Ableton Push 2 as an instrument

Samuel Leeuwenburg
Dec 28, 2016 · 4 min read

One of the things that initially drew me to the Ableton Push was its design as an instrument rather than just a session controller. Somehow, despite being introduced by Ableton as an instrument, most of the reviews I read or videos I watch mainly talk about using it as a production or session control tool. I wanted to know how it would hold up purely as an instrument, so let’s do some exploring!

Session view

When you first look at the Push you will most likely do so from a production / live set mindset and connect the dots that way. Those who remember the AKAI APC will see a familiar pattern in the clip overview, however things only really get instrumental when you go to the note section

Chromatic vs Diatonic

The Push has 2 ways of displaying notes: either in a scale you select or chromatic. As much as the scale layout makes sense initially I really didn’t want to sacrifice the flexibility of having all 12 notes at my disposal.

The Push displays all black and white keys in chromatic mode so I thought I’d try to think of it as a piano and try to play something like a D major scale. It turns out this seems very hard and would require re-learning all scales again, so instead I tried to see how to easily reach intervals. Then I noticed something; when you move up the rows you hear the circle of fourths, and down the circle of fifths!

hmm…

Take a look at this pattern

Any guitarist will recognise this pattern anywhere, it is the famous power-chord! Here is Smoke on the Water:

I don’t know if the Ableton team made this interval size intentionally or not but this actually makes a huge difference, It means the push represents a guitar/bass fretboard, and all the licks and patterns I have learned over the years on guitar can be translated directly to the push. This actually makes the push easier for me to play than a piano is.

For any of you non-guitarist non-pianist producers you can look at almost any guitar tab and learn these licks/chords on the Push!

Here is another classic:

There are a few interesting differences worth noting:

  • The Push has no strings, this means you can play play multiple notes per row, and play 2 parts at once more fluently like you would on a piano
  • On a guitar the step from the 4th to the 5th string is a major third not a fourth, this means some chords/licks need a little transposition,
  • The playing field differs hugely! The Push is 8x8 and a standard electric guitar technically would be 22x6[1] at minimum

Now let’s play around with some chord shapes for guitar:

Take any shape, flip it on its side, transpose the top 2 strings a semitone to the left, and you get your guitar shape on the push:

This chord doesn’t use the upper strings so we don’t need any transposing

For most chords like the one above the first few strings are enough, especially considering we have 2 hands at our disposal allowing us to play the root of the chord with our other hand.

The push has an isomorphic keyboard layout[2] meaning chord shapes do not change as you switch from note to note. This makes learning chords a “learn once use in every key” scenario! In conclusion I would like to show you some of my favourite shapes on the guitar/Push, hope you enjoy!

[1] 22 and not 21 because I am counting the 0th fret as an option
[2] further reading, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isomorphic_keyboard

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