I've already written a tutorial about setting up MIDI controllers. But what if you don't have one? Then you can use the computer keyboard to play MIDI instruments.

Computer MIDI Keyboard

  1. For this, the Computer MIDI Keyboard button in the top right corner of Live needs to be turned on.
  2. The centre row of letter keys on the keyboard will play notes corresponding to the white keys on a piano, beginning with A playing C3.
  3. The black keys on a piano correspond to the upper letter row of computer keys (W, E, T, Y, U, O - on an English keyboard).
  4. Pressing Z lowers the octave range while X raises it.
  5. C and V let you adjust the incoming note velocity by intervals of twenty.

Key Mapping

MIDI controllers cannot only be used to play MIDI instruments, but also to control parameters in Live. This is achieved with MIDI mapping. This is also possible with the computer keyboard in which case it's called Key mapping.

  1. Turn on Key mapping by clicking on the Key button in the upper right hand corner of Live or hit Cmd + K (Mac) or Ctrl + K (Windows). Everything that's mappable will now be displayed in orange.
  2. Click on the parameter you want to control, then hit the key on your computer keyboard you want to control it with.
  3. Repeat the steps with whatever else you want to map. In the Browser (left) you will see the Key mappings you made. You can set the Min and Max for the parameter if available. Since you only have keys available to map, assigning a parameter with a minimum and maximum value only allows jumping between those two values without any steps in between.
  4. Once finished, click on the Key button again to leave the Key Map Mode.

Quick tip:

If you intend to use both the computer MIDI keyboard for playing as well as Key mappings, make sure you don't assign the keys needed to play. Or else you always need to turn off the computer MIDI keyboard function to use all your Key mappings.

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There are plenty more Ableton Live tutorials where this one came from.