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How to play Pads in Ableton Live using a MIDI foot controller

Download Pads here (available in all 12 major and minor keys)

We’ve highlighted several ways to play Pads and other sound beds here at Worship Tutorials, but one of the most flexible (and requested) options is to play them using a foot controller from stage. For years, I played Pads using exactly this method – it offers a ton of flexibility, and all the control is in your hands as the worship leader (your feet, actually).

You’ll need a few things to pull this off…

Gear List

  • Pads (or click tracks, or any sound bed really)
  • A computer – I preferred a laptop, but it doesn’t have to be
  • A midi foot controller – I used the Line 6 FBV Express MKII
  • Ableton Live (Live Standard and Live Intro work as well)
  • Cables/direct boxes to run audio from your computer to your sound board. I used a stereo 1/8 inch to dual mono 1/4 cable and then ran those into 2 direct boxes that fed the FOH board.

Ableton Live Setup

In the video above, I walk through exactly how I set up Ableton Live, including how to MIDI map each button and expression pedal, but the basic idea goes like this…

  • Button 1 plays the Pad/loop and advances to the next loop. This way each time you press Button 1, it either starts the first song or plays the next song in the list.
  • Button 2 stops everything (emergency kill switch!)
  • The expression pedal controls the volume of the Pads channel. This allows you to fade the pads in and out using the volume pedal.

You can do much more complicated things with MIDI in Ableton, but this was a very simple setup that did not require a lot of thought while leading worship. Just press the button and go. Press again for the next song. Easy.

The crossfade

To really make Pads work well for transitions, you’ll want to crossfade them. This creates a seamless transition when moving from one song to the next, and it’s especially useful when changing keys. Ableton Live does not crossfade sound clips in this manner, so you’ll need to set it up manually. To get the crossfade, I put a reverb and a delay on my Pads channel. You can see and copy my exact settings using the video above, but you’ll want a long tail reverb and a delay with a good amount of feedback and sort of longer repeats.

Final notes

Because this setup is so simple, you’ll need to follow a pre-determined set list. This means you can’t change the order of the songs at the last minute (unless you change the order in Ableton as well). If you wanted that kind of flexibility, it would actually be easy to do – you’d just need midi controller with more buttons. You could set one button for each song you’d be doing that day, and then just play them in any order you’d like.

If you have any questions about how this setup works or how to use it in a live environment, please ask in the comments below.

18 Responses to How to play Pads in Ableton Live using a MIDI foot controller

  1. Titus Mar 10, 2015 at 12:45 pm #

    I am the bass player and one of the pastors of our church (youth pastor) so I am involved heavily in what happens on Sunday morning services. I control the pads from my iPhone using the Worship Tutorials app. I use a bluetooth connection that is plugged into our soundboard so there are fewer cables on stage and I don’t have to worry about leaving my phone on stage during service. If we go into a communion song and I am helping with the communion elements I can run my pad from anywhere in the building so I don’t even have to be on stage in order to play the pads since it is a bluetooth connection. The bluetooth connector I use is a HD Belkin which gives a great sound and has no interference. I love the pads… people in our congregation thought that i was playing a keyboard for the sound while playing the bass so it gives the illusion of having a keyboard player in your band.

  2. JJ Mar 11, 2015 at 11:25 am #

    Hi Titus, can I ask what kind of app you are using?

  3. Paul Mar 15, 2015 at 12:07 pm #

    I have MP3 Powered speakers with USB connections. Without using a computer or any other vise can I download the pads on USB sticks and plug them into my MP3Powered speakers? Thank you for your response and God Bless you.

  4. Richard Mar 17, 2015 at 3:19 pm #

    Hey guys,

    I use a DJ app on my android phone. It let’s you queue up two sounds at the same time. Hit play on both channels and you can cross fade between the two or even add a new key on the channel you aren’t using. I use a wireless mic controller.

  5. Karl Apr 1, 2015 at 1:46 am #

    Excited to give this a whirl in a upcoming worship event.

    What type of usb cord do I need to run the pedal to my Mac?

  6. Darin Apr 1, 2015 at 9:45 pm #

    You mentioned in the video that you were having trouble with the Line 6 not assigning the right things to execute. Mine will either not assign the function that you’re asking, or will assign stopping to the volume pedal. Is there any fix for this?

    Also, how do you input the effects to make the transitions that you talked about in the video? Couldn’t find them in my version.


  7. Karl May 20, 2015 at 12:03 pm #

    How do I change the settings on the pedal board to match what is needed to start scene, scene down, etc.?

  8. Danoel Jun 16, 2015 at 2:24 am #

    Ableton Does have several built in crossfading options between scenes and tracks…. its all documented
    in the manual and in several good tutorials on youtube. Learning how to crossfade pads would be better
    than unecessariliy adding a bunch of reverb and delay to the pads just to give them a “pseudo” crossfade effect.

    • Brian Jul 3, 2015 at 2:25 pm #

      Good to know, Danoel. I searched a lot for a solution to do this but never could figure it out, but yes – that would be a much better solution than the reverb/delay setup.

  9. Michael Ertel Nov 4, 2015 at 10:07 pm #

    Would this work if I had the Ableton Playback app for iPad? If so, would I still be able to use a foot controller?

    • Brian Nov 28, 2015 at 1:58 pm #

      Hi Michael – I’m not sure about that as I’ve never tried it. You’d need some way to send MIDI information through to your iPad – or some kind of control that the app can recognize.

  10. Karl Mar 24, 2016 at 12:32 pm #

    Still unable to change settings on pedal board, i.e. CC1 Master Scene Launch, etc. Please advise.

    • Brian Apr 4, 2016 at 10:34 am #

      Hey Karl – Sorry for the trouble. It’s been a very long time since I’ve used this foot controller, but have you tried downloading the app from Line 6 that will allow you to change the midi signals that it sends? That’s what I used to get it to work. Otherwise you may want to reach out to either Line 6 or Ableton support.

  11. Paul Wallen Oct 20, 2016 at 7:40 pm #

    Hi Brian,

    Is this possible using the Line 6 Helix pedal? That is what I have and would like to use that instead of the MKII. Thanks.

    • Brian Nov 21, 2016 at 6:54 pm #

      Hey Paul – Yeah it would be actually. You can send MIDI data with the Helix, but I haven’t used it that way before.

  12. Keith Jun 20, 2017 at 4:27 pm #

    How do you download the pats on the iOS

    • Brian Oct 20, 2017 at 9:02 pm #

      Hey Keith – you’ll need to download the Pads to a computer and then transfer them with iTunes.

  13. Jeremy Mar 12, 2018 at 6:56 pm #

    How do you power your Line 6 MKII? Are you using a POD or Line6 amp? Or a POE injector of some sort?

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