Most of us learned the basics of guitar by playing alone in the privacy of our rooms. This allowed us to progress at our own pace without the added pressure of having to keep up with others. While there’s nothing wrong with learning the basics alone, such as fingering chords, learning scales, strengthening our fingers, etc., it makes mastering the next natural step a bit challenging; performing along with other instruments. By incorporating a looper pedal into your solo practice sessions, you can tackle this at your own pace as well.
A looper is essentially a pedal or device that allows you to record your instrument and then play it back in a loop. For starters, it’s a great way to practice soloing; simply record a chord progression, loop it, then solo on top of it to your heart’s content. But aside that, a looper’s overdub mode – the ability to layer multiple parts on top of another – is also a powerful tool. Not only with experimenting with overdubbing help with your improvisational skills, learning where and when to add licks or different harmonies in real time, but it will also allow you to better develop ideas when writing music.
Start Off Simple
One of the most common criticisms of looper pedals is that they can be cumbersome to work with, combining too many settings and too many controls in a not so user friendly form factor. Fortunately, there have been a good number of looper pedals released made specifically for those who want a powerful yet easy to use looper. The TC Electronics Ditto Looper is exactly that, trimming away all the non-essentials and sticking to what makes loopers great. The Ditto features loops up to five minutes long, unlimited overdubs, instant undo/redo function and 24 bit uncompressed high quality audio – all controlled by nothing more than a single footswitch.
While the thought of controlling all those features with one button might sound a bit counter-intuitive, it’s actually pretty easy after a few minutes of practice and becomes second nature once you get the hang of it. You tap the switch once to record, tap it again to play back the loop and double tap to completely stop it. To overdub, press the footswitch again while the original loop is playing back. The LED will turn red, indicating you’re in Record mode again. When you’re done, press the footswitch once more to quit Record mode. You can delete or restore a deleted loop by pressing and holding the switch. And finally, double tap and hold on the second tap to completely delete all loops.
Another great no-filler looper is the Boss RC-1, as straight-forward and easy to use as the Ditto but offers a little more in terms of presentation. The RC-1 consists of one volume/level knob and a dynamic LED display that shows the current loop status. All you really need to know is that when the red LEDs are cycling, you’re recording. When the LEDs alternate red and green, you’re overdubbing. Finally, when only green LEDs are cycling, you’re in play mode. Each of these actions is controlled with a single press of the pedal. The LED’s circular action is a smart way of showing you when the first beat of your loop is coming back around without getting overly complicated. To stop your loop, just double tap the pedal. To undo or redo the last overdub, just press and hold the pedal for two seconds while the loop is playing.
Moving On To More Features
When you're ready to move up to a looper with more features, the Boss RC-3 is the next step up from the RC-1, adding built-in drum loops and 99 memory slots where you can store up to three hours of your own loops and backing tracks. And in case that's not enough, the Boss RC-30 takes things even further, adding onboard effects and two independent tracks with their own volume faders. Both the RC-3 and RC-30 are excellent upgrades that add useful extras that will make practicing like you would with the simpler loopers mentioned above that much more immersive and rewarding, but it doesn't end there.
If you want a looper pedal that's all about the bells and whistles, the Line 6 JM4 crams an impressive amount of features and settings into one compact box including 100 drum grooves in over 10 styles (performed by top LA and Nashville session players, meaning actual recordings laid down by A-list drummers, bass players, and guitarists), access to 200+ artist-created presets, 150+ song-based presets, 12 Line 6 amp models and an impressive arsenal of effects for guitar and vocals. There's even room for 36 presets of your own creation. And last but not least, up to 24 minutes of recording time.
In the end, the best way to get better is by sticking with it and challenging yourself -- but there's nothing wrong with using a few tools to help you out along the way. And its not just limited to loopers either as anything that makes mastering your instrument just a bit easier or even more entertaining will go a long way on your journey to the big stage!
Your Turn to Sound Off!
What are some other ways a looper can help improve a player's skills?
Sound off in the comment section below!