How to use MIDI controllers with Live

  • Live Versions: All
  • Operating System: All

What is a MIDI controller?

A MIDI controller is a MIDI-enabled hardware device capable of transmitting MIDI Note or CC data, with any of the following tactile parameters: keyboard, encoders, buttons, dials or sliders. For instance, you could use a MIDI controller to play notes in MIDI instruments or to adjust the filter cutoff frequency in a device.

Here's a Novation Launchkey MINI. It has a mini keyboard, buttons and dials, all of which can be used to control Live.

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How do I connect my MIDI controller to my computer?

If your device has a USB connection, then connect it with a USB cable to your computer. Certain devices are class compliant, which means that they don't need a dedicated driver. Otherwise make sure to install the USB driver which you'll find on the manufacturer's website.

If your MIDI controller only has MIDI ports, then you need to use a MIDI cable. Connect the cable from the MIDI controller output to an input port on your MIDI interface (audio interfaces often have MIDI ports too).

How do I activate the MIDI controller in Live?

There are two possible ways of configuring a MIDI controller for use in Live:

1. Use a Control Surface (if available)

If your device has a natively supported control surface, this will automatically activate itself once you launch Live. Control Surfaces are specially written scripts which allow certain controllers to interface with Live. Here is a list of the natively supported control surfaces in Live.

Here's how to configure a control surface.

2. Create custom MIDI mappings

If there is no control surface available you can create custom MIDI mappings in Live instead. In Live's Preferences → Link MIDI, you need to activate "Track" and "Remote" for the input port connected to the controller, and "Remote" for the output port. 

Here's how to create custom MIDI mappings.

How do I play a MIDI instrument in Live using my controller?

In the MIDI track containing the instrument, open the IO monitor section, make sure that MIDI from is set to "All ins" or directly choose the controller's port, then either set the monitor to "In", or "Auto" and arm the track. If your controller has a keyboard, play some keys and your instrument should play those notes.

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Can I use my hardware synthesizer as a MIDI controller?

Yes - if it has MIDI out and transmits MIDI CC or note data. See section 8 in our article on using hardware synthesizers with Live.