Looping has become more prevalent in live performance over the last few years as the technology has become more popular, affordable, and accessible. It’s been used in group settings, and has been very well received by solo performers. Loopers are being used by classical musicians, rock musicians, hip hop musicians, Celtic musicians, jazz musicians, and solo artists from every genre. KT Tunstell uses a looping to create layers of percussion and vocals on her hit Black Horse and the Cherry Tree.
In my case, it has allowed me to perform solo with my bass. It also allows me to rehearse at any hour I desire. So if the muse strikes at 3 AM, I can work a tune out and record quickly…with a set of headphones on, of course! Another benefit; after years of playing in bands with various folks, I can choose to forgo the drama, irresponsible behavior, bad attitudes, and mood quirks that other band mates can potentially bring with them. Practice time is no longer chatter time, drama time, marriage counseling time, “let’s jam with all of our friends because practice is on a Friday night” time, or “screw this and let’s get a beer” time. I can spend practice time focusing deeply on my tunes and my craft. For me, the ability to be selective about potential bandmates, while maintaining my independence to perform gigs made owning a looper well worth the buy in.
I purchased my first looper, a Digitech JamMan, about 4 years ago. After a year practicing with the JamMan, I purchased the Boss RC-50.
Along the way, I’ve gotten a range of reactions to using the looper in live performance. When I first discovered looping, my performing partner at the time wrote off the JamMan after a 3 minute audition, saying he “didn’t trust it for live performance.” Fortunately, I was intrigued enough with the unit to keep working with it on my own. Reactions to the RC-50 included a playful, “It’s a Christmas tree” (spoken by co-worker, upon watching the RC-50 power up). The best reaction I’ve ever gotten to the looper was a couple who slow danced while I was soloing over my chord changes. I really enjoy when people simply forget the unit is there, and they are enjoying the fact I am making music.
The looper is great for live performance, but it has become an indispensible practice and teaching tool as well. Here are some uses for it in the teaching and practice studio: