Chopping Samples in Ableton Live

Chopping samples is an art form if you believe it or not. Legal issues aside, producers have come up with many techniques of chopping samples in signature ways. Some of them are fairly standard techniques by now and come built-in wiht Ableton’s Simpler as well as hardware samplers like the Akai MPC or hybrid solutions like Native Instrument Maschine. In this tutorial we want to look at a few alternative solutions of chopping samples in Ableton Live which we often use.

The Drag & Chop Technique

This technique doesn’t require any fancy equipment or plugins – no midi controllers, drum racks, etc. It’s a super simple way to chop samples in Ableton and gets you quick results. All you need is a mouse and keyboard. I like chopping samples this way because it gives me different results and flows real nice, but it doesn’t look as nice as banging out chops on your MPC or Ableton Push 🙂

First you pick your sample and import it into the Ableton timeline – forget about the session view this time.

Next you set the BPM of your project – for hip hop beats I like to set it between 78bpm and 85 bpm. By default Ableton tries to warp the imported song to the tempo of your track. If I’m working on a sample without drums and I’m somewhere in the ballpark in terms of tempo, I prefer to unwarp it first so I get the original tempo. In order to be able to use warp markers, you need to click Warp again though and in the popup select keep original tempo.

Next step is to activate the loop function and set a loop of 1 bar. From then on you simply move the start marker to find a nice starting point for the chop and set 1.1.1 by right clicking. Then use the warp markers to stretch it to the right length.

Once I have my first chop I duplicate the loop and find another chop by moving the start marker in the second loop. You can always shorten the loop to 1/2 bar or maybe uneven time signatures to vary the timing of the chops.

All in all it’s a really simple, straightforward way to chop up a sample you like – no equipment needed. Since these days most DAWs have timestretching features like Ableton’s Warp, you can really do this in any DAW – I just happen to like Ableton.

Creative Chord Chopping

This is something I often did when OVO style beats were all the rage… In a recent video, Andrew Huang used this exact method to rework chords as foundation for his track.

You start by chopping out some interesting chords from the sample. Usually there aren’t that many open chords in a sample, so take what you can. Then start placing the chord chops into your timeline and alter their pitch to come up with a different chord progression. You often find interesting, musical incorrect chord progression that turn your samples into something refreshingly new!

If you have chopped sustained chords, like from an electronic piano, you can try the following: Place the first chop into your timeline but chop it off after half a bar. Then copy the sample to the second half of the bar, but reverse it. This gives the chord progression a less traditional and more vibey feel.

Also: Good for chopping a transition! Andrew took the technique up a notch though. To avoid the 4 bar loop from getting boring, he added a little twist to the end of it. This helps to signal that a new phrase is coming. After the first 4 bars he copied the first chord chop and reverse it. This way the progression flows smoothly into the next 4 bars.

At the end of the second bar he take the same reversed chord, but additionally used pitch automation to emulate a tape stop effect. With this you can surprise the listener by teasing the same end of the 4 bars, but switching up in the last second. Sometimes the tape stop is cool, but sometimes you want to keep it flowing smoothly. In this case you can layer a litte piano run / paradiddle over the tape stop.

Gated Chops

Here’s another interesting take on chopping up samples which yields surprising results you might not have come up with using more traditional and manual chopping techniques. I’ve tried it on multiple tracks already and it’s a great technique against beat block. I won’t try to explain it in detail, because the video already does an excellent job:

There you have it! I hope I could spice up your sampling tricks a little. Let me know if you have any other cool chopping techniques that you you are willing to share!