What Instruments Are Used in Music Samples?

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Key Takeaways:

  • Strings, basslines, drum loops, vocals, piano/keyboards, brass/woodwinds, and synthesized sounds are commonly used in music samples.
  • Sampling allows producers to capture and manipulate recordings of acoustic instruments like guitars, drums, and vocals.
  • Synthesized sounds from electronic instruments and software are also widely used to create unique elements in music samples.
  • The most common instruments sampled are strings, bass guitars, drum loops, vocal hooks, pianos, brass, and woodwinds.
  • Producers layer, equalize, loop, and process samples to achieve the desired sound for their music.
  • Sampling expands the sonic palette available to music producers when crafting their tracks.


Music sampling is a production technique used across almost all genres of modern music. Sampling allows producers and beatmakers to incorporate existing recordings into new musical works. This opens up creative possibilities by providing access to a diverse palette of sounds and passages to sample from. But what specific instruments tend to get sampled and used in the production of new music? This article will take a comprehensive look at the most common types of instruments used in music samples, from strings and basslines to vocal hooks and synthesized sounds.

Understanding the core instruments used in sampling can help producers select samples strategically when constructing their tracks. It also allows music fans and listeners to better appreciate the artistry involved in expertly layering and manipulating samples from various sources. Whether aiming to sample music yourself or just gain a stronger grasp of this quintessential production technique, delving into the key instruments in sampling will expand your musical knowledge and appreciation.

With an in-depth evaluation of the guitars, drums, synthesizers, and more that make up the backbone of many music samples, this article illuminates the building blocks that enable producers to develop the rhythms, melodies, harmonies, and sonic textures that define modern music production. Let’s explore the musical toolkit of instruments commonly turned to when producing music samples.

What Instruments Are Used in Music Samples?

Overview of Music Sampling

Before diving into the specific instruments used, it’s helpful to understand what music sampling entails. Sampling involves taking a snippet or portion of an existing recording and incorporating it into a new musical work. This snippet can be something as short as a single drum hit or keyboard chord. Or, it can be a longer phrase like a guitar riff or vocal line.

Producers take these samples and load them into hardware like samplers or digital audio workstations like Ableton or FL Studio. Then, they can manipulate, layer, sequence, and arrange the samples to construct original beats, melodies, and fully-formed musical compositions. Sampling expanded the possibilities for producers by giving them a sonic toolkit sourced from existing recordings of instruments and vocals to slice, dice, and remix as desired.

Some key technical processes producers use when working with samples include:

  • Chopping: Segmenting a long sample into smaller individual sounds or musical phrases that can be triggered separately.
  • Looping: Taking a short sample and repeating it continuously to create a rhythmic or melodic pattern.
  • Pitch shifting: Altering the original pitch of a sample up or down.
  • Time stretching: Lengthening or shortening a sample while maintaining its pitch.
  • Layering: Stack multiple samples together to create composite sounds.
  • Processing: Using effects like reverb, distortion, compression to shape the tone and vibe of samples.

Armed with an understanding of sampling, let’s explore some of the main instruments that get tapped to create the samples that make up modern music production.


The warm, melodic tones of stringed instruments like violins, cellos, harps, and guitars have long been a staple of music across cultures worldwide. Given their versatility and appeal, it’s no surprise that strings are also one of the most commonly sampled instrument groups in many genres.

The expressive sound of strings layered and chopped into samples can provide musicality ranging from soaring lead melodies to rhythmic plucked patterns. Let’s look at a few of the most popular string instruments used in samples:


From lush movie scores to folk and country ballads, violins are beloved for their smooth, evocative tone. In sampling, violin passages can provide an organic melodic element and a dash of drama. Violin samples are often pitched up or down to play rapid melodic patterns impossible for a physical player.


Lower in register than violins, cellos exude a rich, soulful warmth. Drawn-out cello tones can form the backbone of an emotional chord progression. And rhythmic cello pizzicato plucks are commonly chopped into arpeggios.

Guitars (Acoustic, Electric)

A staple across many genres from rock to folk, guitars offer a lot of sonic range to sample from. Acoustic guitars provide bright, cheerful strums. Electric guitars offer effects like distortion and delay for power chords. And bass guitars lay down low-end grooves.


While less common than other strings, harps can provide a magical, whimsical vibe with their gliding, intricate patterns. Harp arpeggios are often chopped and spread across the keys for a dreamy sound.

In summary, sampling strings expands the emotion, harmony, and rhythm of productions with the natural resonance and playability of violin bows, guitar plucks, and more.


The bassline provides the anchor that grounds the beat in many forms of dance music and hip-hop. Deep, booming bass offers that quintessential groove and bump that gets listeners moving. Let’s look at some of the instruments that get sampled to provide the bass foundations in music:

Electric Bass Guitars

The thumping, funky tones of an electric bass guitar form the basis of many classic sample-based genres like hip-hop. Iconic bass riffs get chopped into samples and repeated. And deep sustained bass notes accentuate track progression.

Synthesized Bass

Using synthesizers like the classic Roland TB-303, producers can craft square, pulsing basslines with futuristic tones. Layered and processed synth bass provides a robotic yet rhythmic heartbeat.

Upright & Electric Bass

From jazz and soul to adult contemporary, rich upright bass tones and patterns are sampled for their natural resonance. Similarly, electric bass samples add groovy riffs and runs.

Whether using sampled bass chords, arpeggios, or funky slap patterns, basslines fill out the low end and propel the momentum of the track.

Drum Loops & Hits

Drums provide the rhythmic drive and backbone in most forms of modern music. A drum beat chopped and arranged from disparate samples can take on a life of its own. Let’s explore some of the drums and percussion commonly sampled in music:

Drum Loops

Full measures of multi-layered drum sequences provide building blocks to underpin an entire track. Iconic drum breaks get reused and reimagined across decades of sample-based music.

Kicks & Snares

Thundering kicks and snappy snares punched in on every 2 and 4 provide a basic beat skeleton. Vintage drum hits offer a classic boom-bap vibe.

Hi-hats & Percussion

Sizzling hi-hats and shakers layered over the drum beat add complexity. While congas, bongos, tabla, and other percussion lend an exotic rhythmic flavor.

Electronic Drums

Synthesized and processed electronic drum sounds widen the possibilities with futuristic tones. 808 kicks became a hallmark of hip-hop production.

From gritty lo-fi beats to slickly produced drum patterns, sampled drums in all forms provide the rhythmic engine to drive music samples.

Vocal Hooks

The human voice has a universal appeal that instantly draws focus. Catchy sampled vocal lines help create an infectious musical hook. Let’s look at some examples of vocals used in samples:

Short Rhythmic Phrases

A distinctive vocal utterance like James Brown’s “Hey” or Michael Jackson’s “Mama-say mama-sa” can be chopped to punctuate beats.

Sung Melodic Lines

A soaring refrain from a soul diva or a rapper’s slick rhymes provide melodic and rhythmic fuel for sampling.

Individual Words

Single words like “Yeah” or “No” create punchy exclamations to accentuate a moment.

While full acapellas get sampled too, small vocal fragments offer maximum flexibility to slot into musical puzzles. The right sampled vocal phrase can take a bland beat into a pop banger through catchy repetition.

Piano & Keyboards

With immense melodic range and harmonic possibilities, keys are a subtractive sampling goldmine. Let’s see how pianos and keyboards get sampled:

Acoustic & Electric Pianos

From gentle keys struck in a jazz ballad to showstopping solos, piano passages of all moods get sampled for their melodic potential.

Synths & Organs

The warm hum of a synth lead plugs right into a house track. While a chopped organ progression accents soul and funk jams.


Single lush jazz chords repeat to form dreamy soundbeds. And synthetic stabs color electronic genres.

Thanks to their diversity, keys samples provide atmosphere, harmony, melody, and ornamentation to flesh out tracks across genres.

Brass & Woodwinds

Bursts of brass and woodwinds add moments of impact and dynamism to music samples:


Punchy horn hits, like a saxophone riff or trumpet stab, penetrate a mix. While longer brass tones build tension and drama.

Orchestral Sections

Rising string sections, flute trills, and bold brass hits lend an epic cinematic edge.

Instrument Riffs

A snippet of a complex clarinet or sitar solo brings in human flair.

Populating mixes with brass and woodwind accents adds depth and atmosphere to music samples.

Synthesized Sounds

Beyond sampling acoustic instruments, producers also craft their own synthesized sounds as musical raw material. Some examples include:

Synth Leads & Pads

Using soft synths and wavetable synthesizers, producers create sweeping pads, plucky arps, and buzzing bass tones without any acoustic origin. The synthetic palette is endless.

Sound Effects

Otherworldly laser blasts, stretched tones, and digitally processed sound effects provide abstract ear candy to sprinkle throughout songs.

Creative Manipulation

Heavily pitching, distorting or reversing samples yields new mutated sounds to serve as instruments themselves.

Electronic synthesis and creative sound mangling vastly expand the musical options past acoustic reality.

Layering the Musical Elements

In summary, these instruments comprise the core sounds that get called upon when sampling in service of bringing musical ideas to life:

  • Strings: Violins, cellos, guitars for melodic and rhythmic elements.
  • Bass: Electric, upright, and synthesized bass providing low-end pulse.
  • Drums: Kicks, snares, percussion, and electronic drums giving rhythmic drive.
  • Vocals: Short catchy phrases adding infectious hooks.
  • Keys: Pianos and synths delivering harmony, atmosphere, and melodies.
  • Brass & Woodwinds: Horn stabs and riffs providing accents.
  • Synthesized: Original synthesized sounds and processed effects expanding the sonic palette.

By combining samples and elements from across these instrument groups, producers are able to build vibrant, multi-layered tracks and fully-formed musical works from the component samples. The creative possibilities are endless!

Sampling in Action

To appreciate the power of sampling, let’s check out how these instruments get incorporated into a classic hip-hop beat:

  • A 4-bar drum break from James Brown’s “Funky Drummer” provides the rhythmic base.
  • An 808 bassline delivers the low-end groove.
  • Quick violin stabs and piano chords from soul records fill gaps in the beat.
  • Vocal phrases like “Yeah!” and “Come on!” from various funk tracks accentuate the rhythm.
  • A synthetic pad sound drones beneath to thicken the texture.

Chopped together into a coherent pattern, these diverse samples form a vibrant instrumental backdrop for an MC. By sampling acoustic drums, electric bass, strings, keys, and vocals from vinyl records, the producer sculpts a unique hip-hop foundation dripping in funky soul. This example exhibits how combining complementary elements sampled from across instruments can yield fresh musical magic.

The Art of Sampling

When produced skillfully, music samples seamlessly converge into a cohesive artistic product no listener would identify as predominately stitched-together samples. This exemplifies the craft involved – mixing and matching samplepuzzle pieces to build living, breathing songs.

Musicians and producers have crafted sample-based compositions for decades, from pioneering hip-hop DJs to master composers like J Dilla. Pulling off the sampling process at an artful level takes extensive musicality, creativity, and technical chops. Long live the art of sampling!

Considerations When Sampling

While sampling opens up creative possibilities, there are also legal considerations. Sampling small snippets and obscure sources is generally fair use. But when recognizable chunks from copyrighted songs get prominently reused, the original artist and publisher may require permission and royalties.

Some tips for ethically navigating sampling:

  • Obscurity helps. Sample less recognizable portions of songs.
  • Change it up. Pitch, chop, and process samples to make them distinct from the source.
  • Keep it short. Brief sampled phrases slip under the radar more easily.
  • Clear samples. If sampling a key portion of a famous song, get permission to avoid legal issues.
  • Credit samples. Give writing credit to sampled artists to acknowledge their contribution.

Sampling expands musical possibilities exponentially. But doing so creatively, ethically, and legally ensures producers avoid headaches and can focus on the fun – crafting the next sonic masterpiece!


From strings and bass to percussion and vocals, sampling acoustic instruments opens up an expansive sonic toolkit for producers. Strategic use of synthesized sounds and effects expands possibilities even further. Sampling crosses geography and time, allowing vintage recordings of instruments to be reimagined within new contexts and musical landscapes. When executed with skill, the results can be spectacular, taking listeners on journeys through sound. So the next time you listen to a sample-based track, train your ears to catch the musical origins and appreciate the craft involved in seamlessly marrying samples from across decades and instruments into musical magic.

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