Creating Musical Loops - dummies

By Jeff Strong

Loops are repeated phrases within a song. Looping has been around since the beginning of multitrack recording. You used to have to make an actual loop of tape containing the music that you wanted to repeat — thus the name loop — and load the loop into an analog tape deck to play repeatedly. This tape deck was then connected to the multitrack deck, and the looped performance was recorded onto that deck.

Now all that looping can be done digitally. You can make loops of any instrument, but the most common ones involve drum rhythms. For example, each section of a song usually contains a short 1- or 2-bar rhythm that repeats many times. By using loops, you can just play the drum part once and make copies of it for the rest of the measures in that section.

This saves you from having to play for the whole song. Looping can be a great feature if you play an instrument live and if keeping the part steady is fairly difficult.

Making loops is easy: Just select the section that you want and copy it to the end of your existing rhythm for as many times as necessary. Keep the following points in mind when looping, however:

  • Make sure that your beginning and end points are accurate. If you start with beat 1 of the measure, end with beat 1 of the next measure (that is, if you want a 1-bar loop). If you’re off just a little bit, this affects the feel and timing of the rhythm.

  • Choose a point in the rhythm with a sharp attack. An example is the downbeat with the kick drum or the snare drum backbeat on beat 2. This helps you find the exact beginning and ending points for your loop.

  • When you record the part, set a metronome (click track) in your system and play along to it. This creates a clear point from which you can find your edit points.

  • Give your looped music a more human feel. To do this, overdub fills and embellishments onto another track. Then either adjust the mix so that you mute the main groove when the fill happens or place your fill directly into the groove track.

    Some songs and styles of music can work well if you let the fills and the groove happen at the same time, so experiment and use the approach that you prefer.