How to Use Multi-Layer Synths in Ableton

Using MIDI tracks to play the different instruments inside a multi-layer synthesizer plug-in can potentially save you massive amounts of CPU power. Instead of loading a new copy of the VST instrument for each part, you can open several instruments inside the same plug-in, then play each instrument with its own MIDI channel. I’m using the freeware DSK Virtuoso here, but the technique is the same for other multi-instrument plug-ins like Omnisphere, Philharmonik, Trilian, and Kontakt-based ensembles.

Start a new Ableton set and load the multi-layer synth you’re using onto a MIDI track. Open the synth’s control panel and load the instruments you want to use — in this case, I’ll load a violin, a cello and a Rhodes piano. Leave the first instrument assigned to MIDI channel 1, but switch the second instrument to channel 2 and the third to MIDI channel 3. You’ll now be able to play each instrument using a different MIDI track.

Multi Layer Synths

Multi Layer Synths Close the synth’s interface to return to Ableton. Add two additional MIDI tracks by pressing Ctrl+Shift+T or opening the “Create” menu and selecting “Insert MIDI Track.” Rename the first empty MIDI channel to “Cello” and the second to “Rhodes” (or whatever instruments you’re using). Open the “MIDI To” drop-down menu for the “Cello” track and select “DSK Virtuoso.” Click the “Track In” menu that appears and select MIDI channel 2. Do the same for the “Rhodes” track, but send it to MIDI channel 3 instead.

Multi Layer Synths Now, when you send MIDI input to the “Cello” channel (either by launching a MIDI clip or playing an attached keyboard), the synth will play the cello part; in the same way, the “Rhodes” MIDI channel will only play the Rhodes part.