3 Reasons Why You Should Still Use Ableton’s Impulse

The Ableton Impulse device is like the rotary phone of music production. Or better yet, the fax machine.

It’s around, but no one really knows why. At first blush, it would appear that everything that it can do can be done a million times better by the newer, cooler kid in class: The Drum Rack.

But I’m here to tell you that the Impulse is still the right choice for 3 reasons, which I shall enumerate for you right…now!

Global Transpose

As I’m sure some of you know, one of the best ways to make your beats instantly tighter is to make sure that your drums are (somewhat) in tune with your bassline, chords, etc. The longer the sustain on the drum hit, the more of an issue this is. Think kick drums, toms, woodblocks, etc.

So, let’s imagine that you (like me) have made almost an entire percussion track before you even thought of a bassline. Now you write the bassline and, just like that, your entire drum pattern is out of tune with your bassline. Wah-wah.

If you are using the Drum Rack, you have to go into each individual Drum Cell and transpose your hits. This is somewhat of a bummer, workflow-wise.

Enter the Impulse’ Global Transpose control. Just like the Drum Rack, the Impulse Device in Ableton has a transpose function for each Drum Cell, but it also has one (on the far right, bottom) that controls the transposition of the entire device. Pretty groovy, right?

Ableton Impulse



This is my actual favorite aspect of Impulse. The stretch control, which is available for each Drum Cell literally stretches the audio sample. This does not sound at all natural, which is totally boss. It sounds, to me, like your putting your sample through a granulator. This effect is also available for the entire device, where it is inexplicably called “Time.” Dunno why that is.

This feature, plus Envelope Automation, is great for adding some variation to your clips, like I show in this little video here:

The Frou-Frou Reason

As you might know from reading this blog, I am a fan of “process.” I think a lot about how to make music and how to be more creative and all of that good stuff. And I think that a certain degree of limitation is good for creativity, I really do.

Too often, as Live users, we fall into the “more is more” trap. Something not going right with the track? Add more stuff! I myself do this and know that it leads to paralysis and frankly, messier mixes. So, why not limit yourself to 8 drum sounds per beat? Do you really need 128 drum sounds on each track? I highly doubt it.

The Impulse might not be for everyone, but I guarantee that it will help you add some new flavors (flavas?) to your tracks. Or do you use it already? Let me know what you like (or hate) about this oft-forgotten Ableton device!

P.S. I just completed a whole section on the Impulse for the Device Rack Module, the first Module of the Ableton Cookbook Live Course which will open tomorrow at 9am CST on this very blog! Sign up for the email list and be eligible for a 25% on this 8 Module Ableton Live smorgasbord.

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16 Responses to “3 Reasons Why You Should Still Use Ableton’s Impulse”

  1. Yvonne December 15, 2011 at 6:45 pm #

    Thanks for this video about the forgotten Impuls! I never understood why they kept it in live 7 en 8, but this a good reason.
    My next track will be with Impuls!

    Nice to hear you will tell us more about impulse in the Device Rack Module.

    • Anthony December 15, 2011 at 7:53 pm #

      I’ve been working with it a lot recently and I really dig it. Let me know how it works for you, Yvonne!

  2. Clarke La Prairie December 15, 2011 at 8:03 pm #

    Not Wah, Wah. What you do is you apply your transpose to one of your simplers or samplers and then right-click and click on apply to siblings. Ta-Da. Now your entire drum rack is transposed.

    Not super fast, but not bad either.

    • Anthony December 15, 2011 at 8:20 pm #

      very true!…but.

      What if you have all of the drum cells transposed up and down already and you want to move them all, en masse, up or down a few half-steps from whatever the present setting is? I think that’s when you need a legit global transpose.

      But for 99.9% of the time, you’re right. I was just trying to give Impulse some love, haha.

  3. Warwolt King December 17, 2011 at 9:44 pm #

    Its called the “Time” knob because of “Timestretch”!

    • Anthony December 21, 2011 at 3:24 am #

      I was mostly confused because one is called “Stretch” and the other is called “Time.” They appear to do the same thing!

  4. Three Ninjas December 17, 2011 at 10:35 pm #

    It’s also got that randomize effect that I don’t think Drum Rack has. I’ve used that in a song before.

    • Anthony December 21, 2011 at 3:24 am #

      nice! Good point.

  5. Oliver Chesler December 20, 2011 at 4:51 pm #

    I still like Impulse because it’s really simple (and therefore fun!).

  6. paradiddle December 22, 2011 at 12:25 pm #

    I still use impulse exactly cuz it’s simple to setup something, hihat and open hihat gets choked right away.

    The only drawback I can see is that you have to make sure your drums are cut-up good (as in no space before the hit) or you have to drag it to an audio track, cut and put it back in impulse.

    • Anthony December 22, 2011 at 6:44 pm #

      I’ve gotten more and more into doing my hi-hats in Impulse.

      Couldn’t you just mess with the start time to overcome poorly chopped drums? No visual control, but still.

  7. BuzzBomb December 26, 2011 at 7:44 pm #

    Merry Christmas Anthony!

    Thanks for the reminder of why iImpulse is awesome! I’m defo going to use it more. I use an LPD8 and Impulse would fit into it’s 8 pad layout perfectly!

  8. MIDI-Chlorian January 16, 2012 at 10:32 pm #

    I just recently started using drum rack because I couldn’t figure out how to EQ the drums hits individually. Like say make the snare sound fatter and whatnot. That is the main reason why I don’t use Impulse anymore.. If anyone knows how to do that in Impulse I start using it again.

    • Anthony January 18, 2012 at 2:24 pm #

      Yeah, that’s where Impulse falls flat, unfortunately. I think that’s why some people use it for percussion or parts in the same general frequency range.

      • UrbanMultiTrack March 24, 2012 at 6:26 am #

        You CAN eq individual parts by routing them to their own audio track. Add a new audio track, select Impulse in Audio From drop down, then below there select a slot from the next drop down menu. You also need to turn on input monitoring to hear the sample being played.

  9. KB March 2, 2012 at 11:55 pm #

    Hey Anthony, awesome blog!
    Quick question: I’ve heard its critical to make sure your kick and bass are in the same key. Is there a best practice or way to make sure that the kick is in key with the bass without having to relay on my ear?

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