The tools of an artisan are at their best, an extension of his or her very hands. They assist in bringing forth inspirations from the realm of imaginings to the province of the real. A block of wood, a lump of clay, or a heap of scrap metal can be shaped, tamed, and subsequently transformed into something that not only serves a purpose, but also inspires and arouses consequent musings in others, simply through its very existence.
Look to a painting for example: what was once a blank piece of cloth stretched over a simple wood frame is now something that serves as a record of a particular time and place. Or maybe it evokes an emotional response. Perhaps it shows us a vision of a fantastic world that we would never have visualized on our own.
Some solutions for musicians can back this notion even further toward inception, with tools that can actually arouse and encourage imaginative thought and insight. Others clear paths to creativity through organization and the reducing of clutter. Sometimes it’s the little things, like starting with a guitar that’s in tune.
Recently, the folks at Verizon made me an offer I couldn’t refuse and I ended up with my first iPad Air 2, for less than the $499 retail price.
During the time it took to return home and charge up its battery, I thought more about what I would primarily use it for, aside from replacing my clunky binder full of songs with a cleaner and more efficient solution. I mean, it can make calls and send emails, play YouTube videos and provide me with up-to-the-minute news and weather info, but so can my iPhone 5. I decided I would dedicate this device to tasks that were either too intensive or small for the iPhone’s diminutive interface. This brought music and art apps squarely into focus.
The first app I went to download was PolyTune, from T.C. Electronic ($4.99). I have reviewed this one here before and it’s worth repeating that it is hands down, the best tuner I’ve ever used. Its rock solid performance, razor sharp accuracy, and ability to hear and display the intonation of all of your guitar’s strings at the same time (even in noisy environments) made it an ideal first stop on my shopping excursion. Plus, because I had already purchased it for the iPhone and it was free!
Then came the songbook apps, which were the only ones I was willing to pay to acquire at the outset. After quite a bit of sifting through feature lists and user reviews, it was OnSong ($14.99) that seemed to most squarely fit the bill for my personal and professional needs. In addition to the ability to create wonderful looking and easy-to-read chord charts, it can import, convert, and export in a wide array of formats including PDF, as well as the ChordPro standard employed by many websites like Chordie.com. It also provides auto scrolling and page turning (via a separately purchased AirTurn pedal for $69.00). It organizes your catalog, creates set lists with ease and transposes keys with the flick of a finger. Winner!
Composers that read and write music should take “note” of TouchNotation by established musical instrument manufacturer, Kawai. This free app facilitates the creation of professional looking music scores that can be played back to you by any of its 30 included instrument voices, just by using your finger. Take that Tchaikovsky!
Songwriters looking to chase down inspirations both musical and lyrical have a free gift in the form of Paragoni, LLC’s Songwriter’s Pad Multitrack Recording Studio, which includes a songwriting editor with rhyming dictionary, synonyms, and antonyms; a two-track recorder; and the ability to integrate beat tracks. These features can be expanded (more recorder tracks, more beats) by purchasing subscriptions at $3.99 monthly or $39.99 annually.
The iPad comes with Apple’s GarageBand already installed, although I would strongly recommend paying the modest $4.99 price for a bundle of all of its great sounding instruments, including pianos, drums, guitars, strings, and synths. Musical inspirations can be composed, recorded, mixed down, and subsequently messaged or emailed between collaborators, making this one of the most powerful of the tools featured here.
Going into the sights, sounds, and inner workings of the myriad musical instruments on offer would take far more space than available here, but there are several that merit a brief mention, at the very least.
FunkBox Drum Machine by Synthetic Bits is an incredible value at ($4.99), as it provides “the look, feel, sound, and quirks” of 14 classic vintage drum machines, from Roland, Oberheim, Linn, Korg and more!
Auxy Beat Studio is a free app they call “a simple tool for making modern music.” You can create your own synth and drum loops, then tweak, filter, and share.
Propellerhead’s Figure is another (incredibly) free app that features beat making tools that utilize the excellent-sounding synth engine from that company’s Reason. The interface is so quick and intuitive that it has to be seen and heard to be believed. You can do that here: https://www.propellerheads.se/figure.
I love being a musician in the 21st century. Never in history has the ability to make the world more beautifully interesting been so close to our (literal) fingertips. What will you do with yours?
Sven-Erik Seaholm is an award-winning independent record producer, singer, and songwriter. www.kaspro.com.