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Sampling Music 101

Updated on December 5, 2008

In this post, I will describe to you the basics of Sampling. Sampling has seen innovation throughout the years as technology has gained ground. Producers benefit from new forms of sampling as well as newer and better samplers become available on the market. The following is the basics of sampling.


Sampling is taking a piece of sound and using it to create whatever imaginable sound. Sampling can come from many different sources such as sample CD’s, the web, or even if you went out and started recording various things in the real world.

Samples are recorded into the RAM of the sampler and can later be used and edited. The only drawback of sampling is that it cannot reproduce the same quality of sound as the source, which means that a guitar sound will sound better when played through a guitar when compared to a sampler. As technology continues to develop, these bridges begin to close, especially with higher bit rates and lossless sampling.

Samplers are beginning to hold entire hard drives, which allow the user’s to store any number of sounds. Many are now using SD cards as well, which gives you an unlimited amount of samples. SD cards are in the gigabyte’s now, which means quite a bit of sampling, a nice step up from floppy disks.


Many companies make sample CD’s along with any other source you may find them from. The internet has many great places where users upload their own samples of instruments they have, voice recordings, or live instruments they play, look around. There are entire websites dedicated to providing producers with samples. These samples can range from sound effects, vocals, and even other instruments.

Sample CD’s often come in three types: Audio CD, WAV CD, and CD-ROM. Audio CDs are like usual CD’s you can play them on a CD player and can be ripped to a computer using whichever program you prefer. WAV CD’s have lossless samples of sound on the CD which can easily be copied over to a music folder or into a sampler. Remember that you can always encode lossless audio to a smaller format, but not vice versa. Audio and WAV CD’s only problem is that they sound may not be named which means you may have to go back through manually renaming each sample, this can become quite boring. CD-ROM does usually have the samples stored with appropriate titles and even key mappings for midi notes. Some CD-ROMs are even being made with specific programs in mind such as Garageband or ReCycle.

Most established samplers have many different ways to import samples including floppy drives, CD drives, and USB drives.

Also, many of the sample CD’s are royalty free which means you can use them at your own will, so double check before you begin sampling to see if it’s all good. Make sure to check the disclaimers on websites which allow you to use samples, many are royalty free, however, some many not be and could lead to some trouble down the road.


Loops are bars of beats or sound which are looped over and over. Loops may be drum tracks, basslines, leads or anything else. Think of the 4/4 house kick, and now have that repeat, that is a loop. Loops can be played in a way that you would press them once and the loop will play through, or you would hold down the key to keep it looping. Making sure that the loop is crisp and cut right is essential, even milliseconds can add up as the song takes shape and may leave the loop out of sync by the end of the song. If you think about it, having 0.10 seconds on the end of the loop would lead to 0.20, 0.30, 0.40 and so on as the loop continues, so edit it well.

Another form of sampling is phrase sampling. This involves slicing your song into parts and playing them back at different times than the original song. This is used a lot in live production as one can create an entirely new sound to their song. A common example is when DJs use Ableton Live or a great example is how Orbital would play out their sets using samplers with all their loops, and rearrange tracks to make them sound amazingly fresh.

One problem with loops and samples is that they may not be at the correct pitch which you are working with; they may also not be the correct length either. To combat this, many samplers have pitch-shift and time-stretching. Pitch-shifting changes the pitch of the notes. Time-stretching changes the length and time of the loop or sample without affecting the pitch. Try not to over abuse these functions because they can begin to muddy and distort the sound too much, although if that’s what you’re going for, than go right ahead. If you are into Avant Garde or Industrial, than heavily distorting samples will be right up your alley.

Because loops are very popular, there are many programs you can find to help edit loops, the most favorite and popular of the group is ReCycle. ReCycle can help you create a perfect loop, slicing the loop and setting parameters, ReCycle allows you to manipulate the loop to how you want it. ReCycle is supported by most music programs and software, and is becoming the standard for working on loops.

One major advantage to sampling is that you can sample one of your favorite synthesizers and use features from a different synthesizer or music program to add parameters which aren’t available on that synthesizer. You may sample that old MS-20 and run it through some brand new effects, creating a sound no one’s ever heard before, far out!

Sample Recording

Whenever you record a sample into a computer it is going to be digitized. This means that the analog sound will be made into a digital format, double check if you want to do this before continuing. Depending on your song, you may want the sample to sound very analog especially in hip hop if you would be sampling from a vinyl record. Hip Hop was built from sampling vinyl, which included a very warm feel along with clicks and pops. When recording in, it is important to look at the bit rate, sample rate, and recording levels. It would be a big waste to record an awesome analogue synth into your computer only to have it a very low quality rip that sounds distorted. Of course, like before, if distortion is your thing, than go right ahead.

A sound recorded at 44,000 Hz will sound incredibly better than a sound at 22,000 Hz. With how cheap it is to buy storage, to be safe, it is best to record samples at a very high frequency because you can always down sample them and retain a clear sound, however, if you were to increase the sample rate of a shit recording, it will sound shit.

The bit rate of the sample is also to be considered, as a golden rule, the higher the bit rate, the better the sound because it is not losing part of the information i.e. sound. Again it is easy to down sample higher quality samples than to up sample shit samples.

One note to remember is that certain styles of music may use certain bit rates and sample rates. Chip tune music uses 8 bit sounds, much like the sounds being created on the old consoles. Hip Hop may use low bit rate samples because the old samplers could only handle certain bit rates of recording, this gives much of the old school Hip Hop that gritty sound to it. Know your roots.

The final thing to look at is the recording levels. Recording levels are important because if a sound is too low and is increased using gain, it will begin to distort. The same applies to if a sound is recorded at too high of a level, adding more gain to a maxed out level will distort the sound and create clipping. This can be used creatively of course. As a rule of thumb, it is good to usually record in at about -6 to -3DB. Recording in at lower levels gives your sample more head way to be increased later on a mixer or using an effect.


Samplers can be used for many different aspects of music production. Recording sounds to be played back, cut, edited, distorted, and so on, is what gives samplers such a wide range of uses in the studio. There are many different samplers on the market, and as usual, price determines quality with a lot of samplers, but as long as you innovate your process and your style, as long as it works, go for it.


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      free mortgage leads 

      7 years ago

      I've heard a lot of about Ableton Live but never really had the time to sit down and learn it. Everyone tells me its one of the best programs for creating mash up and remixing songs. What turntable to you suggest for someone who is just beginning sampling records? I'm trying to get my son into music but I don't want to spend 300-500 on a good techniques table only for him to get bored with (waste of money) are usb turntables a good solution


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