More keyboard shortcuts on a Mac

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I’m a big fan of making keyboard shortcuts wherever I can. Ableton isn’t that friendly with customising keyboard shortcuts—not unless Max for Live can do it for you—but there are other software that will let you customise how you use Live.

Enter Karabiner. Karabiner has been around for some time under the tongue-twister name KeyRemap4MacBook, but Karabiner perhaps better indicates how useful it is, if its namesake is anything to go by. It hacks into how your Mac processes keyboard strokes and operations, allowing you to customise them at an advanced level. It’s a free download and its developers accept voluntary donations.

Before continuing, yes, Karabiner is Mac OS X only—sorry Windows users.

I use Karabiner with Live in two ways, and I’ll run through all of them here.

Key repeat

When you are writing text on a computer, holding the delete key down will, lo and behold, delete letters one by one at a regular rate—the default on a Mac is 12 times a second. Before it does that, it waits a little while, by default half a second, before it starts regularly deleting letters. If you’re like me and you could do with a little more typing speed, it might be beneficial to increase the speed at which these happen. In Karabiner’s Preferences window, you can change this to faster values by selecting the “Key Repeat” button at the top and changing the “Delay Until Repeat” and “Key Repeat” values. I’ve got mine to delay for only 100ms, and the key repeats every 20ms, i.e. 50 times a second. To be honest this is a little fast but I’m used to it now.

Karabiner key repeat

This is useful for typing quickly, sure, but how is it useful for Live?

Remapping the Function keys

Because zooming in and out is one of the most frequent tasks in any DAW, I wanted the fastest zooming mechanism possible. Mouse wheel zooming would probably be ideal, but Ableton has been pretty stubborn about that for time immemorial, so I’m not holding my breath for that. Also, on a Mac you would need to press Shift and “+” to zoom in and just “-” to zoom out—it always seemed very incongruous for me to have to press two buttons zooming one way and one for the other. My solution is pretty nifty, and it uses Karabiner to remap the keyboard a little.

First, I went into System Preferences, Keyboard, and checked the box “Use all F1, F2, etc. keys as standard function keys.” Yes, this method means you’ll have to hold the “Fn” key if you want to open up Spaces/Mission Control etc., or you can remap them again using Karabiner, as I’ll show later.

Second, back in Karabiner, click “Misc & Uninstall” at the top right, and click “Open private.xml”. Finder will pop up, and a file called “private.xml” will be sitting there. Right click it, open it with TextEdit, delete everything that’s there if it isn’t empty already, and then copy and paste in the following code:

<?xml version="1.0"?>
<name>F1 and F2 become + and -</name>
<autogen>__KeyToKey__ KeyCode::F1, KeyCode::MINUS</autogen>
<autogen>__KeyToKey__ KeyCode::F2, KeyCode::EQUAL, ModifierFlag::SHIFT_R</autogen>



Save it (being sure it saves with the .xml suffix at the end, not as a .txt file!), go back into Karabiner, click “Change Key” at the top, and click “Reload XML”. What we’ve done is remapped F1 to become the “-” key and F2 to become the “Shift+=” keys. Finish by checking the box that says “F1 and F2 become + and -“. What’s more, with the key repeat now nice and speedy, I can now zoom in Live much quicker and easier than before.

Now, to retain all the other nice Mac functions along the top of the keyboard, we can dig around in Karabiner a little more in the “Change Key” field and find the following checkboxes:

Karabiner Change Key

 System Preferences

One more keyboard shortcut trick that’s extremely useful: Mac OS X has its own keyboard shortcut creation tool, though not quite as powerful as Karabiner. This tool lets you create a shortcut for anything you see in the menu bar (the bar with File, Edit, etc.) I’ve used it to give shortcuts to two extremely important functions in Live: Collect All and Save, and Freeze Track.

SysPrefs Shortcuts

Go into System Preferences, Keyboard, and click Shortcuts along the top. In the list to the left, click “App Shortcuts,” and then the “+” button underneath the list to the right. A popover window will ask for the Application (find Ableton Live 9 Standard or Suite), the Menu Title (type, exactly but without the speech marks, “Collect All and Save”, “Freeze Track”, or in this case “Flatten”) and in the keyboard shortcut, do the shortcut you’d like to use for those functions. Click Add, and you’re done.

SysPrefs createShortcut

Hope you get a lot out of these shortcuts, or ideally, a lot more out of less time.


noisemakerMore keyboard shortcuts on a Mac

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