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Ableton Groove Pool

Groove Options in Ableton Live 9

Ableton’s groove options offer a lot of control over how the swing is applied – from the Global Groove Amount to individual Base, Quantize and Timing settings for each groove template used in a particular project. Unfortunately that means it’s a bit too much for us to go into detail about all the options here. Luckily Ableton’s manual is also one of the best you’ll find for any DAW (pages 149–154 inclusive are the key section in this case).

In some DAWs you’ll get a visual display of the effect your swing setting has on the position of the notes. In Logic and Cubase’s piano rolls, for instance, applying a swing quantisation will shift the notes on the grid (you can turn the swing off and the notes will all jump back to their original positions). In others (Ultrabeat, FL Studio’s step sequencer), notes are delayed without their position on the grid changing. Ableton falls somewhere in the middle, shifting the timing of notes without moving them on the grid unless you hit the Commit button.

The important thing to remember here is that all of these approaches ultimately achieve the same end result: they all delay alternate steps in the sequencer (groove templates can also affect velocity but in this case we’re interested solely in the timing).

Hung up on numbers?

One of the consequences of the different systems is that it can be confusing to try and convert from one to another (the formula is: to convert from Logic to Cubase, subtract 50 then multiply by 6; in the other direction, divide by 6 then add 50). But how useful is it to think about numbers and percentages when dealing with swing anyway? Usually, not very. Swing is about feel and groove, not percentages. There isn’t a magic number which immediately makes your tracks groove and swing perfectly. Any given swing setting will usually be more obviously apparent at lower tempos since the space between beats makes it easier for the ear to pick up subtle timing variations.

Some producers have a go-to setting which they find works best for the style and tempo they typically produce in, but it’s essential to bear in mind that any given swing percentage will have a subtly different impact on the sound of the track as a whole depending on its tempo, how busy the groove is, how long the decay on the drum sounds is, and so on. Finding the right swing setting for a particular pattern is entirely a case of trial and error, listening carefully in the context of the track as a whole and finding a groove which suits all the elements.

But how does it sound?

Of course, the most important question of all is how swing actually sounds in practice. Drums are the easiest way to demonstrate the effect. Let’s start with the basis of a simple 118bpm house beat using 909 samples. We’ve programmed a four-to-the-floor kick, open hats on off-beats and claps on the 2 and 4:

8th note drums

Here’s how it sounds:

One of the most common sources of confusion when using swing is to try and apply 16th-note swing to a pattern like this and wonder why nothing happens. When all the hits land on 8th-notes, we won’t be able to hear any effect when applying 16th-note swing (the delayed steps don’t have any hits on them).

We could use 8th-note swing, but it’s quite unusual in dance music, although it can occasionally work:

Instead, let’s add some more hits to the pattern:

added 16th notes

It now sounds like this:

This allows us to hear the effect of applying 16th-note swing:

We can also see the result in the piano roll. In this case we’ve used the 16C swing setting. It’s easy to see how every drum hit on an even-numbered 16th-note division has been delayed slightly:

16C Swing

Author Greg Scarth & Oliver Curry
1st July, 2013

Passing Notes is sponsored by

Spitfire Audio

Spitfire Audio is a British company founded by two film composers looking to revolutionise sampling.

They set about recording the world’s finest players in the best locations in order to capture samples of unrivalled quality. Used across the music, gaming and film industry, Spitfire has become the go-to for producers and composers looking to add truly authentic sounds to their works.

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  • another amazing passing notes article. thanks so much for this. i’ve been producing for 20 years and i never understood why 50% on an mpc wasn’t the same as 50% in cubase until now.

    so why does mpc swing sound so damn good? do mpcs do something differently?

  • Really enjoyed this article, explained a lot. Would have loved more info about the Ableton Swing function though, is there much of an explanation in the Ableton manual itself?

  • @n94

    The short answer is no, MPCs don’t do anything differently. But there’s a little bit more to it than that. As luck would have it, we have an interview with the man himself, Roger Linn, coming tomorrow which should explain everything.

  • @ Magoo

    Thanks for the feedback. Obviously we’d love to go into more detail about each DAW but things would quickly get out of hand. In basic terms, Ableton uses a mixture of the Linn/Logic convention where 50% = straight timing and the Cubase/FL Studio convention where 0% = straight timing. It depends which groove you pick from the groove pool. Things are made a little more complex by the different ways in which Ableton allows you to apply the groove you’ve chosen.

    The Ableton manual explains it quite well. There’s a link to the PDF at the top of page 3 and you can also find the info here:

    We’ll be returning to explain groove templates in more detail in the future.

  • Thanks for all of these passing notes, loving them

  • Thanks for all these articles!

  • Thanks! You guys make really good job!

  • Fantastic, very educational post. Thanks

    steve t

  • Just the thing i wanted to read more about. Thanks.

  • The Korg KR-55 also came out in 1979 and had a continuously variable “swing” knob. I think the Korg actually predates the LM-1 by a little bit.

  • @Attack Magazine – Another excellent article, keep up the excellent work.

    P.S – When can we expect some news on Attack’s music production book? 🙂

  • Thank you guys!


    Someone FINALLY explaining to me exactly how swing works and how it should be applied!

    Of course, it was always readily apparent to me when swing is applied in tracks that I hear, but I never understood enough about the basis of it to apply it in my own music.

    Thank you very much for the succinct and efficient explanation!

  • Great explaination. Exactly what I was looking for….the correct full explanation. I’ve asked a few sales reps at music equipment sites I buy from and they were dead wrong.

  • Great article! This has been one of the things that’s been bugging me for ages, but now at least I understand the fundamentals of swing, I might actually be able to apply it to good effect! 🙂

  • ah man – so in your beat tutorials where I’ve been sticking FL to 50% swing to match your tutorials for 50% swing… that’s actually YOUR 100% swing?

    So when you say 60% – that’s FLs 10%? Am I understanding correctly?

  • Hi Plyphon

    You’re on the right lines but it’s not quite as simple as adding or subtracting 50 to convert from one standard to the other.

    0% in FL/Cubase equates to 50% in Logic/MPC. 100% in FL = 66.6% in Logic.

  • great article and great site for information in general. really surprised me to start digging into the articles and actually find them all to be well thought out and very much right on.

    i’ve spent my whole life playing punk/death rock/glam/garage rock… basically rock n roll, and up until recently had always kind of ignored electronic music, or at very best it’s sometimes seemed like good, danceable wallpaper.

    of course, like anything, once you for whatever reason become interested in it, whole new realizations begin forming and you see the subtle stuff that makes it either good or bad. so what a great bunch of articles to run into while i am learning all this stuff brand new to me.

    so thank you and keep it up, great writing and solid take on things.

    for topic on hand, just writing to mention also, that people should never overlook the use of compression to alter a groove. I was really shocked when I first realized how dramatically you could change a drummer’s push or pull on the beat by messing with attack release times and compression ratio/knee.

    not really about drum machine swing at all but just adding on to the very last part about what else is similar.

  • @Attack,

    That’s just really confused me – I think i’ll just continue to do it by ear!

  • Awesome article, really well written. This is a really newbie comment but one thing i dont understand about the terminology used is when you say 50% swing = straight timing – does this mean swing is basically “OFF”? and the hats have not been affected at all?

    Also another newbie comment – why use swing when you can just draw the hat positions exactly where you want? i.e. more flexibility. Its a genuine question, im just trying to understand the advantages of using swing, i can see some time is saved, but why else? Because doesn’t using swing also mean that each of the hats are offset exactly by the same amount (66% for example). Would’nt the hi hat pattern sound better if the first hat was 66% off, the second 60% off (for example). Or is the swing feature doing this already?

    Many thanks.

  • “If you have to ask, you’ll never know” – Louis Armstrong when asked to define the rhytmic concept of swing.
    You should all listen jazz music ! It will help you get the groove.

    Good article and good site by the way. Congrats !

  • This will take several reads, but thank you for the information. I wish I used Logic or an MPC though!

  • @Attack Mpc do have something different, :), its the crystals used inside the old machines, you see, there are some small things that make the difference, but people do not realise that, same as the korg emx/esx 1

  • I think the multiply/divide factor should be 4 and not 6??!
    otherwise full mpc swing (75&) would 150% in cubase which isn’t possible…

  • Hi, anyone can confirm the calculus done by robo? I thought the same when reading the article – if the formula (mul by 6) is true, then cubase would not be able to represent 75% MPC Swing..


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