iStrobosoft Tuner

iStrobosoft is the tuner that I probably use the most. I find strobe tuners are much easier to read quickly and I like that they are showing you more than just the fundamental pitch. The app has been greatly updated since my first post about it and is now a plus app so that you only have to buy it once for all of your devices.

iStrobosoft in landscape Full Screen on iPad

iStrobosoft in landscape Full Screen on iPad

The first thing to know about a virtual strobe tuner, is that alas, unlike the mechanical strobe tuner, it cannot show you the true harmonic overtone series. Basically, it can only show you the fundamental pitch and whether the octaves in the overtone series are in tune. From Wikipedia:

“However, there are limitations to the virtual system compared to the disc strobes. Virtual strobes display fewer bands to read note information, and do not pick up harmonic partials like a disc strobe. Rather, each band on a virtual strobe represents octaves of the fundamental. A disc strobe provides “one band correspondence”—each band displays a particular frequency of the note being played. On the virtual strobe system, each band combines a few close frequencies for easier reading on the LCD display. This is still extremely accurate for intoning and tuning most instruments—but, as of this writing, no virtual strobe tuner provides detailed information on partials.”

The tradeoff is that iStrobosoft is much less expensive than Peterson’s physical tuners that can show you those overtones and it’s easily portable in the form of your iPhone or iPad. (It’s also available for Android but that version has less features.) You also don’t have to worry about replacing any bulbs or mechanical service on your virtual strobe tuner.

Quick change screen on iPhone

Quick change screen on iPhone

The features of this tuner that I really like and use often are:

  • The ability to do manual tuning. Meaning that you can choose to tune only that one note. This extends even to the correct octave only. It can be very helpful if you are working on a phrase that has broad leaps or if you have to pick out a note in the extremes of your range and only want to focus on that note.
  • Being able to display tuning in cents, by frequency or by MIDI.
  • Full screen mode which is even bigger in landscape.
  • Having a decibel meter…although on the latest version, this is obnoxiously small even in the less cluttered landscape view. If you are really trying to check how loud you can play something, Audio Tool is a better choice now.
  • Recently added are multiple tuning temperaments. To use these, you will have to pick a key but very helpful to practice in Just intonation or on a period instrument.
    • The temperaments available are:
      • Just Major Intonation
      • Just Minor Intonation
      • Pythagorean Temperament
      • Quarter Comma Meantone Temperament
      • One Sixth Comma Meantone Temperament
      • Kirnberger III Temperament
      • Werckmeister III Temperament
      • Young Temperament
      • Kellner Temperament
      • Vallotti Temperament
      • Rameau Temperament
The tuner in Just Intonation - major

The tuner in Just Intonation – C major

By default, the tuner is in Equal temperament. This is the standard when playing with a piano or other fixed pitch instrument.  Usually, when you are playing with other orchestral instruments, you’ll use Just Intonation. (If you’ve ever been asked to lower the third in a chord, that’s Just Intonation.) I do practice my long tones in Just Intonation to be sure that my embouchure and ears are flexible enough to put any given pitch where I want it to be. I often do this by looking at the cents marker and putting the tone where I know it should go but having a tuner that will do this for you is quite handy. What tuning system people use is a whole giant can of worms that I’m so not going to open. There’s actually a book on my to-read list called How Equal Temperament Ruined Harmony (and Why You Should Care) by Ross W. Duffin. But if you want to explore more and hear some samples of different tunings, here are some sites to check out:  Just Intonation Explained and Scales:  Just vs. Equal Temperament

Getting back to iStrobosoft, it also the ability to transpose for your instrument’s key or where your capo is. Lucky for me, my main instrument is in C so I don’t use that. You can also change the colors of the tuner to whatever you wish. It also has an input boost, which I don’t use because this messes with the decibel reader and a noise filter in case you are in a loud room environment. Lastly, you can show the tuner on a tv quite easily with an AppleTV. This would be quite nice if you were in an ensemble environment and wanted someone to check their own tuning.

Choosing a pitch manually

Choosing a pitch manually

Now to the part of the post that I’ve been dreading. The extras. There are so many in-app purchases that you can make here that I had to make a chart for myself. But here’s the thing, unless you are a guitarist who often uses “sweetened” tunings or a professional in audio, you might not need most of these in-app purchases.

They do have all of the extras available in one package for $59.99 if you need all that iStrobosoft offers. Or you can buy just what you need individually.

The extras:

  • Tuning sweetners
    • The sweetened tuning for orchestral instruments are Just Intonation which the app already has and some fourth & fifth tuning for strings.
  • Tuning tools scopes
    • Oscilloscope
    • Spectrum Waveform Analyzer
    • Spectrum Bar Graph
  • Harmonics Tuning
    • Has bands that tune the fundamentals in octaves
  • Extended Frequency Modes

I am definitely interested in some of the extras.  The Harmonics Tuning has a series of octaves (not overtones but fundamentals in octaves.) They suggest that it is good for tuning or checking old strings. When I asked them about it, they said that there are no user settings for this yet but there might be. If they make it so that you can pick your own, I’d be all over that. The extended frequency mode might be great if I have to start practicing contrabassoon again. And the spectrum waveform analyzer might be great if you were recording and wanted to try and figure out where a hum is coming from. (FYI. Tunable has a type of oscilloscope and it’s also a great app.) So far, I haven’t gotten any of the extras but I’m glad to know that they are there.

Even if you only need a tuner, this is a great one that I use very often and I highly recommend it. iStrobosoft is available on the app store for $9.99. It’s a plus app that requires iOS 7.0 or later.

PolyRhythm a metronome for cross rhythms

PolyRhythm is just about the most straight forward app you can get. It is a metronome to help you get comfortable with cross-rhythms. That’s it. One screen. One sound. Multiple polyrhythms. Done!

It is one of those things that you might not necessarily need much but if you do need it this is a good tool. I have had solos before in cross-rhythm against the basic beat. A conductor is not going to change his pattern for just one person if the rest of the orchestra is using a different time signature so you have to know where your notes fit in.

This is the screen for PolyRhythm:


A definition from Wikipedia so that we are on the same page rhythmically speaking,

Cross-rhythm refers to systemic polyrhythm. The New Harvard Dictionary of Music states that cross-rhythm is: “A rhythm in which the regular pattern of accents of the prevailing meter is contradicted by a conflicting pattern and not merely a momentary displacement that leaves the prevailing meter fundamentally unchallenged”

And one from Alex Ross The Rest Is Noise:

polyrhythmpolyrhythmic: Music is said to be polyrhythmic if two or more rhythms or meters are superimposed in a single passage, one pulling against the other(s). Masters of polyrhythm in the twentieth century include Stravinsky, Bartók, Conlon Nancarrow, György Ligeti, and Elliott Carter. In the “Procession of the Sage” from Stravinsky’s Rite, tubas play a sixteen-beat figure three times, horns play an eight-beat phrase six times, a guiro plays eight pulses to the bar, the timpani play twelve pulses to the bar, and so on:

(This is also the name of his book on 20th Century Music which I haven’t gotten to yet but it’s on my reading list.)

Here are some musical examples of cross-rhythm:

The Alex Ross definition refers to this part of the Rite of Spring:


Two against three from the opening of the Philip Glass piece Glassworks:


Although you can use PolyRhythm as a regular metronome, I wouldn’t use it for this purpose. The speeds are only available by 10’s and how slow and fast the metronome can go depends on the polyrhythm that you choose. Makes sense. Because not even the fastest drummer will be able to get up to 400 BPM with a polyrhythm of 11 against 4. (Before you tell me some inhuman percussionist who can do that, your ear couldn’t physically hear that clearly anyway so…doesn’t really matter.)

The polyrhythms go from 1 against 1, a regular metronome to 13 against 4.

13 against 4

I have been using this metronome just to hear the rhythms and then try to play them using my hands on my legs. There are drummers who can play multiple cross-rhythms at once. That just blows my mind. You can see a video of the developer of this app doing just that on his website.

PolyRhythm is available for 99¢ from the iTunes store for iPhone though it will work on iPad.

The developer is Wolfram Winkel at Five Over Three.

I have enjoyed exploring rhythmic possibilities with this app though it will probably not be in my everyday toolkit. It’s definitely worth giving it a listen and trying the rhythms out for yourself. I’m sure that I’ll be trying to use more of them in some compositions just to see what it can add to the piece.

And how about one more video that does a great job of showing you cross-rhythms:




Tunable: A different way to see the pitch

Tunable is a very good tuner. I believe that Affinity Blue is approaching tuning in a unique way and I really like the possibilities.

One of the first cool things that you notice is that there are settings for different levels. If you are a beginner, you have to be within 10 cents of the pitch to register in tune. Intermediate, 6 cents and Advanced, you have to be within 2 cents to register as being in tune. Very helpful for your beginning students especially.

Darker green is the in-tune range for beginners.

Darker green is the in-tune range for beginners.

Intermediate setting for Tunable

Intermediate setting for Tunable

Not much room for error in the advanced setting.

Not much room for error in the advanced setting.

With most tuners, pitch registration goes from one note to another. With tunable, the line is a history of whether you were playing in tune, this is both good and bad. Good because it’s nice to see the overall trend laid out in front of you, bad because in ensemble tuning, certain notes in the scale will sound out of tune to our ears while being perfectly synced with the tuner. Thinking about the major third for example. Our ears really want to hear this as lower to sound in tune. However, Tunable has just intonation as one of it’s available temperaments. I’m so used to having to put pitches lower or higher while playing a scale that it’s difficult to just play to in-tune with the tuner over the whole scale. This is something that I will definitely be experimenting with more. Bearing in mind that when you play with an instrument of fixed pitch, like a piano that you have to go with that tuning. (It will most likely be in equal temperament.) It is great that this tuner will sound a pitch as well as chords. And you can choose what that tone will sound like.

Sustained note with a sine wave tone.

Sustained note with a sine wave tone.

I will admit to switching between different temperaments just to hear what they would sound like. For more technical information on just versus equal temperaments, see this webpage.

The number of temperaments that are available to you is pretty broad. Compare this to the iPegs tuner. That I reviewed here.

Just a few temperaments shown on the iPhone

Just a few temperaments shown on the iPhone.

You can also see the tuner portion in a landscape position. Though the app only shows in a portrait position.

The tuner portion in landscape.

Please forgive my out-of-tune whistling!

In addition to the tuner, there is a functional metronome

Subdivision option on Metronome Tunable on iPad

Subdivision option on Metronome
Tunable on iPad

and you can record yourself and share the recording.

Share your recordings Tunable on iPad

Share your recordings
Tunable on iPad

I was really excited when I first saw the record button. I was really hoping that it could record the tuning information. Alas, it was just for a regular audio recording. How cool would it be to listen to a recording without having to jam another tuner into the speaker to see as well as hear where you might be having trouble. If they also recorded the line so that you could check yourself by site and sound, that would be more helpful to me than another regular recorder. For instance, it would be really interesting to see if you are going sharp on a note because you are prepping your embouchure for the next note. Perhaps this will be a possibility for a future update.

The Tunable app does have a variety of nice touches including a mic sensitivity slider and adjustment for using vibrato while checking your tuning. Plus, the number of temperament choices is pretty amazing. In terms of general use, I still prefer the iStrobosoft tuner because of the ease of looking over to see it while playing and because I practice long tone scales in “tune” and can see how close I am to the number that I’m looking for. But the Tunable Tuner has earned a regular place in my long tone practice and for checking certain phrases. I’m looking forward to seeing where they go with this app and I can definitely recommend that you give it a try.

Tunable is a Plus app for $2.99 in the iTunes store and requires iOS 5.0 or later. It is also available for other devices. For that and more info, go to the Affinity Blue website. Or check them out on Twitter.