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Sampling is far from a new concept, having first become popular in the 1970s and 1980s. What is new, however, are the modern methods and techniques used as technology develops and music trends change. It’s fair to say music sampling has advanced through time. Today, a musical masterpiece can be created with just a laptop.
Used heavily in electronic and hip-hop music, sampling is the art of taking recordings of instrumental notes or excerpts from old music and splicing it together or manipulating it with other sounds to create brand new music. Not dissimilar to a synthesizer, a sampler is a digital “instrument” that uses recordings rather than generating new sounds.
While you can buy sample instrumental packs containing pre-recorded samples, you can achieve a more authentic sound by recording custom samples yourself. A single sample can then be manipulated to create a multitude of new notes and versions.
Not sure where to start? Here are a few tricks to try to create some really cool custom samples.
There’s a world of possibilities of what you can do with one sample. With the help of a sampler, you can take this single soundbite and speed it up or slow it down to alter its pitch and create a succession of different notes.
For this to be achieved, the sample is loaded onto a ‘zone’ within the sampler. From here it can be mapped across a keyboard to be edited. A key called the ‘root key’ plays the sample exactly as it was recorded, while other keys on the keyboard can be used to alter the tempo and pitch.
Changing tempo is a great way of creating new notes. When the tempo is sped up to achieve a higher pitch, the sample becomes shorter. Likewise, when it is slowed down to achieve a deeper note, the sample becomes more drawn out. This can be an interesting effect in itself, but, if you’d like to prevent the duration being affected, a process called ‘granulation’ can be used to decouple the pitch and playback speed.
Alternatively, rather than just working with one sample, you can achieve an authentic sound by uploading multiple samples of an instrument being played at different velocities and articulations. Of course, it can be incredibly time consuming to record every combination of note, velocity and articulation. Instead, you may find it a better option to record a select few of these combos, which can then be manipulated in the sampler to alter pitch and volume and emulate the remaining sounds.
There are two types of samples – ‘one shots’ and ‘loops’. While a one shot plays just once, regardless of how long the key trigger is sustained, a loop mimics the sounds of a real sustained note.
A commonly-used looping variation is the technique of repeating the sample over and over from the beginning, until the key trigger is released. Another is a back-and-forth technique, where the sample plays through to the end and then plays backwards, before starting again from the beginning (the right way around this time), and so forth. Either of these techniques can be used on a whole sample, or a section of it.
Sometimes looping can sound a little disjointed, in which case a crossfade function can be used to eliminate any clicks and create a more continuous blend.
If you’re feeling experimental, layering is a cool technique to try that involves stacking multiple samples on top of one another to create some really unique sounds. This blend of sounds is fantastic for adding depth to your music and can create an entirely foreign-sounding sample instrument.
Layering can be done with entirely different samples – for example bold percussion with soft wind instruments – or by stacking duplicate versions of the same sample played at different pitches.
Hopefully this has provided you with a bit of inspiration to get experimenting with your samples. Be creative and give some of these techniques a go as you attempt to create your next musical masterpiece.
For a look at how sampling has been used across different genres over time, check out this fantastic interactive infographic.