While reading through a forum the other day, one question I’ve noticed that kept popping up in that forum is about loop pedals and their usage. If you are a guitarist who hasn’t used a loop pedal before, you should try to use it. As someone who teaches guitar lessons, I would surely recommend its use to expand your creativity as a guitarist and enhance your recording and live performances.
The loop pedal is quite easy to use and operating it is relatively intuitive. You only need to use your foot to tap on it to record and another tap to playback what you have recorded. The market is awash with loop pedals, giving you many options to choose from.
How Does Loop Pedal Work?
Loop had its origin in the music itself because repetitions typify all kinds of music. However, loops were first introduced in 1944 by electroacoustic music pioneers like Pierre Schaeffer and Halim El-Dabh. In the 1960s, tape loops were done by Frank Zappa. Modern looping, however, use digital software and hardware devices to produce loops and modify them. At present, you will find myriads of hardware loopers as effect pedals.
Moreover, the looping technique has evolved as an essential component for recording and live performance. You can use this technique to record snippets of whatever you want to play and create a repetitive phrase or loop in real-time. You can use these repetitive loops to enhance your music as backing track soundscape or rhythmic effect. Your only limitation is your level of creativity when it comes to looping.
A critical application of the looping technique is in overdubbing. Overdubbing is the recording over your recorded repetitive loop or phrase. Overdubs provide your phrase with depth and let you raise your looping undertaking to the next level. For example, you can stack several overdubs together to create harmonies, or you can overdub on your drum loop your bass line.
Various Techniques You Can Use with Your Looper Pedal
If you are new to looper pedals, don’t you worry; its use is quite intuitive. Yet, it will also help if you are cognizant of the following techniques when using your looper pedal:
1) Overdubbing Loops
Once you’ve got hold of your new looper pedals, it would usually go to overdub mode once you set your basic track. It might need a bit of time to get used to it, but you will soon get the hang of it. However, you can also select a pedal that provides you the option of switching to various modes like a loop, playback, and overdub setup.
At the onset, you should have a plan or strategy before you engage in looping. Strategize your rhythm track and overdubs. You can start practicing a switch from your first track to overdubbing on it before turning the loop pedal on.
Through constant practice, you can master the process and save yourself from often deleting and re-tracking overdubs. Once you have gotten used to the process, switching from a track to another becomes a breeze.
Developing such a skill will be very useful once you’re already engaged in fast playing to push your speed to its maximum level. When laying overdubs, start with the most basic and simplest overdubs. Then, you can transition to more complex layering.
2) Chords and Rhythms
You can use your loop pedal to create a chordal rhythm part. Of course, playing a chordal rhythm is a piece of cake for most guitarists, and this chordal rhythm provides a more direct feel of your guitar. Nevertheless, you can use your loop pedal for adding another guitar loop to your sound.
You can do this by playing the different chords by strumming them in a compelling style. Create a sturdy backbone for your chordal rhythm if you want to lay down a single rhythm track. Remember that if you create more ambient rhythm sections, you may find these sections drowned in a crowded hodgepodge of multiple overdubs.
To make the chordal rhythm parts stand out, you can emphasize some downbeats in your measure. Ensure that you do more percussive strumming to produce a full-bodied sound. You can also try to mute your strums and add some sixteenth note flicks for added emphasis.
3) Chord Patterns
It will also be useful to keep your chords in mind when building your loops. Remember also that certain types of looping befit certain kinds of genres. Moreover, you will need to arrange some tunes to fit within shorter loop parameters. So, it will be best to prioritize the looping style that fits the genres you want to play in when making chord patterns.
Being mindful of the genre-specific style, you can create compositions using more overdubs. If your loop pedal is capable of longer looping time, it will be helpful to plan out your looping in advance. In doing so, you can save enough space for multiple layers looping.
You will notice that you will find it easy to use your looper pedal when playing blues and jazz because these genres thrive in improvisation. Moreover, you can add multiple rhythm tracks as well as overdubbed embellishments if you make a 12-bar blues.
Jazz songs, on the other hand, feature an A and B section for specific soloing. If you play these full sections, you end up having enough space for overdubbing without necessarily shortening its form.
4) Properly Opening and Closing Loops
When looping, timing the opening and closing of your loop well will be crucial to effective looping. If your pedal is equipped with a quantization function, it will be easy to create better-timed loops. Quantizing is a useful tool, but you should not hide behind the shadow of the quantize function if you have poor skills. Instead, try to enhance your skills.
At the onset, it will help to start with a clean stop. As a newbie, you will find it hard to cut the loop without adding an extra beat at the loop’s end. Yet, it is necessary to develop a clean loop, though the exact technique may depend on the type of looper pedal you are using.
It is crucial to create a precise start. So, don’t open a loop when you begin playing. Instead, strum a few bars before you start a loop to make an accurate start. With a crisp opening, you can produce a smooth transition for your loop.
Precision can also let you notice any deficiency in your playing. If you find it hard to play the riff that you are desirous of looping cleanly, you need to practice first until you are confident of playing the riff.
When closing the loop, you should ensure that you tap on the pedal during your downbeat motion to prevent creating a short skip after loop turnover. Refrain from waiting too long, for you may add a half-beat that could put your timing off-balance.
Once you’re done with the backing track and have laid down the rhythm parts, you can adorn your chord progression with some spicy embellishments. You can add, for example, some drone notes or even some substantive parts emulating different instruments’ sounds.
Embellishments can make your mix thicker and can strengthen your loop mix. It can also bring your mix closer to that of a full-band sound.
You can add embellishments only to some parts of the loop. These targeted embellishments will surely spice up your sound without necessarily muddying or complicating your mix.
6) Voice and Instrument Through Pedal
Many high-end loopers carry stereo operation support. These loopers keep separate the stereo paths. If you got a good setup, you could also plug the mic onto your looper. Since the high-end loopers carry separate loops for each instrument, you can always try to loop your vocals as well.
You can also try putting a line switcher in front of your signal chain and route your keyboard or guitar through your pedals.
How to overdub On Different Popular Loop Pedals
If you got a looper like Ditto, which comes only with a single footswitch, you could still overdub, but you need to do it differently. You can hit the footswitch once to record the first loop layer. Once you’ve reached the loop’s end, you can hit the footswitch once more, switching your loop to playback mode.
Your loop will automatically play on. You can overdub by simply hitting the footswitch again. Moreover, you can end the overdub by hitting the footswitch once again.
You can redo the process if you want to switch from playback to overdub mode. Besides, you can undo the last overdub by holding on the footswitch over a second when you do playback. Moreover, you can only undo the last overdub. You can also stop the playback by hitting the footswitch twice.
If you have a BOSS RC-30, you can overdub with ease because it is equipped with LEDs that indicate the mode you are in, such as playback or recording mode. To begin your loop, you can tap on the left pedal. To end it, you should hit it again. Once you hit it again, the loop will start playback, and the pedal enters the overdub mode.
If you want to go back to playback mode, you should hit again the left pedal. Once you’re done with your first loop, you will automatically enter the overdub mode. In case you made a mistake, you can hold down the left pedal for a couple of seconds to undo what you have done.
The use of a looper pedal may be intimidating to a newbie guitarist who hasn’t used such a gadget. However, you will get used to its use with constant practice, and soon you will find it exciting. You can create layered arrangements with a looper pedal. Moreover, it can expand your creativity level, allowing you to raise your musicality a notch higher.
Running a loop pedal does not need elaborate skills, for the use of most loop pedals is intuitive. You only need to be agile with your foot because you will operate your loop pedal using a footswitch. You only tap on this footswitch to lay and record and overdub. Of course, there are myriads of loop pedals in the market today, yet, they operate just the same, using footswitches as controls for their operations.