Finding the Changes with Fiddlewax Blue

Adam Kumpf is making some very interesting music apps under the company name of Fiddlewax. One of them, Fiddlewax Blue is a wonderful little app for discovering and recording chord progressions.

The thing that I’ve found it most useful for is figuring out the chord progressions or changes in a piece of jazz or pop music. Fiddlewax Blue starts with a screen that has the most commonly used chords in a scale.

Common chords only

Once you change the scale to the key that a piece is in, this screen will give you the basic chords to the majority of pop music songs. However, since these are only the most common chords, it works as just a baseline if you are transcribing jazz. The better screen for that is either the Key Chords & Notes screen or the Campfire Chords screen.

Notes & chords Fiddlewax Blue

Chords in key plus two octave scale.

The Key Chords & Notes screen shows you all of the basic three note chords in a key with two octaves of the scale underneath those chords. This is great for adding in and listening to 7th’s, 9th’s, etc. to your chordal scheme.

The Campfire Chords screen has the chords in the key highlighted in blue but gives you many additional chords that are playable as well. I like that the developer did it this way since a younger student might benefit from having the chords in key highlighted.

Blue is solidly in scale but you can choose any of the chords.

Blue is solidly in scale but you can choose any of the chords.

You can record from any of the eight available screens. Alas, you cannot share via inter-app audio but you can mail yourself either the MIDI or audio recording that you made or pull it off of your device the next time that you sync to iTunes. Be aware that if you are using the “analog” instruments that have sliding pitch, the results aren’t all that stellar in either audio recording or MIDI but the others sound just fine.

Sharing on Fiddlewax Blue - iPad

The first two screens (Common Chords and Key Chords & Notes) are the ones that I’ve been using the most. But most of the other screens are interesting to play with if you are trying to generate ideas for a piece. Especially the Accordion Mode if you want to get your oompah on or the Analog Chords mode for some fun tone bending. True, some of the screens can feel a bit small on an iPhone, unless you have one of the grossa gigunda versions. I have small hands and on my iPhone 5, I often mis-hit chords or notes. So the iPad version is more useful to me in this mode.

You are supposed to be able to attach a MIDI device and output MIDI signal. I tried it out of curiousity but it was going to take me longer to get it working than it was worth to me. That’s not how I plan on using this app so it that doesn’t bother me too much and doesn’t earn a place on my big to-do list that is guaranteed to still have stuff on it the day that I die.

The two screens that I use the least just have chromatic scales on them. I find it hard to deal with this screen because the notes aren’t where my fingers want them to be. I’d rather have a piano keyboard than just a string of notes but in a pinch or for trying to find the key of a piece, they work well.

Chromatic Notes on iPhone

Fiddlewax includes 8 different scales and 12 key centers to choose from. There are also eight instrumental sounds and four slots to sample your own sounds.

Choosing a key on the iPad

The one thing that I really don’t care for in this app is the way that it handles pitches in some scales. You can choose to have accidentals show as sharps, flats, or both but choosing both doesn’t mean that you won’t get some weird chord names.

E-Major in Analog mode on iPhone...notice the Eb diminished chord

E-Major in Analog mode on iPhone…notice the Eb diminished chord

Fiddle wax Blue choosing notation preferences

Fiddle wax Blue choosing notation preferences.

In order to see this chord correctly as a d#-diminished, you must choose to use sharp mode. Not a big deal for a seasoned musician but it could cause a bit of confusion for younger kids.

However, all of this goodness is available for free and I’ve already found this app helpful in learning and transcribing songs.

Fiddlewax Blue is available from the App Store. It is a Plus App and requires iOS 7.0 or later.

It is from Adam Kumpf at Fiddlewax. See his Tumblr for lots of videos of his apps and some instrumental experimentation.

He has two other music apps, Fiddlewax Yellow, which is a fun vocal harmonization instrument, and Fiddlewax Pro, a MIDI controller and looper that is on my list to try.

I’m looking forward to more apps from this company in the future.

iReal Pro for Jazz and Improvisation

iReal Pro is a great app. It’s from the same people who made Drum School and has the same quality and attention to detail that really helps a practicing musician become better. Despite the fact that I play bassoon, I listen to a lot of jazz and have always wanted to get better at playing it. Maybe even composing in it at some point. I use a couple of apps to try and broaden my jazz horizons. I’ve already covered one, Anytune Pro+. iReal Pro is the other side of that coin for me. I usually choose the same tune to practice in both apps so that I am thinking about the same piece but in different ways. Anytune lets me slow down and play along with a recording. iReal Pro shows me the chord changes and with an extra purchase, the standard chords and scales that go along with those. I can also input the Jamey Aebersold exercises that I work on in iRealPro to enhance practicing those as well.

When you first open up iRealPro, it will have a few exercises in it. To add new charts, you’ll either need to go to the in-app Forum and find some to download or input some yourself. The forum has user-made charts that others have shared. These are usually very good. Occasionally there will be a chord or two that may not sound right to you but that is easily remedied as once you have downloaded a piece, you can duplicate it and edit it as well.

Editing screen of iReal Pro on the iPad

Editing screen of iReal Pro on the iPad

You can make playlists for the pieces that you are working on. (Here is the one nitty-picky gripe that I have about this app. It doesn’t open up to the last thing that you worked on. If it did that, it would be perfect.) Once you have the piece that you want to work on opened, you can change the tempo, the number of times through and the key. You can also change the accompaniment style. There used to be just a few styles given to you but in the last update to iReal Pro, they made everything free except for some new jazz styles. Alas, I really like the Blue Note style especially, so I will probably be buying this pack.

Currently the only extra to buy. They've made everything else free.

Currently the only extra to buy. They’ve made everything else free.

One of my favorite things is the Chord Scales. This used to be an in-app purchase but is now standard. It allows you to see the chord and scale for each chord in the sheet as you play. If you tap and hold on a measure, it will show you a chord and scale that is musically viable in that spot. If you tap on that, it will show you other chords and scales that would also fit and allow you to choose a different one for playback. These then show up from measure to measure while the piece is playing. A big Thank You to the developers for also making these available in bass clef. Some developers seem to forget that there are also bass instrumentalists using their apps. One thing that isn’t there but that I’d love to see is an option to show all of the different chords in a chart at once since I usually start my practice by going one by one individually through all of the chords and scales that the piece might use before I ever start playback.

Chord and scales pack showing on iPad.

Chord and scales pack showing on iPad. Bass clef is available too.

You can also use this screen to make a loop if you just want to practice a small section of your piece.

iReal Pro iOS – Chord Scales for iPhone and iPad from iReal Pro on Vimeo.

Another really handy practice aid is the ability to change the key and the tempo automatically from one repeat to another.

Make practicing more of a challenge by changing the tempo and/or the key

Make practicing more of a challenge by changing the tempo and/or the key

In iReal Pro, there is an option to play the piece from your library while you are looking at the chart. It’s a very nice touch. If the piece isn’t in your library, the app will show you if it’s available in iTunes.

Play along with iReal Pro.

Play along with iReal Pro.

There are quite a few things in this app that can help you as an educator or a collaborator. You can quickly put in the changes to a chart for your own practice or to share with your students. I put some Aebersold studies in because I can change the tempo and change the key that it starts in so I’m not always memorizing the same chord change order from the Aebersold recordings. You can share these charts with your students and others either through the forums or by emailing the charts. The developers have made it so that these can be sent as something that someone else can use regardless of whether or not they have the app. The sheet music or the audio can both be sent. And for the audio, you can send it in an audio format or in MIDI which means that you can pull it into another program on your computer or device. You can also use AudioBus or Inter-App Audio Apps to send the accompaniment to another program. Though you need to be aware if you’ve updated to iOS 8 that there are some audio issues that need to be fixed and this may not work well for you at the moment.(September 2014)

iReal Pro is from Technimo. There is a direct website for iReal Pro and you can also find them on Twitter.

iReal Pro is a plus app for $12.99 in the iTunes Store.
There are in-app purchases available for additional accompaniment styles. The app used to be a little cheaper BUT since they have made most of the old in-app purchases part of the app, the price is quite fair and less than buying the old app and all of the purchases.

It is also available through the Mac App Store for $19.99. This could make life easier if you are making a lot of charts but I find it easy enough to make them on my iPad.

They also have an Android app.

This is one of those apps that I think every musician with an iOS device should have. It’s fun and it’s very helpful for improving your musical capabilities.