HomeBlogscaptaindownbeat's blogLive Looping Blog Series: Song Selection

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In parts one and two, I did an overview of live looping. In this installment, I'll cover the first essential step: song selection.

There’s more to using a loopstation that the usual 4-bar jam. This installment of my “live looping” series touches on the importance of song selection, and how to make certain types of songs fit the parameters of live looping.

It may go without saying, but not all songs will work well with a loopstation. By definition, a loop is something that repeats over and over, so a through-composed piece (ie one that changes continuously from start to finish), or a piece with many different sections, bridges, interludes and so on, will be difficult to do with a loopstation. But I’d be willing to bet that there’s a lot more pieces that can work that you might imagine at first. In my experience so far, I can put my looping pieces into a few general categories.

1. simple x-bar-long loop. This is sort of the default for looping, but can actually work well for anything from James Brown/R+B/hiphop, to electronica. The first two styles are usually groove/riff-based. Electronica is about taking a simple 4-8 bar pattern, and creating variety though layering, textures, and other sonic manipulation. Both are a natural fit with loopstations.

2. Ostinato. Sort of the same, sort of not. An ostinato is a repeating figure, like a guitar riff. The most obvious example might be something like Bobby McFerrin’s “Circle Songs”, in which his Voicestra would create an ostinato (basically, a live loopstation!) over which Bobby would improvise. Another natural fit for the loopstation.

But, an ostinato doesn’t have to imply a rigid 4- or 8- bar phrase, or a specific chord structure. If the ostinato is harmonically open, it can provide a texture around which you can weave a bassline and melody that can follow whatever form it wants. For an example, check out my version of Peter Gabriel’s “Mercy Street” in which the guitar ostinato and drums are looped, but the bass an melody are sung live.

3. Strophic. This works for a simple piece, such as a folk song or a hymn, where you sing it once, than layer in successive variations to create a thicker texture each time around.

Check out this version of Nancy Wilson’s “Sankofa”. It combines the strophic approach with the usual fixed-bar loop.

4. A/B song. If the song has basically two sections (ie a verse and chorus), it can be done with two loops. This is easiest if the verse and chorus are the same length, or an even multiple (ie 8-bar verse, 4-bar chorus). Any more that 2 sections, and you’ll be stuck making loops for each section, which either drags out the start of the song, or leaves you having to interrupt your song by building up a new loop in the middle somewhere.

This is not an exhaustive list, but works well when thinking of songs to choose. Basically, if you think of a song, imagine writing an arrangement for it. Ask yourself: “does the song fit any of these categories?”

If the answer is “yes”, great. Move on to arranging it for loopstation: I’ll offer some tips in the next installment.

If not, ask yourself  “…well, could it?”. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box here. If the verse is 8 bars, but the chorus is only 6, could you “round out” the chorus to 8 bars, without ruining the essence of the song? If the song has a 3rd section, like a bridge, is the harmonic structure similar enough to another section (say, the verse) that you could use that loop instead? If there’s a new section, could it be dropped, and the song simplified? There are any number of things you can do in the name of “looper’s license” that you may not use when doing a typical live arrangement. Sometimes limitation can inspire its own creativity.

With all this in mind, choose a song. Start imagining how you might “arrange” it for loopstation, and in the next installment, we’ll really dig into it.

Happy looping!

part 1 - http://www.casa.org/content/live-looping-blog-series-overview
part 2 - http://www.casa.org/content/live-looping-blog-series-choosing-your-loops...
part 3 - http://www.casa.org/content/live-looping-blog-series-song-selection
part 4 - http://www.casa.org/content/live-looping-blog-series-arranging-loopstation
part 5 - http://www.casa.org/liveloopingfinal

About the writer:
In a word…multifaceted. Juno-nominated, multiple-CARA-winning Dylan Bell is a performer, composer/arranger, music director and producer/engineer. As an a cappella singer, arranger and producer, Dylan has worked with many of the world's renowned vocal groups including Cadence, the Swingle Singers and the Nylons, as well as his own groups Retrocity and the FreePlay Duo. He’s played stages across the world from his native Toronto, Canada to Stockholm, Sweden, to Calcutta, India, and his compositions and vocal arrangements are performed everywhere from Arnprior to Zurich. Dylan also has a secret life as a freelance multi-instrumentalist, touring internationally as a pianist, bassist, and guitarist. Visit Dylan at www.dylanbell.ca.