How to Loop and Sample to Create Cool Music

Sampling to create music was popularized by rap music producers and DJs in the 1980s. The practice, derived from a DJ's turntable techniques, takes pieces of pre-existing music and recombines them to create a completely new piece. Many musicians deride the practice as lacking creativity, while practitioners liken the process to a collage. Here is one way to loop and sample to create cool music.

You will need:

  • Some form of sampling device. This doesn't have to be a piece of hardware dedicated to the task. You can clip music from a MP3 or .wav file on your computer. You can record live sounds with the sound recorder on your laptop or your cell phone.
  • Some software with multitrack recording/editing capability. You can try Audacity, a freeware program.
  • A decent music collection.

The process

  • Consider what kind of track you want to lay down. Will it be a beat for a rap song or a high-energy dance groove? The decision will color what kind of music you chose to sample.
  • Start with the beat. If you have a drum machine, it's much simpler to create your own beat from scratch. If you don't, dig in your CD crates to find the beat you want. Observe through your software the beats per minute (BPM) for the song and the meter of the song. (For example, most pop music songs are in 4/4 time: four beats per measure).
  • Find a song to form the basis of the track's melody. If you're experienced with music and music theory, you will want to consider the track's pitch, key and tone. If you're just starting out laying down track, you will want to pick a segment of a song with one instrument playing solo. You can use a saxophone or trumpet riff from a jazz song. Or just pick what sounds good. Observe the meter and BPM for the song.
  • Grab that beat you liked, either the track you created with your drum machine or the clip from a song. Make the clip one measure long. Drag and drop the segment onto one track in your audio editing program. Start out with four measures.
  • Grab the segment of the melody you liked. Drop that clip onto the second track in your audio software.
  • Hit the play button to test it out. Listen to hear if the cadence and rhythm of the melody track matches the beat to your satisfaction. If it doesn't, adjust the pitch and speed controls for the melody track.
  • If you have the beat bumping to your satisfaction, loop it for four bars. Copy and paste the measures you've laid down end to end four times. Now you have a very simple sample beat loop.

For an example of a great, simple sample loop track, listen to Sure Shot by the Beastie Boys. The song takes a cut from Jeremy Steig's Howlin' for Judy. There are only two instruments, flute and bass, each playing a melody.

Things to think about

Experiment with your sampling by adding layers of sound. Place a harmony on the third track, and some kind of atmospheric noise on the fourth track.

If you plan to use your sample loop in a song for publication, be aware of the copyrights of each track's original creators. In most cases, you'll have to obtain explicit permission for their use.

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