How to generate odd and even harmonics in Live?

In Ableton Live you can overdrive the audio so it will generate ODD and/or EVEN overtones/harmonics. Here’s how.

Yesterday I wrote a blogpost on how to generate odd and even harmonics in Reason. Today I will do the same for Ableton Live.

Firstly, a bit of theory. If you’ve read yesterday’s post, skip this first part:

The good old Jack Endino article is highly recommended when you are not familiair with these concepts. But well, I will explain this as easy as I can in the blogpost below as well. Jack states that tape-devices generate ODD overtones and that tube can do both ODD and EVEN overtones.

EVEN harmonics are frequencies which are 2, 4, 6, 8 times and so on multiplications of the main/root frequency.
ODD (also called UNEVEN) harmonics are 3, 5, 7 times and so on multiplications of the main/root frequency.

So the difference between the two is either an even number as multiplier or an uneven number as multiplier. Simple stuff right?

The ODD and EVEN list

I often use a pure sine wave at A3/440 Hz which I generate with the open source tool Audacity (the Swiss Army Knife for audio nerds). The EVEN and ODD harmonics of A3/440 Hz then are:
#1 A3 (main/root)
#2 EVEN – A4 – octave
#3 ODD – E5 – perfect fifth
#4 EVEN – A5 – 2 octaves above
#5 ODD – C#6 – a major third 3 octaves above
#6 EVEN – E6 – perfect fifth 3 octaves above
#7 ODD – G6 – dominant seven 3 octaves above
#8 EVEN – A6 – 3 octaves above

Here’s a picture made with Ableton Spectrum:


The numbers as you can see correspond with the list above. The first 3 harmonics (2, 3 and 4 as multipliers) are super nice, only octaves and a perfect fifth! But as you can see all tones are musical frequencies which correspond to the note-names of our modal system.

There’s a lot of discussion about what sounds better EVEN or UNEVEN/ODD? Check out this video for example:

In my opinion it’s about the mix between ODD and EVEN harmonics which creates the best saturation. And the level at which they are generated. Although I only mentioned the first 7 harmonics, most saturation devices will generate overtones which will go much higher than that. Some even go beyond 20 kHz (beyond the 10th octave!) and might even cause aliasing issues!

Very high harmonics might result in a thin sound. So adding a low pass filter before distortion can be super useful. And don’t forget that using a high pass filter before overdrive is a great way to minimise nasty intermodulation.

Only EVEN harmonics in Live?

I love the Saturator device of Live. Ableton should really consider to release its native effects as Reason Rack Extensions! There are many people like myself who use both programs and would love to use these fantastic sounding effects in both programs!

The Saturator is a very flexible saturator, capable of all sorts of overdriven tones. It’s possibly the most flexible saturation effect ever. Its perfectly capable of only generating EVEN harmonics. Somehow Ableton didn’t add it as one of the standard Curve Types (Ableton, are reading this?). But when we select Waveshape as Curve Type we can roll our own curve, which is über cool. What we need is something that looks like this:


Only ODD harmonics in Live?

For generating ODD harmonics in Live you only need to select the Saturator effect and choose the Curve Type that sounds the best to your ears. All Curve Types will generate only ODD harmonics. Have a look:


What if you want both ODD and EVEN harmonics? Please go back to the patch I have shown for EVEN harmonics and increase the Depth parameter. Now next to the EVEN harmonics also ODD harmonics will be added to the signal. Or use the Dynamic Tube or Overdrive devices which both will generate EVEN and ODD harmonics.

Please don’t be blinded with science! I am not either. Sending a 440 Hz tone through devices is not a real life kind of thing you want to do for a long time. You better apply some saturation to cool sounding stuff. Just experiment, using your ears. Apply some overdrive to guitars, bass, drums, vocals, anything really. Overtones are lovely additions for a signal.


Hey, what about the “Soft Shaper” preset? Isn’t that creating even harmonics? Sorry if I can’t tell by myself 😛

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