Accessibility of Music Theory in Ableton Live

Elise Reitze-Swensen




Music theory taught in Ableton Live provides a fast and accessible framework for students to develop knowledge in rhythm and harmony. Drawing upon my personal experiences as an educator in tertiary, school and private lesson contexts, I will research the benefits and limitations for music theory being taught in Ableton Live. In this paper, I will also investigate the inclusivity of learning music theory within Ableton Live and the additional tools that can assist in the learning process. I will discuss the parallels between MIDI and music notation and analyse existing teaching methods that can aid in connecting the two methods.

As part of my analysis, I will cover the teaching methods used to demonstrate reading and writing rhythm in MIDI and ‘Drum Rack’ using rhythmic grids of 1/2, 1/4, 1/8, 1/16. Common beats such as Four To The Floor and Back Beat serve as simple examples for understanding beats of the bar and highs and lows within a drum pattern. More complex groupings such as 332 in 8th notes, 332 in 16th notes, 33424 in 16th notes and variations of these syncopated rhythms are accessible to students, as they use a system of counting rhythmic duration ‘blocks’ within a grid. I​will discuss teaching micro and macro structure of rhythmic form using analysis and creation of MIDI clips within Drum Rack, drawing upon contemporary music examples.

In this paper, I will explore teaching of harmony using MIDI in ‘Piano Roll’. The approach teaches students simple and complex harmonic chord structures and patterns based in C Major and A minor. Learning in these keys, gives students a fast introduction to chords, inversions and harmonic extensions and the tools to build these concepts within their own MIDI clips. Students are able to analyse contemporary audio examples, MIDI examples in ‘Piano Roll’ and then create their own chord progressions in any given key signature.

These methods of teaching rhythm and harmony will then be compared to traditional music notation methods, drawing on similarities and differences. Accessibility and speed of learning for traditional notation and understanding of different note values, key signatures and time signatures will be analysed, referencing existing teaching practices of music theory.


Elise Reitze-Swensen is multi-award winning, internationally recognised, multi-disciplinary artist and educator. Elise’s music and teaching has won eight Australian music awards, including West Australian Music’s Best Electronic Producer three years running (2017, 2018 & 2019). Elise’s compositions have been supported by the likes of Triple J, BBC Radio One, Red Bull, the Les Paul Foundation and have topped the Australian Music Radio Airplays national metro charts. As electronic duo Feels, Elise’s performance highlights have included Australian music festivals Listen Out, Laneway, Falls Festival, Groovin The Moo, Perth Festival, Melbourne Fashion Festival, TEDXPerth (speech presentation) and international music festival SXSW (USA). Elise has presented at conferences and music technology events in Perth, Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Auckland, Los Angeles and Texas. In 2017, Elise established music community WOMPP, which has expanded to include over 600 female and gender non-conforming music makers across Australia and New Zealand.