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Teach Yourself about Time (Part One): Using live looping

In a lot of interviews I've given about live looping I frequently
mention that I have learned more about the concept of time and
timing from playing with loops than even playing with multiple master
drummers from around the planet (with their very distinctive and idiosyncratic approaches to 'feel' in timing) or to playing with click tracks, drum machines
or synthesizer sequencers.

I'm fond of trying to teach myself and my students to really deeply listen
to what is being played, viz. a vis  timing.

Human beings naturally project onto reality.   We have a tendency to
hear what we really want to hear, intentionally, rather than hearing what
we've actually played.

It is also possible for us to hear someone who is playing 'behind the beat'
or 'ahead of the beat' and to think of it as a musical and valid approach.
To play too far behind the beat causes the music to 'drag' and be perceived
as a mistake. Playing to much ahead of the beat, causes the music to 'rush'
creating yet another kind of mistake.

There is, therefore, certain amount of perceptual leeway that we consider
musical even though it is quantized/metronomic-ally inaccurate

Looping provides us with a truly stellar way to start learning how to listen and to 'hear' what is really being played, even if it is slightly inaccurate, viz. a vis
a quantized metronomic approach.

If you make a loop that is lumpy (say the downbeat of the bar is really awkwardly played too late) it is a really good thing to listen deeply to your mistake and
then to learn how to play to it as if it WASN'T a mistake.

I showed this example at a PASIC clinic on live looping once, where I purposefully
recorded a loop that had awful downbeat timing......enough to make a famous
studio drummer groan causing everyone to laugh. By overdubbing a few times and putting long envelope sounds over the 'mistake', however, suddenly this horrible loop sounded musical again.

In this case, the listeners were able to have a reasonable suspension of disbelief in hearing the 'new' loop that I had created. They bought the piece as musical but only because I had 'learned' the mistake and made a conscious effort to obscure

  Many kinds of regional rhythmic feels from around the world, are merely
slight deviations from what people would call 'quantized' metronomic time and, on some
levels,  also allow us to have a reasonable suspension of disbelief.

What this means is that it is possible by being able to stretch one's playing....allowing us to play to what is actually a 'mistake' in our loop and do it in a way that is musical.

Here's a fun exercise to begin preparing to 'fix' inaccurate loops whilst playing live:

1) create a single bar loop and purposefully slow down slight as you truncate your loop on the downbeat. Keep the loop running and sit down and really listen to it.

Now see if you can play another rhythmic part that purposefully aligns with the 'mistake' you've

2) Do this several times (wonderful if your looper has an undo feature---make an overdub
that 'fit's musically with your lumpy loop and then undo it and try again).

Now see if you can freely solo over this new feel you have created.

3) Do the same exercise and see if you can speed up as you truncate your loop inaccurately.

4)  repeat step 2.

As you play these exercise get more outrageous with how lumpy your loop is. Even if this sounds highly un-musical (even comedic) keep pushing the boundaries of playing behind or ahead of the
downbeat as you make your purposefully inaccurate loop.

If you do this enough times,  then suddenly,  try making a normal loop.
You'll find that your accuracy is much greater for having practiced these exercises.

Be fearless! Really learn how to listen to the inaccuracies in your loops. If you can really discern how they vary from the ideal of a quantized/metronomic time, you will
gain some mad skills at being able to play with anyone or any loop.

Just for fun, listen to the amazing German drummer Marco Minnemann as he plays to random cartoon dialogue that is looped. He is playing to what is happening rhythmically. I doesn't necessarily fit to any grid but you can impose a grid over the examples and come up with something that is musical.


Rick Walker