Scale Variator: An I Wish App

When I started this blog, I decided to only cover apps that I really loved and actually used often. I’m breaking that rule a little bit with the Scale Variator. This app could be so good and useful. Alas, it suffers from some real limitations. There are some very good things about this app though so I’ll cover it. It may be just the practice tool that some are looking for. Also, note that this app has not been updated since about 2011 so waiting for it to get better is probably in vain.

Well, why should you even consider this app then?
This app is great for making scale and arpeggio studies on the fly. Especially if you play the guitar, the instrument that the app is actually directed towards. Nothing helps an instrumentalist become more comfortable with the basics of their instrument than scales and arpeggios. I tell my students that these are like pre-practicing. Spend the time now and get a handle on a good portion of most of the music that you will ever play without ever seeing the piece. I always start my practice sessions with some type of scale study.

The great thing about Scale Variator is that you can make yourself a scale study that can emphasize an arpeggio that you are having difficulty with or just practice your scale in a variety of ways.

Scale Variator Scale only on iPad.

Scale Variator Scale only on iPad.

Scale Variator Root-4th-2nd-3rd down on iPad.

Scale Variator Root-4th-2nd-3rd down on iPad.

Scale Variator Root-third-fifth on iPad

Scale Variator Root-third-fifth on iPad

At the bottom of the app, you can choose what scale degrees you want to have in your arpeggio. You can also choose the step from the root. (This can get a little confusing depending on what scale degrees you also choose.) If you tap the right hand side of the app, you can hear what your study sounds like. On the left hand side, you can go to a different page to move to the next scale degree but use the same pattern. You can also choose up or down for your scale by selecting the arrow at the bottom of the screen. A handy metronome is also included.

Help screen on iPad:  Scale Variator

Help screen on iPad: Scale Variator

If you are a guitarist that doesn’t read music, you can show the etude that you’ve made in tab.

Scale Variator screen cut off on iPad

Scale Variator screen cut off on iPad

In the settings, you can choose your highest fret, whether there is an octave displacement and how much of one, and whether the scales should be modal or parallel. Modal lists the mode you are in if you were to start on that particular note. Helpful for learning improvisation. You can also choose your scale here, what root note and one of 9 scale possibilities to work on.

  • Major
  • Minor Pentatonic
  • Natural Minor
  • Japanese Pentatonic
  • Harmonic Major
  • Jazz Melodic Minor
  • Harmonic Minor
  • Whole Tone
  • Diminished

I would use Scale Variator much more often if it was a more universal app and not just geared towards guitar.
My wishes for Scale Variator:

  • An updated screen. It is an iPhone app, not a plus app. It has portions strangely cut off in the iPad 2x mode but it is not easy to see well on the iPhone.
  • A clef option. Even bass guitarists, and bassoonists, need love.
  • Rather than just frets, I’d love to be able to choose by a note range.
  • More of the scale fit onto one screen to avoid having to switch screens so often.

So here’s your warning before you go and get this app. You’ll like it a lot but you’ll wish for more. I’m still on the lookout for something better unless they choose to finally update this app.

Scale Variator is from Berklee College of Music. There is a free version to try that only shows you A Major. Get that here Or you can buy the full version for $4.99 here. I would recommend that you try the free version first due to the frustrations outlined above.

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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