I recently stumbled upon this great piece on practicing with a looper over at the Institute of Bass – the post was sponsored By SWR Sound Corporation and written by the ever impress Michael Manring, who I had the pleasure of seeing live with Steve Lawson last month.
Looping devices used to be huge, expensive mechanical things, involving spools of audio tape, motors, magnets and generally were a technical nightmare. However, in the age of micro-electronics and flash memory chips, for the price of a few sets of strings you can get yourself a looping pedal. I have a DigiTech JamMan that I use for practice, I know others using the Line 6 DL 4, the Boss RC-20XL, and at the very high end there is the looperlative box. Somewhat ironically, there are now effects out there that aim to reproduce the sounds of the old taped-based loopers. If you have your bass plugged into your PC, you might want to try out the Mobius Looper (for Windows or Mac), which recreates the interface of the old loopers and is good fun!
Over to Michael Manring for a minute:
As soon as I got my first digital looper, the flagship Lexicon JamMan when it hit the market in 1994, I became interested in the idea of developing some practice exercises with it. As I worked with the JamMan, I kept finding more benefits to loop-based practicing so much so that I’ve come to prefer having a looper plugged in and ready to go permanently in my practice space.
The main benefits of having a looper to hand during practice are:
- Hearing yourself playing, or rather hear a recording of yourself. Essential for improving your tone and timing too!
- Capture ideas you come up with – some loopers will even let you save your loop for reference.
- Play along with yourself – great for developing a better sense of harmony and melody.
Michael’s tips on that last point:
one of the things I do often is to lay down a bass line and then alternate playing melodies and solos over it. This is a great way to work on jazz repertoire, but it works for just about any genre of music. I find I gain a deeper understanding of the music I’m playing when I’ve spent time working alternatively in groove, melody, and solo modes… …No matter what kind of parts you decide to try, make sure to record the results and spend some time just listening to what you’ve done.
There are a few tips in the article for fretless players too…
Another exercise I enjoy is to play scales into the looper with my fretted bass and try to play along in unison and various intervals with the fretless. You’ll want to do this slowly at first, but make sure to work with faster tempos, too.