Originally published in the January 2016 issue of Drum magazine.
BY JAKE WOOD
Six years ago the app market was a young tech toddler, clumsily stumbling around the block with chintzy music programs that were borderline useless. A few years later the market grew into its gawky phase, offering valuable musical apps while still feeling a bit handicapped and babied, much like teenage interns. Now, in 2016, music apps have matured, become reliably useful, and in some cases, are more advantageous than their expensive PC counterparts. From page-turning chart programs for cellists to mixing-board controllers for engineers, the mobile music app industry is all grown up now and ready for full-time employment.
Unfortunately, there are so many apps out there it can be maddening trying to hack through the digital jungle that is the Apple App Store. Here at DRUM! we got lost, ran out of water, fought off venomous snakes and angry tigers, and circumvented the cannibalistic natives — all for the sake of culling the best, most useful, and most interesting apps into an eclectic and necessary compendium every drummer can benefit from.
Starting with a drummer’s most valuable accessory, the metronome (sorry, glam rockers, hair gel didn’t place first), EUMLab’s Pro Metronome is a sturdy and drummer-friendly app that rises far above the typical dregs of the mostly flimsy metronome apps that otherwise muddy the market. Previously featured, it still wins Best Of Show for a variety of reasons, most notably that it produces tones that are harsh and piercing enough to cut through the cacophony of drumming, including those same obnoxious tones from the soon-to-be-vintage Tama Rhythm Watch. This app, however, goes above and beyond the usual bleep-and-bloop of a metronome, and also performs as a coach and stage tool. Its Rhythm Trainer function can randomly mute the metronome to designated lengths, and there’s a Practice Mode that allows for automated tempo changes, much like a workout routine, so drummers can run exercises at various buildups of tempos without having to stop between sets to adjust the metronome. What takes this app out of the garage and onto the stage, however, is its ability to program and save different tempos and label them with song names. Additionally, you can create set lists and arrange the orders of each of the saved tempos. Time-keeping has never been easier.
Are you a freelance drummer with a calendar full of dates, folders full of charts, and different bands every night? Having trouble remembering all the tunes, finding those charts from the singer that calls you once a year, and reading them in the darkened club? If the answer is yes, take a look at piaScore, a most excellent method for cataloging and reading charts. Simply upload charts by either taking a photo or using a scanner (also check out Genius Scan for optimum mobile scanning), label the chart, and from there, you can draw right on the file, highlight passages, add text, link an mp3 for reference, and most importantly, create set lists with your charts in any order you need. piaScore is also compatible with AirTurn products, so you can turn to the next chart using a foot pedal or a trigger pad.
Erskine Essentials App Collection
by Peter Erskine
Erskine Essentials is a collection of five apps designed specifically to aid the drummer in the experience of playing along to music. The strength of these apps is that they offer play-along tracks of top-notch performances, superior audio fidelity, mixing abilities to mute various instruments, and accompanying charts for drums, percussion, piano, lead sheets, and so on. The collection covers a variety of genres, including two jazz play-alongs, an Afro-Cuban play-along featuring Aaron Serfaty, a Code Of Funk app (basically David Garibaldi’s book Code Of Funk in app form), and Joy Luck, a play-along version of Erskine’s album of the same name. All apps are intended for intermediate to advanced drummers, with plenty of challenging material densely packed into each one. The Erskine Essentials just conquered the market of “music minus drums.” Someone get this man an award for making superior play-along apps that don’t sound like 1985 Casio keyboard demo modes.
You kids have it easy these days. Want to learn a Brazilian style of music? No problem, just go online and watch videos. Won’t even cost you a penny. Back in my day, we had to walk three hours, uphill, in the snow, just to get our samba on. And now, the learning just got even easier with PercussionTutor, a great resource for learning all the basic Afro-Cuban and Brazilian rhythms. The app comes with an index of patterns, the various parts charted out, and each rhythm is performed by world-renowned musicians. Furthermore, users can mute any instrument they choose and there are accompanying videos of the artists actually performing the parts! This is a most excellent addition to any percussion curriculum.
Steve Reich’s ClappingMusic
Quite possibly the most challenging, fun, engaging, and unique app out there, ClappingMusic by Steve Reich is an app designed to teach users how to play along to his seminal avant garde piece “Clapping Music.” The nature of the composition is that two performers play the same pattern, while one player shifts the pattern one beat at a time, putting the two players out of phase, until eventually syncing back up with the fixed player. The app has a “space invaders of rhythm” layout and accurately detects when you tap the correct rhythms. Composed over 40 years ago, this piece is still relevant for all percussionists, and the app provides a very supportive and unique method of challenging and teaching the user how to play this hypnotic piece. Clapping shouldn’t be this hard, or this fun.
Rhythm Sight Reading Trainer
by Rolfs Apps
Here’s an excellent tool for any music teachers looking to give their students a little extra practice reading rhythms. The app comes with a long list of short rhythmic patterns, all charted out as single-voice notation (no actual drum grooves here), and then it tests the user’s ability to tap out the patterns in sync with a metronome. The only downside to this app is that there is no extensive exam mode that prompts the student with exercise after exercise. Instead, each pattern must be selected manually through a slightly clunky process. Overall, it’s still a valuable rhythmic reading tool for any instrument.
Chromatik is a marvelous collection of charts of many varieties of music. Simply pick a song, open up the chart, and play along to the actual recording of the tune embedded in each chart. Note that there aren’t any drum charts in this app, but if you’re interested in working on your lead sheet reading for musicals, or your Real Book chops, this is a great app to use for woodshedding.
Anytune Pro is another app designed perfectly for both the teacher and student. Its main function is adjusting the speed and/or pitch of songs for the sake of learning difficult passages. Due to a sturdy algorithmic design, the app can adjust the speed of any tune without introducing much distortion or artifacts. It also comes with looping capabilities and marker settings, both of which are as intuitive as they are useful. In fact, those features alone are so crucial for learning parts of a song that they almost eclipse the speed adjustment. How did folks chart out tunes before this app? I don’t even want to know.
by Iron Horse
Drum Guru is an app that features short video lessons from some of the biggest names in drumming, including Mike Mangini, Steve Smith, Aaron Spears, and the ever entertaining and charismatic Chad Smith. Each lesson also comes with a transcription of the rhythms and a MIDI playback. The makers also tout a slo-mo video option, however the audio quality of the slo-mo isn’t very usable. Most of the lessons are fairly advanced, and while there’s no continuity between the lessons, it’s still a great source of inspiration for any drummers stuck in a rut.
by Sun Rising Application
Groove Freedom is a digital syllabus to the fundamentals of drumming. Created by world-famous online educator Mike Johnston, this app (utilizing the content from his book Groove Freedom) may be, ironically, the beginning of the end for drum books. Worn out warhorses like A Funky Primer simply can’t compete with the abundant audio examples and malleable nature of the app. Although it can be a bit overwhelming with so much information, the app comes equipped with a gentle step-by-step tutorial to ease in any new user, and there’s clearly been a lot of thought put into this, most notably manifested in a left/right handed option that adjusts the charts to reflect the user’s dominant hand.
Auxy Music Creation
For a simple, no-frills looping experience, consider Auxy Music Creation. It’s a beautifully designed, intuitive app that makes looping fun straight from the downbeat. This is the go-to app for those seeking instant gratification who would otherwise lose motivation with more challenging material. Additionally, it features a variety of inspiring instruments and tones to choose from. If you’re interested in making loops for the sake of songwriting or for using as a musical metronome, this app is the turn-it-on before-you-forget-your-idea solution. Be forewarned, however, as with great simplicity comes great limitations: though it’s a compositional tool ripe with inspiration, it lacks the ability to loop in anything other than 4/4.
by Olympia Noise Co.
Looking for a drum-looping app that satisfies your inner rhythmic explorer? Tired of those house beats with predictable 4/4 cycles? Want to hear what a hi-hat in 7/16 against a snare in 5/4 sounds like? Then check out Patterning, a refreshing new interface for beat building that will take you Kurtz-deep into the time-keeping jungle. Avoiding the typical grids of sample pads and the linear flow of step sequencers, Patterning takes a visually circular approach that irreverently pulls the drummer’s mind out of the usual boots-n-cats grid. While it’s great for writing typical drum beats in 4/4, its super power is its unpredictable nature of rotating patterns that go in and out of phase with each other. Phil Rudd will hate it and Gavin Harrison will love it.
by Ten Kettles
For all you drummers-turned-engineers, this app’s for you. We’ve all had mixing dilemmas while attempting to use an equalizer to sculpt the punch of a kick or the thwack of a snare, as we struggle to find the correct bandwidth. Enter hearEQ, a training app that tests your ability to identify different bandwidths of EQ. It’s a simple enough process; pick a song from your iTunes library and the app begins boosting or cutting small sections of bandwidth that the user must identify. Even if you aren’t an engineer, it’s still an interesting process, and it wouldn’t hurt to familiarize yourself with the sonic nomenclature so you can tell an engineer you’d like a boost of 200Hz in your kick.
by Igor Vasiliev
Finding quality reverb effects at reasonable prices is, for the most part, a pipe dream. AltiSpace, however, is one of those rare reverb processors that is both awesome and affordable. There’s nothing cheesy about this pristine convolution ’verb, as all the decays sound incredibly natural and smooth. Additionally, it comes with a decent amount of presets, an EQ filter, and my personal favorite: a reverse function that can be soloed, meaning that only the reversed reverb is emitted (super eerie!).
by Positive Grid
Final Touch is a mastering suite. Yes, that’s correct, mobile mastering on the iOS is a thing now. A job that was once performed only in the most expensive studios is now something you can do on your couch while eating Fruity Pebbles. Granted, the results might not be quite as spectacular as going to an actual mastering facility (an acoustically treated room with tuned speakers is half the equation of mastering), Final Touch is, in fact, a rather powerful app that combines a multiband compressor, pre and post EQs, reverbs, stereo imaging, and a maximize, all into a one-stop shop for your mastering needs. There’s a bonus feature of an AAC function that auditions the files as they would sound in iTunes, which, sadly, is what some mastering end goals are coming to these days.
Impaktor is quite possibly the single most fun app a drummer could ever wish for. The geniuses over at BeepStreet figured out that a mobile device’s mike can be utilized like a trigger, thereby turning any solid surface into an electronic drum. Just open the app, plug in some headphones, lay the device on a table, and start drumming on the surface of said table. Huzzah! Your desk is now a MIDI pad, and you should be hearing super cool sounding samples in the phones. The only drawback is that this app will probably get you fired from your desk job. It’s kind of like DrumPants, except you don’t need to wear pants. Winning!
Much like Impaktor, Mogees is an app that turns any hard surface into an electronic instrument. This app, however, sets out to accomplish so much more. By using a sensor that connects to the headphone jack, Mogees is capable of distinguishing between different vibrations, thereby emitting different notes. It is the user’s job to then train the app which vibrations, or gestures, should be assigned to which note or instrument. For instance, stick the sensor on a desk, train the app to distinguish between a heavy palm and a pen tapping, and assign a kick and snare to each hit, respectively. You now have kick and snare functionality from desk drumming. Similarly, Mogees also functions with pitch-based synths, and can produce melodies on marimba-like instruments. The recognition software can also be rewired into Ableton and other DAWs as a MIDI controller. While the process of manipulating the app to correctly recognize different strokes can be a bit squirrelly (it has trouble differentiating between various vibrations and can emit only one tone at a time), bear in mind that the makers are fearlessly charting a course into unknown waters that can only benefit the drumming community.
by Igor Vasiliev
Ever wanted to make folks hallucinate through the power of sound? Well then you simply must try SoundScaper, a complex app that champions soundscape design. Although daunting on its maiden voyage (it feels like a radar command center more than an instrument), SoundScaper is a juggernaut of ambient noise. Not to be confused with a typical synth, this volatile app is as likely to be found in a movie-making sound studio as it is in Dr. Emmett Brown’s lab. Recommended for those who understand (or want to learn) the basics of sound manipulation through LFOs.
Rarely do we kit drummers take the time to appreciate classical music. Sure, there are no fresh grooves or epic drum solos, but still, there’s plenty to learn and absorb from the greats. Meet Beethoven 9 by Touchpress, an app geared to effectively make anybody appreciate the symphony. Yes, even drummers. The app takes a thoroughly holistic approach by combining a multitude of media to accompany the pieces. These include an auto-scrolling score, the ability to seamlessly switch among four different conductors’ recordings (surprisingly fascinating!), insights from various musicians and experts, and a color-coded floor plan of the orchestra that rhythmically illuminates which instrument is playing when (think Simon Says for classical). The experience is fascinating and will awaken any drummer’s curiosity for classical.