Crafting great guitar sounds takes tone. But becoming a better player takes time. Yet the tasks of improving chops and tailoring tones are routinely divorced from one another. This week on TPS, Dan & Mick reconcile the world of guitar gear and guitar practice by exploring some accessible and inspiring items that, if integrated into your gear arsenal and playing routine, will help cultivate progressive and enjoyable practice sessions.
These days there are many ways and definitions of practicing. As Dan & Mick demonstrate and discuss, methods range from the tried-and-true, old school metronome plus scales regimen to responsive, rhythmic practicing alongside apps designed for our handheld devices. Since there are countless approaches to practice, Dan rightly underscored that “it’s about finding a concept that connects with you.” With most of us having pedals on the brain these days, this blog will zero in on two pedagogical stompboxes that will reinvigorate your interest in refining and advancing your skills through practice.
The Artificial Intelligence Band: Team up with the Digitech Trio Plus
Remember that time you kicked out that drummer who couldn’t carry a beat and tried to replace him with drum machine? Then, weeks later, you kicked out the bassist citing artist differences? Then it was just you. Well, take heart, it turns out you were actually forward-thinking.
A few years back, Digitech took the idea of creating a digital jam session to the next level with the Digitech Trio and Trio Plus Band Creator + Looper pedals. All that’s required is you as the frontman. These pedals are functionally intuitive and technologically innovative. As Dan summarized for the Trio Plus, “the idea behind this is you don’t have to set up tempos or anything, you just play into it and a band magically appears behind you.” Simply put, you lay down a chord progression and the Trio will pair up with a stylistically appropriate bass line an on-tempo drum track. Instant three piece! As Mick added, “The clever thing about the Trio Plus is that it learns from you.”
Once this structure is in place, the jam tracks can be adjusted for style, genre, tempo, and you can even control the mix of how much of each instrument your hear. The bonus of the Trio Plus is that it comes with an onboard looper, which opens up a whole new set of practice prospects and creative functions beyond honing your skills. As Dan highlighted, this means “you can get your song, build something up, and then you can store it in parts to arrange the song. It’s really clever!”
In short, the value of the Trio’s approach to practice is twofold: you’re still in the driver’s seat determining what progressions and riffs you master and your practice sessions are set in a musical context that mimics a real band.
Building Lead Patterns and Riffs Using a Looper
With looper pedals being in vogue these days for performance purposes and amassing epic soundscapes, their fundamental ability to record and playback defined progressions also makes them an ideal practice tool. Several leading pedal makers—like Electro Harmonix, TC Electronic, and Boss—have expanded their looper profiles to include a range of pedals, from basic record and repeat, to those that have deep, multi-track and multi-effect functionality. Of the many options on the market, Dan & Mick plugged in and had a play with the Boss Loop Station RC-3 to demonstrate its features and prospects for practicing.
One of the most obvious advantages of having a looper as a practice partner is its ability to allow you to run through a riff or solo over a looped progression as many times as it takes to get it right. As Mick highlighted, in this respect a looper is “so useful when you’re trying to get your head around a chord progression or something.” You can make mistakes and improve them in countless takes.
In addition to offering this essential prospect for repetition, a looper like the Boss RC-3 also offers some much needed rhythmic companionship. As Dan noted, “one thing I really like about this looper is, apart from just being a looper, it also has a built in drum machine.” While the backing track is not as full of a complement as that offered by the Trio, it’s targeted to a different approach to practicing. For those who tend toward to metronome-style practice, the Boss RC-3 provides a similar regimented pace yet does so using a set of programmable beats and musical context. As Dan summarized, “it’s not a complex drum machine, but as opposed to a metronome it gives you something that you can play with, which you might find a bit more inspiring than a metronome.”
TPS Wisdom on Gear Aimed at Guitar Skill Improvement
In the course of exploring these and other options for practicing, Dan & Mick also reflected on best practices for deploying gear as items for improving skills. Mick commented on the essential of accessibility and ease of use. He noted, “if mastering the piece of equipment takes all your brain space, you’ve completely wasted all your practice time.” While most of the fun in building tone and sounds in a rig is found in experimenting with different configurations and combinations of gear and settings, the same is not true in setting up a time and space for practice. Find something that inspires you to improve and can have you practicing in a minute or less. What’s great about the options overviewed here is they meet that mark and behave like stompboxes we all know and love. As the episode drew to a close, Mick commented “the two things go hand-in-hand: sound and playing, because one inspires the other and they’re symbiotic. We sit here every week getting awesome guitar sounds, but they’re only of any use when you’ve got something to play.”
Whether you’re looking to build up your tone or make a gear investment to encourage and inspire a new era of practice, head over to Riff City and check out loads of loopers, from simple to complex, and for every price range. And be sure to show Dan & Mick a little love over at www.patreon.com/thatpedalshow and www.thatpedalshowstore.com.
Gear Used in This Episode:
Guitars: Dan: 1963 Closet Classic Fender Telecaster (ca. 2000). Mick: 1962 American Vintage Fender Stratocaster (ca. 2000).
Amps: Fryette Power Station; Palmer Macht 2.Pedals: Digitech Trio Plus Band Creator Plus Looper; Boss Loop Station RC-3; MXR Reverb M300; Providence Chrono Digital Delay; Fulltone OCD; Kingsley Constable.