How To Play With Vocals: 3 Tricks In Ableton Live



In this article, our guest contributor Eric Dubois shares 3 simple techniques for manipulating vocals in Live as he goes through Team Up’s 1-hour track challenge: how to use the Beat Repeater, which warp mode to use for vocal pitching and how to create the classic turntable slowdown effect.


Vocal Tricks - Ableton Tutorial 1

What is trending right now is vocal processing. We can all recreate a famous synth, or find a way to recreate the sound of a famous artist… Nothing too original. But with vocals, it is a different story. As the amazing producer Diplo and Skrillex: “Everyone can find a synth or a preset, but if you manipulate vocals it creates something really original.”


Check out the interview here on the creation of “Where are u Know” with Justin Bieber. Skip straight to 2:30 unless you like to hear young Bieber talk… Diplo and skrillex take the time to explain how important vocal manipulation is, from chopping, to harmonizing to creating a new instrument! So I will show you three quick ways to play with any vocal and create something pretty cool!


Here is a sample of all the different vocal tricks in one small mix. I produced this track for a Challenge with Team UP. One hour to produce a 1min track using the same sample and same tempo! You can check out the challenge here:


Chopping Using Ableton’s Beat Repeat


I used this acapella from Sia’s “Cheap Thrills” with Sean Paul.


Drag the sample onto a new audio track and make sure your Warping is correct. Ableton does a pretty good job in automatically warping audio. The sample has an original BPM of 90, and my track needed to be in 80bpm. So warping is a very important step to make sure your vocals are in sync with your track.

Warping: in Ableton this allows you to sync any audio with the BPM of your project. Place warp markers and pin point the areas that need to be synced. I will write a more complete article on warping.

Vocal Tricks - Ableton Tutorial 2Automatically warped by Ableton


To obtain a cool “chopping effect” really fast, we will use Ableton’s Beat Repeat effect. You can do all of your chopping manually which is more precise but it just takes too much time!

Vocal Tricks - Ableton Tutorial 3


It sounds pretty messy, so let’s tweak it a little bit.


First step is to select “Ins” in the Output Mode. This will allow to cut the original audio while the Beat Repeat is working. This will right away sound much better!

Vocal Tricks - Ableton Tutorial 4

Instead of “Mix” select “Ins”


Here are my steps to set the Beat Repeat:

  • Use the Offset knob to find the perfect spot to repeat. Every time you modify the parameters you must replay the sample from the start in order for the Beat Repeat to retrigger with the new modifications.
  • Once I found a good spot, I modify the Grid knob to make the chopping faster or slower.
  • I then tweak the Gate knob to make the length of the repetition shorter or longer.
  • Then I modify the Interval knob if I want the Beat Repeat to trigger every 1 bar or 2 (depending on the type of vocal sample I am using).
  • I can now add some variations in the repeats by tweaking the Variation knob. (This only works if the section you want to chop in your arrangement is longer then the Interval of your Beat Repeat)
  • When I use the Variations, I select “No Trpl.” (this avoids triplets in the Beat Repeat, which doesn’t fit my taste when I am working with vocals).


Here is how my Beat Repeat looks and sounds:

Vocal Tricks - Ableton Tutorial 5

The Decay allows a little fade out at the end of the repeat.


Re-pitching in Ableton


Sometimes you may want to re-pitch a section of the vocals to create harmonies or other stuff. In Ableton it is very simple! In this section of the record, I have manually chopped up a part of the vocal and I want to switch the pitch.

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Take a closer look to your Sample Window and you will see a Transpose knob. This knob allows you to change the pitch of your sample!

Vocal Tricks - Ableton Tutorial 7


It doesn’t sound that great alone, but here is the trick! In the Warp section, instead of “Beats” select “Complex Pro”. Drop the Formant to 0 and this will make the vocal sound more smooth and real!

Vocal Tricks - Ableton Tutorial 8


You can even copy one of your chopped vocals, paste it on your Beat Repeat track we previously created and change the pitch for a cool harmony!

Vocal Tricks - Ableton Tutorial 9


Slow Down Vinyl Effect


The final trick is how to get the end of your vocal to sound like you’re scratching a vinyl on a turntable – dropping the pitch of your sample dramatically at the end of your vocal. Here is how it sounds:


Very simple! As usual drag and drop your vocal sample on to a new audio track. Make sure the warp section is on Complex Pro with the Formants to 0.

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Click on the little “E” at the bottom left of the window to open the Envelope section. Click on the Transpose icon to be able to edit the pitch envelope.

Vocal Tricks - Ableton Tutorial 11

Vocal Tricks - Ableton Tutorial 12


To create the slowdown effect, you need to draw a quick pitch drop at the end of the vocal. I like to place around the last syllable and drop it dramatically, from 0 to -24st or more. The lower you go the stronger the effect.

Vocal Tricks - Ableton Tutorial 13


Here is how it sounds with a drop to -48st:


If you have any questions or comments please feel free to leave them below or email me directly! Thanks again and be CREATIVE!

Eric Dubois

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