Sampling 101

This is an excerpt from a private lesson entitled Sampling 101 Class with Whirling Squirrel Music.  If you are a beginner with electronic music and not very comfortable with computers, this lesson is for you.

 This is not a lesson for the experienced or intermediate electronic musician who is familiar with and comfortable with computers. 

For Portland electronic music lessons and Ableton Live/Reason lessons, contact Jeremy Highhouse, an Ableton Certified Trainer and a friend of mine. He’s great! And make sure to tell him I sent you.

What is sampling?

Sampling is chopping up bits of music to layer on top of other music, play in time via “quantization” or “stretching,” and it’s something that’s been around in music for a long, long time.

This is what sampling looks like, with a video from the venerated Pete Rock.

This lesson

In this lesson, we are going to edit an audio file and cut it up for use as a sample. We will be using iTunes to convert audio file formats; we will be using Audacity to chop up the audio, and we will be using Reason for music production.

Keep in mind that in the beginning, this stuff can be a little challenging, because there is a bunch of stuff you probably don’t know. It’s ok to take it slow. The best instruction comes from a teacher who is teaching you, in person or over Skype. I’ve retired from teaching music.

Step 1: Get the song “on your computer.”

You need to have the song on your computer before you can edit it, and you need to see the folder the song is in.

What to do:

  • Set up iTunes import settings, to import audio TO A WAV FILE (high quality) or MP3 file (SMALLER FILE)
  • iTunes: — Preferences… General…Import Settings…Import Using … WAV Encoder or MP3 Encoder.
  • If you can’t find this, look under iTunes Advanced Menu for Import Settings.
  •  Put CD in computer. Open up iTunes and import the song into your iTunes library. Note: If the song is already on your computer, then find the audio file on your computer.  Open up that folder.

Step 2: Find out if your song is in a useable format.

“Format” is something you can check by looking at the file extension: song.wav or song.mp3. Notice that song.wav is a wave file, and song.mp3 is an mp3 file. MP3 is different than wav files; MP3 is more compressed, and has a much smaller file size. It doesn’t sound nearly as good, and can sound glitchy, compressed, and lower quality, but we aren’t worried about sound quality right now. This is a tutorial focused on learning. Just remember that you should not use MP3 files as samples in a professional album/mix if you can help it, unless you are intentionally trying to be “lo fi” (low fidelity).

  • Go to the song folder. Windows users: Right Click—– Properties. Mac users: Control Click —– Get Info.
  • If your song is:    WAV, or AIFF (from CDs/PRO AUDIO) or MP3, then GOOD!
  • If your songs is MP4 or M4A, or God forbid the copyright projected M4P, STOP!! and consider using a different song. If you are taking this lesson, converting files will not make the process fun. You are a BEGINNER. Do not try to do something awesome. Just try to do SOMETHING.
  • If you really really want to convert stuff, go here first, before you move on to Step 3. …Basically, it involves burning a CD out of an iTunes playlist, then, importing the CD back into your iTunes library as a WAV or MP3 format.

Step 3: Convert files if necessary, to MP3 or WAV.

  • Open up your song in iTunes. Right click (Windows) or Control Click (Mac).
  • Convert to MP3. This also may be under Advanced – Create MP3 version.
  • Then FIND IT in your iTunes library.

Step 4: Get (import) the audio into Audacity.

  • You can either drag files into Audacity,
  • or you can IMPORT using the PROJECT menu. I recommend importing.
  • Go to PROJECT … IMPORT AUDIO. Wav’s will take longer than MP3’s.

Step 5: Chop it up into small samples.

  • Use the Selection Tool. It looks like a big capital i. It’s in the upper left corner of the screen.
  • Select audio you want to delete, and delete it. Mess around. Get the feeling of it.

This is often where an in-person or video lesson comes in handy: here is the point in the lesson where I would show you how to use tool tips to figure out what tools do on your own. I would also show you how to chop up audio in a more advanced way. It really helps watching an expert when you are learning, so that you learn good work flow.  For more information on my views check out my blog post here on kinesthetic learning processes.

Step 6: Export your samples/chops as WAV files (audio)

  • Select the audio you want. make sure you play it to hear it. Make it a SMALL, SHORT piece.
  • File …. EXPORT Selection as WAV.
  • Make sure you remember what folder you put it in! Better to make a folder called rad-samples on your desktop.

Step 7: Rock your samples.

  • Open up Reason, open up ReDrum Drum Machine, and assign the sample to one of the triggers.
  • Open up Ableton and use the File Browser to HOT SWAP a sample in Impulse drum machine or similar instrumentation.
  • There are other options as well for Logic, Pro Tools, Cakewalk, etc.
  • Trigger the sample whenever, and record it in a session.
  • Export your session as a wav file.
  • Done!

Rock on and good luck!


A music teacher in Portland Oregon