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How to Escape the 4-Bar Loop

You and I both know the feeling:

Painful hours of looping on the same four chords and drum loop

Over, and over, and over.

Eventually you’re so fed up with listening to it and decide there’s no way this loop can go anywhere. You file it away into the Works in Progress graveyard full of project files that never escape loop purgatory.

Another wasted session.

Sadly, one of these loops could become your best work, but you don’t know how to get unstuck.

Enough is enough. It’s time to break the cycle and spare yourself the agony.

Here are 5 tips to beat the 4-bar loop and get back to creating.

1. Adopt A Songwriter Mindset

You make music, not jingles

The looping tool within your DAW is an effective way to build upon an idea you’ve recorded. It allows you to create the building blocks of your song without manually replaying the clip every time you want to play along.

However, we get tunnel vision. The infinite stretch of bars in your DAW grows dimmer. All you can see is your pattern in FL Studio.

By focusing on the 4-Bar loop, we unintentionally forget that we make music, songs for mostly a non-producer audience.

Your Soundcloud listeners don’t care about your 4-bar loop. They only care if the song is good.

So to get out of the 4-Bar Loop, start thinking like a songwriter. You’re creating a story with sound, yes, even you riddim producers. You’re in the business of creating tension, release, and narrative.

Artists first, engineers second!

Change your mindset from “I want to loop this pluck” to “I want to maintain rhythmic energy in this drop. How do I do that?” By focusing on how you want to feel, you then can use your tools to create those emotions.

Reference tracks you like. Listen to how they move from intro to build, from drop to verse. Notice what elements stay and change, how tension and narrative is built. Be artsy!

Having the proper songwriter mindset will better help you implement these next steps:

2. Stop looping.

Sounds too good to be true, right?

If you’re stuck in the 4-Bar loop, then just stop looping. Cut it out. You can do it.

Don’t copy and paste your audio to create a fake loop either.

By this point, you’ve probably listened to this loop more than enough times. You probably can hear it perfectly in your head.

Hearing the loop repeatedly overwhelms us and actually stunts creativity. Silence can inspire us to fill in the gaps of what comes next in your track. You may even realize that your track needs to go in a new direction altogether!

If you know what it sounds like, you don’t need to hear it again. Press stop and think about what comes next.

3. Set up Transitions and new elements immediately

If you haven’t given your loop any runway, it can’t take off.

Creating transition templates in your track gives loop somewhere to go. Depending on your genre, throw in some transitional elements like cymbals, white noise sweeps, or impacts to signal changes in structure. Build a template spanning several bars, modeling the average structure of a track in your genre.

A transition template can help you determine what elements should be added, subtracted, or modified. Some DAWS allow you to save templates so that you can skip the extra step of making a template in the future!

Now that we have the mindset and the structure, it’s time to use our loop.

4. Duplicate your loop across the transitions

Use whatever you got and tweak it.

Let’s your loop consists of some synth chords and a drum loop.

Pick one and loop it across your newly create structure. For each new transition, change the loop slightly.

For example, duplicate the synth chords from the intro, but after a riser signals a transition to the build, only repeat the first half of the loop.

What happened here?

You’re still using elements of the 4-bar loop, but you’ve changed them by tweaking them and placing them in a new context.

Your brain only knows how to listen to the chords as a 4-bar loop. By hearing your sounds in a different space with minor adjustments, new ideas will start rising up.

Here are a few creative modifications to try:

Put a LFO filter on your melodic sounds - Change the LFO Rate. You’ll get different rhythms and perhaps uncover a groove to your track that you weren’t considering!

Delay/Reverb - Experiment with delay and reverb on your elements. Changing the space of a sound can spark new ideas.

Transpose - Pitch it up, pitch it down, change keys. Hear the changes in emotion and what new element ideas can fit into the structure.

Swap all instruments - Be careful with this one. You might find yourself in another 4-Bar loop trap! Replacing your chords, drums, and melodies with new sounds can give you new direction and lead to a completely different song.

Now that you have added/subtract/modified your loop, you can arrange the new ideas across your transitions. Now use your songwriter mindset to compose the track’s flow.

Now to the most difficult but most important tip. Ignore this, and you’re doomed to fall back into 4-bar pit from whence you came.

5. Let your track suck.

But looping this way sounds bad!

After all these tips, you may notice that your track sounds awful.

So? It sure beats being stuck in a loop for hours.

In fact, we tend to get stuck in the 4-Bar loop because we’re afraid are track will sound bad. The next idea after my loop has to be good before I move on!

Ha, no.

You can create a crappy song in minutes. And now that you escaped the loop, you can make creative decisions about what elements in your song work and which don’t.

New synths to add, effects to automate, sounds to absolutely purge. It’s much easier to fix ideas than to generate them.

In any creative process, it’s wise to get ideas out of your head and into reality as soon as possible, before your internal criticism arrives and stops the flow. When the ideas exist in the real world, then you nitpick and act ruthless with your editing.

You have left the loop! Go back into your new “track” and make necessary changes. Remove what isn’t working. New ideas will pop up and add those.

Before you know it, you’ve made a rough draft to a full track in an hour, the same amount of time you used to spend listening to a loop of four chords!

Wrapping it Up

At the end of this process, your track might still suck. The ideas aren’t stellar. But sometimes they are, and a loop that would’ve been trashed turned out to be a masterpiece. Either way, you would’ve never known unless you’d left the loop.

Go back to your previous projects still stuck in 4-Bar prison and you’ll be surprised at the goldmine waiting there.

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