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What Are Percussion Loops?

A. Leverkuhn
A. Leverkuhn

Percussion loops are fixed sets of sounds that repeat in a set cycle. These are generated with various kinds of equipment, including digital samplers, drum machines, and other electronic devices. Percussion loops are used in many kinds of modern music.

Typically, percussion loops are used in digital music creation. Musicians can drop these into a piece of composition software in different file formats including .wav or .mp3, and create more sounds on other tracks to compliment them. Often, a single repeating percussion loop provides the rhythm and tempo for an entire project.

Man playing a guitar
Man playing a guitar

One of the big differences between different types of percussion loops involves the original sounds that are used to make these rhythms. Some use actual drums for an “analog” method. Others use synthesized drum sounds. In the world of digital music, synth drums are popular, but many musicians see the value of using organic live drum sounds for some elements of a project.

Another way that these loops vary is in the specific timing of these portions of sound. Loops are, by nature, set in consistent lengths, and it’s helpful to refer to one repetition as a “bar” to correlate loop-driven music with conventional compositions. Some loops use a simple beat, like four beats in a bar, while others take advantage of more obscure, more complex rhythms, for example, five or seven beats to a bar. Some musicians are only familiar with loops that use a 4/4 beat, but there are many many more.

Musicians can also classify percussion loops according to their respective sounds. Some of the more common kinds of percussion loops are called “backbeats.” Some musicians refer to “harder” or “softer” percussion type loops. These pieces can also be characterized as either “upbeat” or “subdued” to label their overall moods, and how they would fit into a bigger musical composition.

Loops that include percussion also often present challenge in terms of sound quality. The musician has to make sure not to add too much sound to one track or multiple tracks in order to prevent blurring or “soupiness.” Sounds on the primary loop have to work with other sounds that may be added live or as separate recorded samples. All of this requires knowing about how to use specific loops in a given digital music environment, as well as how to deal with the acoustics of a space, and the parameters of a sound system.

Discussion Comments


I prefer live drums to percussion loops. The predetermined repetition just seems to suck the soul out of the song.

When you have a live drummer, he can pick up on the excitement of the crowd and the energy of the song, and he can adjust the intensity accordingly. Plus, he can freestyle as he sees fit, adding cymbals or bass drum beats here and there to complement the feel of the music.

I have played with a live drummer before, and I have also been in a band that used a drum machine. There is no comparison. I would rather pay good money for a real drummer than rely on a machine for free.


If you are going to use percussion loops when recording your own music, then I would advise you to always record the percussion first. Otherwise, you will have quite a time trying to make the music match the beats.

I was working with some multi-track recording software, and I lost my percussion loop that I had created for a certain track. I already had the rest of the music and the singing recorded, so I didn't want to have to start from scratch.

I tried to make a loop that would match the timing of the rhythm guitar, but I had to do a lot of stretching and shortening in certain sections of the song to make it fit. I probably would have saved myself some time and trouble if I had just started all over with the loop as the base.


@lighth0se33 – I loved playing with percussion loops on the keyboard when I was a kid, but my keyboard did have presets. Someone had made the loops and recorded them into the system, so all I had to do was push a button to get the loops to play while I played the keyboard.

The Latin percussion loops were my favorite. They really made me want to dance.

I could easily come up with a pop song by using a synthesizer sound along with the percussion loops. My keyboard also had a record function, so I could record my creation and sing along to it.


I recorded my own percussion loops using my keyboard. I was using computer software to make my own album from home, and I didn't have a band, so I had to be the drummer.

My keyboard had several different drum sounds, but I had to play the individual keys to pound out my own rhythm, since it didn't have any rhythm presets. Once I played a bar I was happy with, I recorded it, and the software allowed me to duplicate it over and over.

The album does lack something because I used this type of percussion loop. I didn't add any extra cymbals for flair, so the beat is more for keeping time than for improving the songs.


Steve Reich is an American minimalist composer that has done a lot of cool things with drum loops and loops in general. He first became interested in drum loops after studying ancient African and Hebrew styles of music that used the drums to create hypnotic, droning effects.

He used his studies to inform a really varied and interesting body of work that has always been heavily focused on repetition and rhythm. A lot of his early stuff in particular focuses heavily on drum loops and the isolation of percussive sounds. I would recommend it to anyone interested in the possibilities of drum loops.


I have a friend that makes hip hop beats using loops and samples he finds online. He also programs all the drums himself. He is known for that really aggressive, machine gun like drum style that is popular in some kind of rap.

He has done some beats for some local rappers and has a lot of stuff up online but he hasn't gotten a big break yet. I know he has been in touch with some people about showing up on a big mix tape but it hasn't happened yet. Guy has talent though.


I have seen a couple of different loop musicians live and they are incredible. They basically play 9 or ten different instruments themselves. They will play a section of music and then loop it using special equipment so it plays over and over again.

Usually this begins with drum tracks to establish a rhythm. They might record one quick beat or layer multiple beats on top of each other to create intricate percussion loops. The possibilities are really endless. The equipment used for looping has gotten a lot easier to use in the last ten years and it has led to a new wave of creativity in the field.

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