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I've been playing music all my life. I just downloaded Ableton Live, and I've been trying to cook up some tracks. The issue that I'm having is that it often feels like the instruments that I pick don't blend together well, and when I put the instrument tracks together it sounds like there are three separate songs playing at the same time to the same rhythm in the same key, not a single track.

What could I be doing wrong that is preventing the MIDI clips from sounding like they are coordinated with each other, and not just similar?

  • Are you choosing every note yourself? You can do a lot with Ableton, but it's angled towards non-musicions who want to repeat and layer pre-made "loops" and "beats". You can do better than that! – Laurence Payne Dec 27 '14 at 13:35
  • I am choosing every note myself, I could always use loops and samples but I would much rather make the leads, rhythms, and beats myself – OneChillDude Dec 27 '14 at 18:08
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There are three reasons I can think of why things might not be gelling:

First, are your tracks adequately synchronised? If your timing is out when you record, or your system is introducing timing discrepancies, then notes that are supposed to sound together, won't.

The "cheat" for this is quantisation, or to program the notes in rather than record yourself playing. If you want to keep the humanity of your playing, then concentrate on timing as you play. Check for latency in your recording setup -- if there are delays as you record, the timings will be ragged.

Secondly, are you working with a set of sounds that complement each other? There are classic combinations that work together, for example a basic drum kit (kick, snare, hats, toms), a bass guitar, a rhythm guitar and a voice.

Start with that classic combination, or substitute instruments in the same rules -- for example a synth bass playing bass-guitar-like patterns, a piano sound playing chords in the rhythm guitar pitch range. A flute or a lead synth sound, instead of the voice.

Thirdly, are the instruments doing what they're good at? In that classic combination, typically the bass is supplying a tonal centre and a base rhythm, without playing too elaborate or complex a part. The rhythm guitar is embellishing the rhythm and rounding out chords. The voice is supplying the melody (and words). Copy those roles.

It might be worth, just at first, trying to copy an existing recording that you like, part-for-part. Choose something simple to start with, and don't expect as a beginner with limited resources, to create something as polished as something toiled over in a professional studio.

Listen to other people's music and pay attention to what each instrument is doing -- "That brass section isn't playing all the time - it just plays a short phrase every now and again".

Once you're making nice sounding tracks using well-worn combinations of instruments and roles, of course you can experiment and innovate.

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  • Thanks for the advice. The tips you mentioned at "working with a set of sounds that complement each other" is exactly what I needed! – OneChillDude Dec 29 '14 at 17:44
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When writing MIDI clips:

  • If you are recording the notes from a keyboard (not writing with mouse), quantize them automatically. If it sounds too mechanical then do that manually. Be very careful about your quantization settings as well. Adjust them for each instrument accordingly (For example: Tighter for rhytmic section, looser for solo sections).
  • If you can't get a satisfying result playing the notes yourself, write them with mouse using the midi piano roll.
  • Be careful about the role of instruments. Until you feel very comfortable about instrumentation, try to use each instrument only for its role. Don't let them interfere other's roles.
  • Same issue with instrument registers (pitch). Use every instrument in its effective pitch region. Leave other regions to other instruments. Divide the whole keyboard to different instruments and let them do their work.
  • Be careful about relationships between instruments. Let them communicate. For example one by one like speaking in a dialogue and coordinate like dancing (bass, drums and rhytmic synths).
  • Analyze the songs you like considering these issues.
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