I am getting confused with different peoples' uses of the term 'sample' or 'sampling'. Some people using drum beat programs like fruity loops, generate a drum beat sequence and then take a subset (sample) of the loop's playing and use that 'sample'. That use makes straight forward sense.

People doing foley artist stuff for movies, record a glass breaking to resuse it in place of another sound in a video, and refer to that 'sample'; is this correct usage?

Then, some people wanting to make VSI from a single sample (sound clip) of a sound of a siren or horn to play over a range of notes/pitches, refer to their 'sample' when using it in cubase; is this also correct usage?

What should a 'sample' or 'sampling' really refer too?


2 Answers 2


In the audio engineering world, technically speaking, "recording audio" is "sampling audio". You could use the terms interchangeably within certain contexts.

There are a few things to consider:

  • "Sampling" or "Sample" is used to infer that the recording is of short duration.
  • A sample is not usually more than two channels. "A four channel sample" doesn't really sit right, but "a stereo sample" is legit.

I suspect that this is because the first "samplers" did just that. With the advent of digital audio, the range of the word's use has widened, as samples and recording essentially use the same technology, but may be presented with different UIs or limitations. Whereas with the first samplers, the technology, although related, was quite specific to the machine: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sampler_%28musical_instrument%29#Historical_overview

More thoughts:

Doctors use the term different because you are physically taking a portion of the substance. Where as with audio, we are merely recording an impression of it for possible future reproduction. I suspect the term "sample" was used because of the limitation in length and channels.


I think of a sample as a reproduction of a musical source by recording a number of snapshots per second of the original source. This would be analygous to viewing a series of movie frames per second. A CD recording is actually a sampled recording (44.1 thousand samples per second). This is also related to the sound quality. If the sample rate is lower than the frequence of the music source we are recording, some of the music nuances will be missed and the sample will not resemble the waveform(s) at all.

-Ralph Winters

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