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Percussion Looping - Audio Examples

by Rob Cummings

On this page:   Prologue | First Pass | Loop 1 | Loop 2 | Loop 3 | Loop 4 | Loop 5 | Mix 1 | Mix 2
Previous page:   Background | Problems | Approaches |


To demonstrate "my way" (for all you crooners out there) of looping with percussion, I've recorded parts of a very rhythm-centric track of mine called "A/D-apt". I broke the tune down into 5 two-bar loops and I explain some of the ideas behind them. Two "mixes" are also included - for the price of one - to show how I stir up the loops. I don't usually have much of a script - there are a few solid groove ideas but new stuff gets added all the time. Both of the tracks use a mixture of looping and live playing/mixing and I think they demonstrate my approach to looping quite well. The 1st mix is a rather sober approach, the 2nd mix shows what happens after one too many (mixes, that is)!

By the way, to hear these suckers you'll need RealAudio:


It really isn't necessary to blow your powder keg right from the start, is it? For the sake of drama, it's useful to save some of your best ideas for later. Also, it's usually wise to change the dynamics and density from loop to loop - unless, of course you're interested in investigating extremes (i.e. bomb 'em 'til dey drop).

For "A/D-apt", I start with a cymbal-laden drum pattern from a Roland 505. Because the 505 sounds very dry and static, I usually stick to simple beats. To make these more tasty, I add low-res delay at various syncopated ratios (e.g. 3/16, 3/8, 5/16, 5/32 etc.). To figure out several delay times in ms (milliseconds) that work with a given tempo (1/4-note), I use the following little formula (heh-heh):

tdelay = [60 * 1000 / tempo)] * [n / m]

where m is the note denominator (e.g. m = 8 for 1/8th notes) and n is the number of notes to be delayed (e.g. n = 3 for a delay of 3/8ths). I've actually entered all this into a spreadsheet and printed out the results to save time. Please don't hate me for my nerdiness ...

First Pass

ANYWAY, I get some sort of a machine pattern going and start to sing my first part in my head. Moving to it also really helps. See the previous page for tips on avoiding a "click" on the "one". Hey, did somebody say, shut up and play yer drums? That's not very nice ... OK, here's my first loop:

Loop 1

I started by playing a simple 3-3-2 talking drum figure which serves as a sort of bass line. I replaced the "one" with a new talking drum bend and added a bit of jaw harp here as well. That's enough for now:

Loop 1  - download (Adapt1.rm - Mono, 16 KB/s, 24 KB)

Loop 1  - streaming (Adapt1.ram - Mono, 16 KB/s, 24 KB)

Loop 2

Here I tried to duplicate the talking drum theme and then I played 1/8ths on jaw harp all the way through. This loop serves as a "build-up" from loop 1. EDP users have this really well: they can copy a loop to the next one. I added a backbeat by playing mallet on an arabian "rik" drum (against da rules). Later (e.g. mix 1), I'll be able switch between loops 1 and 2 for a sudden change of density.

Loop 2  - download (Adapt2.rm - Mono, 16 KB/s, 24 KB)

Loop 2  - streaming (Adapt2.ram - Mono, 16 KB/s, 24 KB)

Loop 3

For loop 3, I played a continuous jaw harp line and added some minimal rik beats. Additional ingredients: a pot lid and some "flex-a-tone" (those bendable sheet metal thingys) for fun. I included some delay from the latter two in the loop as well:

Loop 3  - download (Adapt3.rm - Mono, 16 KB/s, 24 KB)

Loop 3  - streaming (Adapt3.ram - Mono, 16 KB/s, 24 KB)

Loop 4

Because the previous loops were rhythmically "busy", I recorded a somewhat less dense loop here. The deepest tone comes from an extra snare drum head (without the drum but with delay) - I like the "thumpy" sound of it. I also played some "rik" - I like the way that you can bend the pitch with your thumb on frame drums. The "rumble" comes from a finger roll played on a depitched pandeiro (more pandeiro in loop 5). Finally, I included (by accident) some cymbals from the 505 - it didn't damage anything so I let it be (but then with the Jamman, you have to live with the loop however it ends up - the Echoplex has a very handy "Undo" feature). The less busy the loop is, the more you can do live - in fact these sorts of loops are my preference for live situations:

Loop 4  - download (Adapt4.rm - Mono, 16 KB/s, 24 KB)

Loop 4  - streaming (Adapt4.rm - Mono, 16 KB/s, 24 KB)

Loop 5

I started this loop by playing pitch-bends on talking drum on the two "ones". Next, I played a motorik-groove on depitched pandeiro - I prefer the sound of the pandeiro this way. To add some brightness, I added a backbeat played on Tunesian darabuka. Finally, I played a pitch-bend roll on "rik" to round out the groove:

Loop 5  - download (Adapt5.rm - Mono, 16 KB/s, 24 KB)

Loop 5  - streaming (Adapt5.ram - Mono, 16 KB/s, 24 KB)

Mix 1

In this mix, I wanted to show how the loops can be combined. To keep the file size small, only loops 1 and two are included. I recorded all of this in my bedroom - in concert settings I'll play more "live" stuff (e.g. drum kit) and much less drum machine:

Mix 1  - download (AdaptA.rm - Mono, 16 KB/s, 151 KB)

Mix 1  - streaming (AdaptA.ram - Mono, 16 KB/s, 151 KB)

Mix 2

For this mix, I screwed around quite a bit with the loops using all sorts of effects. I recorded three live mixes and edited them together using CoolEdit. Also some of the loops were altered from their original form. Loop 4, which begins and ends the mix, was changed by looping a delayed and modulated copy back onto it. Throughout the mix, I also used a variety of delay effects on drum machine to make the beats more interesting. Actually, I couldn't stop myself from really remixing a few parts and even creating a few new ones. As a result, this track is quite an effect orgy - having a little more restraint probably would have lead to more "musical" results. But what the heck, I had a blast doing all of this ... (especially the "falling loop splattered on concrete" effect at 2:50 and the tape spooling a little later).
This track ends by "going down in flames" - think Jimi. Who needs all those karaoke loops when you can destroy everything with delay feedback?

Mix 2  - download (AdaptB.rm - Mono, 16 KB/s, 683 KB)

Mix 2  - streaming (AdaptB.ram - Mono, 16 KB/s, 683 KB)

On this page:   Prologue | First Pass | Loop 1 | Loop 2 | Loop 3 | Loop 4 | Loop 5 | Mix 1 | Mix 2
Previous page:   Background | Problems | Approaches |

Last Update: June 9, 1998

If you have any questions, comments or spelling corrections, please drop me a line at r_t_cummings@cis.com.

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