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How to Use a Looper (and more) with Students

Updated: Oct 22, 2019

Cello Looper
We learn a lot from with loops. Here's how we do it

One way I help students unlock their own creative process is by letting them create music with a whole different set of this case, different gear and instruments. Here's one way to combine the teacher's operating experience with a students' enthusiasm, with a video at the end of the process in action.

You can try this with any kind of gear, or even on a different instrument. The key here is being intentional, controlling the gear yourself instead of letting them run wild with it (which has its own perks, but isn't part of this lesson). Check out the video below, and if you like to multitask, you can read along as we go through the steps together.

1) Make a plan to work together. Here, we're going to record Lightly Row and see what we can do with it. With the plan set, I recorded the first layer.

2) What should we add next? Here we tested the waters and let him operate the looper a bit. I'm still the one playing, and giving him two options to pick what he likes best.

3) Add more! Here, he was excited to give it a shot, and there was enough built on the loop that he had a solid groove to play over. I like adding sounds and effects instead of getting deep with harmony in this step so we can focus on the looping aspect rather than songwriting. Did you notice that his chop landed on 1 and 3 instead of the usual 2 and 4? He liked how it sounded in the loop, so we counted it as a success and worked more on chops later.

4) Keep adding until you're ready to listen together and celebrate your accomplishment! You can point out anything you want them to notice in the mix and really get them to tune in.What if you're not using a looper? This translates easily to making a track on Garageband, or using drum machines like a Pocket Operator (I have some videos using those with students too). Acoustically, you can do it by letting them pick and choose a part you play, "do you like this bassline or that bassline?" or "Do you like this rhythm or that rhythm?" and using their ideas to accompany them on a tune they know, or a simple groove for them to improvise over.

5) "Record, publish to an unlisted video on YouTube [or public if you have permission], and share with family via link in text message. Await cheers from family" --Christian Howes*

Once they pick something, you can give them options to add a little extra to what you're playing and making something really unique. They get to be part of the process while you control the technical aspects. Everybody wins! Any thoughts or ideas? I'd love to know what you think!

*FYI, this post originally appeared as an educational unit in the Creative String Players Facebook Group. If you enjoyed reading this, you'll love it there. Chris added Step 5 in the comments and I liked it so much I included it in this post!


Neil Fong Gilfillan is a Suzuki cello teacher in Frisco Texas. He and his wife Rachel Samson on viola/violin run Chili Dog Strings, the only string studio in Frisco named after a dog.

To see more of his teaching techniques and music, check their YouTube channel, Facebook page, and Instagram.

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