+ Create and arrange original, instrumental hip-hop music from sampling pioneer RJD2 in his Soundfly course, RJD2: From Samples to Songs.
“Descended From Myth” is a track from RJD2’s 2013 album More Is Than Isn’t. There’s an interesting moment early on in the song where the bass line switches its timing, and thus its function within the song.
The bass had been doing a short, repetitive motif, but then bursts out into a long, legato melody at around 0:32. The whole song gets a big lift from the change in feel, as the long, held bass synth tones cut through the rhythmic horns and drums. Let’s listen back to the full song here:
This is an example of what RJ talks about in the video above: Juxtaposing different length loops against each other to create contrast and variation. RJD2 talks about these themes frequently throughout his Soundfly course, From Samples to Songs.
Let’s take a closer look at this approach now.
Loop Length in Focus
When you make a loop, you’re choosing how long your idea is going to play before starting again. This loop length is measured in beats. If you just played a single note that lasts a single beat, your loop would be a single beat. In the most common time signature (4/4 time) that loop is a quarter of a measure long.
But not all of your loops need to be the same length. If you matched that up with a single note loop that lasts four beats, then you’d have two loops going at the same time, but with different turnaround times. The first loop that repeated every beat will sound percussive and fast. The second loop will trigger again every four times the first loop plays.
You can play with any sort of loop lengths. You could use one loop that lasts three beats and one that lasts 13 beats and see what happens (If you did so, your two loops wouldn’t line up again until the third beat of the tenth measure). The difficulty is that the ideas themselves will start overlapping each other in unexpected moments, which often creates muddiness or extreme dissonance. Also, the beat might get totally obscured since your loops aren’t marking the all-important downbeat.
That’s why most people usually keep their loops to even lengths such as one or two measures, although you shouldn’t be afraid to experiment with this now and then.
Then, the other thing that RJ does is once he’s established a certain loop algorithm, he changes it — switching up the loop lengths of each part to change the energy. Taking a one-bar bass loop and blowing it up into a four-bar loop, for example, can create a lot of dynamics and really move your arrangement forward!
Loop Lengths in “Descended From Myth”
At the start of “Descended From Myth,” following the intro, RJ has a few different loops going. Starting at 0:20 or so, we hear a two measure horn loop, a one measure drum loop, and a half measure bass line.
At 0:24 or so, the drum loop changes slightly to a two measure loop, with a one measure percussion loop in the background. This is a subtle change but still marks a slight variation.
Then, at 0:32, there’s a quick one beat rest followed by a slightly more dramatic change. The bass line, which was short and repetitive, becomes expansive and huge, transitioning to an eight measure loop.
Then, at 0:48, the horns evolve a bit, turning into a four measure loop.
You’re probably getting the picture by now: The first minute and a half of the song is basically created by playing with different loop lengths and adjusting the parts to match the new lengths. It’s an interesting way to generate variation from simple motifs and ideas, without necessarily writing entirely new parts.
Here’s a creative challenge for all you producers out there looking to expand your arsenal of conceptual approaches to beat making:
Create an eight-measure groove that’s full of variety by combining loops of different lengths.
First, choose three separate loops featuring a single instrument that you’d like to use to make your groove. We recommend:
- Chords or a simple melody
For this activity, you’ll want each of your loops to be a different length. For example, let’s say we have a drum loop that’s one measure long, a bass loop that’s two measures long, and a synth loop that’s four measures long.
If we take those three parts and loop them enough times to fill 8 measures, we’ll hear the drum loop 8 times, the bass loop 4 times, and the synth loop 2 times. You might have to think back to middle school math to look at things in this way: 8/1 = 8, 8/2 = 4, and 8/4 = 2.
The way the loops line up with one another is what gives this technique the potential to create some really interesting grooves. Give that a try within your own project and post your track to our community Slack forum (*subscribers only).
Ready for even more?
Check out Soundfly’s variety of courses on songwriting, mixing, beat making, recording, composing, and more, led by artists like Kimbra, Com Truise, Jlin, Kiefer, The Pocket Queen, and RJD2: From Samples to Songs.