Here are our slides for 'The Hit Factory Classroom: Making Music Like Max Martin" workshop presented at ISME 2018 in Baku. This is a constructionist workshop in which we learn the project by doing it. Some of the slides may need some contextualization that I give in the workshop to be understood, so if you're looking at this remotely and have questions, please feel free to ask. You'll notice I'm not promoting one particular DAW in the slides, today I'll be using Bandlab.
I received a grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada for about $72k. I was asked to give a brief presentation on why I thought I was successful. Here are my slides:
Bell, A.P. (2018). The Pedagogy of Push: Assessing the Affordances of Ableton's "Instrument." In J. Ismaiel-Wendt & A. Fabian (Eds.), Musikformulare und Presets. Musikkulturalisierung und Technik/Technologie (pp. 166-177). Hildesheim, DE: Olms Weidmann.
Introduction: The Purpose of Push
“We consider Push a musical instrument,” remarked Dennis DeSanits, Head of Documentation for Ableton, in the recent webinar, “Introduction to Ableton Live and Push for Educators.” Throughout the webinar DeSantis repeatedly stressed that Push provides a “hands-on” experience that is markedly different from playing Live on a computer: “it’s designed to let people play melodies and harmonies, play and program drum parts without having to think about Live at all.” This message—urging Ableton users to shift their gazes away from their computer screens in favor of focusing on the music-making experiences that the Push controller affords—was reiterated at the “Ableton University Tour” session I attended in New York City facilitated by Ben Casey, and again echoed in an interview I conducted with Jesse Terry, the creator of Push:
I think we always intended Push to be something you can focus on without looking at your computer, and that’s something we tried to maintain. There is a point where you have to go to your computer to take the next steps, but we wanted it to be a creation tool that you can forget about your email for a little bit, and you can turn your monitor away, and really just get into the moment of tangibly making music.
The apparent agenda of Ableton is to push its users to play Push by weaning as much attention and dependence as possible on the computer running Live. Given that Live has existed for fifteen years and that during this period of time its users have developed various approaches to playing it, Push is more compatible with some workflows than others. The aim of this article is to provide a preliminary analysis of the affordances and constraints of Push, with a particular emphasis on the perspective of the instrument’s inventor, Jesse Terry.
First, I outline a conceptual framework I initially created to analyze the affordances of GarageBand, which I have adapted for the purposes of analyzing Push. My analysis commences by examining the presumptions regarding Push as a “technology” and/or as a musical instrument, and proceeds to explain how Push is best conceived of as a modular instrument akin to a drum set. Ableton’s agenda with regard to pedagogy favors Live PA production approaches, and this serves to position Push alongside other traditional music instruments that are categorized as such due to their shared trait of prizing real-time sound creation and manipulation. The ramifications of Ableton’s Push pedagogy are that novice users encounter a particular set of privileges and provisions, which directs their music making in certain ways. While novice Push users are less likely recognize its shortcomings, more experienced Push users’ experiences and expectations bring to light its protections and preventions.
The Five “Ps”: A Conceptual Framework
The term “affordances” was coined by J.J. Gibson, which refers to the actions made possible in the relationship between agents (typically people) and objects. A key distinction between Gibson’s conception of an affordance and Don Norman’s framing of “perceived affordances,” is the role of agent perception. In Gibson’s worldview, affordances exist regardless of whether or not the agent recognizes them, whereas Norman stresses the need for agents to recognize what actions are possible for affordances to be meaningful in everyday life.
Regardless of which theoretical stance one takes on this issue, the term “affordance” has come to be utilized more generally in discussions regarding design to refer to what can be done with an object; a “constraint” is typically employed to describe a limitation of what can be done with an object. While these terms are helpful in conceptualizing the relationship between an agent and an object, they can be misused to limit analyses to a binary of either/or conclusions. An analysis of a design ought to extend beyond what is simply possible and impossible, and consider the degree of difficulty imposed on an agent’s desired action with the object. Norman explains that a “convention” is a type of constraint that evolves and requires a community of practice, thereby foregrounding the context in which the agent and object exist, and implying that some actions are more easily afforded than others. The key concept stemming from this idea is that of a continuum—between impossible and possible actions—with some actions being more feasible than others for the agent to perform.
Applying this mode of thinking to the design of musical software and hardware, making decisions about what actions ought to be more easily afforded than others proves both pivotal and problematic. In order for the design of a complex system to be functional for a large user base, difficult decisions, often entailing design compromises, need to be made. Making all of the affordances of a system equally transparent is unlikely to occur unless it is very simple, or, the user base of the system is comprised entirely of experts. As a result, programmers and designers have to make difficult decisions on behalf of the user base in order for the system to be useful. Graham Pullin suggests, “sometimes it is better to deny the user a feature that could have been useful, in favor of a better overall experience.” Oftentimes, the overall experience is contingent on whether or not the design of the system is compatible with users’ preexisting ways of conceptualizing and making music. Therefore, design decisions have to be respectful of existing conventions by either adhering to them with the intent of continuing the established tradition, or critically considering the ramifications (political, social, economic, cultural, etc.) of upending the modus operandi. The more diverse the user base—with regard to ways of making music—the greater the challenge for the designer(s) to accommodate and appease everyone. Andrew Brown reasons, “When we choose a piece of music software, or other technology, we are essentially deciding, in part, whether or not our priorities align with those of the designer.” It is this last point—the priorities of the designer—that my analysis of Push centers on. The framework I use for this purpose considers five different factors to illuminate the reality that some musical actions with Push are more easily afforded than others.
The specific conditions that must be met in order for a musical instrument to be played.
Some actions are privileged over others by making them easier to do. Other actions are possible, but the design of the instrument encourages the user to carry out certain actions. Buttons and knobs with specific functions best exemplify this concept with Push. While there are many possibilities with the instrument, privileged actions follow the path of least resistance.
When the instrument’s design steers the user towards an action it is privileging, but there are other actions possible that are not as immediately intuitive to the inexperienced user that are provided. These potential actions lie waiting to be discovered with an exploratory tap or twist, but are not explicitly endorsed with a function-specific button as is the case with a privilege. Push has multi-purpose buttons and knobs whose functions change depending on what mode or menu is used. The functions associated with default menus are the most accessible, they are privileged, while the less immediately accessible functions that require scrolling through menus are provided.
Protections are the capabilities of an instrument that are seemingly hidden from the user. There are no cues embedded in the instrument interface to guide the actions of the user. Instead, this is information that must be passed on from a peer, learned from a manual, tutorial, or help search, or encountered through trial and error. Oftentimes, these functions are expected by experienced users of related software and/or hardware. Ableton is able to equip Push with added or refined functionality through updates, and these new features typically end up being protections--the desired action is possible, but it is a seemingly buried functionality that requires a concerted effort to uncover. For the experienced Live user, it may be more efficient for their workflow to access this functionality on their computer instead of trying to perform the action with Push.
Lastly, preventions, akin to “anti-affordances,” are simply those actions that the design of the instrument does not permit. While it may seem arbitrary and even unfair to expect a system to support a particular action, it must be referenced to the other systems it competes with. The obvious comparison for the Push is Novation’s Launchpad. Further, Push’s functionality will be continually compared with that of Live’s by experienced users, and this topic in particular gets to the core of Push’s affordances and constraints. Push is intended to be a hardware representation of Live, but some workflows are more easily facilitated with Push than others. This draws criticism in particular from those who expect Push to better support the arrangement view, a topic that will be discussed in the final section.
“Technology” or Musical Instrument? Assessing the Presumptions Regarding Push
Push is not a device where the one way to use it is obvious. It kind of reminded me of when they came out with the Apple Watch. It’s this thing that does all kinds of stuff. What is it? It’s a thing. We don’t know what it is, it just does all kinds of things. We’re not actually sure how people are going to use it. That’s what threw me at first about the Push. They called it an instrument, and it had some instrument-like features. It certainly can replace a piano-keyboard or a drum machine, but it does a lot more than that, too. It was kind of confusing at first. Do I use this in front of people? Do I use it more like a mixing board in my studio? Is this something where I should be able to do everything live, or is this more like I set this thing up and use it? That was the challenge at first when I was first learning it on my own, how would I teach this to kids?
The above quote is taken from an interview I conducted with Will Kuhn, a music technology and media teacher at Lebanon High School in Ohio, USA. Kuhn started teaching Live to his students in 2008, and beginning in 2015 became “the guinea pig program” for the Ableton education initiative in which they contribute refurbished Push controllers to school programs. Given that Kuhn was one of the first educators to teach Push and that he teaches approximately 350 students every year, he contributes a seasoned practitioner’s perspective to how new learners navigate Push. Kuhn elucidates the amorphous qualities of Push; it is chameleon-like in that it can be played or used differently depending on the context in which it is pressed into service. Mostly notably, Kuhn’s line of questioning gets at the essence of the purpose of Push and its presumptions; is Push a “technology” or a musical instrument?
In Western culture when something new is produced it is often referred to as a “technology” because it has yet to develop a social history with regard to its use(s). With the passage of time, “most technological artifacts are normalized into everyday life and no longer seen as ‘technological’ at all, while whatever is new becomes viewed as ‘technological.’” This explanation helps to explain why Push—unveiled in 2013—may be regarded as a “technology” despite the fact that it was designed to be a musical instrument.
While Push boasts of many features that other instruments do not possess, it is not an altogether novel design. Its design integrates concepts from other musical instruments and technologies, and as a result, those new to Push are not necessarily novices. Paul Théberge aptly stresses: “only the crudest technological determinism could support the argument that musicians approach these new technologies without bringing with them at least some of their own ‘accumulated sensibilities’ with regards to music making.” What are the “accumulated sensibilities” of Push from the perspective of its creators? In an effort to answer this question I asked Jesse Terry to discuss, “the thinking behind the initial concept and the influences from other instruments and interfaces that came into play,” and he responded:
We started out looking at something to control and play drums. I grew up on the MPC 2000 and that was a big part of the influence, but we were also interested in step-sequencers and combining the two of these things. Nothing really had a great drum interface and step-sequencing interface, so combining these two was part of it. We had a decent design we were working on, then our CEO said it should work for melodies and harmonies: “go ahead, make that work.” And so, I dug into how we could turn the grid into an isomorphic instrument. A couple of things where it comes from: I’m a guitar player so this fourths layout is related to the guitar. We were seeing other great products like the Monome and the LinnStrument (Roger Linn’s instrument) and seeing how these were working. We were thinking there was a way to use the 8x8 interface to both play drums, and play melodies, and harmonies. Somewhere along the prototyping, we got to the folding of the notes of the scale, and that turned out to be really fun with the combination of the fourths layout from the guitar—just that you could lock your hand in one position and you could play scales or chords really easily. Now, there’s people that play it chromatically, there are some real virtuosos on it, and, there are some that play it in the in-key mode, which is great for me. Even if you have some musical training, it’s a lot of fun.
Presuming Push as a Modular Musical Instrument
As a starting point, it is presumed that an individual who wishes to play Push is able to grasp the concept that it is a multi-purpose instrument. Modular instruments like Push are descendants, at least in part, of the modern drum kit. In The Drum Book: A History of the Rock Drum Kit, Geoff Nicholls explains that at the beginning of the twentieth century the individual components of the drum kit as we now know it existed, but they were not played together by a single individual. Faced with restricted space and budgets, percussionists performing in theatre productions were encouraged to take on the role of multi-tasking musicians, and the “trap kit” began to take shape:
Everything but the kitchen sink was suspended on and around the bass drum, soon leading to the development of a metal “console” that surmounted the bass drum…On top of the console was a traps tray (traps is short for contraptions or trappings) with space for bird whistles, klaxons, ratchets, and other sound effects.
The drum kit’s history is one that hinges on modularity. The idea that a component of the kit can be added in or taken away and still be perceived by players and listeners alike as the same instrument is a testament to its modular form. Through to the present time, drummers continue to customize their kits, with electronic triggers and computers becoming increasingly more visible components of a contemporary setup. The constants of the drum kit would seem to be the snare drum, bass drum, and cymbals, but even these are subject to substitution or subtraction.
Push is similarly modular; it can be a melodic instrument, drum machine, step sequencer, sampler, mixer, and “Launchpad.” These are Push’s core provisions. Yet, despite its versatility, Push was designed with a particular workflow in mind. It privileges a certain pedagogy, which Jesse Terry distills in the following section.
Ableton’s Live PA Pedagogy
Terry: We do want to constrain it into a certain workflow, that you work in a certain way. We certainly want to get rid of a lot of the distractions that happen on your computer screen. We wanted to create a workflow that was linear. We did this in a couple different ways: for Push 1 we did this thing called a “red routes,” based on a traffic concept in London. They had really bad traffic problems and they started to figure out where the traffic was getting bottlenecked and it helped them to redesign their city and make traffic run smoother. So, we have a similar list that we came up with—we call it a user map. We have a backbone of the main things people want to do, like: you want to create beats, you want to create melodies, you want to record, you want to loop what you record, you want to export your song when you’re done. There’s a linear way that you can do all of this, so we try to do that in the most minimal way as possible. I think by Push 2, we have a lot of features, and I think for some people it’s a maybe a little too much, so we think about those limitations. We like limitations generally.
There’s a very specific way that Push 2 can work, (like it’s) the information architecture of how the devices and tracks work. It’s a lot better than Push 1, but it’s still sort of limited by our display and where the buttons are laid out. This takes us a lot of time and argumentation to get over, get through how all this is laid out. It’s not perfect but I like the way it’s working…Obviously, we [Ableton] have banks and banks of device parameters. You can get into as deep as you want to. We do try to constrict the workflow you’re doing, so you’re always heading in a creative direction; you don’t get stuck in the details if you don’t want to.
Based on the sequence of videos Ableton provides on their website, their suggested path to making music with Push is to begin by building up a beat before proceeding to add melody, followed by harmony, and thereafter venturing into sampling, clip launching, mixing, sound design, and recording audio. This linear approach of gradually building up a track is a practice commonly used in the style/genre “Live PA”, which is understandable considering Live’s popularity amongst electronic music producers. DeSantis reasoned in the “Introduction to Ableton Live and Push for Educators” webinar:
We like to think that a fun way to create music is to start from nothing and to actually get your hands dirty playing pads, which is something that’s maybe a little bit more immediate than using a mouse to click and drag, for example.
The “start from nothing” approach is but one way electronic musicians compose. As Mark Butler explains, some EDM (electronic dance music) producers instead start with something—presets:
Some musicians do make use of presets, but in ways that are very much in keeping with the creative approaches favored within EDM as a whole. First, they do not use them without significant modification. The transformations that they introduce may be textural, rhythmic, or timbral. Second, they do not form entire tracks from presets, but instead incorporate them into larger compositional designs. Third, they use presets as vehicles for live improvisation. Modifications—for instance, muting or unmuting instrumental parts within the patterns, or changing their rhythmic values—almost always take place during real time and are generally unplanned. In this way, presets serve as tools with which to improvise.
Ableton’s Live PA pedagogy with Push conforms to a more traditional definition of what constitutes a musical instrument, most notably by privileging the actions of real-time sound creation and manipulation. Consider the criteria suggested by Mark Katz that determine whether or not an object can be considered a musical instrument:
Furthermore, playing an 8x8 grid of buttons constrains musical thinking in certain ways. For example, commencing making music by programming a drum beat with the step sequencer forces the user to construct a rhythm by adding one percussive element at a time onto the grid. As Tiger Roholt argues, in working within a metrically perfect grid the rhythmic nuances that contribute to the feeling of a groove cannot be programmed. The human “feel” of a beat achieved by a producer like J Dilla, who incorporated slight imperfections in his beatmaking, is lost in the step sequencer approach and no amount of added “swing” can emulate these nuances. Push affords other methods of beatmaking, which Ableton promotes in their video tutorials, but sequencing is the first tutorial following “General Overview,” making it the next logical step for those following a linear learning approach. Arguably, for most users it is easier to make a beat with the step sequencer than playing and programming it in real-time because the latter requires more physical dexterity and coordination to execute.
Taken together, the qualities of sounds provided by Live that are triggered by Push and the constrained ways in which Push can be played—especially considering the influence of Ableton’s promoted approaches in their video tutorials--Push does have a distinctive sound. Its characteristic sound is not that of a specific timbre, but rather a collection of Ableton-curated sounds that are layered piecemeal in real-time utilizing a body of grid-based playing techniques. Whereas most musical instruments are recognized aurally by their unique sonic characteristics, Push’s plurality is its defining trait. Before the advent of Push, Live PA performers played the components of the recording studio to audiences using bespoke modular setups consisting of drum machines, samplers, launchpads, keyboards, mixers, etc.; Push amalgamates the functions of these individual components into a singular instrument. As amorphous as Push may potentially be, Ableton privileges certain avenues to music making with Push over others, and this is most evident in the learning resources aimed at new users.
Push and the Privileges and Provisions Concerning the Novice
In the case of Live, the user base is vast, and therefore those encountering Push as Ableton’s preferred adjunct to playing Live constitute a diverse body of musicians with varied expectations on what actions ought to be afforded. But what does a novice expect from the experience of playing Push for the first time, if anything? I posed the following question to Jesse Terry: “Are there certain workflows that you see new people gravitate towards?” and he responded:
We do a ton of user testing. I think Push is not really designed for a beginner necessarily. I think it’s a tough challenge to get into Push and Live at the same time. You have a lot to learn and they are kind of a little different. There are some ways they relate and there are some ways that they don’t. It’s a tall task for a brand-new user. I think there are some ways we can do it better for beginners. One thing I’ve noticed is, a lot of times you have a person in a studio who’s like the expert who knows Live and Push in[side] and out. Their friend comes over and he or she plays the notes part, or the beats part, but they don’t get to the outer buttons or the display, or things like that. The physical part of playing the notes comes quickly, but the “how you record”, “how you loop”, “how you put together a song”, that stuff, you gotta know quite a bit. If you’re getting into session view and Live, it’s like a whole other concept.
Bell: Are there actions that seem easy or accessible, and that’s a starting point that they do early on when they’re playing Push?
Terry: I think the drumming seems to be the place where I see people starting with the hitting drums and sequencing drums quickly. I think it’s a fun way to get started. And then playing with the scales is really rewarding, especially if you’re not trained. Putting it into blues-scale mode and bashing your fingers on it, and it all sounds good can be really exciting for new people. I would say there’s probably some finer points for the layout that people don’t know about yet, and how to get around loops and things like this that are probably a little harder to learn, I think.
I feel that putting together what you’ve done into a song isn’t so intuitive. You have to know about “scenes” and Live and how these relate, and how to trigger them and record them and all this kind of stuff. There’s no like pattern-sequencing, like on some of the other instruments out there.
It is clear from Terry’s responses to my questions that the linear workflow promoted by Ableton—as evidenced in their video tutorials—is reflected in their user tests of Push novices. New users tend to start with beatmaking and then progress to layering melodies using the various scale modes. Notably, novices can have engaging and meaningful music-making experiences playing Push despite being oblivious to the vast possibilities afforded. Terry acknowledges that new Push users who lack knowledge of Live’s functionality will likely encounter some conceptual barriers. The initial barrier to entry is not prohibitively daunting as new users quickly intuit how to make a beat and layer sounds over top of it. Thereafter the learning curve scales up considerably, and this is evidenced by the underutilization of Push’s full set of functions.
Bell: Are there things that you can do with Push but you find that people aren’t finding them as much, or that aren’t used as much. Like that feature is there but for whatever reason it doesn’t get used as much?
Terry: Definitely. I think the Fixed Length button, is a button that has a few tricks to it that are really fun. But I don’t think anyone knows about them other than those of us who made it. [For example] If you press record with Fixed Length off, and you just play, and play, and play, it will loop the last couple measures of what you’ve been playing. For me, that’s how I always use it. I record and jam out with Record [button] on the whole time, and then once I get to something I liked playing, I press the Fixed Length [button] and it’s just there looped for me.
I’m not sure how successful we are on the New button and how we move around in scenes and session view. I’m not sure if people get what the New button does necessarily. People seem to get Convert [button] on Push 2 which we weren’t sure was going to happen but it seems like a lot of people use that.
Terry’s perspective regarding which Push functions are underused is based on a comparison of his own experiences and expectations with what he observes in user testing. Whereas some of the functions of Push are utilized as anticipated, others go untouched. This last point was reiterated in my interview with Will Kuhn who noted that some of the buttons on Push are avoided by his students. Typically, a function that is not used is a protection; it exists, but is not easily accessed and as a result goes unnoticed or neglected. This, however, is not the case with the function-specific buttons Terry and Kuhn observed being passed over. If a function-specific button is not used by most people, it could be removed or replaced in a newer Push model in favor of a different function. Alternatively, the underused button could be repurposed through an update on the existing Push model (Ableton strives to improve Push’s functionality in tandem with their updates to Live. For example, problems reported with Push in Live 9.5 related to the awkward ergonomics of muting and soloing multiple tracks were resolved in Live 9.6).
Protections and Preventions Encountered by Experienced Users
While updates may serve to improve the overall experience of playing Push for many users, a singular design for mapping and accessing advanced functions is unlikely to garner universal approval amongst the collective Push user base. Beyond the beginner level, the paths pursued by more advanced Push users can differ considerably. As Terry explained, Ableton attempts to account for these varied approaches by identifying and emulating different “user personas.”
Bell: With people that are more experienced, are you noticing certain paths that people are pursuing when they are playing Push that are common, or not?
Terry: We have different user personas that we use in our company; different user types. We have a beginner-type, an instrumentalist-type who is maybe not as concerned with all the details of the synthesizers, but tweaks some knobs, checks out some presets; the people who are deep into Max for Live and love to get into FM modulation of whatever, and go as deep as possible. With this broad of a product, you’re dealing with a bunch of different kinds of users. They’re using it in different ways. You have some people who are even using it to launch clips and play Live, which is really not the primary use case of this product, but there’s people doing that. There’s a guy in Brooklyn who plays jazzy chords in the chromatic mode and can play Bill Evans-jazz on it. Then you have people who are using it as a drum machine. These are all different aspects of the workflow that we want to make with it but some people go deeper into certain areas than others. Definitely a lot of people using it to play drums, and finger drumming. Then there are people who are deep into sound design, because it offers pretty deep control of the synthesizers in Live and that sort of stuff. Working with samples is the other thing that is huge that gets very deep.
Bell: And in working with samples, my perception is that it’s something that is a little more advanced, but I’d like to hear your take on that.
Terry: It’s interesting. I think it comes down to user types. I think there’s people that could never use a sample and be totally fine. And then there are people who, that’s why they got into Live, because of sampling and time-stretching. I know this is huge in hip-hop and things like that, but when you find out what you can do in a warped audio file compared to what you used to have to do to make that audio fit together on an MPC, this blows peoples’ minds; that you can play audio at different pitches and it stays at the same tempo. Chop it up now. In Push 2 you could chop it up automatically and this kind of stuff.
I saw a user test yesterday of a guy who bought a Push 2, he’s had it for a couple weeks, and he hadn’t really gotten too deep into it and he learned what he could do with samples and was like “Oh wow!”. It was kind of hidden for him.
Terry repeatedly used the word “deep” to describe users’ engagement with Push in different domains of music production, highlighting a broad range of practices. When users discover what is possible with Push beyond the basic, they are, as Terry described, genuinely ecstatic. As users find faults, such as those experienced transitioning from Push 1 to Push 2, Ableton aims to fix them through updates, and Push evolves. Yet, there remain some qualms that have yet to be quelled. As Will Kuhn affirmed, “Push is session view,” and Push’s limited compatibility with arrangement view is a considerable flaw in the eyes of some users. Answering the question, “What cannot be controlled from Push?”, Dennis DeSantis explained in the webinar, “Introduction to Ableton Live and Push for Educators”:
Push is really not designed to do much of anything in the arrangement view at all. So, when it comes to actually editing your song, mixing it, doing all that exporting stuff, for this we really recommend moving to Live. Push doesn’t really deal with any of the arrangement view functionality at all. It’s really designed as a kind of alternative window into the session view, for creating clips that are in the session.
The explanation is logical, but the reasoning is arbitrary and alienating to Live users who prefer working in arrangement view and would like to play Push but cannot. Highlighting functions that are not possible (preventions) or are difficult to access (protections) due to design constraints raises critical questions about what music-making actions are considered necessary, rudimentary, higher order, and dispensable. Ultimately, the question to be asked is, “What should be doable with Push?” So far, Ableton’s answer has been to stick to session view. Session view is the preset of Push. Session view is so prevalent in the design of Push, and affords so many music-making possibilities, that it distracts from arrangement view being hidden in plain sight. To the arrangement view aficionado, Push does not tap into a fundamental aspect of Live.
Since most users will never change their default software options, the seemingly small decisions made by developers may have a profound effect on the way users will experience the software every day.
Hardware and software are distinct domains, but DeSantis’ description of the “tyranny of the default” in software is equally applicable, if not more, to music hardware such as Push. While Live users are explicitly encouraged to customize their workflows to combat presets, Push users are implicitly asked to accept the preset architecture and its associated affordances as they are. This is not an Ableton-specific phenomenon; every instrument constrains. Singular designs inevitably privilege some users and alienate others. The case of Ableton Push serves to illustrate that when a company produces both the product and the pedagogy, it has a profound impact on the ways in which people make music.
Although Push has only been in the hands of the public since 2013, a community of players has embraced it as their primary instrument and already Liszt-esque virtuosos have developed and honed a body of techniques that are Push-specific. Such a conception of virtuosity is predicated on the prizing of dexterity and speed, positioning Push alongside more traditional instruments like the piano and violin. While this may serve to validate Push as a “real” musical instrument in some circles, it’s also a rather narrow view of what a Push player can do. The Live PA approach to playing Push does not fully harness its modularity, nor does it fully exploit Live’s vast possibilities. Push is promoted as an escape from screen distractors, allowing one to concentrate solely on music making, but as one of the attendees at the New York City “Ableton University Tour” event remarked, “that’s your problem!” What this attendee was inferring with this comment was that self-discipline was the solution, and that a hybrid setup of playing both Push and Live in tandem maximizes music-making possibilities and supports more workflows. Like Push, Ableton’s pedagogy is still in its infancy, and just as Push users have challenged Ableton to change how Push functions, they will challenge and change Ableton’s pedagogy, too. This last point notwithstanding, Ableton’s Live PA pedagogy has been successful in engaging novices to play Push. Furthermore, any prescribed path Ableton champions to play Push will undoubtedly be subjected to scrutiny because Live’s user base encompasses a population with vast experiences and expectations. Push cannot be everything to everyone, but by having a vested interest in user feedback and making a concerted effort to allay the pain points in Push’s design, Ableton has accelerated Push’s evolution. Whether or not Ableton’s pedagogy will parallel this trajectory remains to be seen.
The “5 Ps” conceptual model is not intended to be a rigid classification system, but rather a rough guide to aid in the analysis of a design’s affordances and constraints. It is critical for educators and students alike to continually consider how the designs of their musical instruments guide their actions, and also question how the predominant pedagogies influence these actions. Instruments are much more than objects that serve as a means to an end; Aden Evens argues that instruments become an extension of the person: “Playing then overcomes technique, so that player, instrument, and sound are assembled in that sublime moment into a single machine with unlimited possibility.” Given this embodied connection we have with our instruments, it is essential that we continually question the presumptions, privileges, provisions, protections, and preventions experienced when we play them. All instruments are subject to change, and the user base of an instrument plays a pivotal role in influencing this evolutionary process. By examining the disparity between what is possible and what is desirable, the design can be bettered, and new affordances can be conceived. Pedagogies will need to adapt accordingly.
 “Introduction to Ableton Live and Push for Educators,” Ableton, accessed November 10, 2016, https://www.Ableton.com/en/education/education-resources/
 Adam P. Bell, “Can We Afford These Affordances? GarageBand and the Double-Edged Sword of the Digital Audio Workstation,” Action, Criticism, and Theory for Music Education 14, no. 1 (2015): 44-65.
 James J. Gibson, “The Theory of Affordances,” in Perceiving, Acting, and Knowing, eds. Robert E. Shaw and James Bransford Hillsdale (Hoboken, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, 1977), 127-143.
James J. Gibson, The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1979).
 Don A. Norman, The Psychology of Everyday Things (New York: Basic Books, 1988).
Don A. Norman, The Design of Everyday Things. New York: Doubleday, 1990).
 Don A. Norman, “Affordance, Conventions, and Design,” Interactions 6(3): 41.
 Don A. Norman, The Invisible Machine (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1988), 74.
 Graham Pullin, Design Meets Disability (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2009), 86.
 Andrew R. Brown, Music Technology and Education: Amplifying Musicality (New York: Routledge, 2015), 17.
 Don A. Norman, The Design of Everyday Things, revised (New York: Doubleday, 2013).
 Timothy D. Taylor, Strange Sounds: Music, Technology, and Culture (New York: Routledge, 2001).
 Ibid., p. 6
 Paul Théberge, Any Sound You Can Imagine: Making Music/Consuming Technology (Hanover, NH: Wesleyan University Press, 1997), 159.
 Geoff Nicholls, The Drum Book: A History of the Rock Drum Kit (New York: Backbeat, 2008), 8-9.
 “Learn Push,” Ableton, accessed November 10, 2016, https://www.Ableton.com/en/push/learn-push/
 Will Kuhn, personal communication.
 Mark J. Bulter, Playing with Something That Runs: Technology, Improvisation, and Composition in DJ and Laptop Performance (New York: Oxford University Press), 43.
 Mark Katz, Groove Music: The Art and Culture of the Hip-Hop DJ (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012), 62.
 Tiger C. Roholt, Groove: A Phenomenology of Rhythmic Nuance (New York: Bloomsbury, 2014).
 Jordan Ferguson, Donuts (New York: Bloomsbury, 2014), 81.
 “Introduction to Ableton Live and Push for Educators,” Ableton, accessed November 10, 2016, https://www.Ableton.com/en/education/education-resources/
 Dennis DeSantis, Making Music: 74 Creative Strategies for Electronic Music Producers (Berlin: Ableton, 2015), 66.
 Aden Evens, Sound Ideas: Music, Machines, and Experience (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2005), 84.
*not from the field of music education
For the 2017-18 academic year, we'll be rolling out a course called Popular Music Pedagogy at the University of Calgary. This course will draw on the usual suspects like Little Kids Rock and Musical Futures, but also my extensive experience playing in dive bars.
This reading list is a compilation of books from outside of the field of music education that helps to fill in the gaps on what has been reported by music education researchers on popular music pedagogy. For the most part, these books delve into process, that is, how popular music is made (in the school of thought to which I subscribe, by focusing on the processes of making music, we simultaneously focus on learning).
Let's Talk About Love: A Journey to the End of Taste