Improve the groove in your dance tracks, part 2

August 4, 2014
Last month, we looked at small rhythmic and timing tweaks that can dramatically improve the feel of an electronic dance track. This month, we’ll look at ways to customize pre-existing loops. While some producers go deep and completely transform their loops into sonically unique track elements, there are several simple techniques that let you quickly customize your loop material into something with more creative expression.

Half Measures


Here’s a little secret for increasing the energy in a drum loop: Crop it to a half-measure. While one- and two-bar loops are certainly more complex, you can quickly achieve a more driving, energetic feel by simply shortening the loop to a half-bar. Even the funkiest drum loop can be transformed into driving techno using this technique, so if you’re looking to make “hard” music, this trick should be at the top of your list.



Sometimes a loop will contain a kick and snare that you dig, but will also include percussion elements that are too dense and busy. In most cases, the kick and snare are the loudest elements in a loop, so by applying a noise gate to its track, you can effectively isolate those elements while muting the rest. Start with the gate’s default preset then adjust the threshold until just the kick and snare are present. From there, tinker with the gate’s attack and release to remove any pops or click.

Highpass Filtering


This may seem obvious to some, especially considering that countless libraries use this technique for the creation of their “top loops,” but for those who just getting into soundware, a highpass filter is a great way to minimize the kick, snare, and mid-frequency percussion while keeping the shakers and hats intact. This trick alone will stretch the value of even the oldest loop collection, so if you hear a groove with great top-level elements but want to use your own kick and snare, this is the way to go. 

Envelope Followers


Many modern plug-ins, especially filters, now include envelope followers. While these are ideal for wah effects, slapping a lowpass or bandpass filter with the cutoff modulated by an envelope follower is a tried-and-true method for adding a “French house” element to your grooves. Check to see if your flanger plug-in includes an envelope follower as well (many of Ableton Live’s effects include envelope followers baked right in). When applied to flanging, this technique gives loops a squishy, wobbly vibe that’s great for tech-house and techno.

Get Your Freq On


If you really want to get freaky, conga and bongo loop elements can be transformed into synthetic djembes and dumbeks by applying frequency shifters and ring modulators, with a touch of slow LFO modulation of their frequency. To get the best results, start with lower frequency settings and tinker from there. Higher values will give a “shortwave radio” effect, which is also cool for techno and harder genres.

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