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5 Steps To Sampling An Instrument

Recording an instrument for a sampler can be a less tedious process with these five primary steps.

Courtesy of Omega Studios.

In conjunction with the release of the Omega Studio’s Celeste Sample Pack I’d like to explain the basic process behind the creation of a sample based instrument.

Recording an instrument so it can later be recreated within a sampler is known as Multi-Sampling and can be a fairly tedious process. However this process can be broken down into five primary steps.

Step 1 – Planning

This is a very important step and often gets too little attention. In order to get the best results when sampling an instrument you must be organized throughout the entire process and starting with a little pre-planning can go a long way.

Before recording anything set a goal for yourself and establish what will be required to meet that goal. Every instrument has it’s own unique qualities and this is especially true of acoustic instruments, so learn about the instrument you’re about to sample.

What is its musical range, from the lowest note it can play to the highest? What is its dynamic range, from soft to loud? What are some good ways to record this instrument? How many different ways (articulations) can you play this instrument? A violin for example can be played with long bow strokes (more legato), short bow strokes (more staccato), with pitch variation (called vibrato), plucked with a finger (called pizzicato), and more.

Decide how many of these variations in pitch, dynamics, and articulations you want to capture, but remember to stay within your time and/or money budget. Then write a list of every note, dynamic and articulation you wish to capture so you don’t forget any during the recording phase.

Step 2 – Recording

Now that you have a master plan you can start recording all the pieces you will need to complete that plan. Begin by finding an appropriate recording method for the specific instrument your sampling.

Take your time and experiment with various microphones and mic placements. Make sure the signal is as clean (low noise) as possible and that you’re happy with the sonic character the mics are capturing. Once the samples are recorded it will be harder to correct for any shortcomings.

If you’re not playing the instrument yourself make sure your player knows the game plan. Give them a copy of your master list so they don’t miss anything and make sure they know to be really quiet as each note is recorded. It is also important to be very consistent with each dynamic level and articulation.

Once again stay organized. Carefully label each and every sample so you don’t get confused later in editing.

This can be done by using markers within your recording software or by recording a verbal slate for each sample. I recommend both just to be safe, so have the player call out each sample before they play it and then drop a corresponding marker. This way if your markers ever get misaligned you’ll still have a verbal slate before each sample.

Step 3 – Editing

Once you have confirmed that all of the required samples have been recorded you can then move on to the editing phase. This is often the most tedious of the five stages, but as long as you have stayed organized it shouldn’t be too overwhelming.

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Edit each and every sample into a separate audio clip. Make sure the beginning of each audio clip is trimmed to as close to the start of each sample as possible so that there will be no delay later when triggered from a sampler. Also make sure the beginning is trimmed to a zero crossing in order to prevent pops and clicks. You’ll need to zoom way in to check this.

Similarly the end of each audio clip should be trimmed appropriately and should not cut off any of the decay of the original sample. I would recommend adding a slight fade out to the end of each audio clip, again in order to prevent any pops and clicks.