How to Play Samples Live: A Deep Dive into 3 Popular Methods

July 27, 2023

Whether you are trying to play samples, backing track, or a click track live process is the same.

By reading this article, you’ll understand the different methods, equipment, and setup instructions to get you playing live samples like a pro.

In a nutshell, here is how to play samples live:

  • Using a laptop and a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW)
  • Using a hardware sampler or drum machine
  • Using a tablet or mobile device with specific apps

So, let’s dive in and start exploring these methods together!

Method #1 - Full Control
Playing Samples Live Using a Laptop and DAW



One of the most common ways to play samples live is by using a laptop and a DAW. Many professionals, including renowned DJs and electronic musicians, favor this method. It’s like having a full-fledged music studio at your fingertips.

Essential Equipment 

Laptop: This is your primary workstation. Aim for a laptop with good processing power and RAM, similar to what electronic music producer Deadmau5 uses for his live performances.

Audio Interface: This device, like the Focusrite Scarlett series used by many musicians, converts the digital audio from your DAW into an analog signal that your speakers can play.

Setting Up Your Laptop and DAW for Live Sampling 

Setting up your laptop and DAW for live sampling is similar to setting up a home studio. Here are the steps:

  • Connect Your Audio Interface: Plug your audio interface into your laptop via USB or Thunderbolt. Install any necessary drivers.
  • Set Up Your DAW: Install your DAW of choice. Make sure to select your audio interface in the DAW’s audio settings.
  • Connect Your MIDI Controller: Plug your MIDI controller into your laptop. Create a new track in your DAW, and set the input to your MIDI controller.
  • Load Your Samples: Import your samples into your DAW. Assign them to different keys or pads on your MIDI controller.

DAW Recommendations

  • Ableton Live: Intuitive, robust, and favored by DJs and electronic musicians like Skrillex for live sampling.
  • Logic Pro: Comprehensive, ideal for composition and arrangement, used by artists like Calvin Harris.
  • FL Studio: Known for its step sequencer, preferred by EDM producers like Martin Garrix for playing samples live.

Method #2 - Hands-on
Playing Samples Live Using a Sampler, Midi Controller, or Electronic Drum Pad 

live sample playback



A hardware sampler or drum machine is another popular method for playing samples live. These devices are like the Swiss Army knives of the music world, offering many features in one compact unit.

Essential Equipment (one of these 3)

Sampler: This is the heart of your setup. Devices like the Akai MPC Live, used by artists like Kanye West, allow you to load and trigger your samples.

Electronic Drum Pads: These are the physical interface you’ll use to trigger your samples. They come in various shapes and sizes, but all serve the same purpose: to give you a tactile way to play your samples. It’s like having a set of drums that can sound like anything you want.

MIDI Controller (optional): While not always necessary, a MIDI controller can give you more flexibility and control over your samples. It’s like having a remote control for your sampler or drum machine.

Setting up your midi controler/sampler/electronic drum pad

  • Load Your Samples: First, you must load your samples onto your sampler or drum machine. This process can vary depending on the device. Still, it usually involves connecting the device to your computer and transferring the files.
  • Connect Your Audio Interface: Connect your sampler or drum machine to your audio interface using an audio cable. This is like connecting a DVD player to your TV – the audio interface is your TV, and the sampler or drum machine is the DVD player.
  • Connect Your MIDI Controller (if applicable): If you’re using a MIDI controller, connect it to your sampler or drum machine using a MIDI cable. This is like connecting a game controller to a game console – the MIDI controller is your game controller, and the sampler or drum machine is the game console.
  • Test Your Setup: Finally, test your setup to ensure everything works correctly. Play a few samples and adjust the volume levels as needed.

Sampler Drum Machine or Electronic drum pad Recommendations

Method #3 - Cost Effective
Playing Samples Live Using a Tablet or Mobile Device

how to play samples live



In live music, tablets, and mobile devices have become a game-changer. They offer a cost-effective and portable solution for playing samples live. Let’s explain how to set up your mobile device for live sampling.

Essential Equipment 

Tablet or Mobile Device: This is your main tool. Any recent iOS or Android device should do the trick. Just make sure it has enough storage to hold your samples.

Audio Interface: This device will convert the digital audio from your tablet into an analog signal that your sound system can use. Think of it as a translator between your tablet and the speakers.

Setting Up Your Mobile Device for Live Sampling 

Setting up your mobile device for live sampling is like setting up a mini home studio. Here’s a step-by-step guide:

  • Connect Your Audio Interface: Connect your audio interface to your tablet or mobile device. This is usually done via a USB or Lightning cable.
  • Load Your Samples: Next, load your samples onto your device. You can transfer files from your computer or download them directly to your device.
  • Configure Your Sampling App: Open your sampling app and import your samples. You’ll also need to set up any necessary settings, such as sample triggers or loop points.

Recommended Apps for Live Sampling

  • BeatMaker 3: A pocket-sized recording studio with a built-in sampler.
  • iMPC Pro: Brings the classic Akai MPC workflow to iOS.
  • Band Lab: A versatile music creation platform with integrated sampler.


Playing samples live can seem daunting, but with the right tools and knowledge, it’s a task that any musician can master. Here’s a quick recap of the methods we’ve covered:

Using a Laptop and DAW: This method is versatile and powerful, allowing you to manipulate samples in various ways. However, it requires a good laptop, and there’s a learning curve to mastering a DAW.

Using a Sampler or Drum Machine: This method provides a tactile and reliable way to play samples live. It’s a dedicated solution, but it may have fewer features than a DAW and can be expensive.

Using a Tablet or Mobile Device: This method is cost-effective, portable, and intuitive. It’s great for beginners but may not handle large or complex samples as well as the other methods.

Remember, the best method depends on your specific needs, budget, and comfort level with the equipment. Whether you’re using a laptop and DAW, a sampler or drum machine, or a tablet or mobile device, the key is to practice and experiment until you find the setup that works best for you. Happy sampling!

Denis Loncaric
Denis Loncaric

My name is Denis. I am a drummer, percussionist, music enthusiast, and blogger. Drums have been my passion for 15 years now. My idea is to write about the things I like and I am interested in. I want to share my drum passion with fellow musicians who walk, talk, and breathe drums.

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