Guitar & Bass Live Looping Technique Explained
Looping is a Beautiful thing
Looping is a recorded sample, or clip, of music that is repeated over and over again. This is used largely in electronic music with sequencing software like Abelton and Reason. We are huge fans of Abelton and are skilled with using it, but we are going to look at a different aspect of looping. We are going to look at it from the lessons of a guitar or bass player, more of a traditional organic instrumentalist’s view. It is possible, and even very cool, to use the sequencing software in a live setting with real instruments. But, we are going to talk about live looping in a sense of how your average guitar or bass player can use it, who is not skilled in any of the great software available today.
What to use to Loop?
Usually it is best to use a piece of hardware, such as the Boss RC-30, that is designed with looping guitar or bass in mind. These kind of effects usually come in pedal form and look just like any other guitar effect. Also, some delay pedals come equipped with a looping option. You will just add it to the end of your signal chain, after all you other pedals, right before your amp. It is important that you run a looper into a very clean amp or PA system, otherwise it will become messy and this sound is not usually desired.
Next, you will need to read the manual for whatever looper you are using to get the feel of how that specific one operates. Generally, you will step on a pedal to start the recording process, then as you finish you will stomp on the pedal and then instantly it begins to play back the phrase you just played. It will continuously repeat that phrase, so it is extremely crucial to get your timing as precise as possible. It will require some practice stomping at just the right times. This concept becomes a technique in itself and some loopers are a little more forgiving than others.
Then, after you have recorded your first phrase you can then layer another part onto the top of that. Just like the first one, you start and stop the recording by stomping on the pedal. Some loopers will only let you record a phrase over the exact measure of the original phrase, but you still need to stomp on the pedal to stop it from recording another layer instantly again. You can continue this and begin to create some pretty layered and complex sounds and songs.
In the video below, I am using the Boss GT-10 as my looper and you will see exactly how this can play out. Here, I am just spontaneously playing this one night when my wife was out with the girls. For guitar or bass playing, looping can be an excellent way to release the musical tension brewing within without having to depend on other musicians and the drama that can come with that. Although we love theory, technique and teaching, there are is a musical aspect of looping which can not be taught, but can only be expressed and felt. It also helps to watch other artists express themselves and release their sound through looping. I had no real structure in mind after the original progression, which I created seconds before I turned the camera on. It is important to note that your first couple of loops should be a more rhythmic sound or progression to lay down a clean canvas upon which to paint your song.
Making rhythmic sounds with the Guitar
You will notice in the beginning of this video that I use a galloping delay sound to lay down the rhythmic foundation of the song. I loop it for a set number of measure and then play the first progression over it. It sounds like a drum beat, and have even had friends ask me what I used for the drums! This whole video is done with my guitar, the GT-10, and the technique described above. From here, if your timing is good, you are set to roll! Some more advanced loopers and software have the option to sync to a midi clock, which is basically a metronome that not only keeps your timing steady and sure, but also controls your measures and time signature. This is a wonderful function of Abelton Live, which also has a great looper function. Hope you enjoy the video below!