Scratch That Itch

June 21, 2013

Over the past few months, there have been some really innovative iOS sampling apps that let you “scratch” your samples—notably Marcos Alonso’s Samplr. While this sound isn’t exactly like scratching a record, it’s an extremely cool effect that’s ripe for folding into club tracks, regardless of your genre du jour. This trick can be done with any sampler that allows MIDI control of sample loop positions, but Ableton’s Simpler does it with remarkable ease and, er, simplicity, so we’ll be using that to demonstrate this technique.

Step 1

Begin by selecting a scratch-friendly sample. Short riffs and vocal snippets work extremely well, so I used a jazz piano sample from Apple GarageBand.

Step 2


Once you’ve loaded your sample, turn looping on and create an extremely short loop. From there, experiment with the sample—and try toggling the “Snap” parameter on and off. Snap forces the loop to use zero-crossing points for a somewhat smoother sound, but whether that works with your sample is a subjective assessment. Tinkering with the loop’s crossfade (Fade) parameter will smooth things out further. Once the loop is set, playing a key will generate a tone based on the pitch of the first note of your sample.

Step 3


Now, while holding down a key, adjust the Start parameter, sweeping the loop position forward and backward through your sample. If you’ve set everything up correctly, you should hear the sample “scrubbing” forward and backward, much like vinyl record scratching techniques.

Step 4

Finally, using Ableton Live’s MIDI mapping functions, assign the modulation wheel (or if you're ambitious, aftertouch) to the sample start parameter. Voila! As you play your riff, you can scrub your sample forward and backward with the mod wheel, resulting in some really slick effects that are primed for maximum dance floor impact. 

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