Ableton certified doesn’t mean qualified (unfortunately).

(self) proclaimed heroes or losers?

Ableton Live is a DAW which seems to find its way into many places. A lot of the video’s you get to see on sites like Synthtopia often seem to feature Live as a basis to demonstrate something else. From VST’s to specific mixing techniques and beyond. The company behind Live, Ableton, has seen a rather steady growth. With a main office in Berlin (wonderful city btw in my opinion) and a second office in New York its not your average small software house which has a nice website yet its being run from a basement (figure of speech).

As can be expected the company also provides for training to get a better understanding of their Live software. Although Ableton Live may look “easy” to some people this is also what makes it such an excellent program; while it has a rather simple and straight forward interface its features are all but simple. You can basically make your material as easy or complex as you want it to.

To this end they provide with (online) training courses which you can follow to get a better idea and understanding. Naturally you could just find yourself a local trainer and get the show on the road, but Ableton also provides certification. If you want to you can relatively easily become a certified trainer by merely following these steps.

However, the real question is obviously if certification gives us users also some kind of proof of qualification. And quite frankly, after having seen many so called Ableton certified trainers put up video’s and examples I think a lot of them are a rather poor sight indeed.

Self proclaimed experts

When I watch a video I always keep an eye out for the way a person introduces him or her -self.  And after almost one year I’ve come to the rather biased conclusion that the moment someone starts an introduction as themselves being a “Ableton Live expert” you should really watch your steps. While they maybe certified I’ve seen too many examples already where people were far from being even close to anything “expert like” and would even stoop to making mistakes one would expect from people either new to Ableton or those who never bothered with reading the manual.

I don’t think it should come as a surprise given the many extra’s which come with the certification. Like, for example, the marketing support (advertise on the Ableton website) or specific reduced licensing features. Still, I think that the biggest problem here is that once people get certified they’ll also not lose this certification easily. After all; they paid big bucks for it, and the conditions on the website don’t mention anything about repeated trainings or annual courses to check up on recent knowledge.

So its well possible that someone who is fully knowledgeable with Ableton Live 6 yet totally clueless about Ableton Live 8 can still introduce himself as being certified or an “expert” while he or she actually knows very little about the recent stuff.  Back to the classic examples some of us witnessed in high school; where a teacher basically did nothing in class but recite that what he or she read in a schoolbook chapter without actually explaining anything about the subject.

Stupid mistakes or assumptions I’ve seen so far

I know this is a bit of a rant (I even tagged it as such) but just for fun here are some of the things I noticed self-proclaimed “Ableton Live experts” spout out into the open while they were simply plain out wrong. Sometimes I responded (and was met with a more than revealing silence) and sometimes people told me I was wrong after which all I had to do was name the page in the manual which backed up my comments (after which it went to silence again).

A drum rack is not a drum sampler

Some people seem to have the strange idea that a drumrack is in fact a drum sampler which you can use with your percussion samples. I’ve seen and heard many “experts” tell us dweebs as such. Bzzzzt. A rack, whether its a drum rack or an instrument or audio effect rack, is nothing more or less than an empty shell which can be used to put in instruments or effects in order to use those separate “parts” to build something more complex.

In case of the drum rack you’re basically dealing with a tool which has the capability to store many different instruments and effects; one in every pad, 128 in total.

It is true that once you drag in a sample you’ll end up with a sampler device which allows you to play and tweak the sample. But in reality what is happening here is that the drum rack recognizes the sample file; thus it loads in the Simpler instrument which in its turn loads the sample. Its nothing more than a smart association in order to prevent you from having to pull in Simpler and then the sample file.

In fact; if you want to you can easily make the drum rack load in another instrument by default as well.

Its not as if this is some kind of arcane knowledge. What I’m describing here is explained on page 243 of the Live 8 manual.

An effect rack doesn’t turn chains on or off

I was really stunned when seeing some certified trainer mention this one in a video and repeating himself in the comment section below. After he demonstrated how you can add effects and create different chains he then showed us this behavior by mapping the chain selector to a dial and then turned the dial to have different chains getting (quote: ) “turned on or off“.  One of the most obvious examples of completely failing to understand the way an effect rack works (as well as failing to check up on chapter 17 paragraph 4 “Chain lists” of the manual).

Bzzzzzt.  No, you don’t turn chains “on or off” with the chain selector of an effect rack. All you’re doing is telling the incoming signal which path(s) it should take. You can have the signal pass through one or even multiple chains at the same time. That is what the chain selector does; selecting which chain(s) the incoming signal should pass. This can be one chain, but even several chains together (in parallel).

Effect rack chain view.An example can be seen to the right. I’ve setup 3 chains each hold their own effect. So; a Limiter, Gate and Vocoder. To the right of the chain list you can see the so called zone editor. This decides which path an incoming signal should take. In my example the chain selector basically determines which effect is being used. When its set to 0 then the first chain is selected. So; with this setting the Limiter effect is being used.

But if I move the chain selector one step to the right (to position 1) then it will route the incoming signal to the second chain. In this case the one with the Gate effect on it.

And so on…  In this example I kept the ‘zone markers’ (the blue stripes) short. But you can also expand them. So would I expand the one on the Vocoder chain and enlarge its left side this would mean that the Vocoder chain would always be used together with one of the other chains.

Most of all: the chains are not “turned on” or “turned off”. If you pull in a device which creates a sound of its own you’ll notice that the sound will continue no matter what chain has been selected.

When using Operator turn off unused oscillators (or any other unused feature)

One of my favorite Ableton instruments is the Operator. I have a very soft spot for its raw potential and therefor I hardly pass up on video’s in which people demonstrate the things they do with it.  A little recap for those of you who don’t have the Ableton Suite:

Operator is Abletons “do-it-all” synthesizer. It provides 4 oscillators which you can route in many different ways in order to have one oscillator modulate (‘frequency modulation’) the signal from another oscillator. And you can even combine this behavior. So, for example, you could “split” the oscillators in 2 parallel groups where one oscillator will always modulate the signal of the other.
Apart from frequency modulation Operator also allows you to generate and define your own signals. While its oscillators support a variety of waveforms (sine, saw, square, triangle, etc.) you can also simply draw your own waveform and use that. This allows for a very diverse sound creation.

The one thing to keep in mind when using Operator: its oscillators consume CPU cycles. In fact, all of the stuff Operator does has a certain impact on your PC. So as a rule of thumb its always wise to turn off stuff which you don’t use. In fact, when you pick up the manual on the Operator instrument you’ll even spot a dedicated section explaining this (chapter 23, paragraph 8 section 8 “Strategies for Saving CPU Power”).

Unfortunately it seems most of the self proclaimed “Ableton experts” are totally unaware of this and will easily ignore this simple fact entirely. Ranging from keeping unused oscillators turned on right to actually turning on the Pitch Envelope while all they wanted to use were the already available “Spread” and “Transpose” dials (turning on Pitch Envelope while leaving its dial sitting to 0.0% and without editing any parameters).

The Live browsers have several presets to use

The browser is also a tool which seems to hold many mysteries for some “experts” out there..  Several months ago I witnessed a movie where someone needed to go to the Library and actually had one browser pointed to the “Workspace” so that he could navigate to his Library right from the root of his hard drive. Guess he never heard of the other presets like “Library, Current project, Desktop, Workspace and My Documents” (on Windows).  How one is capable to find the “Workspace” preset while totally overlooking the “Library” preset is something I still fail to comprehend.

SO here you see my Live browser. I didn’t show you the entire window because the last bookmark points to my projects folder which resides in my default Windows ‘My documents’ and I don’t feel comfortable sharing my real name to the Internet world.

Alas; here you see what I meant above. You have 3 individual browsers and by clicking on the arrow in the white titlebar you can pull up the browser presets as well as some bookmarks. As you can see I bookmarked “D:\Ableton”, which is the location where I keep demo presets as well as my main Library.

Normally I have the first browser (marked ‘1’) pointed to my Ableton data directory, the second is pointed to my project folder while the last points to my current project (as shown in the screenshot). This allows me to easily go back and forth between places I visit most often. And in case I would need to navigate to a location which isn’t available already I can simply pick browsers 2 or 3 (pointed at drives c and d) after which I can set them back to their original location by merely clicking the bookmark I defined earlier.

Still..  Again, how one manages to overlook “Library” while using “Workspace”…   I’ll probably never understand.

A return track can use its sends dials, honest!

I once saw a video in which some “expert” was actually convinced that the sends on a return track could not be used. So after he had setup B Return with some extra effects which he wanted to use he simply went over all his tracks again and turned ‘Sends B’ up to 100% for each and every one of them. Making me think “What the heck?!”. Guess he never heard of Ableton actually protecting you from making nasty mistakes in which you could cause your signal to loop. So in order to use the sends of the return tracks you need to enable them first. This is done by right clicking on them and selecting either “Enable Send” or “Enable All Sends”. Live really is that simple…



Now, before you get any wrong ideas about this rant of mine…   Yes, I am well aware that people can make mistakes. Even the smartest scientists sometimes make mistakes from time to time. That is really not the point here. My main gripe is with people who apparently feel special enough to introduce themselves as being Ableton Live experts, yet conduct tutorial sessions which don’t actually exceed the level of an amateur.

At the very least I’d expect an expert to make sure that the things he says and does are actually correct. If you’re going to do a tutorial on racks, how hard is it to pick up the manual again and skim through the section which explains their behavior ?  Or better yet; try out the stuff you’re planning to demonstrate up front in order to make sure that the things you say are actually correct.

My tip for those who are planning to do an Ableton course…

It maybe obvious by now but I’d really advice people not to focus on whether someone is certified or not. As much as I respect the Ableton company I think that the whole certification process is flawed on many levels. As said before; people who get certified always remain certified no matter the amount of changes Ableton implements within Live. So then its up to the expert to make sure his knowledge and expertise remains up to date, yet this is something which is never tested again.

Instead focus on persons or companies where you plan to take lessons. Search the Internet, or ask around on web forums if other people studied there and what their experiences were. Most of all I think it can help to look up tutors, especially on Youtube.

Once you come across video’s where people start to manifest themselves as established Live experts then I’d really advice you to carefully reconsider. Is the guy really as skilled as he proclaims, or is he simply boasting in order to make himself look good and promote his products only hoping for you to do business with him.

At the very least I’d advice you to checkup the things people like that explain to you in their tutorials and check their statements with the Live manual.  Such preparations will definitely make sure that you’ll be spending your money on a training conducted by skilled people instead of self-proclaimed skilled people.  There really is a huge difference…

(ShelLuser is not an Ableton Live certified trainer nor does he consider himself to be an Ableton Live expert.  He’s merely an Ableton Live user who has approx. 1 year worth of experience gained by working on a regular basis with Ableton Live as well as spending a good amount of time trying to help out others on the Ableton Live forums. ShelLuser will easily state that he has gained a certain amount of expertise using Ableton Live. Just like many others have).



  1. Ur nitpicking here but thats ok; ur right about some stuff…

    But: u forgot to mention where the manual explains the sends/return on/off and the browser stuff 🙂

  2. your article is DEAD ON!

    i think i know about the browsers; by default the 3rd is on workspace. i also think library is default.

    could that guy never found the menu?

  3. Indeed, you’re right there

    The ‘enable sends on return tracks’ is mentioned in chapter 14 paragraph 4 (“Return tracks and the Master track”) on page 191.

    All the browser stuff is explained in chapter 5 (“Managing Files and Sets”). The first paragraph deals with the things you can do in the file browsers (page 31).

    Thanks for your comments!

  4. Thanks for your comment.

    That’s a very good point you make, I forgot all about the default settings.  And yes; it would seem he never found out about the library; when he needed to access the library in his demo he always used the ‘Workspace’ section.  Its been a while, so I don’t know exactly which Live browser he used.

  5. I found this after you linked to it from the JulienB LFO controversy and I have to say without the specific examples it sounds like you’re being quite petty. These examples don’t sound like huge mistakes. But first and foremost one of the biggest points you made more than once is actually wrong. This is regarding staying updated with the latest version. I’m not sure where you get your information from, but part of the requirements for certification is that when a new version comes out a trainer has to have a phone interview with Ableton to ensure they are up to date. Granted this is not as good as doing it in person, but for some people it can be pretty expensive to get to Berlin or NY. Another very important point to consider is the vast majority of certification has happened after the release of Live 8, and Live 9 is still not even on the horizon, so this has not even really been an issue yet. Maybe they will do it with Skype or something that uses video or screen sharing when it happens? I don’t know, it hasn’t happened yet, but it’s simply not true that trainer’s don’t have to be up to date.
    Secondly, you mention this workspace/library thing, and again I don’t know which video you are referring to, but to me it seems entirely possible the author wanted to actually direct people as to how they will find the library the long way around. It seems unlikely to me they would have simply missed it when they are side by side. Granted they should have mentioned this if they didn’t, but its still not a capital offence.
    Now as I said, its very difficult to get into specifics without actually knowing what videos you are referring to, but I know for the videos I make for Groove3 I spend a very long time working on them and trying to make them accessible to beginners without being boring to intermediate/advanced users. This is not as easy as it might sound and as a result often there are volume 1 and 2 versions. Its also easy for intermediate to advanced users to forget how difficult and bewildering it can be for a total beginner, so there are often reasons things are put in very simple terms.
    Like I said I don’t know to which videos you are referring, but if they were mine I would really hope you would contact me personally as all trainers have their details available on the Ableton site. I take things like this very seriously because my professional reputation relies on it, and I’m sure other trainers do to. So in this respect your post is really quite unfair as you are putting out an impression that certification is meaningless, perhaps based on your experiences with one or two people, while the rest of us went to great lengths and personal expense to get the qualification.
    best regards
    Craig McCullough

  6. First of all thanks for your comment, I really appreciate the time you  put into this.

    Oh I am petty, true. My stance on all of this is that whenever someone proclaims him or her -self to be an Ableton Live expert he (or she) should also be well capable of keeping track of certain details. I’m well aware that some of my addressed issues are details, however some details (no pun intended) can go a long way. I’ve simply seen too many newbies on the Ableton forums (which I think you frequent too) calling a drum rack a drum sampler and as such having certain (wrong) ideas about that. And I’m the kind of nut who also occasionally tried to find out where these people got their ideas from, guess what ?

    Stories like that; when people paid to end up being fed with wrong information can simply annoy me to no end. Especially when someone feels “special” enough to proclaim him or herself to be an expert.

    Yes; I didn’t mention any specific names or links or such because I thought that might put my rant (that’s what it is) really close to slander. And that’s not what I want; I can be critical but I’ll never start a personal rant “just because”.  It seems you didn’t check out my next post after this; some of the “ableton certified people” managed to identify themselves into what I’ve written here and one of them (who’s name I won’t share) even accused me of slander.

    As to your comment about the next version; that is exactly my issue. You maybe given a phone interview when Ableton 9 comes out but in the mean time we already seen the addition of Max for Live and Amp as well as several other updates. Live 8 isn’t the same as Live 8.2.1 yet people who are certified will still appear as if they know all about Live.

    That is my main gripe here.

    If you do keep up with all of that then honestly: hats off to you. That is the kind of attitude I’m trying to provoke and advocate here.

    It is a difficult subject but alas..

    As to your video’s; truth be told I don’t think I’ve seen any unless you post using another alias (feel free to share). I did visit your website yet all your video’s there are behind a “pay before view” wall and while I did do a quick youtube search after reading your post I didn’t find much there either.

    But  to put it short: if you’re the kind of person who addresses himself as being an “ableton live expert” in the beginning of your tutorial then its very likely that my blog entry is also targeted at you. If you start differently then I think its safe to conclude that I was addressing other people.

    Kind regards!


  7. Hi ShelLuser – I didn’t realise it was you, I’ve seen you on the Ableton forum… I used to be ‘forge’

    I don’t disagree that quality of teaching is important at all. I guess I was more disputing the fact that the way you presented it seemed to have the effect of tarring us all with the same brush, which seemed a bit unfair.

    BTW – the free Groove3 vids are on their Youtube channel:

    but every series on the website has at least one sample video.

  8. i’d like to get a certificate at some point one the one hand but on the other hand not, because more or less every certified trainer video’s i have seen sofar has been very basic and quite frnakly very boring, with very few exeptions. i’d like to see more advanced videos, things like building complex feedback networks, and things such as midi remote routing for modifying messages, or things such as using clyphx sciprting to create step sequencers (which i’ve almost got working with a few hiccups using playmarker scripts heh), and similar things. anybody knows how to make a clip envelope, or how to route an audio track to another audio track, but not everybody knows how to build a massive effects rack on one track that contains your entire set’s devices and how to route audio to that (since you can’t route audio to specific chains, only midi), or how to build audio step sequencers. these certifies trainer videos are not aimed for advanced users at all, i have yet to see one that was remotely interesting. definnetly not saying that i’m an expert with Live but i know my fair bit of it and these videos just bore me to death.

  9. hi qbsr
    I understand what you’re saying, and believe me it is a difficult trade off. The reality in my experience is the vast majority of people who buy these training videos are beginners – or at least new to Ableton. This reflects in which ones sell the most. People who are interested in the kinds of things you are talking about tend to usually be more self directed and not be so interested in buying videos. Of course that’s not true in all cases as you point out, but this is the main reason you don’t see more of those kinds of things. I guess the reason this might seem the case more with certified trainers is because it is also based on our experiences of who seeks out training. I’m not saying I never get enquiries from advanced users, but if I do it’s more than likely only for one session where they want to confirm a few things or they are used to a different program. So you can see it might not be so easy putting all that work into an advanced title when it’s doubtful whether it will sell.

    But one thing I will say is I’ve been slowly working on my blog in the background and I am planning on making some free videos to put up at some point. This might be an ideal opportunity to put up some more advanced stuff.

  10. i’m not neccessarily talking about videos for sale either by the way. but if you are going to sell videos, handing out things geared towards more advanced users to me seems like a pretty good tradeoff because beginners are prone to listen to advanced users and take their advice into consideration and if then someone with alot of experience of Live says that “you know what? that guy over at has a series of great videos, i’ve learned tons from him!” then a beginner is more or less guaranteed to check it out since it’s from a confiermed source. if a random guy comes up and tells you thi you are more then likely to brush it off but when someone that you respect and seek out for advice tells you this it’s a whole other game all together. to be honest i think that these should all be free and if people want to sell stuff they should sell private one of one lessons, but that’s because i am great believer in the open source community and that information should be free for all and that free information is in the (or should be anyways) general interest of everyone, but that’s each to his own. but yeah i can see a very good reason to cater more towards advanced users. the only problem is that advanced users are also more prone to understand and figure out hting on their own, so unless you have an interesting salespitch or an interesting approach noone would care. but hey, you’re the one selling vids so i guess you can probably figure that pitch out yourself 😉

  11. everything for free is a nice ideal, but the reality is it’s actually quite a lot of work to make a video series, I just couldn’t justify making large comprehensive titles that get people up and running to an intermediate level without earning a living from it. Of course there are plenty of people around willing to make the odd video for free, but nothing like a whole series. Anyway, I see what you’re saying and I’m not trying to convince you. I appreciate all feedback, I’m just giving you an idea of where I’m coming from.

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