A looper is a great musician’s tool, for practice and for making songs. Looper apps are also fantastic fun for anyone who wants to take a crack at creating a tune. Just hit record on a looper app, and make some noise. Then hit the button again, and your recording is played over and over, in a loop.
Then you then build on this, adding more layers. A guitarist can chop out drum beats, then some chords, and play a melody over the loop. A beatboxer can boom, boom, chick and spit into a microphone to build up what the kids call “sick beatz.” And Jimmy Fallon can sing a duet with Billy Joel.
There are many looper apps for iOS. Here are a few of the best.
Loopy HD is perhaps the most famous of looper apps, because it’s the one Jimmy “hair musser” Fallon uses on his TV show. Loopy looks simple, but is super-powerful. Fire it up and you see a screen with nine circles, and not much else. Tap one of these circles to start recording, then tap it again when you’re done. It will keep “spinning,” playing your recorded loop over and over.
Then, you can keep tapping the other circles to add more loops. For instance, you may start off with some kind of beat, then add a rhythmic loop, then a melody. You could sing over the top of that. Tapping loops that are already playing will pause them, and vice-versa. In this way, you can switch parts in and out, building very complex songs from your loops.
Loopy’s interface is hard to get to grips with — especially the settings. You’re required to swipe the orange bar to get to them, and you’ll always swipe in the wrong place. However, if you can overcome the frustration, the app is fantastic. You can import loops and snippets from other instruments, mix and pan tracks, and change volume and other parameters, all by swiping or tapping the circles in the right way.
Loopy is also a good introduction to the concept of different-length loops. The first loop you record in Loopy is the “master.” Let’s say that it lasts four seconds. If you tap another, empty, loop, then it too will record for four seconds. But what if your first loop is a little drum loop, and you want to play a whole verse of guitar over the top of it? Loopy lets you change the length of loops to multiples of the original master loop. So, with our four-second example loop, you could make another loop that runs double, or quadruple the length — eight or 16 seconds. The four-second loop would then run four times for every single revolution of the longer loop.
That’s a fundamental concept of multitrack loopers. Loopy HD handles it very elegantly, with different-length loops spinning at different speeds. Once you get used to how it works, Loopy is extremely powerful. Plus, it’s quick to use, both live and “in the studio.”
Download: Loopy HD from the App Store (iPad and iPhone)
Looping started out in pedals for guitarists. You stomp on a switch to start recording and stomp again to stop. You can then accompany yourself. Looperverse is a looper app that is especially good for guitarists, because it also works with a $200, six-button foot pedal. The Looperverse pedal hooks up to your iPad via Bluetooth, but any MIDI pedal will work. I use the $99 Icon G-Board, which has eight switches, hooks up via USB, and is awesome.
Looperverse puts each loop on a line, not a circle. If you’ve ever used something like GarageBand to record songs, then this timeline-based view will be familiar. Like Loopy, Looperverse can accept audio from other apps, from external instruments, microphones — basically anything. But it has one clever feature that makes looping a whole song extremely fast, if you’re a good enough player.
Loop with or without a pedal
You can use Looperverse without a pedal, but it works best with one. Like Loopy, your first loop is the master that sets the length of the loop. When you tap record again, to stop the loop, Looperverse closes that first loop, but then keeps recording. If you keep playing, Looperverse will keep laying down loops, one after the other. If you’re good, then you can just play a song through, and the parts — verse, chorus, etc. — will be automatically split into separate loops. This powerful feature proves surprisingly useful.
Looperverse also lets you select a single loop and keep recording over it until you get it right, which is more suitable for a guitar hack like me. And there’s another unique feature, too. If you play something awesome, but you weren’t recording, you can rescue it from Looperverse’s always-running, 10-second buffer with a secret key combo.
Looperverse also makes it fairly easy to get your work out of the app for further editing elsewhere, although it relies on the developer’s own AudioCopy app, which is horribly clunky to use. Looperverse’s best export feature is the ability to save all your loops as “stems” (individual music tracks). But — inexplicably — you can only save them into iTunes folders, which means you need a Mac or PC to get to them. In 2017.
Download: Looperverse from the App Store (iPad and iPhone)
If you really are used to having a looper pedal sitting on the floor in front of your guitar amp, then you might like Quantiloop, which looks like an actual physical looper pedal. It offers the same basics as the other apps here, although it only has four tracks. But it is very approachable for a guitar player who isn’t into more abstract apps, and it has one unique feature: Quantiloop can be used as an Inter App Audio (IAA) effect. To see why that’s so cool, let’s recap what IAA is.
IAA is Apple’s way to let music apps talk to each other. IAA-capable apps can send and receive audio. They can be either a source (sending audio) or a host (receiving audio). But there’s a third type of IAA app. This is the IAA effect, which can sit between other apps, processing the signal as it passes through.
IAA effects usually do something to the sound, but Quantiloop sits in there and acts as a looper. That means you can use it inside other apps. For example, the excellent ToneStack is a guitar amplifier and effect simulator that can host IAA effects right alongside its own virtual guitar effects pedals. Thus, you can slot Quantiloop into your “effects chain” and use it inside another app.
Download: Quantiloop from the App Store (iPad only)
Looper apps make looping fun
Looping is not just fun, it’s a great tool for building tracks. It’s also great for practicing your instrument — you can play a few chords and then practice playing scales over the top, for example.
These looper apps are all a lot cheaper than buying a physical looper pedal, so they’re the perfect way to get started. Be aware, though, that you might quickly get addicted. Still, there are a lot worse ways to waste your time than creating awesome music.