How to Use Drum Samples and Drum Loops to Fill Out a Track

A good set of high quality drum samples that include different types of kicks, 808s, high-hats, snares, percussion, and fx will make your tracks sound much better.

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For a long time i was using the drum and synth sounds that came with my Korg Triton. More recently i switched to a combination of virtual instruments (like xpand2) mixed with sounds i get from sample packs. The drum sounds on my Triton didnt sound half as good as the drum sounds i could get from a good sample pack.

Working with high quality drum samples and loops is an easy way to make your tracks sound much better.

Layering Loops with Individual Drum Samples

I feel like my tracks started to sound alot better, when i started using the drum sounds i got from sample packs.

I would just place the individual drum samples on the grid in pro tools and create a beat. I also started layering them on top of loops.

One way i use drum loops in my tracks is by layering multiple loops on top of each other.  I use high and lowpass filters to separate the parts of the beat that i like (like the highhats, percussion, or kick), then layer them on top of each other. This lets you get a full, complicated drum sound, that you hear in drum n bass.

I like to use some chorusing (or spectral chorus) on the high end to make it sound really metallic, so it stands out in the mix.


After i have a couple loops that are mixed pretty well together, I’ll add in another layer of individual drum sounds placed on the grid in protools.

I like to add a nice 808 on top of the loops, another snare with alot of reverb, a high-hat that uses chorusing or flange, and i also like to use high-end synth sounds as percussion.

For example, it sounds good to chop up a synth that has alot of frequencies above 10k and use it as percussion to fill out the high-end.

This is similar to what Phil Spector did with his “wall of sound”. He created instrumentation that filled out each frequency range and made each part of the song sound full.

Drum loops are also nice because of the convenience. They can give you a quick idea of how your song will sound with a groove, once you get a few basic parts of the song down. It will also give you ideas about where to take the song.

Listening to your tracks with a groove will often take you in different directions with your bassline or melody, which might lead you to alter or change it.

How I add effects to my Drum Samples

Adding EQ and effects to your drums is an important part of mixing your track. There are no rules on how to add effects, but here’s what i tend to do.

808s – alot of times i’ll cut the top end off an 808, then use a different acoustic sounding kick drum on top of it. I usually add a little bit of a short reverb to the kick. Distortion can also sound really good on 808s. They use this alot to get a trap or hiphop sound.

Kicks – I will often add a boxier sounding kick on top of my 808. I’ll sometimes add some reverb or distortion.

Hi-hat – I’ve been adding chorus or flange effects to my hi-hats to make them really wide, so they stand out in the high end. I’ll also add a bit of reverb. Spectral chorus makes everything sound really metallic and stand out in the mix.

Percussion – Another thing i’ve been doing lately is adding some really high frequency synth sounds as percussion. I just chop up a high frequency synth sound in a percussion pattern.

Layering Drum Loops

Complicated drum patterns are an important part of drum n bass music. There are alot of 16th note snare hits of differing volumes on the 3rd and 4th beat in this style.

The drum n bass sound comes from a often sampled breakbeat called the ‘amen break’. (listen to it here)

One way to get this complex, offbeat drum sound, is to layer multiple drum loops on top of each other. EQ the different loops, so they mix better together.

Try muting and unmuting the loops and cutting them up into little pieces . Also try copying and pasting interesting parts of the loop and repeating them to add some variation.

Try using high pass, low pass, and bandpass filters to mix your parts in better. Also pick a few loops that have elements in different parts of the frequency spectrum.

Get some free drum samples here. Send me your tracks on twitter if you use them @puzzlevortex


How to use Ambient Samples to your tracks

Ambient music consists of ‘droning chords or vocals’ that often have no structure or beat. I like to buy ambient sample packs and use the samples in the intros, breaks, and outros of my drum n bass tracks.

I’ll add ambient samples once i have the basic structure of a track laid out. The ambient sounds add a nice break from a hard, fast drum n bass beat.

How i add Ambient Samples to my Tracks

I’ll start a brand new track with a pro tools template that has about 4 or 5 virtual instruments and effects applied to each track. (i included a pro tools template for you to download when you sign up to my newsletter)

I’ll start the new track with a melody or bassline. I’ll begin by entering notes in midi at random and play it back to see if anything sounds interesting at all.

Then, i take the interesting parts and build off of them. I keep doing this until it eventually develops into a structured song.

I use a combination of synth sounds (i use the xpand2 soft synth) and effects that i know will sound good together because i’ve used this pro tools template for many different tracks. Using a template allows you to put tracks together very fast.

After I have a decent bassline or melody, ill add a drum loop really quickly to give me an idea what it will sound like with drums.

Once i have a basic melody, bassline, and beat, i’ll go over it with a second set of individual drum sounds, including 808‘s, snare, hi-hats, and some percussion.

Then, once i have a few basic parts, ill try to arrange it into more of a song with an intro, lead parts, breaks, and outros.

This is where i add some ambient samples to fill it out and add a pleasant sound during the break to provide some tension release after a hard, fast drum beat.

Its fun to work with new sample packs, because its like buying art supplies to paint with, or a new instrument to work with.

Where i use Ambient Samples in a track

When i pick out an ambient sample to use, I’ll find a piece of audio that is very wide, very spacey, and in the same key (or close enough to pitch shift it) as my song.

I like to work with pleasant, consonant sounds because they sound really good as a relief from the tension of a fast drum n bass beat.

I will usually add ambient samples to an intro, second 8 bars of the lead melody, the breakdown, and the outro.

Ambient samples sound really good when you have the lead melody playing by itself, then you bring a very wide, reverbed out ambient sample. Then bring in some drums with the main lead part.

What I look for in an Ambient Sample Pack

I would say that the most important thing when your picking out an ambient sample pack is that you need high quality loops and unique sounds that are in the same key or relative key as the track you are working with.

Sometimes the pitch can be shifted without much damage to the sample. But, if you shift it too much it might make it pretty unusable.

The tempo of your ambient sample isn’t quite as important as it is with a sample of a melody or drum loop.

With drums or a melody samples, the tempo needs to match up exactly. You can usually shrink or stretch it without artifacts if they are off by 10 bpm. But it doesnt really need to match up with your ambient parts.

But, working with ambient samples is a little different. It is just a ‘droning’ sound that doesnt really need to fit perfectly. You can just trim it to fit into your track.