How to Use the Piano Roll in Ableton Live

You can access the Piano Roll in Ableton Live by double-clicking a MIDI track slot. From there, the Roll can be used in various ways to record, edit, and make all sorts of adjustments to your project. It’s a powerful and productive tool to harness.

I’m Donovan, a lifelong musician with over two decades of experience in the music industry. I have hands-on experience with Ableton Live and know how to use the Piano Roll and many other features in this solid DAW. 

This post will show you how to use the Piano Roll in Ableton Live. I’ll walk you through some simple steps to getting started with this feature, including how to access it, how to make basic edits, and what the Piano Roll can add to your projects. 

Let’s get rolling. 

Using the Piano Roll in Ableton Live

There are various ways you can use the Piano Roll in Ableton Live, and it’s more of an all-around tool than a basic feature. In my experience, learning how to use this tool opened up Ableton’s possibilities in many cool ways. 

Let’s start by showing you how to access the piano roll. This is easy to do, but you might need a little direction if you are just learning.

How to Access the Piano Roll in Ableton Live 

Step 1: Open a new or existing Ableton Live project. 

Step 2: Create a new MIDI track in the project if there isn’t one already. Move your cursor over the Create heading from the top of the screen and then select Insert MIDI Track. You can also use the shortcut Command-Shift-T

Step 3: Once you have a MIDI track open, double-click on any MIDI clip slot within that track to open up the Piano Roll at the bottom of the project window. 

Double-click any open MIDI clip slot to access the Piano Roll

After you double-click, the piano roll will show up, and you can work on things from there. 

That box at the bottom with the Keyboard icons is the Piano Roll

Now that you have access to the Piano Roll let’s take a quick look at how to use it. I use the Roll in nearly every project in different ways, but knowing the essential functions and features it offers is the best place to start. 

You need to have some MIDI data on your track to use the Piano Roll. You can either drag MIDI from a different project or arm the track and record MIDI directly into the Piano Roll. 

Once you have MIDI on the track, the notes appear in the Piano Roll like in the image below. 

As you can see, the Piano Roll is pretty small, especially if you are using a laptop. You can zoom in on the roll to make it larger and easier to work with.

How to Zoom the Piano Roll

Step 1: Move your cursor to the left of the key icons in the Piano Roll until it turns into a magnifying glass icon

Step 2: Click your mouse or trackpad in this area and then drag left to zoom out or drag right to zoom in. 

Zoomed-in look at the piano roll. 

I also like to resize the Piano Roll to make it larger when I am editing or doing any production work. Again, this becomes very critical if you work on a laptop. 

How to Resize the Piano Roll 

Step 1: Move your cursor just above the Piano Roll window until it turns into a resize icon

Click in the region indicated here to resize the Piano Roll. 

Step 2: Click and drag the resize icon up to increase the size of the Piano Roll. 

A resized Piano Roll looks like this in the main project window. 

Editing the MIDI notes within the Piano Roll is another one of the main ways to use this feature. This is my preferred way to edit MIDI, and the Roll makes it super simple to quantize, adjust pitch or velocity, and many other features. 

You can click and drag the notes on the MIDI grid around to change their pitch or positioning. You can also use the Notes window or the Velocity adjustments at the bottom of the window. 

I learned how to use the Piano Roll effectively by playing around with all the editing tools once I had MIDI recorded. It’s all pretty self-explanatory, so I suggest the same process for beginners. 

Final Thoughts

The Piano Roll in Ableton Live is a handy and functional feature. Knowing the basics of this feature will get you a long way toward editing and producing whatever type of audio project you are diving into. It’s one of many impressive aspects of Ableton Live. 

What is your favorite way to use the Piano Roll in Ableton Live? Let me know in the comments below.

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