Lesson: Building an Improvised Composition for Solo Bass with a Looping Device

One exciting way of use a looping device with your bass is to enhance a composition. A recorded phrase can become a backbone over which to improvise. For example, a phrase can take the form of a tapped rhythm (e.g. using muted strings), a short rhythmic phrase lasting only one or two bars or a longer phrase dependent on your device’s capabilities.

I’ll illustrate this lesson with a recent improvisation of mine called “The Sea”:

Don’t give it all away

On listening to the piece you may notice that the repeating Em9 phrase doesn’t come in straight away. This is an important point to note, as so often a player working with a looper will build a layered loop first and then begin to play over it; giving it all away up front. This can cause an issue of ‘where to go next’. What I am doing here is to listen to my own playing… in-so-doing a phrase presents itself, which I find attractive and which I can work with. Once a flow is attained then it is a pleasure to build on top with different textures.


I don’t think you can underestimate the importance of listening as you create. Don’t hurry to put a pretty layered phrase together. Consider the notes and phrases you play, this need not stifle creativity. Also try to record what you produce, you will be encouraged by what you capture.

Knowing when to stop

“What?” I hear you say, “Your pieces are all six-minutes long!” Well that’s true, but hopefully, you’ll hear they are not over-cooked! As you play, again, listen to what you are creating and look for an exit. If your technology allows, you may be able to slowly strip away the layers, or use feedback to slowly fade one loop into another. You may also be able to use effects (as I have here) to leave your ending ‘hanging’ in mid air. I also love rather more avant-garde, chaotic endings, using reverse or pitch-shift. Your ending is as much part of the composition as the rest of the piece.

Enjoy creating with your bass. As a solo player, you are one of an emerging family of players who are forging new territories for their instrument. Go create!

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Share your thoughts

  1. Very nice. I was trying to pickup on the meter once you started looping. Seemed (or felt) like it was going to be 6/8 (judging by the rhythm in a couple parts you played), but that doesn’t appear to be the case. Still liked it a lot, though :-)

  2. Nice piece. Very haunting, appropriately titled.

  3. Thanks guys. I hope this inspires you. Russ.