Tutorial – Using Loops to Create Original Music

Interactive Tutorial Content

Click here to view the tutorial video for Using Loops to Create Original Music.

Whether you want to build themes and variations for large-scale productions or as signature music for your promotional videos, make catchy music beds for 30-second spots or produce ambient music with subtle mood-fitting changes for wedding videos, the following looping music production tutorial gives you the basic tools to get you started.

Whether you want to build themes and variations for large-scale productions or as signature music for your promotional videos, make catchy music beds for 30-second spots or produce ambient music with subtle mood-fitting changes for wedding videos, the following looping music production tutorial gives you the basic tools to get you started.

Adding music to your productions presents you with a wide spectrum of questions, possibilities and challenges. Do you:

  • Rip music from a CD or download a catchy tune from the web and hope that the copyright police don’t track you down?
  • Use so-called royalty-free music, which isn’t free and which can sound canned?
  • Use your deep music composing skills, superb performance talent and copious spare time to create music from scratch?

Depending on your circumstances, all of the above might work for you. But I think there is a single solution that, in the long run, is the best of all worlds: music loops.

Loops are snippets of music that you can repeat and layer to create a whole composition. The Beatles were the first popular music artists to use loops. Paul McCartney was a fan of Karlheinz Stockhausen, a 20th- and 21st-century electronic music pioneer (his face is on the cover of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band) who featured electronic music loops in his compositions.

McCartney replicated that concept in vocals by taking the erase head off his home reel-to-reel tape recorder, spooling a continuous loop of tape through the machine and recording his voice over and over. The Beatles used those tapes on Tomorrow Never Knows, the final track on Revolver. They employed the same approach on Revolution 9 from the White Album.

Audio Looping Software

These days you don’t have to go through the laborious process of rewiring a recorder and overdubbing your own voice or instrument. You can work with computer loop files. A number of audio software products feature looping techniques, notably Apple’s GarageBand, Digidesign’s Pro Tools and Sony Acid Pro.

The product I work with is Adobe Audition. It started its life as Cool Edit Pro from Syntrillium Software and was a radio station audio production staple. Adobe bought it in 2003 and changed its name to Audition. Since then, Adobe has updated Audition three times to bring its interface in line with other Adobe products and to add professional features to make it competitive with digital audio workstations like Pro Tools and Acid Pro.

Audition ships with 5,000 loops on its Loop-ology DVD. Each was recorded by professional musicians playing real instruments. These are not MIDI (musical instrument digital interface) files, which can sound too precise and too manufactured. Each Loopology loop is typically one or two measures (four to eight beats) of a single instrument playing a single riff. File folders and file names give you a basic idea of what each loop sounds like. StraightAheadGuit01-A.wav in the Thick and Vintage Rock folder is a rough-edge, driving guitar with A as its root note.

Loopology Basics

In this tutorial, I take you through the Audition Loopology basics without getting too specific. In the accompanying online video tutorial, I present additional detailed instructions on how to create a sample musical selection, including which Loopology files to use, as well as tempo, measure counts, key changes, tracks, panning and mixing.

If you want to follow along with either tutorial, you can download a trial version of Audition (http://www.adobe.com/downloads.html). The trial version is the full product with no limitations to its use other than that it expires 30 days after you first use it.

That download does not include Loopology content. The Loopology download site is www.adobe.com/special/products/audition/loopology.html. The caveat is that you can download content by genre only, rather than the entire 5GB collection. For this example and the video tutorial, I use loops from the two funk rock collections (1GB total download). Each Loopology file is a 32-bit, uncompressed 44.1kHz (CD-quality) WAV file with some Audition Loopology data in the header, including key, tempo and beat slices.

For this tutorial, I suggest you create music in the key of C major (no flats or sharps), using the most common rock and blues chord progression: I-IV-V-I. In this case: C-F-G-C. We’ll lay down tracks as in a typical studio session: drums and bass first, then rhythm and lead guitars.

Creating a Multitrack Loopology Session

With Audition open to the Multitrack View, right-click on the time ruler (below the tracks) and select Display Time Format > Bars and Beats (Figure 1). This makes it easier to see measure breaks and to assemble your score.

Select File > Import, and navigate to a Loopology content file folder (in my case: Thick&Easy_Drums). In the lower right corner of the Import dialog box, note that the Auto Play checkbox is selected (Figure 2).

Click on several files, listening for those that suit you. In the case of drums, you might want a drum riff to start the piece, two or three basic drum loops for the middle, a couple of variations for transitional measures and something to close the piece. You can Ctrl+click on any number of selections, and click Open to add them to your multitrack session.

one of the basic drum loops, dragging it to the left until its in-point snaps to the out-point of the first drum loop.

Hover your cursor over the right edge of the second drum loop (note that it changes to a double-arrow icon), and drag it right to add three more measures (Figure 3). As you drag the loop, note the vertical, dotted white line that marks each new measure within the clip and the solid gray vertical line that runs from top to bottom of the multitrack panel.

Drag a transitional drum loop to Track 1, extend it for an additional measure, add four measures of a different basic drum pattern (perhaps this time selecting one with added cymbal hits), then add another two-measure transitional loop and a single-measure finishing loop. You now have a 14-measure drum track.

Adding Some Bottom

Adding a bass line is a bit more complex, because now you need to keep the composition’s key signature and chord changes in mind. Select File > Import, navigate to a Loopology bass guitar content folder (in my case: Amped_Vintage_Bass) and select several loops in keys that match the chord progression you’re using. You might come up empty-handed for some notes. Not to worry. You can transpose (change the root note of) any Loopology loop.

Drag an opening bass lick to Track 2, right-click and drag it so its in-point snaps to the edit point between the first and second measures in Track 1 above it. A gray line appears when you have aligned the clip (Figure 4).

To change the key of this or any other loop, right-click on the clip, select Loop Properties and change the Transpose Pitch number (Figure 5). In my case, I wanted to change the root note from a D to a C, so I transposed down two half-steps (D to C# to C). This is a powerful feature for Audition. Changing pitch does not affect the loop’s timbre (audio quality).

Adding more bass loops now becomes a matter of your own personal preference. You might want to have a repeating pattern – I-IV-I-IV – for a while or you might want to continue on the same root note while you are changing the rhythm. Listen for bass runs that can take you from one pitch to another, and use them in the measures where you use the transitional drum loops.

If you can’t find a bass riff that neatly finishes your piece, you can apply a gradual or quick fade to that or any other loop. Click on the volume line at the top of the clip to add a keyframe, and then drag down the end point (Figure 6). You can add another keyframe to make that fade happen more abruptly.

Wrapping Up Your Production

Play your composition by pressing the Home key to take the current time indicator to the beginning of the piece, then press the spacebar (or click the Play button) to play. If you want to change the tempo, simply type in a new value (beats per minute) in the Session Properties section in the bottom right corner of the Multitrack panel. Audition changes tempo without changing pitch or timbre. Any additional loops you add to the project will automatically adjust their tempo to match the changed session tempo.

Now you need to track down rhythm and lead guitar loops. I worked with Double_Vintage_Brit_Guitar and the Brit_Stack_Drop_D_Guitar. I couldn’t find any loops that I wanted to serve as song finishing riffs, so, rather than applying a fade, I used single chords from Loopology OneShots collections.

Once you complete your production, you can control volume levels within the track (instead of only within each clip). Drag down the bottom of a track header to display the Track Automation Mode option (it should be in the default Read mode). Click the triangle to the left of that Automation Mode button (Figure 7) to display the volume line. Click the line to add a keyframe, and drag the volume line to suit your needs.

Follow the same steps to adjust track panning, except click the Param button and select Pan/Output Pan (an orange panning line will appear – adjust it just as you did for volume). In general, it’s best to leave the bass and drums centered. Bass frequencies are not directional, and the drums are recorded in stereo and usually have a wide sound already.

To create an audio file of your finished project, select Edit > Mixdown To New File > Master Output In Session (Stereo). That will display the waveform of your file in Audition’s Edit view. There you can add effects like reverb, then save the file by selecting File > Save As, selecting from one of the 20 audio formats supported by Audition and clicking Save.

This audio file is yours to use as you please (except for selling it as a music loop). Bottom line: you created a unique, professional-sounding musical composition in a few minutes.

Jeff Sengstack is a video producer and junior college computer science instructor. For this tutorial, he received assistance from Loopology producer Jason Levine; Cool Edit’s original product manager and now Adobe Production Premium product manager, Hart Shafer; and Audition product manager, Lawson Hancock.

Interactive Tutorial Content

Click here to view the tutorial video for Using Loops to Create Original Music.

The Videomaker Editors are dedicated to bringing you the information you need to produce and share better video.

Related Content