Getting Started 3: Setting Up Your MIDI Controller

  • Live Versions: 8
  • Operating System: All


Learn how to connect a MIDI Controller to Ableton Live. This tutorial covers instant and manual controller mappings in Live.


In this tutorial we’ll look at how to set up your MIDI controller to work with Live.

Before starting you may need to install driver software that came with your controller, so check the instructions that came with your hardware.

First, plug the square side of a USB cable into the controller, and the wide side into a USB port on your computer.

Some controllers get the power they need just by connecting them to the computer’s USB port. But if your controller doesn’t, you’ll need to connect it to a power source and then turn it on.

Now launch Live. Go to Live’s Preferences by hitting [Control + comma] on a PC, or [Command + comma] on a Mac. Click on the MIDI/Sync tab.

If your controller is set up properly, you should see one or more Input and Output entries for it in the MIDI Ports section. Now turn on the Track switch for your controller's input port.

Your controller should now be set up to play instruments in Live. We can check this by playing the controller and seeing the yellow flashing square in the upper-right hand corner.

Instant Mapping

Live supports many control surfaces with Instant Mappings. These natively-supported control surfaces will automatically adjust Live’s built-in devices and will reassign themselves when you select a new device.

To see if your controller supports instant mapping, go back to the MIDI/Sync tab in Preferences, and click on the drop-down menu in the Control Surface column.

After selecting your control surface, select the MIDI ports it is connected to.
Instant mapping functionality varies depending on the controller, but with the controller shown in the video above, every time a Device Rack is selected, its Macros are instantly mapped to the controller's eight knobs. The hand icon in the title bar of a device shows that it’s currently controlled by your control surface.

Manual Mapping

Finally, your controller may not support Instant Mappings, or you might just want to set up custom controls for your Live Set.

Once again, let’s go to the MIDI/Sync tab in Preferences. This time, enable “Remote” for your controller’s input port.

You can now control almost anything in Live with your controller.

To do so:

  1. click the “MIDI” switch in the upper right-hand corner (zoom in)
  2. click on the thing you want to control (filter cutoff) (another zoom)
  3. move the desired knob on your control surface
  4. and finally click the “MIDI” switch again

You and your controller should now be comfortably working with Ableton Live.