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Looping through layers of sound with a cool new pedal

Grant gives new musical tool to school orchestras

Orchestra teacher Wendy Tenne, here working with senior Lucas Cossar, says the looping pedal can help students compose and arrange their own works

Senior Lucas Cossar got his violin plugged into an amplifier and took a breath before knocking out a beat on the instrument.

“I’ve never done this before, so I’m probably going to struggle a little,” he said.

As he knocked, Lucas periodically tapped a red pedal with his foot. From the amplifier, the knocking played back as he switched to plucking, then running his bow across the strings of his violin. Each layer was recorded, then added to the loop.

“It’s stressful,” said senior Phoebe Looman after she and other members of the high school chamber orchestra tried out the looper pedal.

Orchestra teacher Wendy Tenney received a $750 grant from the Lowell Education Foundation to purchase the looper pedal, amplifier and related equipment. Hers was among more than $10,000 in mini-grants to nearly 50 teachers awarded by the foundation.

Related: Bonus mini-grant funding means twice the boost for classrooms

“I like to get everyone composing and arranging because that’s what everyone seems to be doing these days,” Tenney said.

Orchestra teacher Wendy Tenney helps senior Carson VanNoy set up to use the looping pedal

A looper pedal is a tool used by musicians that creates layers of sound that are repeated and played back. Multiple instruments as well as vocals can thus be combined, as Tash Sultana vividly displayed by laying down guitar and keyboard tracks on an NPR Tiny Desk concert.

Tenney said the equipment also is planned to be used by the school’s Fusion Rock Orchestra, which performs in area schools.

Tenney said state standards call for students to perform using instruments and electronic media, and for students to improvise harmonizing parts. “These tasks can be difficult for students to do independently, and in a real-world application, but the looping pedal is a tool professional and amateurs use all the time, so it makes sense that students would learn to do this at school,” she said. 

Tenney envisions adding community outreach opportunities for individual students to create harmonized performances using the new equipment. She added, “What a neat opportunity that wasn’t available when I was a student.”

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Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema is a Grand Rapids native and a product of Grand Rapids Public Schools, including Brookside and West Leonard elementaries, City Middle/High School and Ottawa Hills. She found her tribe in journalism in 1997 and has never wanted to do anything but write. For 15 years she was a freelance journalist for The Grand Rapids Press, covering local schools and government, religion, business, home & garden and lifestyles. She and her husband, John, think even those without kiddos should be invested in their local schools and made to feel a part of them. Read Morgan's full bio or email Morgan.

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