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Computer music for beginners DAW Software
Old 14th October 2012
Gear maniac
kennyda's Avatar

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Computer music for beginners

So many technical threads on here and I was bored so I thought I'd start a thread for complete beginners.

So, what do you need to get started? Well, just a (modern) computer or laptop. Plus a DAW of course. A Digital Audio Workstation. This is the software program you use to make the music with. There are a few you can try as demos. The problem is they take time to learn, so it's not easy for a complete beginner to compare them.

Don't worry about which is best in terms of sound quality. All the main DAWs are capable of producing professional quality music.

You can often get a free 'lite' version of a DAW bundled with a midi keyboard, even an inexpensive one costing around £50. Later you can upgrade to the full version. The money you save on the upgrade, compared to just buying the full version, can be more than what you paid for the keyboard! This way you get a keyboard for nothing. A midi keyboard is called a controller, or control surface. As well as playing notes, it will be useful because it's 8 knobs can control all sorts of stuff in your DAW.

This then is your best way to get started. You can use your lite version as long as you want while you save up for the upgrade.

Another way to start is to get Reaper and some free VSTs (software synths). However you won't have a multisampler. A multisampler is necessary for playing sampled sounds over a wide range, eg a piano. Not all DAWs include one. In fact, not all DAWs include synths in their standard package, so make sure you compare like with like, especially if price is a major factor.

I'll do a summary of Ableton Live and hopefully other Slutz can post similar summaries of their DAWs, and also post resources for beginners.


DAW: Digital Audio Workstation, software for making a complete song

Midi - the name for the language that computers use to make musical sounds from notes played or drawn into a note editor.

Plugin - external soft synth which can play inside your DAW.

VST - same as plugin

see also this thread
My DAW of Choice is ____ becos...
Old 14th October 2012
Gear maniac
kennyda's Avatar

Thread Starter
Ableton Live/Suite

Cost: Live is about £250 when upgraded from the lite version. Suite is around £450. There are also educational discounts and Suite is around £330 for students. Note that the download version of Suite contains a bit less stuff and is cheaper. However it is only missing Session Drums and still contains the mutisampler, the synths and so on. I recommend the Suite download as the best option for most people.



Live has a very minimalist interface, but you can colour code clips and tracks. You can also edit the skin. You can see mine in the video below.

Session View

Ableton Live is like other DAWs, but it also has a non-linear Session View. So you have two ways to create a song, the normal linear way in Arrange View, or in Session View. In fact you can use both at the same time. In Session View the tracks are arranged in vertical columns. Horizontal rows contain slots for audio and midi clips. An audio clip is a loop or piece of audio, and a midi clip is notes which trigger sounds in a synth or sampler. You can launch all the clips in a row at the same time, and this row is called a scene. You can also capture any combination of clips as a scene. Of course you can duplicate scenes and rearrange them etc. You can launch one scene after another to create a song. Then you can record into Arrange to finalise your song. Session View is also used to play simplified versions of finished songs live, enabling you to change them live, and for DJing.
image showing Session View, Clip View, Info View and the Mixer.


In Live you can turn any device (including external plugins) or group of devices into an Instrument Rack. A Rack has 8 knobs and you can map any parameters to these knobs, which can then be controlled by the knobs on you midi keyboard. So for instance a rack could contain a soft synth and some effects, and the 8 knobs would control the most used parameters. Let's say you have a Minimoog set how you like it, with some processing after it. You can map the main tweakable parameters to macros and save the whole package with whatever name you want to call it, in your Minimoog folder.


You can group tracks in your song into groups. This is useful for keeping organised, and means you can put effects on the group. You can drag tracks in and out of groups. You can fold a group so all the tracks are hidden.

Automation and Modulation

These are different, and the difference is explained here. You can use modulation to do the same thing as automation, but it is done inside a clip rather than to a track, and so can exist in Session View. You can also have global automation playing in Arrange while you play everything else in Session View.


Live has loads of effects devices. You have to get Suite to get the synths and the multisampler though, Live just has a basic sampler to get you started. Of course you could just get Live and get some free synths, but Suite is great if you have the money. It sounds odd, but Live users still call Suite 'Live', if you know what I mean. Live's (ie Suite's) synths and multisampler are very good, and one great feature is that they don't need a separate window like plugins do.


In fact there is only one window in Live full stop, except when you right click and get a popup menu to choose from. You hardly use Live's menu and there isn't much in it anyway. Everything is done via shortcuts and right clicks. There are the two main Views described above, plus half a dozen or so bits you can show or hide via keyboard shortcuts, but it's always the one window. You can drag samples from the browser or even from your desktop and Live will automatically put them in a sampler for you. Instruments and audio are simply dragged in from the browser. The browser, revealed by a shortcut, has 6 sections, and two are for your samples. They also have bookmarks to make finding your favourite sample packs easier. You can also drag tracks out of old songs and stick them in the current one.

Warping is Ableton's name for time-stretching. It basically means that a warped piece of audio can be played faster without sounding like pinky and perky. In fact even in the browser, your loops will play at the correct speed for your track! Drag a loop in at any tempo and it will play perfectly, immediately. In this video I show how to manually warp a full track and chop a loop out in 2 minutes.

Old 14th October 2012
Gear maniac
kennyda's Avatar

Thread Starter
would be good if people mostly just post summaries of other DAWs for now, preferably in a similar format, so noobs can compare them.
Old 22nd October 2012
Gear maniac
kennyda's Avatar

Thread Starter
Apparently some people are a bit confused on the upgrades. I found this

Ableton - Pricing
Upgrades from Live Intro/Live Lite to Live 8 (also upgrades from Live LE)
EUR 299

But it might be different buying from shops.
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