By now you’ve all probably seen that excellent video of Kid Beyond illustrating his usage of Ableton Live. Pretty cool, right? If one had such a system, you could loop yourself playing guitar, beatboxing, etc., all perfectly in sync with programmed drum/MIDI tracks and other performers.

Here’s how to set up your own system in a similar hands-free operation style, for about US$10, without having to solder anything. It’ll take you about an hour once you gather the parts required, or less. No joke.

You will need:

  • A QWERTY keyboard, preferably with a USB connector. Otherwise, you’ll have to buy an adapter to fit your laptop, which costs extra. You can get one for $7.50 at AllElectronics.com, but you can find them even cheaper at your local thrift store’s “technology pile.” I got mine for $2.
  • A flathead screwdriver.
  • Ableton Live. Ed.: Live is a perfect choice here, but you may find this useful with other music apps, as well — or even in a VJ set. -PK
  • A free keyboard-mapping utility called Autohotkey (if you’re running Windows). If you’re running Mac, the program to use is calledIKey.

    That’s it. Here’s how to make it go:

    keyboardscrewdriver
    keyfootpedal!

    Above: Steps 1-2. Simple enough.

    1. You’re going to remove a significant number of the QWERTY keyboard’s keys, leaving only those spaced far enough apart to operate with your foot. Identify which keys you want to keep with a magic marker BEFORE you go hog-wild with the screwdriver, otherwise you’ll lose track of which is which. I ended up with 12 remaining keys, in two rows. Your feet may be smaller or bigger, so experiment with it.

    2. Glue some squares of larger, stiff material to the keys to give your foot a bigger target. I used some plastic lenses (20 cents apiece at American Science & Surplus) and hot glue. Epoxy or a plastic welding cement might work better in the long run.

    3. Plug the keyboard into your computer and boot up Ableton Live.

    4. Download and install either Autohotkey (WIN users) or IKey (Mac).

    5. Here’s the almost-tricky part: In Ableton Live, you need to create a new project with six audio tracks. Arm recording on all tracks. Turn off monitoring for all tracks except one.

    6. Use the keymappping function (click the “KEY” button in the upper right hand corner of Live’s screen) to assign a keystroke to each track’s “record/play” button. It doesn’t matter which keystrokes you assign, because we’re going to be remapping them anyways. For this example, the keys I used were !,@,d,h,k, l.

    7. Create a new script with Autohotkey and enter something similar to what’s pictured below. The 12 keys left on your QWERTY should be put at the start of each line. The idea is that as each key is depressed, Autohotkey remaps those into a sequence of keystrokes.

    I chose to have my top row of buttons select the track, delete whatever’s there, and begin recording. The bottom row of buttons hits “play” on the corresponding track, which stops recording and begins looping on the corresponding track. You can re-trigger loops this way also.

    Here’s an image of my keymaps in Live and the AutoHotkey script I made. Pretty simple, all things considered. I would be happy to share my blank Ableton set and accompanying AutoHotkey script to any windows users who need a little help getting started.

    Ableton Shortkeys
    Autohotkey Script

    If you’re running Mac, here’s an idea of what you’ll have to do using IKey. It’s very similar but slightly different. For instance, we permanently glued the shift key down, to skirt some of IKey’s trigger-key rules.
    IKey screenshot

    8. Save the script, activate it (you’ll see the AutoHotKey icon appear in your taskbar), and you’re good to go. It’s that easy.

    The end result? Not too shabby:

    You can hear a track recorded by myself and bandmate Cameron Moore using two MIDI-linked Ableton Live setups here.
    Note: Cameron runs Mac and I run Windows, and we had no issues.

    Check the forums for a more in-depth discussion, and feel free to ask questions. Also, if you decide to undertake this project, please post your results!

  • http://myspace.com/drvinay vinayk

    Ok – That is VERY cool!!!

    Now 2 questions:

    1. If you have two keyboards plugged in to your PC does windows know that they are different? Or will those macros affect both keyboards?

    And most importantly…

    2. Is there a program that transforms these keystrokes into midi commands? So that we can use these method to make a really cheap midi controller?

    Because if 1 and 2 are both possible… or even just 2 – then basically I have myself a foot controller for my amp sim/whatever else! (I don't own Live, and its a bit expensive for me atm)

    Let me know if anyone knows the answers!

    Have fun,

    Vinay

  • http://www.myspace.com/ohtravioso Oh Travioso

    That's a clever foot controller project. I saw the Kid Beyond thing and ended up getting a used MIDI foot controller at a music shop for about $25 and using Bome's MIDI Translator. I gave my opening debut of the setup at the Line 6 company christmas party.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ngCBzycq1Ec

    My setup now has both guitar and vocals running into a Toneport KB37 with Ableton, Reason, Gearbox, and the Bome's translator running.

    So far so good.

  • 4lefts

    cool… now the questions. what specific functions have you mapped a keystroke to in live? i see each keyboard press is mapped to several things, but what are they? have you basically got 2 lots of 6 buttons? one group starts recording on each track, and you press it again to stop and loop (like just launching the clip again), and the other group deletes what's in that track and then starts recording again?

  • http://toilville.com Peter

    I did something like this a few years ago for energyxt, and kept break the keys. You have plenty to switch around too, but eventually run out of useful spaces to have the keys….

  • http://una-love.com Michael Una

    I have started a forum topic to discuss this, wherein all questions will be answered:

    http://createdigitalnoise.com/viewtopic.php?p=633

  • bliss

    Mike Una, go on wit yo bad self!!! :)

  • http://una-love.com Michael Una

    @ 4lefts: I'd like to place all this in the forums so that future searchers can find it, but in short: Yes, I treated it as 2 rows of 6 buttons.

    I refer to my top row of buttons as "re-sample":

    1. hit "play" on a cell to highlight it

    2. hit "delete"

    3. hit "play" again, which functions as "record" if the track is armed

    The bottom row just hits "play" on that same cell.

    So, it will end recording at the next global quantize event and begin looping from there, or retrigger the sample if it's already playing.

    I hope that helps.

  • http://una-love.com Michael Una

    @ Peter:

    It's true, the maximum number of keys I could fit was 12.

    You could work around this by running leads from the momentary switches of other keys to some kind of breakout box, but that would take some soldering and more than $10 ;)

  • http://www.fundamentalfrequency.com Carl

    If you don't mind a little soldering, the actual circuit board inside most keyboards is tiny. So you can take it and the cord out, put it in a lunchbox or small plastic case, drill some pushbuttons in, wire them to the pins, and you have a compact stompbox. I made one like that long ago to control some sampling/looping software I wrote – way easier than doing MIDI!

    As I remember, the pins work like a matrix, so for example pin 1 to pin A is "delete", but pin 1 to pin B is "enter".

  • http://una-love.com Michael Una

    @Vinayk:

    1. The macros affect both keyboards.

    2. I am not aware of any keystroke-to-midi utilities, but you can trigger a series of mouse actions. That might work.

  • brett weldele

    here's an alternative method using no outside software…just Ableton.

    http://brettweldele.blogspot.com/2007/08/ableton-

  • http://una-love.com Michael Una

    @brett weldele:

    That's a pretty good implementation, and the FCB1010 does have the expression pedals, which can come in handy. Your "cascading loops" design is very nice, both functionally and visually.

    In creating this project, I set my goal as spending the smallest amount of money possible, and attempting to use commonly available materials. I find that experimentation can occur in a much more spontaneous fashion if cost issues are removed/reduced.

  • Alex

    You can probably use something like Processing to easily map keystrokes to send whatever MIDI you wanted. Would be trivial to set up.

    Also, could you get twice the functionality by just holding down a modifier key, so if you push one key with your foot you get a set of functions, but if you CONTROL+footkey you get a different set of functions?

  • Arjan

    This is brilliant, paperclip like…

  • http://myspace.com/drvinay vinayk

    Sweet – sounds good… i'll make myself one of these in october when my exams are done! I have lots of fairly solid crash mat foam (the sort that we use for falling at martial arts training…) I figure I can stick on squares of that to make the controller a bit more sturdy…

    Then i'll label up my DasKeyboard (which is nice and blank)… so that I can control all my dDAW functions without having to touch the mouse hopefully!

  • Pingback: Get loopy with the DIY $10 Ableton Footcontroller (no soldering required) » Developages - Development and Technology Blog

  • Pingback: Get loopy with the DIY $10 Ableton Footcontroller (no soldering required)

  • Pingback: Techzi » Blog Archive » Get loopy with the DIY $10 Ableton Footcontroller (no soldering required)

  • Pingback: Get loopy with the DIY Ableton Footcontroller (no soldering required) | KnowHow @ KPeBiz.com

  • Pingback: iDiy.mobi » Create Digital Music " Get loopy with the DIY $10 Ableton Footcontroller (no soldering required)

  • Pingback: iDiy.mobi » Create Digital Music " Get loopy with the DIY $10 Ableton Footcontroller (no soldering required)

  • octatone

    Thanks for that tip Brett! I'll have to save that setup. Simple and easy on the eyes. Fan-fucking tastic.

  • Pingback: Joaquins Musikblog

  • http://graftag.blogspot.com Niq

    sweet.

    i saw kid beyond in concert last december.

    he was opening for imogen heap.

    he pretty much blew my mind!

    i love seeing something new in electronic music!

    (if beatboxing is considered electronic, lol)

  • Pingback: <CONTENT /> v.4 » links for 2007-08-04

  • Pingback: The Coolest Blog Ever :: Make your own footswitch for Ableton etc

  • http://www.lauraescude.com Laura

    If you want something wireless, light and have some cash, I suggest the POK:

    http://www.x-tempozone.com

  • Julian

    Funny. I have this modified foot keyboard for 3 years already. Now somebody put it on the internet…

  • emmett

    to do keystroke to midi, there's a software program called the MU MIDI Controller. (http://www.macupdate.com/info.php/id/9604/mu-midi-controller) it's not the easiest program to figure out but you can use it for free for ten days.

  • http://giessel.com giessel

    anyone that uses ableton live might be interested in this patch by tone deft- alternate live looping set up with a max patch and midi!

    http://www.ableton.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=7055

  • Pingback: Musician’s Notebook » Blog Archive » Control your DAW with your feet!

  • Jordan Colburn

    I made one of these last year and just stumbled upon this guide today. I couldn't find any key mappers or midi translators that i liked, so I just wrote my own midi translator in max/msp. I arm all tracks for recording and set the midi learn function in live to trigger each clip. If it's blank, then it records a new track, if not, it lets me switch loops and song sections after i build them up. I also spray painted the keyboard case dark blue and color coded my keys to help keep me straight. I managed to get 17 keys on it, but i have to go barefoot to be truly accurate.

  • Pingback: music » Create Digital Music " Get loopy with the DIY $10 Ableton Footcontroller (no soldering required)

  • http://www.beat4battle.com spudstyle

    The best idea i've seen lol. I've find a better script with no assign keys in live (i use live 6). I use only 5 keys in my script, if u want this, ask me by mail at contact@turntablz.fr.st (in french if it's possible ;D ) or for the creator or admin, u've got my personnal mail.

    Really thx to you, i can't by a loopstation or midi controller like fcb1010.

    Peace!

  • matt

    @ vinayk –

    theres a keypress to midi app called midiox for windows. someone already posted a mac one on here. its at midiox.com, and its free.

  • http://www.kinesis.com Will Hargreaves

    Programmable USB Foot pedals built to last are available from Kinesis. A Savant Elite pedal can perform any keyboard action or macro, or a mouse button action. Multiple pedals can be used(up to four pedals per USB port). Programmable under Windows 2000 or XP, playable on virtually any OS using generic HID drivers.

  • http://www.wendyphua.com wendy phua

    at the risk of sounding hopelessly green in looping, can anyone explain to me why is it that my various recorded on the fly loops are in sync only for the first few bars and then start getting out of sync??

  • Pingback: Create Digital Music » Your Top 10 Music Tech CDM Stories of 2007

  • http://www.gearwire.com bill holland- gearwi

    Nice, Michael. Way to make the top ten! I want to get an old Nintendo power pad and do something similar. Haven't done any bending in a while because I've been so busy cranking stuff out for gearwire and producing and album. Check out our videos featuring the Michael's keyboard madness at this link

  • Pingback: Create Digital Music » NAMM Show Floor Anomalies: The Win/Fail List, Pt. I

  • http://www.creepingfog.com/mTroll/ sean

    Vinay:

    If you are able to direct keystrokes to specific application or window, then you could use mTroll (win) for the MIDI out messages:
    http://www.creepingfog.com/mTroll/

  • Pingback: Michael Una » The $10 Ableton Footcontroller

  • Pingback: Michael Una » Work in progress

  • Pingback: superhumanoids blog » monome

  • Pingback: Tim Lukens » Blog Archive » Need a cheap foot pedal board?

  • Jemuel

    Can I use it in Native Instrument Guitar Rig 3?

  • Pingback: Anleitung: Live-Looping mit Ableton Live und Boss FC-50 « alexis macht holtadipolta

  • Pingback: Create Digital Music » Sexy DIY Footswitch for Music, Using the Brain of a USB QWERTY Keyboard

  • Pingback: Sexy DIY Footswitch for Music, Using the Brain of a USB QWERTY Keyboard | Speakear

  • Chelfyn Baxter

    I wrote a tutorial to do the kid beyond thing from a MIDI source using BOMES midi controller, with very smooth interface and resampling. details here:

    http://www.bome.com/forums/viewtopic.php?t=1583

    The autohotkey solution here is pretty cool though :)

  • Pingback: The $10 Ableton Midi Controller. No soldering required! « Defy Gravity: Sound / Technology / Evolution / Dance / Ritual / Design

  • Pingback: Daily DIY Network - Science Projects Plans Guides » Blog Archive » How-To: Footswitch array for music software control

  • Pingback: The How-To Blog » How-To: Footswitch array for music software control

  • http://daveriddell.weebly.com Dave Riddell

    @Jemuel:

    Yes you can, and it works beautifully! Here's what I came up with —

    http://s3.amazonaws.com/bk_store/images/photo_obj

  • http://myspace.com/brobotsyeah Dom Pallot

    I made one of these fantastic controllers a few weeks ago but saw no need for the autohotkey.

    I gave it a try though and saw what you had done with the 2 sets of pedals, one starts and one deletes and restarts.

    I then managed to code this into 1 button:

    myvar = 1

    Ctrl::

    if (myvar = 1) then

    {

    send {!}

    myvar = 2

    }

    else

    {

    send {!}{del}{!}

    myvar = 1

    }

    return

    Would love to hear some feedback and more ideas for autohotkey.

    What I really wanted to do as well was arm the track with the button as well. But the problem was that I couldnt disarm afterwards. And if it starts armed then it disarms the track and you cant record.

  • http://myspace.com/brobotsyeah Dom Pallot

    Ignore that code I forgot to test it.

  • http://myspace.com/brobotsyeah Dom Pallot

    Here is the working Code!!! Tested!

    myvar = 1

    Ctrl::

    if (myvar = 1) or (myvar = 2) then

    {

    send {!}

    myvar := myvar + 1

    }

    else

    if (myvar = 3) then

    {

    send {del}{!}

    myvar = 2

    }

    return

  • http://www.straytheoriesmusic.com m

    hey this is great! will try it out

  • Duderino

    Cool Stuff !!

    Check this out also:

    a footswitch from a USB keypad !

    Later…

  • Max Cascone

    @Dave Riddell, what did you use to translate the keyboard presses into MIDI? Guitar Rig 3 doesn't appear to have much in the way of keyboard shortcuts, unless I'm missing them, which is entirely possible.

    Thanks

    Max

  • Jan

    Hey guys, i've made it, thanks for the idea Michael.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bLC0sCbdvek

  • http://robotmonkeyarm.com ryan b

    I just spent a little time trying to set this up (I'm using a MAC) after reading the article…

    The First 2 sets of keys (the first 2 tracks) seem to work great and then it breaks down completely….

    I'm a relative ableton noob…..any way you (or Cameron) (or anyone) could send me (or just post)more detail on the sample mappings for iKey?

    Thanks!

  • http://www.fisherplaysguitar.tk Aaron Fisher

    You can do basically the same thing with a guitar hero controller for Xbox 360 without taking anything apart. Just plug the controller in a usher port, install one of the many programs that will translate Xbox 360 controllers into keypresses and then just assign the keypresses to ableton functions. I had this setup running a year ago and it works beautifully and it's really fun to have a guitars hero guitar as part of your gear while people watch you setup. I did end up doing a decent amount of autohotkey programming to get everything working how I wanted it. For more details see my site

  • Brian

    I was wondering to what extent you know how to use Autohotkey. I made the pedal just like you showed and everything works like a champ.

    I guess I'm going have to learn how to code in AHK b/c I'd like for it to do a couple of extra things that I'm envisioning.

    Specifically, I'd like to be able to make multiple loops within the same track. I'm unsure how to change my rec/loop and play/stop controls to control more clips than the ones they are assigned.

    If you can help that'd be nice, but at this point I guess I have a lot of reading in front of me:)

    Great idea for the monetarily impaired and PEACE!

  • Josh

    Love this tutorial, thank you very much! I'm new to looping and apologize if this a stupid question, but would this work with GarageBand (or a similar program) instead of Ableton Live?

  • tom

    i too have the problem with all channels except 1 and 2.

    channels 1 and 2 work perfect, but when i hit the button to start record on channel 3, the 'KEY' button in ableton (the one you click to assign keyboard controls next to the midi button)briefly flashes orange as if something is confusing it and nothing happens. anyone find a sloution/cause for this problem….its bloody irratating !

  • FlynHwian

    I'm a singer / songwriter in hawaii and I've been struggling to get Ableton to work right using a MIDI footswitch. I always have trouble with the input sound being louder than the recorded tracks looping. It seems like you might have it figured out, would you be willing to send the blank Ableton files to my email? Thanks in advance!

    Casey

  • riju

    hey there!

    the project is nice but where to connect the guitar? i know this is a flop question but the solution is worth of

  • Mike

    Hi,

    Is this exclusively for Ableton only or any DAW? Or can it be used for other instruments like racks, guitar effects, etc. that accepts MIDI?

  • Nacho Cor

    hi, that’s awesome! do you know if the same thing can be done with reaper? and triggering loops already in the computer the same way? thanks!

  • Bo

    that is absolutely brilliant. really, If something like this is feasible on reaper that could be the next big thing for me. 

    • KayKastum

      Did you managed to do this on reaper?

  • jon

    Hi!
    This is super cool.
    But…. I cant get it to work… haha
    I just tore apart an old trashy keyboard, installed ikey,,, and Im totally lost. Ikeys is like rocket sience for me. Could you upload preset files?
    Also ikey seems VERY buggy… wonder if there are any alternatives

  • Esmith86

    Hello! I am in the process of trying to get this to work, having trouble figuring out the AutoHotKey stuff, please help!

    • Esmith86

      I did the same script as shown, and the mapping as well. The ` and Ctrl work to arm and loop track one as specified, and F3 and c work for track two as I have specified, but beyond that the other mappings do not work as intended. Should I just keep trying different keys? Is it a hardware compatibility/mapping interference with my other MIDI controllers? I need to loop at least four separate tracks with some ability to delete and/or stop certain tracks, comtemplating just using the arrow keys in conjunction with the Enter and Delete keys, but there’s got to be an easier way (as you demonstrated.) Thanks again for leading me in the right direction!!

  • matt

    Check out the Looptimus USB MIDI Foot Controller for Ableton Live, Mainstage, Reason, etc.

    Only $249… not bad

    http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/loopcommunity/looptimus-usb-midi-foot-controller

    http://looptimus.com

    • lol

      lol 5 to 249…

  • chelfyn

    You can use this keyboard hack with this looping system as well: http://www.bome.com/forums/viewtopic.php?f=3&t=1583