No matter how independently minded and bodied we may feel, there will inevitably come a time when we come to rely on technology to help us realise our musical ambitions. Composers back in days of yore would likely have had a whole orchestra at their disposal, or at the very least a piano and two hands with which to play their ideas simultaneously. The humble and aspiring guitarist, unless they too have a whole ensemble at their disposal, is likely to need something else entirely.
That something tends to come in the form of a guitar looper. The loop as a format, although inevitably ingrained deep into the fabric of music itself, has come to major prominence in the 20th century and beyond. Western classical music, inflected by a burgeoning interest in Eastern and African influences, not to mention the development of technologies that allowed for the digital implementation of such loops, has changed massively over this last century.
The advent of many of your favorite music genres came at this time of burgeoning technological advancement and outside influence, so the use of a guitar looper to implement the same kind of technology into your performance and / or process isn’t far off the mark, and it makes sense why it works so well.
What is a Guitar Looper? And Why is it Useful?
If not already obvious, a looper is in essence a machine or piece of technology that has as its main precedent and modus operandi the act of taking a set block of musical information from an outside source and repeating it ad infinitum.
A guitar looper is a looper of this variety that is specifically designed for use with guitar and / or by guitarists, though this should not by any means deter you from feeding any thing else into it.
I have the delay pedal in the image above, the blue pedal titled the Memory Man with Hazarai, which itself comes attached with a loop setting, and I’ve fed just about any thing you can think of through it: vocals, percussion (drawing pins as maracas), samples of all kinds and varieties, slide guitar, saxophone etc etc. The world is your instrument, so go crazy with it and let your imagination shred wild.
A tool of this variety can undoubtedly be very useful, infinitely so in fact. Certainly, the idea of just looping something over and over again doesn’t sound very inventive, but when you realise that the whole of popular music in the West is fuelled by such loops you begin to see just how useful such a tool can be in crafting some of these loops for yourself.
The guitar looper can be an invaluable tool for composition if you aren’t working with anyone else. It can be a perfect way to test your improvisation skills, wherein you set a loop of chords circling round for you to improvise over, and over and over and over. It can, most importantly, be a tool with which to explore the world of sound and texture. The pedal mentioned above that I own has changed my life and the way I hear and think about music more than almost anyone or anything else.
Which Guitar Looper? And With Which Features?
As with next to everything on the guitar market place, there is a veritable overload of available options to choose from, which can certainly be an encouragement to a prospective guitarist and sound enthusiast, though can just as easily put them off at the first hurdle to development.
The guitar looper is no exception, which is surprising for something whose name would suggest an element of simplicity: this ought to be a tool that simply loops, right? As with many other things in the guitar marketplace, wrong. There are more and more loopers made by the day, more and more centred on guitars in particular, so it can be incredibly difficult to know which is right.
The best way to tell, of course, is to visit your local guitar store and get a taste first hand for what you are after and to discuss these things with a registered professional of the cause. However, I can safely that if this is something you are just getting started with, you won’t want to be investing too much money and you will likely be wanting something that simply does the job.
The TC Electronic Ditto is perfect for the job, equipped simply with a button and a knob that controls the volume of the loop independently of the guitar itself. Despite coming in the form of such a small package, this guitar looper is perfectly suited for the job and can in fact loop for a considerable length of time, five whole minutes to be exact!
How to Use a Guitar Looper
A looper pedal is a great way to develop your sense of timing as well as an excellent tool to help you work on certain compositional and improvisational skills, as well as those tied in with timing and rhythm. Let’s look at how to use a looper pedal as a practicing tool, and the compositional and improvisational elements will come later.
Some pedals offer the ability to quantize your loop which would avoid timing issues, though for this lesson we will assume that the guitar looper you are using cannot quantize. Being able to set up a loop without having to rely on this quantize function is an important skill that every aspiring guitarist should learn. It can be useful to think of quantization as auto tune for a guitarist’s rhythm – it fixes any problems automatically, though shouldn’t be too heavily relied upon. If your guitar looper does indeed have a quantize function, I recommend turning it off for the remainder of this lesson.
To begin with, to keep things as simple as they can be, we simply want to choose any chord and let it ring out for four beats and then loop. It would be preferable if you used a chord that you are utterly comfortable with so that there is less to worry about.
Press down on the loop button as you hit the chord, count to four, then let go or press down again. This will take some getting used to and can feel a little unnatural at first, but will prove massively beneficial to your playing.
Here, you will want to do the same, though instead of simply counting to four beats you will play those four beats with the very same chord as before. This is an ample exercise for helping your playing stay in time repeatedly and consistently.
Press down on the loop button as you hit the chord, strum another three times, then let go or press down again. This, too, might take some getting used to and can feel a little unnatural at first, but will, again, prove massively beneficial to your playing and musical development.
So, there you have it, your first outing into the world of the guitar looper. Don’t be afraid to experiment and further your learning and knowledge of the guitar looper. Instead of basic strumming, why not try a simple four beat / bar melody?
This is the area of music still ripe for possibility and discovery, despite repeating endlessly and repetitiously like the looper itself.
FAQs Guitar Looper
If a looper is simply a piece of technology that is designed to take certain lengths of musical input and repeat them ad infinitum, then a guitar looper is a piece of the same technology that is initially designed to be used with guitar or by guitarists, though this should not by any means deter you from feeding any thing else into it.
The cheapest and most simple variety of guitar looper that is still reputable and reliable, the TC Electronic Ditto, clocks in at under $100 and you are getting more than your money’s worth, repeatedly and infinitely. There are countless iterations of guitar looper on the market, ranging from this modest price to acts of robbery and extortion on people’s bank accounts. Research at your own discretion.
The guitar looper can be an invaluable tool for composition if you aren’t working with anyone else. It can be a perfect way to test your improvisation skills, wherein you set a loop of chords circling round for you to improvise over, and over and over and over. It can, most importantly, be a tool with which to explore the world of sound and texture. The Memory Man with Hazarai that I own (and that has a guitar looper attached) has changed my life and the way I hear and think about music more than almost anyone or anything else.
‘Need’ is a very loaded term as it’s very debatable whether anyone needs anything. However, this tool can prove very useful indeed in acts of composition, improvisation, and just general practise, especially if you have not got anyone to do so with otherwise.