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Takes & Items

Reaper Tips & Techniques By Malcolm Jacobson
Published November 2010

Copy Reason's Dr OctoRex loop player with Reaper's Takes and Items.

If you use loops as part of your production process, you've probably heard about the Dr OctoRex loop player now available in the latest version of Propellerhead's Reason. An update of the classic Dr Rex player, Dr OctoRex has a range of powerful new features for working with loops, including access to multiple loop slots, the ability to process individual slices in Slice Edit mode and the ability to call up any of the loaded loops from a Pattern/Loop lane in the sequencer.

While Reaper users with a Reason 5 license can get access to all of the Dr OctoRex features via ReWire, you might be surprised to learn that Reaper already offers many similar functions for loop production, via the Items and Takes system.

Reaper's Item/Take system provides a quick and powerful tool for loop‑based production. In this article we'll show you how to load your loops into Items, call these from the timeline, and emulate some of the major features of Dr OctoRex.

Take Advantages

Reaper's Take system is tied to media Items. Originally designed for overdub recording, the Take system can also be used with pre‑recorded audio files — for example, loops — with each Item containing any number of Takes. Items can be sliced (as often as required) and each Take within an Item can be processed by any of the internal or external (hardware) effects available to your Reaper system. Arrangements can be built by selecting Takes from a drop‑down list.

While each Item can contain multiple Takes, the Takes cannot extend beyond the boundaries of the Item. Adjusting the boundaries of the Item — either through fades, splitting or looping — affects all Takes within the Item.You can work with multiple Takes contained within a single Item. Using this system creatively can open up real possibilities for loop‑based work.

To use the Take system for loop production, you can think of each Item as the equivalent of a Dr OctoRex Loop Player, and each Take within an Item as a Loop Slot.

Loop & Load

The first step is to create a library of Items containing your favourite loops. These become the building blocks that you use when creating arrangements. To load up your first loop set, create a new project and set the 'Timebase for Items/envelopes/markers' on the Project Settings tab under the File menu to 'Beats (position, length, rate)'.

You'll need to create a selection that matches the length of the loops you work with. This should be the length of your longest loop. If you load a two-bar loop into an eight-bar Item, Reaper automatically extends the two-bar loop to fit the eight-bar length. If, however, you load an eight-bar loop into a two-bar Item, Reaper increases the playback speed of the loop so that all of the original audio plays within the new two‑bar limit. Go to View / Media Explorer to select all of the loops you want to group for playback: for example, a set of Bass or Drum loops that might work well together as part of an arrangement.

  • Right‑click on one of the selected loops and choose 'Insert at time selection (stretch/loop to fit)'. The selected loops will be added to the playlist as separate tracks, automatically stretched or looped to fit the time selection.
  • Select all the Items, then right‑click on the top Item and go to Take / Implode Items across tracks into Takes'. The selected Items are moved to the selected track, with each loop becoming a separate Take (or slot) within a new Item.
  • Give the track a name that reflects the content of the loops within the Item, such as 'Up‑tempo Drums'.
  • Right‑click on the Track Control Panel and select 'Save tracks as track template'.
  • In the 'Save track template' window, enter a descriptive file name for the template, and select the 'Include track Items in template' option, then click Save. This creates a track template that can be used in any future project to load the Item and the associated loops.
  • Repeat this process for each group of loops you want to use in your library.

It's important to note that while Track Templates load the Items and the loops, the templates themselves are only a text file that references the location of the original media. Changing the location of the original media will break your templates. If you load a template and Reaper can't locate the original file, you will be prompted to search for the associated file(s).

As with any library, it pays to spend some time sorting out where and how you're going to store your source files before you start linking to them.


Once you've created your loop groups (track templates), you can get into the fun of quickly sketching out arrangements. Saved templates can be loaded into any new or existing project. To start building a new song:

  • Create a new project.
  • Select Track / Insert track from template / Open template.
  • Select the first loop group template you want to use and click Open. The Item, with all of the included loops, gets inserted into your project, ready to use.
  • Repeat this process for each loop group you want to use in the project.

With the loop groups imported into a project, you can start to use the power of Reaper's Take feature to quickly build arrangements.

To extend the loops over the duration of your song, drag the right‑hand side of the Item to the end of the song. You now have access to any of the loops within the Item, at any point in the song. If the original loops don't match the tempo of the new project, Alt‑drag to change the playback speed of every loop in the Item to match the new tempo. To create arrangements by changing the active loop:You can create interesting arrangements by changing the active loop as you go through your song.

Slice Edit Mode

Add variation to your arrangement by utilising the power of Item and Take processing. Every Take within a Reaper Item can have its own effects chain, volume, pan and mute envelope. These can be applied on a split‑by‑split basis, and can also be saved as part of the original, or a new, template. You can add an effect to one instance of the loop in the arrangement without affecting any of the other instances (Items).

To add an effects chain to a loop, right‑click on the Take and select 'Take / Show FX chain for active Take'. Any of the internal or external effects accessible to your system can be applied to the Take. To edit the envelope on a loop, right‑click on the Take and select 'Take / Take volume envelope', 'Take pan envelope' or 'Take mute envelope'.Individual Takes can be altered using effects and envelopes.

Similarly, you can edit the audio within each Item without affecting any of the other splits. Want to move the bass loop a bit earlier for one instance? Just Alt‑drag the waveform to move the start offset of the loop forwards or backwards within the Item.

Need to create a melodic bass line, but only have a single-note loop? Change the pitch by selecting the Take, then press F2 and adjust the 'Pitch adjust (semitones)' value up or down as required.  

In The Spotlight

Swing Grid Update: In the version 3.66 update, a new swing grid was introduced. Grid values of 1/4S, 1/8S and 1/16S are selected from the Grid drop‑down list at the bottom left of the editor, generating a grid with a moveable marker for every second grid line.

The position of these markers can be adjusted by grabbing the swing handles at the top of the editor or by adjusting values in the Quantize Events dialog. When the Settings option is set to 'Use grid', the quantize position can be adjusted by dragging the swing handles and by adjusting the Strength. The higher the Strength, the closer the notes will snap to the swing grid.

When the Settings option is set to Manual quantised notes will snap to the swing grid — done by selecting Grid from the Grid drop‑down list — or to any of the non‑swing settings by selecting a standard grid value. This gives good control over the amount of swing that is applied to any values within the MIDI editor.

  • Select the Item then click at the first part of the arrangement where you want to make a change.
  • Type 'S' to split the Item at this point.
  • Select the Take that contains the loop you want to play back from the right‑click menu or, if you have the 'Show all Takes in lanes (when room)' option enabled, you can select the loop you want by clicking with the mouse. A good tip is to use Markers to quickly navigate through the arrangement when creating your slices.
  • Repeat this process for the rest of the arrangement. You can change the arrangement at any time by selecting any of the other Takes within the Items.

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