While effect pedals can be great for aesthetic purposes, many people don’t realize how invaluable they are as practicing tools, and the one I want to talk about today is the loop pedal. For those who are new to effect pedals, the way the loop pedal works is that when you stomp on the pedal once it starts recording whatever you play, and then when you stomp on it again the recording stops and it immediately plays back whatever it recorded in a continuous loop, from which point on you can play other things over it.
I recently picked up a used Boss Loop Station RC-2 and have been having loads of fun with it, and the nature of the pedal made me open my eyes to just how many things you can do with it and how effective it can be during your practice sessions, and I'd like to share some of my ideas with you all today. So, without any further ado, here are 5 exercises you can do with a loop pedal to help bring dramatic results to your guitar practicing.
1. Use the Drum Machine to Tighten Your Rhythm PlayingMany loop pedals like the Boss pedal I'm using have a built in drum machine that has a variety of different beats, and can be customized to fit different tempos and time signatures. Playing along to this will help you practice playing in time, but if you really want to challenge yourself you can set the tempo and time signature, listen carefully and memorize, then turn the drum machine all the way down and record yourself playing to that tempo and time signature. When you're done and the loop kicks in, turn up the drum machine again and see how well you did playing in time.
This exercise helps you:
- Develop your internal clock so that you can reliably play in time on your own, without the aid of a metronome.
- Become further disciplined about starting and stopping your riffs on time. If you are too early or too late in stopping the recording will either be cut short or there will be a split second of silence after you’re done playing, either case resulting in the measures of your riffs falling out of time.
- On the flip side, if you don't start playing at the exact moment you stomp the pedal you will either start recording partway through a riff (if you come in early) or will have a split second of silence before the riff starts (if you come in late), getting the same results as in the second bullet point.
2. "Simon Says" Rhythm TrainingThe idea here is to take a measure and divide it in half (typically done with 1 bar, or any even number of bars played in 4/4). In the first half of the measure (for example, beats 1 and 2 of a 1-bar repeating loop) you will record a riff that will play back to you, and the second half of the measure (beats 3 and 4) will be complete silence, and as this loops over and over again you will play along only during the silent parts of the measure in a call-and-response fashion.
I gave this the term "Simon Says" because you can repeat whatever the loop plays back to you as a means of testing your timing (and memory, if you do this with longer measures), but you can take this further by playing different chords or inserting lead guitar lines in the moments of silence, which will help push your creativity by exploring an aspect of song writing that is often overlooked in lots of newer rock and metal songs.
This also challenges the tightness of your rhythm playing in three ways:
- When recording the first riff you must stop playing exactly on beat 3 (in this case) and mute your guitar cleanly without any excess string noise (this will obviously be recorded into the loop).
- The moment of silence must last exactly 2 beats (again, in this case) or else the loop will fall out of time.
- This can be combined with the timing challenge in exercise 1 to increase the difficulty.
This exercise is very straight forward: play a lead guitar line into the loop pedal, and then when it repeats you can create a harmony using any interval choices you desire.
3. Create Harmonized Leads to Test Your Music Theory Knowledge
- For example, your harmony could be a consistent perfect 5th above the original line.
- You could also choose to work with 3rds, in which case you will need to know which intervals need to be major 3rds and which need to be minor 3rds, in order to consistently play in key.
4. Create Counter-MelodiesThis exercise is loads of fun to do because it not only challenges your theory knowledge, but also gets your creative juices flowing in a way that the harmonized leads in exercise number 2 don't. For those who don't know, counter-melodies are two lead guitar lines that revolve around the same chord progression and are performed at the same time, but don't sync up together in the way that harmonies do. Often they go off on their own tangents while still complimenting each other, especially if it's 2 guitar players soloing together at the same time - if you want a great example of this, the death metal band Arsis does this all of the time in their songs.
Creating counter-melodies with a loop pedal will not only challenge you to play 2 different leads that relate to the same chord progression, but will also get you to organize these leads in a way where having the two of them played at the same time won't sound jumbled and disorienting - one lead can start as the main focal point with the other lead being the accompaniment, and then partway through the focus can shift so that it's vise-versa, the result being counter-melodies that have a back-and-forth, call and response theme to them which sounds really cool.
As you can probably imagine, you can layer on additional difficulty by incorporating the timing challenge in exercise number 1, which will really test your ability to play tight lead guitar.
5. Create Your Own Guitar "Symphony"This idea here essentially takes the concept of counter-melodies described in exercise 4 and puts it on steroids, as what you do is you start off with a pair of counter melodies and then continue to add layers of different lead and rhythm guitar lines with objective being to add as many layers as you possibly can without it sounding too jumbled. It's incredibly fun, and sounds awesome.
One thing I'd like to stress is that it is much easier to perform this exercise when your amp is on its clean setting - if you try doing this on distortion all of the guitar lines will become increasingly compressed through the speaker and the result will be a big wash of distortion that doesn't really sound like anything. Don't get me wrong - it's not impossible to do this exercise with distortion, but it will take lots of brainstorming, pre-compositional thought and careful organization of your riffs so that each riff still maintains its clarity and doesn't get lost in a sea of fuzz. It's a difficult but doable challenge.
To really get a good crack at this you need to think big, and open your mind to as many different ideas and concepts that can be performed on guitar as possible. For example, you can start off with a pair of counter melodies, then try to add a 3rd and maybe even a 4th lead on top of those to create 4 dueling guitars playing off of each other in a very fun way.
If you feel like after the 4th layer you can't do anything else lead guitar-wise without it sounding jumbled, you can still add another layer with some droning open chords in the background, another layer with some palm-muted power chords accentuating the rhythm, and yet another layer in the form of a slow arpeggio. From there, if you still have some open space, you can pull out your Ebow (if you have one - if not, I'd highly recommend getting one as looping multiple Ebow tracks is mesmerizing) and play a simple atmospheric lead to compliment the whole thing, and then if you still have room for more - why not throw in some simple fingerpicking?
I can imagine many readers thinking that hearing a total of 9 different guitar lines is going to sound jumbled coming through one speaker - and yes, the more layers you add on to one speaker the more compressed the sound will be and the more inaudible the layers will become (I mentioned that this happens with distortion - it will happen on a clean setting too, but less dramatically - and is why you still won't truly recreate the sound of 12 individual guitarists on one stage), but the key is that with lots of brainstorming and careful organization of your riffs and phrases, you can still pile on the layers while still maintaining a reasonable amount of clarity in each guitar line. And, as you have probably caught on to by this point, you can add an extra challenge to this by incorporating the rhythm challenges in exercises 1 and 2 (hint: the "Simon Says" concept is an easy way to add many more layers than you initially thought!).
The main thing I want you guys to walk away with after reading this (aside from the 5 exercises I just described) is that an effect pedal can really do so much more for you aside from providing a cool sound effect. All it takes is some critical thinking and a willingness to be open minded, and you can find ways to make a simple concept an invaluable practicing tool that will entertain you for hours on end. I only shared 5 ideas, but I'm sure that you guys can come up with many more.
About the Author:
Ryan Mueller is a guitarist playing in Toronto-based metal band Sovereign. He also teaches guitar lessons in Etobicoke.