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Sampling Tips

Tips & Tricks By Craig Anderton
Published September 1997

Craig Anderton puts all his tips in one basket...

Samplers have a reputation of not being used to their fullest potential — lots of musicians just pop in a piano or strings disk, and leave it at that. And that's a shame, because a sampler is much more than a keyboard instrument: it's a bunch of little digital recorders, each turned on and off by a switch (key). The following 12 tips are designed to inspire you to get just a bit more out of your sampler.

1. Cut & Paste Solos

The assembly of composite solos, where you record multiple takes and mix down the best bits from each take to create an idealised solo, is a task made much easier by samplers. Record multiple takes on tape (analogue or digital), then sample the best sections. Sync the sampler's onboard sequencer to tape, and play back the resulting mix into an open tape track. Granted, assembling a solo this way can be a bit more tedious than with a hard disk system, but you also gain the opportunity to use options like envelopes, filters and LFOs.

2. Fixing Out‑Of‑Tune Notes

Samplers were born to bend, or they wouldn't have pitch‑bend wheels. If a vocal performance is fantastic except for a couple of slightly flat or sharp notes, sample the phrase into the sampler.

For easy fixes, move the pitch‑bend wheel manually, in real time, as you bounce over to another track. For more complicated pitch changes, sync a sequencer to the multitrack and 'draw in' the pitch‑bend messages, then edit as needed. This also works for generating special effects such as slides.

If you add a lot of pitch‑bend, the length of the sample might change. Breaking a vocal down into phrases and editing each one individually generally solves the problem.

3. Yes, You Can Hit High C!

Well, maybe not quite. But if a note is just a couple of steps above or below your range, sample the nearest note you can sing correctly, and transpose it up or down as needed. Drastic pitch shifts will make vocals sound rather unnatural, but if you're dealing with harmony parts that aren't too far from the lead and mixed somewhat in the background, there should be no problem.

4. The Ultimate Vibrato

To add vibrato to a signal, sample it, then modulate the pitch with a low‑frequency triangle wave (bring it in and out with the mod wheel for expressiveness). Because the LFO waveform is symmetrical, it shortens and lengthens the note by equal and opposite amounts in the process of changing pitch, so the total note length remains unchanged.

5. The Ultimate Ddl

Sample the phrase you want to echo, and set the sampler keyboard to play all the same pitch (this mode is used for sound effects and some percussion; refer to your sampler's manual for how to do it). Also set the amplitude envelope for a long release time, and make sure the overall amplitude responds to velocity.

You never know when you might want to sample something, so if you have a spare aux send, route it to your sampler's input.

Hitting any key will trigger the phrase, so whenever you want another echo, just hit a key. And no law says you have to emulate a traditional echo unit — try polyrhythmic echoes, or changing the volume levels of different echoes. Since samplers generally let you place different key‑ranges at different locations in the stereo field, this also works for cross‑channel effects.

6. Making Bi‑Directional Loops Work

When using bi‑directional (forward/backward) looping, remember to turn off any 'autofind' function that puts the loop points on zero crossings. If the signal reverses at a zero crossing, a discontinuity in the waveform will probably be produced (upper signal in Figure 1 on p.130). The grey wave in Figure 1 shows what the reversed signal would look like if played right after the original signal). Setting the loop point at a peak, as shown in the lower signal, will create a smoother loop.

7. Fun With Sample Start Modulation

A sample is a 'freeze‑dried' sound lacking the nuances that occur over time with acoustic instruments, but modulation can help. One trick is to use velocity to increase brightness, but sample start point modulation — a feature that affects where in the sample playback begins — can be equally, if not more, effective. If you start a sample just after the attack and add negative velocity modulation, the harder you play the closer the start point moves toward the beginning, thus picking up more of the attack. Try this with acoustic guitar, for much more dynamic picking effects. Note that most envelopes can be modulated by velocity as well.

Another use for sample start point alteration is to create stereo from mono. Copy the mono sample, pan it to the opposite channel compared to the original signal, and change the start point of one of the samples until you hear a distinct stereo spread. Caution: you should also play this back in mono to check for cancellations; if the sound gets thinner, increase or reduce the start time difference until it sounds right.

The final sample start tip assumes you're recording a vocalist into a multitrack, and unfortunately, there's a 'pop' at the beginning of an otherwise flawless phrase. Sample the phrase (sync the sampler to the multitrack so that you don't have to worry about punching in at the right time later on), and use the truncation parameter to move the start point a bit further into the sample, past the pop. Lay the sampled track over the original track, and the problem is solved. (An amplitude envelope change could also solve this problem.)

8. Practice Makes Perfect

If you want to loop part of a song (a solo or chorus, perhaps) for practising, record that section into a sampler (use a low sample rate to provide more recording time) and loop away. If you're using digital or analogue tape, this saves a lot of head wear compared to using the recorder's 'block repeat' or rehearsal mode.

9. Out Of Bounds

Transposing samples out of their normal ranges can create an entirely new sound. Transpose slap bass up a couple of octaves for a meaty clavinet sound (ie. for even better results, layer it with a real clavinet), or transpose a snare right down (and add lots of filtering) for a distant cannon or thunder sound. Transposing a sample to its highest pitch will often provide ring modulator‑like effects due to aliasing.

10. Trimming Rhythmic Loops

Rhythmic loops you may want to use from Sample CDs aren't always at exactly the right tempo to sync up with other loops you want to include. However, as long as the loop you need to change uses non‑pitched material (say, drums) you can lengthen the loop by bending pitch down somewhat, or shorten the loop by bending pitch up. This will often give better‑sounding loops than when using computer‑based time compression/expansion programs.

11. The Loopmeister

If you can translate audio files between different samplers, you can use one sampler's capabilities to process samples created on a different machine, or modified with a particular program (assuming, that is, you have access to more than one sampler!). For example, most sample editing programs allow only for forward looping or crossfade looping, but Ensoniq's samplers offer a variety of loop processing options (backwards/forwards, reverse, 'bow tie', and so on) that process the samples to make the loop points far less obvious. As one example of how to use inter‑machine transfers, I was once trying to loop a string section on a Peavey DPM3. The Alchemy sample editing program did a pretty good job, but the loop point was still fairly obvious. So I sent the sample to an Ensoniq EPS16 Plus, used its looping capabilities to create a perfect loop, bounced the sample back to Alchemy, then exported it to the DPM3. Of course, because all this was in the digital domain there was no audible deterioration.

12. Catching The bus

If you have a spare aux send, route it to your sampler's input. You never know when you might want to sample something, and if the buss is already routed, all you have to do is turn up the appropriate aux send control and set levels. Happy sampling!