Ableton’s Push 2 MIDI controller hit stores back in 2015, now, 5 years on Push 2 is still Ableton’s flagship controller which seems like a long time when you consider the frequency of manufacturers releasing new products. But as the expression goes ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ and that’s certainly the case with Push 2, in fact, it’s been enhanced further since the release of Live 10, which saw the introduction of new creative features and deeper integration. Push features heavily throughout my creative process and the music I produce (and I’ve been producing more lately thanks to COVID-19) so given the amount of use I get from it, I felt the urge to give y’all a breakdown on why I reckon Push 2 is still number 1.
1. PUSH 2 FEELS LIKE AN INSTRUMENT NOT A CONTROLLER
Push’s 64 pads represent 64 notes of a keyboard, however, repurposed in a unique format which means you can access large intervals with fewer fingers. This works alongside ‘In-Key’ mode which quantises notes to a root key and scale of your choosing. If that doesn’t make sense, think of it like this: if you are like me and are no Nat King Cole on the keyboard then this unique form of pad layout combined with the in key mode means you can’t play a wrong note! It will very quickly and very fluently help you create new musical ideas.
2. DEEPer DIVE INTO LIVE – HIGHLY INTEGRATED CONTROLLER
The Push display screen is a little window into the wide world of Live, and whilst you may find yourself peering back to your computer from time to time – the Push display shows pretty much all the functions you need during the songwriting process. For me, the Clip and Device view buttons are invaluable especially when I start writing a track. Say you have a drum rack loaded, lay down your groove and then in the ‘Clip’ view you can quickly make necessary fine-tune adjustments to drum elements. I often find myself spending time nudging notes within the clip and changing velocity levels to get them just right. Device View is where sonic adjustments can be made to the instrument device or drum rack. By default, the display will show the macro controls for the device and the eight knobs will auto-assign to each, giving you quick hands-on control over multiple parameters. This is where the Automate button comes in handy – use this to quickly apply clip-automation (such as the filter cut-off on a synth) to create more interesting patterns. There’s still no other controller that has as much control over Live than Push.
3. WATCH YOUR STEP – ADVANCED STEP SEQUENCING TECHNIQUES
When Push first dropped, it quickly established itself as a sequencing powerhouse capable of creating dynamic patterns and ideas. When Live 10 launched, it brought with it a new step-sequencing type called 32 note Melodic Sequencer. This meant it’s now possible to sequence chords polyphonically per step much more fluidly than before. What I really like about the Melodic Sequencer is how you can audition the chords you want to program before you enter the notes in the sequence, and once you have them programmed, hold down a step to apply step automation and other adjustments.
4. LEVEL UP YOUR WORKFLOW – FROM CLIPS TO A WHOLE TRACK
Struggling to arrange beats and melodies? Push can help with that. When I’m writing a track, clips form the building blocks in which my tune is built on. My workflow consists of creating clips, duplicating them and adding new elements to create variation and progressions. An example would be a clip containing a 4/4 kick drum, I’ll then duplicate it and add a clap and so on and so forth until I’ve got a tight progression. The Session button on Push reflects the Session view in Live and allows clips to be arranged into scenes and makes for a fun way of putting all your ideas together. Try recording clip playback into the arrangement view, by triggering them from Push.
5. MULTI INSTRUMENT CONTROL
For many artists, producing music using software sounds exclusively is the preferred method, but for others, it’s strictly a DAWless affair – there’s no right or wrong, just personal preference. For me, I’m a little column A and little column B kinda guy. My current set up at home consists of a few desktop synths and drum machines that feature widely in my music. The aim here is to integrate my hardware with Live as fluidly as possible, so and with the help of MIDI and an External Instrument device in Live I can use Push as the centrepiece controller creating a hybrid hardware and software setup.
A FINAL THOUGHT – CREATE NEW IDEAS AND TRACK INSPIRATION
So, as you can see, there’s not much Push can’t do, but at the end of the day, if I’m stuck for ideas and feeling uninspired, it can be a struggle no matter what gear you have. Although, this is where I think Push excels the most, and an example of this is its ability to melodically step-sequence notes. Yeah, I bang on about step-sequencers a lot and for good reason, I love how they allow you to be completely random in your approach, but you needn’t worry about timing and quantisation. Load a synth or an instrument on a track, press the layout button to access the step-sequencer, choose a key and scale, throw in some notes and see what happens!