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.

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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.

Suggester Chord Progressions

This is an update to a previous post on the Suggester app.

Suggester is a chord progression tool. It is helpful if you are composing and want to generate some ideas. The app does one thing very well. That is to help you find chords that are in a scale…or a scale that goes with chords that you have chosen.
You can choose to hear your chord progression in one of three instruments: vibraphone, piano, or guitar. Originally there were nine scales to choose a from to make your chord progression. There are now fourteen different scales to choose from including Prometheus Scales from the mystic chord.*****

If you just want to hear the scale that you’ve chosen, you just tap the top bar. Once you have your chosen progression, you can listen to it, choose a tempo for it and also export it. Happily, looping has been added to this version of Suggester. I tend to play against a chord set to help generate ideas and this is very helpful to me.

Suggester - F Jazz Progression - iPad

However, exporting is still not very great. The text export isn’t very useful. You can send someone a list of your chord choices and that’s it. They are going to have to input those into whatever they are using, even if they also have Suggester. I really wish that you could send them in the “suggester format” so that the person you were collaborating with could open them directly in the suggester App. Also helpful would be the ability to sync your progressions through iCloud or Dropbox. As it is now, if you want the progression on both devices, you’ll be inputting that manually on both. It would also be really great if you could pull the MIDI export into another program on your iDevice but that is not currently possible that I have found. The MIDI export is good for pulling the chord progression into your DAW or notation software and I do use this but it’s more of a basic reminder of my original idea than something that I actually use in the piece.

Here is a sample of a G Lydian Chord progression MIDI export pulled into Logic Pro.

 

You can save only one of your progressions unless you upgrade from the free version. You’ll also need to do that to be able to export. Other features that are not yet available, choosing the chord voicing, the inversion of the chord and being able to alter the notes of the chord. The alter button that you see next to the chords in the progression will only let you alter the whole chord. Say you picked Am, you could select alter and then choose a different A chord instead. This doesn’t bother me too much as the UI could probably get pretty cluttered and you can always adjust this later in the program that you are using to compose with.

Suggester - Choosing an altered chord - iPad

It is now possible to choose a different bass note for your chord.

Suggester - Choosing an alternate bass - iPad

And also possible to edit your progression without deleting anything. You can drag and drop the chords into a different order in edit mode. One thing to note, you have to unlock “sharp” scales if you want to work with double sharps & double flats. Even when you unlock this, the chords can have strange spellings. Like an A major chord spelled a, d-flat, e.

One of the interesting and fun things about this app is the ability to start with the chords first and then have the app match those to a scale.

Matching a scale to your chord choices

Matching a scale to your chord choices

You are given an idea of how good the match is by percentages listed. Pretty cool. You can also transpose and rematch something that you’ve done. This is when it gets a little weird. It keeps the same exact chord and just respells them for the new key except they are sometimes spelled awkwardly and not labeled correctly. The f# chord from G Lydian to G major is still going to be a vii chord. In G lydian, it is correctly listed as a vii chord but in G major, it is only listed as an f# chord. It is still a vii chord but altered, minor rather than diminished as it would be in G major.

G Lydian Chord Progression on iPhone

G Lydian Chord Progression on iPhone

G Lydian Progression rematched to G Major

G Lydian Progression rematched to G Major

 

 

 

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
If I choose to transpose, I would expect that I would get the exact same chord progression numerals but in the new key. This however, is not the case. Instead of a I chord being a D Major chord if we move to D, It’s still a G major chord but listed as a IV instead of a I. This type of transposition could be helpful but I would prefer to have both options.

G Lydian transposed to D Major

G Lydian transposed to D Major

Despite some of the shortcomings of the Suggester app. I do like the app and would recommend it. It is quite helpful and it can be interesting to listen to the chord possibilities that you may not have considered before. There have been improvements since the last version that I reviewed and the developer seems responsive to requests.

The current version of Suggester is 1.9.9. It is a plus app and is available for free on iTunes. You will need to pay $4.99 to unlock the export and multiple progressions. The developer for Suggester is Mathieu Routier.

 
 
****Mystic chord: What a great name for what turns out to be a hexatonic scale that has a leading tone to the fifth but no fifth. This is now on my list of things to learn more about. Guess I’ll be listening to more Scriabin soon. If you want to listen to something based on that chord and scale, this is some music to go with a collection of essays titled Alexander Scriabin’s Mystic Chord as a Puppet of Heinrich von Kleist.

Three David Mead apps for Guitarists

Though bassoon is my main instrument, like most musicians, I love playing and learning others. One instrument that I’d really like to get better on is guitar. To that end, I bought David Mead’s book 10 Minute Acoustic Guitar Workout. If you are familiar with playing guitar already, this book might be helpful. If you are a beginner like me, having the book in conjunction with his apps will give you the best platform to start getting better at guitar.
There are currently three apps based on Mead’s approach to guitar. The first is Guitar Gym. This app is a new combination from all of his 10 minute book exercises in one spot. The book does come with a CD but I love being able to slow down the exercises easily with the metronome included while at the same time, hearing the exercises that I’m working on in the app. He advocates playing each exercise for two minutes a day and the app will keep the time for you.
There is one thing that I hope they eventually make more like the book. Right now, the app only shows guitar tabs. Since I read music, this is actually harder for me to deal with since instead of symbols that I know, the exercises are presented with fret numbers on a guitar fretboard layout with the fingerings being listed below with whether it should be an upstroke or a downstroke. This is a lot of info to keep track of at first. In the book, the information is presented in both tabs and music staff. I’d love to have that option here as well. There are five exercise sections in Guitar Gym, Warm up, Coordination, Ear Training, Stamina, and Rhythm. The included metronome has a range from 20 BPM to 220. There are a couple of exercises that are incredibly difficult for a beginner. (At least this one. Small hands don’t help here.) The first rhythm exercise has you playing the same note while using different fingerings.

IMG_0545

Ouch! And the first Stamina exercise is suddenly in sixteenth notes where everything else is in eighth notes. The Ear Training exercises are not appreciably different than the Coordination exercises but there are lesson hints included with each exercises.

Next is the Chord Coach app. Chord Coach has lessons on building chords from scales. It includes a Chord Reference section. Nice because you can hear each chord as well as see it’s notes, intervals from the scale and its fingering.

Fingering View in Chord Reference available in both the CAGED and the Chord Coach.

Fingering View in Chord Reference available in both the CAGED and the Chord Coach.

Chord Reference in the Chord Coach app. Also in the CAGED app.

Chord Reference in the Chord Coach app. Also in the CAGED app.

The Chord Constructor helps you build your own version of a chord. This would be more helpful if you could save these somewhere but once you leave this section, the chord you built is gone. Then there is another section with five exercise types and a quiz that randomly picks questions from each of the sections. If you are at all familiar with theory, most of these exercises are not going to be very helpful to you unless you need a review.

Some of the lessons in the Chord Coach app.

Some of the lessons in the Chord Coach app.

You have to create or convert various chords…pick out the notes of a G7 chord or change that G7 into a G Major 7 chord. Some of the exercises use the fretboard and some are just written out.

Chord Spotter from Chord Coach.

Chord Spotter from Chord Coach.

However, even if you are familiar with theory, the Chord Families exercises will probably be helpful. You have to recognize a chord from just the fingering on the fretboard. I’m really slooowwww on this exercise. This same exercise is included in the CAGED app so if you are getting that app, you won’t need this one unless you don’t know chord theory.

The Caged guitar system basically breaks up the chords so that you can recognize them and use them in any key by using them in barre chords. Cool idea but the execution is not really there for me with my wimpy-can’t-hold-down-all-the-notes-with-one-finger hands. However, learning these chord shapes and making the notes on the fretboard come to me instantly is definitely going to be helpful to me.

CAGED Lesson

CAGED Lesson

This app has the same basic approach that the Chord Coach does. Written lessons followed by exercises. There is also a CAGED reference section and you can see the keyboard laid out for you based on various notes. A chord reference just like the one in the Chord Coach app and an additional scale reference section is also included here. The exercises in this app include finding notes on the fretboard,

Finding notes in the CAGED app.

Finding notes in the CAGED app.

recognizing chord shapes, building CAGED chord versions on a fretboard, identifying chords from their shape,

Finding the right chord in the CAGED app.

Finding the right chord in the CAGED app.

identifying chord families (this is the same exercise from the Chord Coach.), and interval finder within chords. There is also a section where you can see your progress on the exercises.

I already feel more comfortable after working through the exercises from the Guitar Gym app on a regular basis. So far, that has been the most helpful for me as the beginner that I am. Once I get good enough, there are other guitar-centric apps from Leaf Cutter Studios that look interesting. Among them, Gypsy Jazz Guitar with Tim Robinson, and David Mead Twelve Bar Blues.

There is no difference between the iPhone and the iPad versions on any of these apps. They are plus apps and so will work on both devices but I’d like to see an option to have the exercises in a landscape view as well as the portrait. All of the apps require at least iOS 4.3 and are $2.99 each on the iTunes store.
Guitar Gym
CAGED
Chord Coach
From Leaf Cutter Studios and David Mead