I received a question in an email today from a Creative Strings Academy member about how to use loop pedals to practice and create more music in his daily life.
“I was wondering if a looper of some kind could help fill in the gaps for me as a bassist. As I understand it, I see you building tunes for the ground up. You lay down a bass track, then some comping and maybe some harmony and then practice jammin’ with the loops. Can you do that with jazz standards as well?”
1) Your first loop should always express regular subdivisions, without leaving any long silences.
Sometimes the first loop is a walking bass line, or any bass line that is busy enough that you can feel the constant subdivisions. You could instead choose an ostinato, moving countermelody, inner voices pattern, or percussive groove, especially if the bass line has very little activity or motion. Here’s an example in a video where my bass line is less active, so I used a strumming pattern as the first loop. If you listen carefully you’ll notice a constant strumming pattern that clearly denotes regular 16th note subdivisions. The bass line, which is much more spacious, was laid down after the strumming pattern:
The reason for starting with regular subdivisions is that our mind processes time in small chunks. We can’t process or measure notes with a long duration (such as whole notes at 60 BPM). At 60 BPM, most people need to hear the quarter notes, or maybe half notes, in order to stay together and groove solidly. This is the same reason that in a string quartet or orchestra everyone needs to listen to whichever instrument is playing the subdivisions at any given time in order to stay together.
The video below contains a loop example over Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy” that starts with a bass line. You’ll notice that the bass line is very “regular”, in terms of accounting for at least every quarter note. What you might also notice is that I kept the amount of loops to a minimum (three), in order to hurry up and get to the melody, so that listeners wouldn’t lose interest during the loop setup:
2) You can use loops to improvise over simple or complex forms
You can start with simple forms, such as one-bar vamps. This is great practice and can be lots of fun. After you get good at it, you may find it more challenging and rewarding to play longer forms. I like to play full song forms. e.g., a 32 bar jazz standard, a 12 bar blues, or a verse and chorus of a pop tune. But I’ll admit that sometimes, as in the case of the cover tune above, I omit the chorus for the sake of avoiding long setups.
It can be tricky to keep it interesting for the listener when using longer forms because of the time it take for the loop setup. There are different ways around this. The Boomerang looper, for example, has different “modes” to enable you to create all kinds of different loops at once. I mostly use basic looping and then try to be creative in finding ways to change up the songs so that it’s not always the same old thing on each song (especially if I’m doing a long solo concert). I’ve found the Boss RC-30 and the Jamman both to be excellent. Visit the Electric Violin Shop for a selection of loop pedals.
3) For additional gear, I recommend you get a multi-effects pedal like the Boss ME-70
(available at Electric Violin Shop) and utilize the Octave feature to expand your range and cover a wide range of registers to illustrate an “orchestral” palette or texture. Similarly, you can use different effects (tastefully) to have different timbres of sound so the loop doesn’t sound like 7 layers of the same sound in the same register. A bassist can use the 8va octave to cover melodic range and a violinist can use the 8vb to cover lower/bass range… You could also accomplish this with SOFTWARE and run through your laptop. Adam Spiers has a blog explaining how to do it for free. In the future I believe more musicians will be running software for loops and signal processing through their computers, iPads, or phones, because it will be less expensive, harder to break, and easier to carry. In this case, you’ll still need a pedal. I’ve heard about a few out there including one called the “softstep”. The world’s most amazing electric cellist, Dana Leong, uses signal processing set through his laptop in conjunction with his Yamaha electric cello.
Looping is great for:
1) Practice – improve rhythm, learn all the parts of a song (bass line, inner voices, countermelody, groove), improvise
2) Teaching – drilling melodic lines with students, call and response, creating rhythmic backdrop to facilitate ensemble playing
3) Performance/creativity/expression – saves cost of additional band members, allows you to dictate the direction of the music. I even like to use the loop pedal when performing duo, such as with my daughter Camille in this version of Dark Eyes
If this was helpful to you, feel free to like, or share my videos or this post. Let me know if I can help with any related questions and feel free to join the Creative String Players group on Facebook here: