Getting Started with a Looper: A How to Guide

Q: I recently bought a looper after reading some of your columns. It’s for practicing, not for performing, but I’m stumped as to what I should actually do with it. Any thoughts on good (or bad) ways to use a looper for practicing?

A: Good for you! Looping pedals are a wonderful tools for practice (or performance)!

I’ll share some personal experiences, and welcome readers to share their own experiences and tips in the comments below. There are some really innovative bassists out there pushing the envelope when it comes to looping.

Loopers are excellent for giving yourself something to play against, which is the next best thing to playing with another musician.

Improving your knowledge of theory with a looper

  1. Loop a walking bass line so you can practice playing the chords to the tune
  2. Loop a bass line or the chords so you can practice soloing over changes
  3. Loop a bass line so you can practice playing the head (melody) to the tune and then practice embellishing it with a solo

Improving your time (or pocket presence) with a looper

  1. Experiment with getting different sounds out of your bass and make a drum loop (using your bass). First, loop a low thump for the kick-drum, then a pop for the snare and build from there. This is great for working on time, and pretty fun.
  2. If your looper has a click function (a setting that allows you to add a beat which aligns with your loop length), try adding sub-divisions to the beat. For example, add a note on the upbeats, then the 16th note subdivisions, and experiment from there. Victor Wooten does this in some of his solo bass spots by setting up a long loop and then filling each subdivision one by one. This is a great exercise and can really challenge your abilities with subdividing the beats.

Improving your composition skills with a looper

Take a groove that you came up with and loop it. Now you can experiment with melodic ideas for the melody. You can also experiment with different types of chords over the top of it for harmony.

Improving your soloing with a looper

You may find yourself slotted for a bass solo in a piece where you’re not entirely comfortable with the changes, or a tune that has otherwise stumped you for that solo break. Make a loop of those changes and practice your ideas over those chords. I recommend starting at a slower tempo to work out your ideas, and increase the tempo as you become comfortable with it, working up to the tempo of the actual piece. This is great for working on soloing in general, so you can loop any changes you like, and just shed.

Again, these are tips I use with a looper, and I can’t think of any downside to using them. This can help you explore your instrument in many ways, explore theory, harmony, soloing and rhythm. I encourage you to explore more than anything else, and come up with new ways to improve your playing with this versatile tool.

Readers, how do you use a looper in your practice routine?

Have a question for Damian Erskine? Send it to [email protected]. Check out Damian’s instructional books, Right Hand Drive and The Improviser’s Path.

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Share your thoughts

  1. Craig Commanda

    Great ideas here! what looper would you recommend for those people who are a bit strapped for cash?

    • Uwe Forschner

      RC 2 / RC 20 are seen often on EBay on absolutely reasonable prices. Lots of People sell theyr used one because a new model has commed out. Watch “the Bay” and strike!

  2. As a fairly low-cost (respective to other loopers) I always recommend the Boss RC-2. fantastic, small, simple-it’s a great pedal.

  3. I have the Boss RC-2 also, Noah. Great, great practice tool! You can also use it to slow songs down without changing the pitch, so long as you have the right cable to attach to your iPod. Great to learn to play along with songs that would otherwise be too fast at first. :)

  4. I picked up the RC-50 a few years ago for about $450 CDN and fell in love with it immediately. I use it to practice with, live and its invaluable tool when writing. You can create very quickly with its built-in drum machine to get raw ideas recorded fast before the inspiration fades. I usually write with it first then re-record a more polished version with a DAW. If you have the budget it’s worth the money many times over.

  5. great advice as ever :) I’ve got a Boss RC20XL which I love. personally my favourite use for a looper is building up huge grooves to improvise over, or to help me with song writing (although I get massively distracted from the part I’m trying to write, and just improv for an hour or two :) ).

  6. Not for practice, but for performing, a long delay with spillover is better, unless you can afford and Echoplex or a Boomerang. Example:, all bass, only bass.

  7. I just got an RC-300 for christmas/birthday and have spent more time with it than my girlfriend. It’s that awesome. I’m coming up with solo arrangements for a lot of songs using it, and it’s a great recording rig, too.

  8. I have a boss rc-20xl, but I am no longer using it for performance because I could not move to an unused channel without bending down to adjust the knobs. I just got a boomernag iii and its amazing. I feel like the other loopers on the market have a bunch of effects that I don’t need like chorus. now my looping sounds exactly like I played it. no change to my tone and I can use it to do complex arrangements that have a verse, chorus and bridge. it doesn’t allow you to save loops or preload loops so if that is your goal, go for the boss or the jam man.