Berklee’s Mark Hopkins Talks About How Looping Will Improve Your Playing
Guest Author: Mark Hopkins, Senior Academic Advisor, Berklee Online
I’m a Senior Academic Advisor for Berklee Online, and I’ve been playing guitar for 25 years. My influences include everybody from Joe Pass and Wayne Krantz to Derek Trucks and Paul McCartney. In addition to teaching, I gig constantly—with my band, in a duo with a drummer, and as a solo acoustic act. In all scenarios, my trusty BOSS Loop Stations get a lot of heavy use! In this post, I’d like to discuss my thoughts on looping and how it can be a guitarist’s best friend.
One of the biggest challenges you face when you first start playing guitar is that you have no one to play with. You sit in your room endlessly working on toughening up those fingertips and landing those chord changes. After that, I feel that the next frontier should be learning to improvise using the pentatonic or major scales. So how does a Loop Station fit in? Well, now that you know some chords and can switch them in time, record some in the Loop Station and use them as backing support while you build your improvising chops!
I’ve been using BOSS Loop Station pedals since the early 2000s. If you’re new to looping tech, the one I recommend you start with is the RC-1. There are several different models in the BOSS lineup, but for beginners the RC-1 is the cat’s pajamas, because it’s so straightforward and easy to use.
The RC-1 is a bare-bones beast of a machine that allows you to seamlessly loop any guitar part you desire and play along. At a basic level, it’s a wonderful tool to help you practice soloing. But the hidden treasure that lies beneath is the ability to work on second and third guitar parts (and more) by layering using the overdub mode. This is great while you’re working on your improvisation skills—put that baby into overdub mode and layer some guitar harmony parts over the original chord track! Overdubbing is also really useful for developing and trying out ideas when writing music.
With the RC-1, the controls are simple, and it’s in a box that all diehard BOSS fans will recognize immediately. Sturdy construction, one volume knob, and a dynamic LED display that shows the current loop status make for one fantastic pedal. All you really need to know is that when the red LEDs are cycling, you’re recording. When the LEDs alternate red and green, you’re overdubbing. Finally, when only green LEDs are cycling, you’re in play mode. Each of these actions is controlled with a single press of the pedal. The LED’s circular action is a brilliant way of showing you when the first beat of your loop is coming back around—nicely done BOSS!
To stop your loop, press the pedal twice in succession. When you do this in time with the music, it feels really intuitive. To undo or redo the last overdub, just press and hold the pedal for two seconds while the loop is playing. I really dig that the RC-1 will work with external switches like the BOSS FS-7, FS-6, and FS-5U. They extend the pedal’s functionality in an easy and affordable way, letting you directly control stop and undo/redo with single quick-press footswitches. Beyond the obvious function of fixing mistakes, having quick-press access to undo/redo makes it easier to use as a creative tool for bringing layered parts in and out as you play.
BOSS offers many options when you want to graduate to more looping features. The first step up is the RC-3, which has built-in drum loops. It’s a killer practice tool, with 99 memories where you can store up to three hours of your own loops and backing tracks. The RC-30 takes the RC-3 a step further, adding onboard effects and two independent tracks with their own volume faders. Gear—I love it!
If you want to get really adventurous with your looping, I recommend the RC-300. This larger format Loop Station features tons of effects and memory, as well as three separate tracks for recording. It makes your life wicked easy when you need to trigger a bridge or chorus loop—just drop them all on different tracks. Or maybe build up parts in real time like Bernhoft, one of my heroes; he’s using the previous-generation RC-50 in the following video, but the RC-300 has the same functionality and a lot more.
Let’s face it, the amount of fun you can have with these tools is endless. But let’s not forgot how educational they are at the same time. Working on your craft, musicianship, rhythm, and creativity sounds like a pretty amazing brain workout to me!
Learn more about the entire Loop Station lineup at BossUS.com.
Berklee Online is the award-winning online school of Berklee College of Music, offering online degree programs, certificates, and online courses to students around the world. Learn more about Berklee’s online guitar courses and download their free Guitar Handbook PDF featuring exclusive lessons.