Make a Top Loop Out of Anything


HI-HATS, SHAKERS, AND TAMBOURINES ARE ALL ESSENTIAL ELEMENTS FOR A “TOP LOOP.” THAT IS, the treble percussion in a drum groove. While these are time-tested elements for adding shimmy and shake, you’ll set your tracks apart by creating unique top parts that augment or even replace these classic elements.

Here’s a simple trick that lets you turn virtually any audio into a top loop, using the filtered delay plug-ins that come with almost every DAW. Sometimes these are vintage tape delay emulations—Logic’s Tape Delay is a good example, with high- and low-cut sliders for tailoring the frequency response of the echoes. We’ll use Ableton Live’s Filter Delay to demonstrate the technique.

Step 1.

Grab a loop for your source audio. It can literally be anything: rock drums, Foley effects, guitars, even your cat, because the magic happens through the delay. Pitched instruments will impart more tonality.

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Step 2.

From there, add the Filter Delay, select your delay times, then set the delay EQs to emphasize the high frequencies and turn the feedback up to between 90 and 100%.

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Step 3.

Create an audio track to record the result, using Ableton’s Resampling feature. To capture the audio, just solo the delayed track and set the Resampling track to record. Play the loop for a while to build up the high frequencies, then stop the loop and record the feedback tail to the new audio track.

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Step 4.

Now, using Live’s Auto Pan device (set to mono, by turning the phase to 0), you can add a sidechain-like bounce to your delay loop. Note that when using the sine wave LFO, you can adjust the groove by tinkering with the Offset parameter. For a standard quarter-note bounce, set it around 90º, give or take 10º.

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Step 5.

Alternately, you can create a chopped eighth-note effect by changing the LFO waveform to a sawtooth, then adjusting the Offset and Shape parameters.

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