Instant Variation For Percussive Loops In Ableton Live

Varied percussion in your tracks can be painstaking to program and often we’re guilty of having a ‘loop-and-forget’ mentality! This is an easy trap to fall into and can halt your tunes from giving the listener enough variety to keep them interested. New DJTT contributor Gary Harper (aka Demi Gods) shares a very quick and simple way to make 16 different variations from just a 1-bar loop!

It is particularly effective on percussive rhythms that have plenty of 16th notes. Set the 1-bar loop brace to be shorter by just one 16th note amount and, whilst remaining in perfect time, the loop now has a different start point for 16 bars before repeating the first one again. This instantly adds variety to what would have been a repetitive loop.

Try it on hi-hats, bongos, congas and even musical arpeggiated parts. Not only will you increase the variation and interest in your tracks, you might also stumble on a few parts that you really like, wouldn’t have thought of organically and can manipulate further into all-new patterns.

Of course, not every single bar has to be different. Try this technique in more sparse parts where the drums and percussion dominate and the variation in loops will be more prominent and rewarding to listen to.

Want more great percussion tips? Watch these tutorials on Making A Great Kick Drum or Making A Great Snare Drum.

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Comments (26)
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  • ted coleside

    i´d rather changed the start point rather than the loop length

  • Fayek Helmi

    yes, this is definitely a neat trick to experiment with.. but please don’t take this as a rule of thumb and make every loop you have short like that… my advice would be try it out and see if it sits well in the mix or not.. most times it wont but sometimes it just hits the spot perfectly. id saw that the elements that work well like this is arp melodies… creates a much more hypnotic vibe in the background… always remember that this is for background elements… you can’t have your lead line like this.. (or maybe you can, who am i to tell you what to do.. if it sounds right then its right!)

  • Loco

    It’s still a good tip to try, like others pointed out, happy accidents, obviously he has sounds on every single step so that’s why this can work, although it won’t always work (really depends on the sounds). Its good for experimenting and discovering what may sound right and then going back and saving all the good combos. I wouldn’t dismiss this completely if you are stuck on a rut. No need to be a snob about how/how not pros do it. I believe there is no “one” way to do things so great to have more possibilities.

  • Jonathan Edwards

    This is a cheap trick. It does not build a song. Your brain will go numb and your listeners will disrespect your lack of creativity. Your elements need to work together and not just vary.

    • noxxi

      I mildly disagree, if your performing then this is where a tip like this will really come into play, I wouldnt use it in a production, and it is lazy, but when your performing, lazy = efficiency, its a good way to relieve a little of the pressure of keeping your mix sounding good.

      Also, if its techno your playing then this is perfect, techno is good but technically it is utter garbage, variation and synchopation and general sloppiness makes good techno 😛

  • John Viera

    Sounds like there’s one guy at the drum circle who dropped one too many hits.

  • Lu Ynoji

    i use this technique all the time, if you layer multiple of these loops on top you get your ” jazz feeling” everything runs in time but if feels more fluent..

    • Demi Gods

      Hey Lu you got it buddy, appreciate the comment!

  • A Mega Noise

    This type of signature gets done alot in techno but with the ‘bleepy’ type sounds rather than percussion

  • Jonathan

    Sounds awful. Try harder!

  • Prof_Strangeman

    This is fucking damaged. Sounds like ass.

  • Jim Jones

    great tip. for those who find the 1/16 variance too abrupt, one could try 1/8 or 1/4 loop bracket offsets to get 8 or 4 variances (instead of 16) over the 4/4 bar (and be more “musically appropriate” for one’s taste).

  • Albert Candy

    NO! bs! sounds like a mistake every 4th time, Also with any kind of MPC groove it will mess up every other time. This is NOT how real players add variety. More Ableton non sense from non musicians, who know not what they tutor about.

    • Demi Gods

      Hey, I understand your comment but this is meant to be just a starting point. Not every loop will work, it’s a short video to highlight a way of discovering new things that DO work and then editing further from there.

  • Dilby

    To be honest this is not going to produce the best results. You are much better to purposefully create variation in your percussion instead of being lazy.

    • Demi Gods

      I agree, if left like this it’s not ideal, it’s a simple means for inspiration and happy accidents.

    • noxxi

      totally agree, your going to get a few anomalies that don’t sound so good, but for the live performer its an ideal tip, I often milk just a few loops to build a track, so this is a great tip for my use.

      • Dilby

        I”m not quite sure what you mean by “live performer”.

        If you mean a producer who performs their own tracks live using some combination of software and hardware then they would have no need to use this technique as they can prepare their percussion ahead of time in a DAW.

        I still stand behind my statement that this won’t produce great results and that you are better to program or play percussion with purpose and meaning, in any situation.

        • noxxi

          seems like you knew what i meant all along, but yeah I still stand behind my statement.
          If your doing it live, your not making tracks your making mixes, efficiency is key, you cant spend ages writing song after song to fill out a set or you would be at each set for years. When your doing it live, your using loops, a tip like this is ideal as you can get away with less loops and less complcation, why not use a tip like this?

          Of course you could just double each loop a few times and add some variation manually, but if this sounds good, then why bother? not saying it will sound good across the board, but if it does then why wouldnt you use it?

          I wouldnt let it damage my pride too much, its not how you do it, its how it sounds.

  • GR Johnson

    WOW!!! I’m SO gonna do this…just completed my second audio engineering school and we did some basic familiarity with Ableton. Can’t wait to try it out!

  • Peter Morris

    This is cool but you’re basically just throwing a 15/16 time signature bar over a 4/4 bar which throws the emphasis on the down beats and groove off quite dramatically if you’re not careful.

  • Kamza

    Wow. That simple huh?! Great straightforward tip…

    Thanks Gary…you’re off to a great start!

  • Igor Warzocha

    Tip of the decade, dunno why I never thought about that before. Not using loops, personally, but love how this applies to midi clips in Live. And to think I was into polymeters and polyrhythms just to create some variation… xD