If you’re interested in using a looper pedal but not sure where to start, this post will show you some easy ways to use a looper pedal.
Looper pedals are a potent tool for guitarists and other musicians to plan out complex arrangements, practice soloing over a chord progression, or create a one-person-band performance. Looping is a unique workshop method with infinite possibilities for making sounds.
If you are new to the concept of looping, be warned. Looper pedals can be frustrating and tiresome to get the hang of. Pressing the footswitch just a hair offbeat adds or subtracts a tiny fraction of a beat, making your loop sound like junk.
With this guide, I’ll explain some valuable tips I’ve learned using looper pedals. I’ll explain some of the pitfalls people run into when first starting to experiment with them. You’ll also learn some creative ideas to help you come up with your looping experience—whether to aid in the construction of your next hit performance or to brighten your afternoon with a fun activity.
If you’re not sure what a loop pedal is and want to learn more specifics see our article What Is a Loop Pedal and How Does a Looper Work?
Picking the Right Looper Pedal
There are hundreds, if not thousands, of different looper pedals out there. Some of them come with all kinds of advanced options and digital alterations to help you play in time, and others are barebones and loop whatever signal you play through it.
I recommend that guitarists new to looper pedals opt for a simple, economically friendly model to learn how they work. I’ve gotten by with a basic model, and I’ve borrowed state-of-the-art pedals from friends but found the added features to be distracting and confusing.
I should mention that some looper pedals quantize guitar signals. Quantization means that they figure out what time signature you’re playing in and manipulate the notes you play to put them right on the beat. Quantization can make it easier to sound great, but regular looper pedals create a fantastic opportunity to develop your unique sense of time.
How to Setup up a Looper Pedal
Most guitarists put their looper pedal at the end of their signal chain, meaning it is the last pedal that the guitar signal goes through. Placing the looper at the end of the signal chain is convenient if you put different effects on different layers. For example, you can turn on your reverb pedal for the backup loop, then turn it off and turn on a chorus pedal or other modulation effect for a melodic layer.
Some pedals allow you to manipulate the signal by adding effects after you record that layer. The built-in effects are handy if you don’t have many pedals. Advanced pedals can have many effects, including delay, reverb, and distortion.
Most looper pedals require 12V power from a cable or battery and use quarter-inch cables for input/output.
How to Practice With a Looper Pedal
Once you have your looper pedal set up, it’s time to start experimenting! A vital tip to keep in mind, one that helped me out quite a bit, is not to get discouraged at first. It’s challenging to get the timing just right, and as I said, a loop that is just a hair-off will sound horrendous.
When I started using my loop pedal, a basic model without any quantization, the first few hours were quite frustrating. I realized that one single beat is quite an ambiguous unit of time, and I couldn’t tell whether the loop would begin as the switch went all the way down or came back up. You have to hang in there.
As you get a feel for playing in loops, I recommend starting simple. Try recording a 2- or 4-bar progression and once you have it just right, start noodling around with different melodies. You should begin to feel a thrill as you realize you can play rhythm and lead guitar at once.
Most looper pedals allow you to loop quite at least 5 layers. It’s easy to get carried away with so much freedom, but remember that there’s a reason most bands don’t have 5 guitarists onstage. To make a fully arranged sound, you have to divide ranges and rhythms tastefully. If you play the same note or chord with the same voicing simultaneously, the signals will cancel each other out, making a messy noise that slightly resembles the chord.
Songwriting with a Looper Pedal
Looper pedals are a great way to write songs and arrange parts. Some loopers have preset drum tracks you can layer over. You’re also not limited to plugging in a guitar—you can loop keyboard, drum machine, and microphone samples as well.
As I mentioned earlier, it’s essential when arranging to have parts with varied rhythms and note ranges. Especially when you’re first starting, remember that less is more. I can’t stress how vital this tip is.
When I first started using my looper pedal, I was stacking layers upon layers of chords and melodies, only to find that the combination sounded like a demented marching band of guitars. I soon realized that I achieved tunes that sounded halfway decent by breaking up thick chords and delegating between low, mid, and high ranges.
Depending on whether you’re writing for a solo set, band, or another experience, a looper pedal can help give you a vision of what the final product will sound like. When I write jazz songs, I like to loop a chord track and then stack horn patches from my keyboard to understand how different voicings sound. If I use my guitar for the horn parts, I don’t know how the horns will eventually sound.
When I’m traveling and only have a guitar with a looper pedal, I like to use effects to mimic different instruments. For example, I turn down my guitar’s mid and bass knobs and do muted string plucks to imitate drums. For bass, I turn down the mid and treble knobs and add a touch of fuzz.
Connecting a microphone to a looper is another powerful way to write. You can arrange vocal harmonies, beatbox a rhythmic layer, or record any other sound. The opportunities are truly endless. Reggie Watts is an excellent example of the potential of looping. Watch this video as he writes a song live by looping beatboxing and singing.
How to Perform with a Looper Pedal
Once you have a good foundation for looping, you might be ready to perform with your looper pedal. Since looping live has a small margin of error before it sounds awful, you’ll want to make sure you have your set rehearsed and dialed.
One thing to keep in mind is that, depending on the feedback system of the venue, you might have to endure some latency. A slight delay in hearing yourself can throw off your performance entirely. One way to anticipate and prepare for this issue is to practice with a delay pedal set up after your looper pedal.
Some guitarists play prerecorded loops onstage, which takes away some stress, while others build loops from the ground up. It’s impressive to see a live guitarist loop every part, but sometimes that’s not feasible. A good compromise is to loop parts over a drum track.
Guitarists who play in bands have less need for a looper pedal, but some use them anyway to create mesmerizing solos. Bruno Pernadas loops short sections in this video with a live band beginning at around the six-minute mark.
Fun Loop Ideas
A simple Google search will show you countless ingenious ways people use looping pedals. I have a few fun looping tricks that I’ll share.
1. Easy funk
When I’m feeling groovy, I like to take a simple 3 chord pattern into a funk song. I start with a simple 4-bar bassline of B C# F# F#. I like to switch between the high and low octaves of the notes but focus on the low notes.
Next, I turn on a little reverb and loop simple bar chords of Bm7 C#m7 F#m7 F#m7. I leave a lot of space to fit my next layer of higher chords in the empty spaces. I turn up the crunch and mute some hits and add a major 9 to the F#m7.
This arrangement generally sounds full since it has low, mid, and high ranges covered. It’s vital to leave some space for the lead guitar still soloing in F#m. The pentatonic and blues scales sound great!
2. Power blues in E
Another fun way to use a looper pedal is playing blues. E is a great blues key, but keep in mind that with so many open notes, it’s easy to overcrowd the bass and mid ranges. Start with a simple 12-bar blues bassline, then add chord layers.
If there’s any time that less is more, it’s now. Instead of loading every beat with chord notes, try using short bops, and sparse hammer-ons and slide-ups sound fantastic.
A good tip is to delegate low, mid, and high end ranges to different areas of the neck on your guitar. For example, keep the low range between frets 1 and 5, the midrange from 5 to 10, and the high end above that.
3. Dorian melody making
Here is a fun exercise, but since there are only two chords, it can get old. Alternate between Em7 and A7. This chord progression is a Dorian mode jam, and despite its simplicity, the best guitarists can make it entertaining for a long time.
You can use this progression as an exercise for practicing and coming up with riffs and melodies. You can also use many different styles, from funk to smooth jazz to folk, and I like to slow it down a bit and play a jazzy blues shuffle out of these chords.
I find that this jam is excellent for layering melodies together—at first, it was challenging to make a unified tune rather than a jumbled mess of licks. By harmonizing melodies, using call and responses, and coming up with different yet interrelated parts, you can stack up layers to create a beautiful, nearly symphonic sound.
Looper pedals are a crucial tool for guitarists. You can use them to envision complex song arrangements, create jaw-dropping solos, or fill out a one-person band set. Guitarists, keyboardists, singers, and other musicians should consider adding a looper pedal to their effects arsenal.
My main advice as a guitarist with looper pedal experience is to start simple and add on from there. Once you realize the potential of looping, it’s easy to get carried away with it fast. Remember, since you have multiple layers to work with, you can create more parts independent of each other with complementary rhythms and ranges.
Once you get the timing down and practice creating full arrangements, the opportunities are endless. Whether workshopping a song, preparing for a live show, busking, arranging a symphony, or just noodling around, I hope you have fun looping!