Handy Tip for Using Extract Chain in Ableton Live

In the last post, I discussed the extract chain function in Ableton…as well as what I felt were some of its drawbacks. I like the fact that I can break a MIDI drum clip up into various parts (one for kick drum, one for snare, etc.), but I don’t like the fact that, in the process, my original Drum Rack gets torn to pieces. This makes it difficult to play live, etc.

So, I’ve come up with a solution, natch. In this tip, you can take advantage of the Extract Chain to break the original drum clip up into separate MIDI clips and then use MIDI routing to have these newly minted clips play the original Drum Rack.

I like to do this because, now, since my Drum Rack is still intact, I can still play it live, like a Drum Machine. I can also easily switch out the Drums from the cells and use choke groups, etc. Basically, I’ve salvaged the functionality of the Drum Rack. Yay, me.

Sound complicated? It sort of is…but luckily I’ve made this handy dandy video for you, including on-screen keyboard shortcuts! These shortcuts make all the difference between this taking 3 minutes and this taking 15 minutes, so check ‘em out. Make sure to leave me a comment if anything is unclear!

Text instructions are below the video.

First, duplicate the track with the Drum Rack on it.

Rename the duplicate to keep things straight.

Now, create as many new MIDI Tracks as there are chains that you want to extract.

Name these newly created MIDI Tracks after the drums in your Drum Rack. Keep them in the same order as they appear when you expand the Drum Rack track view!

Extract the chains from the Duplicate Drum Rack from left to right.

Now, select all of the MIDI Clips from the newly extracted chains and press Cmd+X.

Select the upper-leftmost cell in one of your newly created MIDI tracks and press Cmd+V

You can now duplicate your Duplicate Drum Rack (which should be empty) and your extracted chains, which should also be empty.

Finally (VERY IMPORTANT), open the I/O pane by pressing Cmd+Alt+I. Select all the new MIDI Tracks and select the original Drum Rack from the “MIDI To” dropdown menu.

Make sure that the monitoring on your original Drum Rack track is set to “In.”

Voilá! Now, when you press a scene launch button, the original track should play, but spread across several tracks!

4 Responses to “Handy Tip for Using Extract Chain in Ableton Live”

  1. Warrior Bob December 7, 2011 at 4:08 pm #

    Thanks as always for pointing out setups and routings for Live that aren’t always obvious up front.

    The thing that drives me batty about Extract Chains is that, upon extraction, the levels are all wrong, since it doesn’t preserve the relative level of each sound when it makes a new channel. That, and it doesn’t make much sense if you’re relying on a send effect inside of a Drum Rack. It’d be cool to be able to send from rack chains to return channels, although the interface for this would probably get pretty fiddly.

    Now, of course Extract Chains should be used well before mixdown so this isn’t really a dealbreaker of an issue, but I’ve found I’m sometimes hesitant to use it if I like the basic balance and feel of my drums.

    Do you know a good way of getting around this?

    • Anthony December 7, 2011 at 4:29 pm #


      The semi-fiddly answer is to set the levels, balance, etc. on the simplers instead of the actual drum cell tracks (which are actually chains). Because if you do that, then the simpler parameters will be exctracted with the whole cell, methinks. Just a thought…

      • Warrior Bob December 7, 2011 at 7:00 pm #

        Oh, that’s much better than I had thought of, which is to put Utility devices everywhere. Still can’t use mixer channels, but that’s okay. Thanks!

        • Anthony December 7, 2011 at 7:55 pm #

          Yeah, if it’s just a few drum cells, I use macros to control the volumes.

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