Learning How To Sample A Song
Learning how to sample has become much easier with the growing capabilities of modern DAWs. However, there’s still an art to sampling that can make it challenging to create great music from samples.
Besides the obvious question of where to find samples, you also need to learn how to mix samples so the whole composition sounds full and complete. In this article, you’re going to learn how to sample a song using principles that apply to most modern DAWs.
The Fundamentals Of Sampling
The key to sampling music is to find the correct key and tempo of the original song. Once you know its key and tempo, you can incorporate other elements to pair with the sample. Furthermore, you can use your DAW to adjust the pitch and tempo of the original sample to your liking. So even if the song’s original key or tempo don’t fit your preferences, you can manipulate the sample to match your project.
Find the tempo of your sample
The quickest way to find the tempo of your sample is to use your DAW. Most modern DAWs have tempo detection capabilities, and you can use this feature to determine where you should start.
If you’re unable to use your DAW’s tempo detection feature, another way to find the tempo of your sample is to match the sample with the bars on your DAW’s timeline.
Here’s how to manually find the tempo:
Choose the section of the song you want to sample and count its number of bars. Next, trim the section so that it can be looped smoothly. You may need to cross-fade the start or end of the sample to get it just right.
Once you have the trimmed audio file, align the sample so that it starts at the beginning of the bar on the timeline, and adjust the tempo until it fits within the specified range of bars. Once the audio file fits neatly within the range of bars on the timeline, you will now have the tempo of the song you’re sampling.
Find the key of your sample
The next step is to find the key of the song you’re sampling. This is an often overlooked step, but it’s important because it helps you determine what other elements to pair with the sample.
Just like finding the tempo, most modern DAWs are able to identify the key of the music you’ve imported. But if you’re unable to use your DAW to determine the key, the best way to find out the key of your sample is to use the piano roll.
Here’s how to detect the key of your sample using the piano roll:
First you’ll need to listen to the song and play the notes on your piano roll that make up the chords of the music. Then, if you’re unsure what key is made up of those notes, refer to a reference chart that shows the notes belonging to a particular key. Once you know the key of the song you are sampling, you can move on to the next step.
Sequencing your sample
This is where things get interesting. Depending on what style of music you’re making, you can arrange your sample in a way that fits the goals of your project. Here are some ideas for how you can sequence your samples:
Using samples as one shot instruments
The easiest way to sample music is to use your chopped samples at specified intervals throughout your new track. This is commonly referred to as a one-shot sample.
Oftentimes this style of sampling is used to complement an arrangement rather than as the foundation of a new piece of music. One-shot sampling is often used with vocal samples, sound FX or percussive elements.
Looping samples throughout a track
Another way to use samples in your music is to loop a section throughout a track. Once you know the tempo of the song, you can find the break of a sample, or a particular section of one or more bars to loop continuously for your preferred duration.
For example, you could loop two bars from one section of the original song for 8 bars, then use another section of the song for the next two bars, and so on. Many Hip Hop samples are arranged this way.
For a completely unique take on a sample, you can try rearranging small slices of the sample in a new pattern. Instead of looping multiple bars of the sample, you can chop samples in small sections (sometimes as small as 1/2 beats) and rearrange them.
Producers who take this route usually use a sampling machine or drum pad to play each slice like an instrument. This creates an entirely new composition and often leads to a unique composition.
You can learn how to chop samples from producers who have mastered this skill, such as J Dilla or Kanye West.
Post processing your samples
Oftentimes your samples will include unwanted elements that detract from the overall mix. This can lead to a final track that sounds busy or harsh. Your best bet in this scenario is to use EQ to remove the offending elements. Depending on the nature of the sample, you will need to use your judgment to reduce the sounds that affect the mix.
If you’re sampling music that includes percussion, you might also want to reduce its impact on the overall mix with reductive EQ techniques. The trick is to isolate the offending frequencies and lower its volume in the mix.
You may also want to add “wet” mixing effects to change the feel of the sample. For instance, you can try applying reverb, echo or time stretching effects to enhance the sample so it fits the mood of your song. There are plenty of plugins available to help you create unique versions of your samples.
In short, learning how to sample music is a very rewarding skill for any modern producer. Besides reimagining the original versions of music, you can also create something completely new and exciting. Along with the techniques described in this article, you should continue to evolve your skills and find new creative ways to incorporate samples in your music.
Remember to err on the side of caution when it comes to copyright when using samples in your music. Be sure to check out the Sample Hunt Library for royalty free samples to use in your commercial music.