What Is Looping and How to Use It in Your Music Production

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What Is Looping and How to Use It in Your Music Production

Looping is revolutionary music production technique.

Loops, loopers and looping tools are essential to how we make music today.

With such a big subject, getting started can seem intimidating. But it doesn’t have to be scary.

Music looping is an inspiring creative tool that can benefit every producer. And if you’ve used a DAW before you’ve probably already done it!

In this article I’ll go over everything you need to understand looping basics and start using this technique. 

What is looping?

Music looping is recording on the fly into a seamless phrase that plays continuously over and over again. This can be in sections of a song or elements within a song, such as a beat, vocal, bass or synth line.

Sound-on-sound looping means recording additional passes over top of the original phrase. You can create entire songs using sound-on-sound looping.

Looping originated with tape experiments in the 50s. It’s called looping because back then the two ends of a section of analog tape would spliced together to form a literal closed loop.

It’s called looping because back then the two ends of a section of analog tape would spliced together to form a literal closed loop.

Examples of looping in music 

Tape loops were first used by composers of the earliest electronic music, but they began to be used more commonly in pop and rock in the 60s.

The psychedelic background sounds of The Beatles Tomorrow Never Knows were created using a tape loop.

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Since then looping has seeped into all genres of music.

Looping the way we know it now was created by Robert Fripp in his tape experiments with Brian Eno.

His “Frippertronics” technique was the first known case of sound-on-sound looping.

Since then looping has become a staple of music production, performance and composition.

Artists like Reggie Watts and Mark Rebillet have built their entire sound and music careers around their expertise in the technique. 

How does looping work?

At its most basic, looping is simply choosing a beginning and ending point within the music and playing them repeatedly.   

Looping can be done with a dedicated device like a looper pedal, which is typically used in live performances, or sampler or in your DAW using a plugin. 

Whichever you choose, learning to loop music requires both artistic taste and technical skills. On the technical side you’ll likely practice learning to make seamless loops. 

Unless it’s an artistic decision, the listener shouldn’t be able to hear the beginning and ending of the loop. It should sound like one continuous pattern, with no stutters or breaks.

Once you master these technical skills, you’ll spend your time honing your ear to decide what loops work in your music and inspire new ideas. 

Music looping takes practice, but it’s an essential skill that can take your songs to the next level. 

Why loop audio?

Using a looper to compose or perform music has lots of benefits for your workflow.

If you’re producing a track in the studio, creating a basic loop of the beat or a certain guitar part can help you get a feel for the song and figure out where to go next.  

Once you have your foundation, you can layer an entire track using loops. Use them to add new elements, fill in any dead space and give your track more depth.   

Coordinating bandmates for rehearsals and shows is hard. But you can create a compelling live performance all by yourself if you can build entire tracks live using a looper.

Even if you’re just writing a song, music looping can be a powerful composition tool – and can help you find inspiration, too.

Staring at a blank DAW session can make you feel helpless. But improvising with a looper is a great shortcut to inspiration – it’s like jamming with yourself!

Improvising with a looper is a great shortcut to inspiration—it’s like jamming with yourself!

Plugin loopers in your DAW can give you a great starting point. Drag your loops onto the timeline and rearrange them to get started composing from your creations.

Hot tip: Interested in working with loops in your music? Try out Creator on LANDR Samples, it makes it super easy to hear how up to eight loops on LANDR’s extensive sample library sound together. It’s kind of the perfect way to start building a loop-based beat or track.

Looper pedals

Looper pedals are one of the easiest ways to loop audio.

Loopers in stompbox format are designed for guitar, but you can usually plug anything with a ¼” output into them.

Some looper pedals even offer specialized inputs for microphones. This capability allows you to loop audio from sources like vocals or drums using a mic.

Loopers with microphones make it possible for one performer to build an entire track from scratch in front of a live audience. Looping performances can be extremely impressive!

Looper pedals come in a wide range of formats. Everything from simple single switch pedals to powerful multi-track loop stations.

If you’re just dipping your toes in the world of music looping you might want to start with something simple.

But if you’re a dedicated looping artist you might want something with more capabilities.

Looping with samplers

Hardware samplers have looping and sequencing tools built in.

Sampling devices like Akai’s MPC range made the first loops of breakbeats from vinyl records possible.

Sampling devices like Akai’s MPC range made the first loops of breakbeats from vinyl records possible.

Looping the breakbeat over and over again provided a steady groove for hip-hop artists to rap over. Looping samples kicked off the development of hip-hop as we know it!

Today’s hardware samplers can still loop samples and patterns in the same manner. Most samplers allow you to record your source material, set the start and end points and loop the sample seamlessly.

Many producers still swear by the unique workflow of the Akai MPC, but modern samplers like the Korg Electribe or Roland SP-404 are adept devices for looping in music production.

Looper plugins

Looping can take place just as easily in your DAW. DAW looping setups can be even more flexible than high-end pedals.

Many looping artists rely on Ableton Live for looping.

MIDI and audio clips can be looped easily in Ableton’s Session view and the dedicated Looper plugin can be used just like a traditional stompbox looper.

Other DAWs have their own dedicated loopers and there’s plenty of great VST looping plugins from independent developers. If you’re looping in your DAW you’ve got plenty of options!

You can always loop audio from segments you’ve already recorded by carefully editing their start and end points on the timeline and setting the regions to loop. In many DAWs you can do this by dragging the upper right corner of the region:

How music looping works

There are lots of different loopers, but they all work in essentially the same way.

Looping devices typically have a few basic functions:

  • Record loop
  • Set loop end point
  • Overdub recording

Depending on what you’re using to make your loops these functions could be handled by footswitches, pads or MIDI control.

In a typical pedal-style looper you might have just one footswitch to start recording, close the loop and initiate overdubbing.

Larger devices might include effects like reverse and half-speed recording.

Brother, I desire loops

So, what is looping? Only one of the biggest music production innovations of the last few decades.

Whether you prefer to use a looper pedal, a plugin or a sampler, there’s as many ways to use looping in music as there are producers. 

Now that you know looping basics, join LANDR so you can learn from other artists and watch exclusive tutorials about looping and more. Then get out there and start looping. 



Various contributors from the LANDR team of music mentors.


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