In The Loop: A Look at The Loop Pedal
By Lexi Vollero
The loop pedal is a powerful thing. It makes a one-man band both possible and sexy. And there is nothing more musically attractive than someone who can command the stage solo.
And no one does it better than my musical crush—aka everyone’s favorite love-song guru—Ed Sheeran. If you’ve ever heard of this method before, it is probably thanks to him, since he has used a loop pedal since the beginning of his career in pop music and has consequently brought this craft to the mainstream public’s attention. I had the pleasure of seeing Sheeran perform earlier this fall at Allstate Arena, and it was truly watching a master at work: he effortlessly recorded layer after layer to produce the backtrack to his greatest hits, like Galway Girl and Bloodstream, and he did so perfectly, as he has done a thousand times before.
To use a basic loop pedal, which is ideally situated on the floor next to the base of your microphone or chair, you tap it once with your foot, which begins the recording. Then, when you are satisfied with the way it sounds, you hit the pedal again, beginning the next recording while starting a repetition (or looping) of the phrase you just recorded. You continue this process until you have all the instrumentation your heart desires.
So now the question is, how do you even begin to craft an entire song? Without a band, filling an entire stage with sound can seem like an impossible task. Step one is to create a solid backbeat to act as a metronome for other complex phrases and harmonious vocals. Some musicians stomp, clap, beatbox, maybe even hit a drum. Sheeran often creates a beat by tapping out rhythms on his guitar.
Now that your backbeat is bumpin’, it’s time to add your riff. This can include any sort of fancy fingerwork on the piano or guitar—a tune that will easily get stuck in someone’s head and refuse to leave. After giving your song a hook, you can add vocal harmonies to create the illusion that you have your own crew of backup singers. Typically, the best way to build these harmonies is from the lowest harmony, or root note, up to the highest. Now that the basic instrumentation is complete, add any other filler chords or strumming patterns you’d like to give your song a thicker texture.
Once you are content with your looping track, you have the freedom to focus on performing the melody of your song, which is typically done through the lead vocals. The effortless functionality of the loop pedal gives multitasking a whole new meaning, and seeing the flexibility it gives solo artists, I believe that it is going to be increasingly adopted across a multitude of musical genres.