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.

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:




Drum Dictionary

This app is very similar to one that I’ve already covered, Drum School. If you only have room on your device for one of these apps, that’s the one that I’d choose. It seems to be updated more often and has videos and many more rhythm genres to choose from. However, Drum Dictionary is also quite good, is less cluttered and has some tweaks to it that I like.

Drum Dictionary seems to have more odd-meter patterns.

Rock in 5 iPhone

Rock in 5 iPhone

Rock in 5 iPhone in Landscape

Rock in 5 iPhone in Landscape

It also has some very succinct notes on what you need to pay attention to in a particular beat. These are placed where you can easily see them while you are practicing that rhythm.

Samba practice tips on the iPhone

Samba practice tips on the iPhone

I love that you can search for a beat by looking at a list that has the musical notation.

iPad - Beat list in Notation and another odd-meter rhythm

iPad – Beat list in Notation and another odd-meter rhythm

Pick by notation on iPhone

Pick by notation on iPhone

There is also a handy way to track when the last time you practiced one of the rhythms. Oddly, the metronome is just a metronome. Meaning that if you turn it on, you don’t get to hear the rhythm that you are working on. It does save you having to switch to a different metronome app if you want to hear only yourself playing the rhythm though. You can adjust the tempo of the beat itself but you do that in percentages. A bit bizarre but I guess it makes sense if a beat is traditionally played in a particular tempo range.

Tempo and time practiced on the bottom in the iPad version of Drum Dictionary

Tempo and time practiced on the bottom in the iPad version of Drum Dictionary

One of the fun things to do when using this app when you aren’t a drummer, is the ability to turn on a rhythm and improvise to it. Especially fun with those odd meters that are included. A fun way to generate ideas or just have a free practice /experimentation session.

Drum Dictionary is a plus app available for $1.99 from the iTunes store. If you want to try it before you buy it, there is a free version with less beats and no tempo adjustments or practice lists.

Drum Dictionary is from Gig Bag Apps.

Go to Drum School

Drum School is an app for learning different beats (or genres…these are called grooves in app). It concentrates on teaching you to play these on drum set.

Let me be up front here. I have NEVER felt more uncoordinated than the times that I had to play drum set in my music ed class in college. The main reasons that I use this app have more with trying to learn what a particular style sounds like and see it in notation as well. If you are composing for something that involves a drum set, it’s really easy. Just give the drummer the number of bars in the piece, maybe a few cues and notate what style you want them to play in. I wouldn’t write anything out for them unless they were really young and didn’t have a teacher.

What this app helps me with most is programming MIDI drum rhythms in a particular style. I also sometimes go to a drum set app on my device and try the rhythms there. I find getting the physical feel of a beat can be helpful to internalizing that particular style. Lastly, it’s quite useful to have a particular style to improvise against on a melodic instrument. The beats are automatically looped and using that to generate melody or bass line ideas for compositions is fun.

This app has a great pedigree. The drummer is Ferenc Nemeth. He’s on more than a few albums in my iTunes Library. Also, he is the drum programmer for the app now known as iRealPro as well. The app programmer for Drum School is Massimo Biolcati, a bass player who also developed iRealPro. I haven’t covered this app yet but it’s definitely one to have. (If you are at all interested in jazz improvisation, you should definitely give that a look.)

Drum School on iPad

Drum School on iPad

Some Drum School features:

  • Lots of different styles
  • Favorite a groove so you can find it easily
  • See how much you’ve practiced a particular groove
  • Listen to the groove with music notation and concentrate on a particular body part
  • Watch a video that has a picture in picture that focuses on the feet.
  • Change tempo in both notation and video
  • See and hear 1-8 bar fills
  • Rudiment practice
  • Watch technique videos for various grips and ways to play foot pedals
  • Read background information on a groove

One of the things that I really like about this app is the ability to drop the sounds from certain limbs. If you really want to focus on just your feet, or just your left foot. You can do that easily on the fly. Love this because it helps me break down and understand the rhythms that I’m hearing.

Listening in to only the feet on iPhone

Listening in to only the feet on iPhone

On this same screen, you can add a bass line played by Massimo Biolcati by tapping on the bass clef. And, you can turn on a metronome click if you choose.

iPhone works better in Landscape

As you can see, the iPhone screen is a bit crowded in Landscape. The portrait view is my choice on that device. But, you could choose to have the video play full screen on your devices or you can beam it over to your AppleTV to see it on an even bigger screen.

When you tap the fill button, it will bring those to the front of the screen. No videos, only notation on these but you can still isolate limbs.

Fills on iPad

Fills on iPad

All in all, a stellar app, I only have one small gritch.
If you are looking at the information on the groove, it will NOT scroll. So, if it runs out of the box that it’s in, you won’t be able to see all of the info. This doesn’t seem to matter what device it’s on.

No scroll frustration on the iPad

No scroll frustration on the iPad

I’d also love some links to real world examples. Some of the information does list example songs but the developer might make it easier on his customers by linking to examples in the iTunes store or even YouTube.

Drum School is a Plus App that sells for $5.99. A pittance for 260+ grooves.
Ferenc Nemeth has promised to continue adding to that number.
The current version is 2.3 which requires iOS 5.1 or later and is optimized for iPhone 5.

Get the iOS version of Drum School here.
There is a Mac version available here.

Better Ears for Better Ears

The Better Ears app used to be called Karajan Pro. The new version after the name change is even better than before. If you have been using Karajan Pro and haven’t upgraded yet, the changes will be worth the pain to figure out where things are now.

As I’ve written before, I use multiple ear training programs because I don’t want to get too used to a particular program and want my ears to be as good as possible. Better Ears is one of the first apps that I bought when the app store originally opened. The exercises available include:

• Interval recognition
• Scale recognition
• Chord recognition
• Chord progressions
• Pitch recognition – I don’t use this one too much because I’m not sure that I believe that perfect pitch can be trained for and you are essentially asked to pick a pitch out of thin air.
• Tempo recognition – I don’t use this one either…maybe a percussionist would find this helpful though.
• Key Signature recognition – Great for students who don’t know this info yet.
• Interval music reading – Testing whether you can recognize a written interval. Helpful for making score reading on sight quicker.
• Scale music reading – Helpful to improve your sight reading as well.
• Chord music reading – Helpful for score reading and sight reading…I do wish that the notation was bunched as a chord and not separated though.

There are two modes to choose from, Learning and Training. The Learning mode lets you see Wikipedia articles about what you are studying. It also gives you a chance to hear and see the scale, interval or chord in notation. This is a little better in the iPad version since you can see the app and use the keyboard while reading the article but the article is readable on the phone since it opens up to fill the iPhone’s screen. It sure is nice to have the keyboard available though so I prefer this on the iPad. On the iPhone, you can also open the article in Safari to save it to your reading list which is handy to be able to get to it on a bigger screen.

iPad view of Altered Scale with Wikipedia, notation, and keyboard showing.

iPad view of Altered Scale with Wikipedia, notation, and keyboard showing.

On the iPad, you are able to choose which view to concentrate on if you wish.

Chord Progression Learning on iPad with only the Wikipedia article and keyboard showing.

Chord Progression Learning on iPad with only the Wikipedia article and keyboard showing.

Chord Progression Learning on iPad with only the notation showing.

Chord Progression Learning on iPad

One of the features that I really like in this app is the ability to customize the exercises. Great to help you when you are having trouble with a particular interval, chord, progression or scale in one of the exercises. You can save your customizations and use Dropbox to sync these across devices including the Mac version of Better Ears. (Be aware that the first sync may cause you to lose the info from one of your devices. I wish that I had had this on the last iOS software update. I chose to do a clean install and lost all of my info.) The statistics available are also tremendously helpful. They show you the truth about what you are missing in each individual exercise and you can use this to make a custom exercise for yourself or your students. For example, I have a customization which just focuses on intervals bigger than an octave since I want to work on getting better with that. Just like instrumental practice, having a plan for training gets you to a higher level more quickly.

Statistics screen iPhone an update erased my statistics but I shouldn't have to worry about this anymore with DropBox syncing.

Statistics screen iPhone an update erased my statistics I shouldn’t have to worry about this anymore with DropBox syncing.

Use the levels that Appsolute made for you or use the custom button to create your own. For example, my More than an Octave interval practice.

Use the levels that Appsolute made for you or use the custom button to create your own. For example, my More than an Octave interval practice.

The iPad version of Better Ears works in Landscape. The iPhone works in either landscape or portrait although the keyboard only shows up in landscape. If you are more comfortable on guitar, you can show a fretboard instead. On either app, you can click on the answer to the question or you can play it using the instrument that is showing. If you have a MIDI connector for your iOS devices, you can also answer the questions on a connected MIDI device. The sounds used are customizable as well. There are multiple sound and articulation choices available.

Fretboard on iPhone. This or the keyboard only shows in landscape view on the iPhone.

Fretboard on iPhone. This or the keyboard only shows in landscape view on the iPhone.

So while I do use different apps to train my ears with, this is one of my favorites. If you only want to have one ear training app, this is the one that I’d recommend.

Better Ears is available in separate versions for iPhone and iPad. It’s also available for Mac and an Android version is coming soon.

Both iOS versions are currently $14.99 each and require iOS 5.0. Remember if you are on a budget that the iPhone version will work on the iPad but the iPad version can only be used on an iPad.
The link for iPhone is here. The link for iPad, here. There is also a free version called Better Ears beginner with a one level limitation if you want to try before you buy. Find that here.

Better Ears is made by Appsolute. The website for Better Ears is here.