What is Looping in Music? 9 Tips For Using Loops, Loop Recording and More 🎙️🔴

what is looping

Looping is a fundamental concept of modern music production. Every top-charting track on Beatport has a loop of some sort in it.

Loops and looping simply refer to a piece of audio that is repeating.

However, creating and manipulating loops can seem daunting. And if you do it wrong, it can sound very amateurish. But fear not! That’s why I’ve put this guide together for you. Together, we are going to look at:

  • What are loops and looping
  • How to create your own loops in Ableton Live and FL Studio
  • Advanced editing techniques to make loops your own
  • Live loop and overdub recording

Ready? Let’s dive into it! 👇

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So… What Is Looping? 🤔

Before explaining what looping is, we need to cover what loops are.

A loop simply refers to a section of sound that is repeating.

So far, pretty simple. By deduction, looping simply refers to playing a loop. However, over the years, looping has taken on multiple meanings. This has somewhat muddied the exact definition of what is looping:

A guitar looping pedal

When people talk about looping in music, they usually refer to one of the following:

  • creating a loop from an audio sample
  • simply looping audio (to jam on top for example)
  • loop recording and overdub recording

Let’s go over each of these in more detail 👇

What is Looping with Samples?

Looping audio samples usually refer to a sample that you play in repetition:

Looping a sample 4 times
Looping a sample 4 times

The most straightforward way to do this is simply by copy-pasting the sample. That’s what I did in the example above. In that case, we would say that I am “looping the sample”.

However, what happens if you just want to loop a certain section of the sample?

There are a million different ways to edit, cut, and loop samples. Here, I will share with you some of my favorite techniques.

Creating loops in FL Studio

Let’s say I want a loop that is only two beats long. First, I will shorten the entire loop to just 2 beats:

Shorten the loop to just 2 beats
Shortening the loop to just 2 beats

Next, I will copy that section over 4 or 8 bars. Finally, I will use the “Slip” tool to scan through the full loop. This lets me audition different sections of the original loop:

Looping a portion of the initial loop
Looping a portion of the initial loop

Another trick I like to use is to open the loop in Fruity Slicex. By selecting the “Dump to piano roll” feature, I have all the different sections of the original loop available:

Converting a loop to a playable instrument
Converting a loop to a playable instrument

Creating loops in Ableton Live

In Ableton Live, enable the “Loop switch” at the top of the window, then load up a sample. Enable “Loop”, and select the region you want to loop:

Looping in Ableton Live
Looping in Ableton Live

You can now easily audition different sections of your loop by dragging the selection left or right.

A common issue you might run into when looping is clicking. This happens when the loop starts over. Because you’ve cut in the middle of the sample, an audible “click” or “pop” is there:

A loop with an audible “click”

To counter this, enable the Clip Gain Envelope. With this, you’ll be able to fade in and out your sample at the point where it loops:

Removing clicks from our loop

Going One Step Further: Loop Editing

One thing you’ll always hear is: “Don’t just drop a loop in your project”.

With the millions of loops available on Splice and Loopcloud, it’s easy to become lazy.

Simply drag and drop a few loops, and you have a song! However, there are a few problems with this approach. Namely, you are not:

  • … being very creative 😅
  • … crafting your own sound identity
  • … learning anything in the process.

This is why it’s crucial to process your loops. And I’m not talking about post-processing with reverb, delay, or saturation here.

No, I am talking about hands-on, proper audio manipulation. Let’s have a look 👇

Looping and Editing in FL Studio

My 2 favorite tools to edit loops in FL Studio are Edison and NewTime:

Edison and NewTime in FL Studio
Edison and NewTime in FL Studio

To open either Edison or Newtime, right-click a sample and select “Edit in audio editor” (Edison) or “Edit in time warper” (NewTime):

Editing a loop

Edison is FL Studio’s stock audio editor. With it, you can normalize, reverse, de-noise and more. Let’s have a quick look with an example:

A musical loop

To make the loop a bit more interesting, I am going to reverse the last 4 beats of every bar:

Reversing the last 4 beats of every bar
Reversing the last 4 beats of every bar
Reversing the end of each bar

You can also play with the pitch of different sections to create entirely new melodies. You can also use the “Claw machine” to remove blocks of audio from your loop. This works best with drum loops, but can yield interesting results with melodies too:

Using the “Claw machine” to speed up the audio

In this example, I’ve also added a bit of “Blur” to smear the audio:

Using "Blur" to smear the audio
Using “Blur” to smear the audio

On the other hand, NewTime is FL Studio’s time manipulation editor. It’s great for drum loops that you want to warp and stretch out:

Stretching out certain drum hits

Looping and Editing in Ableton Live

Ableton Live also offers a ton of tools to edit your loops. A key feature is the “Warp markers”. These let you stretch our individual sections of your loop:

Placing Warp markers in Ableton Live
Placing Warp markers in Ableton Live

You can place as many Warp markers as you want. This way, you can completely transform melodic or rhythmic loops.

One amazing tool that makes Ableton Live unique is the Groove selection. This basically enables you to “infuse” a groove into any loop.

To do this, enable “Hot-swap mode” This will let you switch out Grooves on the fly. Next, select a groove from the browser, and adjust the settings to taste:

Adding groove to a loop
Adding groove to a loop

What Is Looping Audio Live?

So far, we’ve looked at looping in the context of “repeating an audio sample” in a track.

However, looping can also refer to a section of your song that you play on repeat.

There are several reasons you might want to do this:

  • auditioning samples over a certain section
  • jamming on your MIDI keyboard or instrument
  • adjusting the post-processing of a sound

In FL Studio, simply hold CTRL and select the section that you want to loop:

Looping the red section of the track
Looping the red section of the track

In Ableton Live, enable “Loop Switch”, then set your loop points:

Setting looping points in Ableton Live
Setting looping points in Ableton Live

Looping audio is one of the best ways to adjust audio in context.

Let’s say for example I want to adjust the ADSR envelope of a a pluck. Why not do it “in context” instead of just soloing the sound? Simply loop a section of the song, and let it play on repeat while adjusting:

Here, I am playing with the attack, release, and filter cutoff of the pluck

Looping also works great if you’re trying to figure out a melody. Instead of playing in isolation, let the section of your track loop. Now, you can experiment in real time to find a melody that fits.

Loop Recording

Loop recording is the process of looping a section of your song, and recording something new each time. This might be useful if you want to record several layers of a vocal. Or maybe you just want to experiment with different melodies, and then select the one you like most.

To set up a loop recording in FL Studio, enable it at the top of the window:

Enabling loop recording

The great thing is that this works with both audio and MIDI recording. The only difference is that you need to enable “Audio” or “Notes” recording first. To do this, simply right-click the recording button:

Enabling looping audio recording in FL Studio
Enabling audio recording in FL Studio

The last thing to do is to make sure you’ve armed the recording on the right mixer track:

Arm disk recording for looping
Arm disk recording

When looping and recording, you usually have 2 options:

  • automatically mute what you’ve just recorded
  • hear what you’ve recorded

In the first case, you can record multiple takes without having to mute each track. This mode is set by default when you enable loop recording.

The second case is what we call “Blend recording” or “overdubbing”.

This version of loop recording lets you hear what you’ve just recorded. This is great if you want to instantly add layers or harmonies to a melody. To enable “blend recording”, just select it at the top of the window:

Enabling blend recording
Enabling blend recording

Here’s an example of a blend recording:

An example of blend recording (overdubbing)

You can hear that with each new playback of the loop, I have recorded something new.

To enable Overdub recording in Ableton Live, enable both the “Loop Switch” and “MIDI Arrangement Overdub”:

Enabling "blend recording" in Ableton Live
Enabling “blend recording” in Ableton Live

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That’s It for This Guide on What is Looping! 🙏

That’s the end of the loop for this guide 😉 Looping is one of my favorite tools to jam by myself and create great song starters.

I hope you learned something new here that you can apply to your music. Got any questions? Did I miss out on anything? Drop me a line over at [email protected]

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