Sampling (music)

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In music , sampling refers to the process of part of a - already finished - sound or music recording (a sample; English for 'selection', 'pattern', 'example', from the Latin example : 'image', 'example' , Sound Sample for 'sound sample') in a new, often musical context . Nowadays this is usually done with a hardware or software sampler ; This means that the selected sound piece is usually digitized and saved so that it can be further processed with audio programs (e.g. with a sequencer ).


Since it can be a long or short sound recording, not only excerpts from music are sampled, but also individual tones or noises. Acoustic instruments are also used as a sound source for individual tones. In the meantime, this type of sampling is very advanced and the palette ranges from simple folk instruments such as flutes or drums to extensive so-called multisamples of the entire orchestral range of instruments. Multisamples are numerous individual samples that are put together in so-called "mappings". This also includes dynamic levels (piano, mezzoforte, fortissimo etc.) as well as special instrument-typical articulations of the musicians (example: bow stroke up, down, plucked: violin). As a result, these instrument samples are very complex to produce, which has resulted in a separate market segment. Such orchestral samples are particularly used in film music. As a rule, these have to be played with a keyboard, whereby the nuances of playing typical of the instrument are taken into account when playing. Well-known composers who use such samples are Hans Zimmer , James Newton Howard , Jeff Rona , Harold Faltermeyer .

The techniques

Samples of exotic instruments, drums and percussion , vocals as well as those of vintage synthesizers and keyboards are just as popular . Another segment is special sound effects, some of which have displaced the usual noise- making trade or at least have enormously expanded the possibilities.

Sampling is also a popular technique in popular music : in particular in hip-hop and in electronic music styles such as trip-hop , drum and bass , big beat and house , samples are often used that are taken from existing music recordings. It doesn't matter how long these samples are, because sometimes complete refrains are sampled and "built into" new pieces of music. Sampling is also used by many musicians, especially keyboard players , in almost all styles of music, as it enables, among other things, the almost faithful imitation of natural instruments (see above). Occasionally two different pieces with the same beat and style are superimposed through sampling. A prominent example is the overmixing of Blue Monday by New Order with Can't Get You Out of My Head by Kylie Minogue (→ Mashup ).

Technology of digital sampling

Electrical vibrations from a signal source (the audio signal ), for example from a microphone , musical instrument, mixer output or a measurement process, are digitally recorded as measured voltage values ​​(samples) at very short time intervals . The result (a series of measurement results, so to speak) can be played back in the opposite direction, with the data being converted back into analog waveforms. The sound quality during playback depends on the sampling rate (in kHz) and the resolution (in bit) (see below). In the case of a conventional audio CD, for example, 44,100 such measured values ​​are stored in one second (per stereo channel). The resolution here is 16 bit for a measured value. This results in 65,536 possible voltage levels from the maximum negative value to the maximum positive value of the oscillation curve.

The recorded data (mostly sounds) can also be loaded into the memory of a computer as so-called samples in order to modify them there as required or to play them back with the aid of a computer. With the help of appropriate calculations in the computer, it is possible to add effects such as reverb or echo, to reduce background noise, to adjust the sound and to carry out very precise analyzes and corrections of the original analog signal. Thanks to the modern graphical user interface of today's software, the sample can be displayed very well as a diagram. With this representation and the possibility of enlarging the smallest time segments, you can work with as much precision as you want, since the sound is more or less “frozen” in the memory and can be played back after each processing step for checking purposes.

With a correspondingly high sampling rate and resolution, metrological applications in electrical engineering and physics are also conceivable. You are not limited to sound events.

Depending on the application, the length of a sample varies from the duration of a note from a musical instrument to the complete soundtrack of a movie. In addition, the lengths are only limited by the storage capacity of the respective data memories.

When used in music, the sample recorded in this way is either integrated into an existing piece of music or serves as a basic framework for a new piece in the form of an endless loop . For example, it is possible to sample the entire range of a musical instrument and then play it (e.g. using a MIDI keyboard) without actually owning it. Not only one sample of the instrument is saved, but several (multisampling), which then no longer have to be transposed over the entire range . In the extreme case, each tone of the scale is created as a sample in several volume levels. In this way, differences in sound between soft and loud attacks can also be reproduced.

However, since the overall sound of natural instruments usually consists of more than the sum of the individual tones, sampling reaches its limits here. Therefore, attempts are often made to compensate for this deficiency with other supplementary sound generation methods ( physical modeling to simulate housing resonances and the like). There are still problems with the representation of instruments that are very capable of modulation, the sound of which (above all the transient process) is very characteristically dependent on the style of playing (e.g. strings, wind instruments, guitar, human voice). To solve this problem z. B. tries to use several samples for each tone (multiple multisampling), which are then faded into each other or even morphed depending on the playing style (e.g. velocity of the keyboard) .

To work with samples you need a sampler . A sampler can be a physical device (for example a sound card in the computer or a sampler as a stand-alone device) and also as pure software (software sampler ) .

Audio sample

see also: Electronic Organ Sampling

An audio sample is a digitized analog audio signal . Excerpts (samples) are taken from the analog audio signal via an A / D converter and stored. Initially this was done with a resolution of 8 bits, later with 16 and 24 bits. For a long time the standard sampling rate was 44.1 kHz, since around 2003 with the advent of the SACD, 96 kHz has been used, and now a sampling rate of 192 kHz (192,000 readings per second) has established itself. Converters with a sampling rate of 384 kHz are also used in the studio.

An analog signal has a certain signal value at every point in time on the time axis. One speaks here of time continuity. A digitized audio signal is time-discrete, which means that a finite number of instantaneous values ​​is taken from the analog signal. The restriction is necessary because the subsequent conversion of the material into a numerical value takes a certain amount of time. The hereby resulting sampling period is defined by T A .

A sampler is first and foremost a recording device such as e.g. B. a tape recorder . The recording time was very limited at the beginning of the sampler era, it was sometimes only in the range of seconds. Later samplers were equipped with more RAM and longer samples could be recorded.

A sampler also has numerous manipulation and processing options with which the audio material can be changed. Digital filters ( low pass / high pass / parametric filters), EQs, etc. are part of the basic equipment of a modern sampler.

Hardware samplers have played an increasingly minor role since the late 1990s, as powerful computers enable a much cheaper software variant. Software samplers such as the "EXS24" (from Apple / Emagic), "Kontakt" (from Native Instruments) or "Independence" (from former Yellowtools, now Magix) should be mentioned here. These can also read the sample libraries of older samplers and are typically used as plug-ins in the channel strip of DAWs .

Compared to older sampling technology (using analog and digital hardware samplers (sound generator) ), software samplers have the decisive advantage of being able to be processed on a screen, i.e. with eyes and ears. This makes the cut, loop and the arrangement of music productions more flexible and faster. Classic samplers have no or only a small graphic editing window.

Sample set

The term sample set generally refers to a compilation of samples that belong together. In the case of virtual pipe organs, the term also includes the so-called organ definition file (ODF) in addition to the sound recordings. This describes the technical relationships between the individual works, pipes, windchests, keyboards, actions, etc. of an organ for the format of a specific virtual organ software (e.g. Hauptwerk -ODF or GrandOrgue -ODF).

In order to create a sample set, the tones of each individual organ pipe and also the resulting noises such as B. wind engine or keyboards initially recorded with high quality (z. B. 32 bit floats). Since so-called " background noise " (e.g. wind noise, bellows, motors) is also recorded during the recording , this must be removed in a separate step using suitable software. If this does not happen, the background noise would add up when several samples are played at the same time and make it unpleasantly noticeable. Finally, every single pipe tone is processed in its components attack, sustain and release , cut, provided with details for the pitch in cents and finally combined into a sample set.

For pipe organs of different styles and epochs, especially for very famous organs, there are various sample sets on the market, now also as 6-channel surround sample sets. These consist of three stereo sets for each pipe: close with little reverberation, greater distance with room acoustics, greatest distance with room acoustics and minimal pipe sound.


The Mellotron , the analog original form of the sampler, came onto the market in 1963. It works with 3/8 inch wide tapes recorded with three tracks. Each key is assigned its own tape strip, which is played via a tape head when the key is pressed. When the button is released, the tape is quickly pulled back into its starting position by a spring.

Akai S1000 MIDI sampler

The era of digital sampling began in 1979 with integrated digital synthesis, recording and sampling systems in the high-price range such as Fairlight CMI and Synclavier . The E-mu emulator (1981) was available a short time later for a five-figure sum; in the mid-1980s, samplers like the Ensoniq Mirage or the Akai S-612 were also affordable for bands and individual musicians (e.g. for home recording). Samplers could be used to play with self-recorded sounds such as one's own voice or noises, but also simulate the sound of other musical instruments in the studio and on stage. Classical instruments such as strings and wind instruments as well as synthesizer sounds became playable as media material. At the same time, the synthetic sounds of electronically controlled drum machines could be supplemented or completely replaced by sampled 'real' drum sounds, which could be called up directly or with an automatically generated rhythm and metrics. The fascinating thing about sampling in the beginning was its universal usability, before standard aesthetic procedures developed in relation to the device design.

With the availability of affordable technology , sampling subsequently spread increasingly in popular music. In 1985, the Casio company presented the SK-1 sampling keyboard , which for the first time (still in 8 bit) made it possible to record sounds lasting two to three seconds and play them back at all pitches.

The process soon enjoyed great popularity, especially in pop music and hip-hop ( MPC ). One of the most popular pioneers was the track Pump up the volume by MARRS from 1987. In 1988 Akai presented the S1000, one of the first 16-bit samplers to achieve CD quality playback. The 16-bit standard was professional in the mid-1990s. Genres such as drum and bass , breakbeat , house or trip-hop are almost entirely based on the new possibilities that samplers, such as those from Akai, Roland , E-mu or Korg , give musicians. Record collections serve as a fund in search of the ideal loop .

Samples - in very limited quality - have also been used on 8-bit home computers since the early 1980s (e.g. the video game Ghostbusters , 1984). From about 1987 the tracker scene developed from this, creating sophisticated music demos on newer home computers or standard PCs with sound cards .

In the studio technology of professional music studios, digital recording technology finally found its way into the studio technology of professional music studios , tape machines are hardly found today. There are few pieces of music today that are not recorded, edited and mixed digitally (e.g. via DAT tape); this technology is also standard in rock music today.

Nowadays samples are mostly managed directly on the computer and played back using an audio sequencer or software sampler, which means that hardware samplers have largely disappeared from the studios. However, the hardware samplers of the first generation of devices have sound characteristics that are considered interesting in terms of character and have now enjoyed a certain cult status with some musicians and producers. These include the first samplers from E-mu Systems , Akai, Ensoniq and Dynacord.

Legal issues


The use of samples is one of the most controversial topics in the music industry because, despite the highest court rulings, legal issues remain unresolved, but at the same time these sound fragments are used on a large scale. Samples are now widespread in the music industry and have developed into an independent style. However, this style tends to collide with other copyrighted works, as case law shows. Samples can be the subject of plagiarism lawsuits , in which the music publisher of the original rights holder is usually the plaintiff and the record publisher or music producer of the sampling work is the defendant .

United States

Biz Markie released the LP I Need a Haircut in August 1991, which included the song Alone Again . Gilbert O'Sullivan had released the single Alone Again (Naturally) in March 1972 , which rose to number 3 in Great Britain. O'Sullivan refused approval, and Biz Markie nonetheless released the song with a sample from O'Sullivan's original. At that time, samples of this type were in a gray area without any jurisdiction.

The Grand Upright Music, Ltd. judgment passed in December 1991 marked a radical change in the publication practice . against Warner Brothers Records, Inc. of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York . The court convicted the Warner Music Group record company for an album by their artist Biz Markie . He had sampled three words and some music from a track by Gilbert O'Sullivan's without having copyright permission. Until the judgment, this was a common practice in hip-hop , which made publications such as Public Enemy possible in their form. The court ruled that this is a violation of US copyright law (specifically American copyright law would be). The reason that this was the usual technique in hip hop was: "The defendants [...] assure the court that [this type of] theft is rampant in the music industry , and for this reason their behavior is excusable." therefore no longer possible in the future. Usually it is financially and organizationally hardly possible to use more than one or two samples, the sound of hip-hop music changed significantly afterwards. Either the pieces were based more on a sample and thus became more similar to cover versions , or artists like Dr. Dre and others used the technique of interpolation: the desired samples were re-imported, so that negotiations only had to be carried out with the songwriter and no longer with musicians, singers and record companies.

Stir a sampling of having Roy Orbison - Million Sellers Oh, Pretty Woman by 2 Live Crew made. The rap quartet 2 Live Crew released the LP As Clean As They Wanna Be on July 15, 1989 , which also contained the original "Pretty Woman" from August 1964 (with mention of the authors Orbison / Dees). On July 5, 1989 Orbison's music publisher Acuff-Rose Publishing was informed of the intended parody of the 2 Live Crew , but they refused to approve. Regardless, the parody was released. After almost 250,000 LPs had been sold, a lawsuit was filed. 2 Live Crew took over the characteristic guitar / bass / drum riff from the original as a sample and changed the text and slightly also the rhythm for their version. The changes were not substantial, so that the original remains recognizable even to the layman. There was a plagiarism lawsuit that ultimately ended - across multiple instances - in the US Supreme Court on March 7, 1994. The court saw no copyright infringement, but a permissible case of fair use - doctrine as part of a - not explicitly valued by the court - parody . 2 Live Crew's version was, to a certain extent, a critical commentary on the original.


Sampling means "electronically copying" in German legal language. However, music producers cannot rely on the economic, organizational and technical performance of the sound carrier manufacturers protected by Section 85 (1) UrhG (UrhG) without their consent and thus without remuneration if they are able to produce the desired tone sequence without legal interference. Exemplary was the case of Kraftwerk (LP Trans Europa Express and the title Metal on Metal contained on it ; March 1977) against Sabrina Setlur's music producer Moses Pelham (LP The new S-Class , March 1997 with the track Nur mir ; September 1997), the same twice employed the BGH. At the oral verdict in December 2012, the chairman of the Federal Court of Justice made it clear that even the smallest parts of a piece of music are protected by copyright and can therefore only be removed with the consent of the author. According to the BGH, copyright law provides for an exception to this rule in order to promote cultural creation. According to this, a musician is allowed to take such sound sequences from other pieces if they cannot simply be re-enacted because of their special characteristics.

Conversely, however, according to the BGH, this means that those who want to use the sounds for their own purposes and are "able and authorized to record them themselves" are not allowed to use them. Tone sequences that clearly come from another sound carrier and form a melody may not simply be adopted. The point was that in 1997 Setlur had taken a two-second two-bar rhythm sequence from Kraftwerk Metall auf Metall and assigned its title Nur mir in continuous repetition . The BGH came to the conclusion that it would have been possible to play in the rhythm sequence that was adopted, so that Kraftwerk's rights were violated. The right to free use according to § 24 Abs. 1 UrhG is only available to someone who plays a sequence of notes himself and thus a reproduction is possible for factual reasons.

Pelham lodged a constitutional complaint against this decision. The BGH had inappropriately taken into account the freedom of art. The Federal Constitutional Court accepted the constitutional complaint and dealt with it - according to the Chairman of the First Senate, Ferdinand Kirchhof - for the first time in its history with constitutional questions of copyright. In its decision announced on May 31, 2016, the BVerfG overturned the decision of the BGH. He misjudged the scope of artistic freedom. The use of samples is one of the style-defining elements of hip-hop. In addition, the criterion of "replayability" is unsuitable. On June 1, 2017, the Federal Court of Justice announced a decision suspending the third proceedings there, so that the ECJ can first clarify legal questions relating to the Copyright Directive and the Lending and Lending Directive as part of a preliminary ruling , which, among other things, clarified the extent to which Section 24 (1) UrhG is in conformity with European law. On April 30, 2020, the Federal Court of Justice ruled that Pelham should not have used the sequence because it "has not been changed, and [it] was easily recognizable".


During the interpolation, the desired samples are replayed by session musicians , so that only the approval of the original composer has to be obtained. The consent of the original artist and his phonogram manufacturer is not required.


Musicians or producers who were the first to use sampling may include a .:


Web links

Commons : Sampling (music)  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Sampleset
  2. Creating samplesets
  3. ^ Organ Art Library
  4. 6-channel surround sample sets
  5. Casio SK-1 Description of the Casio SK-1 at Sonic State
  6. Original: "The defendants [...] would have this court believe that stealing is rampant in the music business and, for that reason, their conduct here should be excused"
  7. fair use ("permitted use") is, according to American copyright law, the permitted reproduction for criticism, commentary, learning or research purposes that does not constitute a copyright infringement; 17 USC § 107
  8. SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES, No. 92-1292, 510 US 569 court decision of March 7, 1994 ( memento of the original of January 17, 2010 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link has been inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  9. ^ BGH, judgment of December 13, 2012, Az .: I ZR 122/11 , full text
  10. Dietmar Hipp: Music sampling before the Federal Constitutional Court: When the lawyer sits with the rapper in the studio. In: Spiegel Online . November 25, 2015, accessed June 9, 2018 .
  11. Beck aktuell: BVerfG: Sampling without the permission of the sound carrier manufacturer may be permissible under copyright law ( Memento from May 31, 2016 in the Internet Archive ). Retrieved May 31, 2016.
  12. Federal Constitutional Court, press release on the judgment of May 31, 2016, Az. 1 BvR 1585/13. In: Retrieved May 31, 2016 .
  13. ^ Decision of the 1st Civil Senate of 1.6.2017 - I ZR 115/16 -. Retrieved July 2, 2018 .
  14. Judgment of the Federal Court of Justice: Sampling only permitted to a limited extent. Accessed April 30, 2020 .