3 techniques for creating chord progressions in Ableton, Studio One, and Logic Pro X

Illustration: Leonard Peng

I want to preface this by stating that learning music theory and how to actually play the keyboard is completely worth it.

That said, it’s always good to be aware of the tools at your disposal. In this video tutorial, we’re going to explore how different features in Ableton, Studio One, and Logic Pro X can be used to help you create interesting chord progressions, even if you’re not virtuoso on the keys.

We’ve highlighted some key tips from the video below.

Creating chord progressions in Ableton 10

We created a device that you can use for this one – you can download it here.

To get started, load a chord device on a MIDI track along with a keyboard instrument (we’re using the Ableton Grand Piano for our demonstration).

Next, set the chord device’s Shift parameters to the following:

  • Shift 1: +3 st
  • Shift 2: +7 st
  • Shift 3: +10 st
  • Shift 4: + 14 st

This will create a minor 9th chord based off the single note you play on the keyboard. The next step is to make sure all of the notes are in the same key. To do this, add a scale device – I’d recommend using the C Minor preset. You can find this located in Ableton’s BrowserMIDI Effects → Scale CMinor.adv.

To extract the actual notes of the chord, add an extra MIDI track and set the input to the track you’ve already set up.

Creating chord progressions in Studio One

To begin, add a new instrument track with any polyphonic instrument. Next, go to the Browser on the right-hand side and go to InstrumentsNote FXChorder. The Chorder device will automatically create chords based off the root note you play. Studio One contains a lot of presets for this device – I personally really enjoy using the Neo Soul Chords presets as well as the Guitar Chord Group.

To get the actual notes of the chord, open the Inspector and click the Input Mode button next to the Chorder device.

Creating chord progressions in Logic Pro X

To get started, load a new software instrument track and a virtual instrument of your choosing. Next, navigate to the track’s channel strip, click on the MIDI FX box, and load an instance of Chord Trigger.

Logic’s Chord Trigger device is very similar to Studio One’s Chorder device. You can program each individual note to play any chord shape, which means you can achieve some great-sounding chords using the built-in presets. The presets I liked using were Pop Left Hand, Jazz Ballad Right Hand, and Songwriter Left Hand.

To get the actual notes of the chord, add a second software instrument track with any instrument. Then, switch the instrument to External Instrument. In the MIDI Destination field, select IAC Driver Bus 1.

Drag the Chord Trigger effect and MIDI clip from the original track to the new track with the External Instrument on it. Finally, arm the original track that contains the instrument and start recording.

If you don’t see IAC Driver Bus 1, go to Spotlight, search MIDI Setup, and open the MIDI window. Double click on IAC Driver and make sure “Device is Online” is checked.

Do you have any questions on these three techniques? How do you create chord progressions in your DAW? Let us know in the comments below.

July 25, 2019

Nick Chen CX Lead @ Splice. Nick Chen is a producer / performer and educator known under the aliases “Enix” and “nickthechen.”