you map your keyb. my opinion is that main thing is to be consist in mapping and some things allways map identically and leave a part of keyb. for variations. HOW,it’s your decision and how best fit for you! very usefull is to know that there are combinations with SHIFT/CAPSLOCK and CTRL keys, so you have even more keys.
    my ex:
    red 123 green 45 yellow 678 orange 9 white 0′
    qwe r tzu io p÷
    asd f ghj kl ć
    on red i always put drumloops (if i need more, i use with CAPSLOCK etc)
    on first green-basslines or perc-variations
    on yellow ‘lead-things’ (synths,strings…it dependes)
    on orange fx,drones,occasionally sound,etc
    on white usualy vocal samples and variations but it is left for diferent needs, not only clip triggering
    keys yxcvbnm,. i mapped for scene triggering
    that’s it for now and you have to figure out what’s best for you.

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