Clapping Music: Rhythm Game and Music

Clapping Music, the app, is based on the Steve Reich piece of the same name. It includes a video of a performance of the piece, a video of Steve Reich discussing the piece, and access to more info about Steve Reich and his music. This is a different video than the one in the app but includes Steve Reich.

First and foremost, this is a fun and challenging app. You don’t need to know a thing about music notation or minimalism. You can just get in and play. I think that’s a great way to make it accessible to anyone. In addition to this, it’s being used as a research tool by Queen Mary University of London and a way for the London Sinfonietta to make a greater connection with their fans and potential fans. The Sinfonietta had a mini-workshop and contest event that they held for the highest scorers to come to and perhaps get a chance to perform the piece with them. I believe this kind of connection to be invaluable to keep our art form relevant. It’s always kind of bothered me that in Classical music we tend to tell people, sit there in your seat and we’re going to give you some culture. Compare this to a popular music concert where people are engaged and singing or clapping with the group on stage…in other words, participating. This may not always be feasible with Classical music but I believe that we need to find a way to have audiences own a performance more than they currently do.

A little aside here, at the moment, I think that the London groups are really getting a handle on this more than other places. The English National Opera had an app to go along with their staging of Ligeti’s Le Grand Macabre. The app was called Play Ligeti and had car horn samples to play and background information on the Car Horn Prelude from that opera. I’d give you the link to the app but it isn’t available anymore.

The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment (OAE)  is also trying new ways to reach their audience including playing different concert series in bars and really trying to reach out to where the people are.

They even included members of their diverse audience in one year’s brochure.

In the United States, the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra has started having orchestra members reach out more to the public. I think this can only bring good things to the groups that engage in them as long as the music is still the foremost thing.

Now back to the Clapping Music.

iPhone showing main rhythm notation

iPhone showing main rhythm notation and counting down to start.

It has three levels to play at and a practice mode. I actually like the practice mode best since you can crank the tempo all the way up to 180 and that makes it even more fun.

Clapping Music Practice Info

Adjusting your practice session

If you’ve ever played a rhythm game like Guitar Hero, you already know what to do. The app keeps the first rhythm for you and you work your way through twelve patterns and back to the first pattern. If you get off, you have time to recover but there is less leeway on a harder level. If you are off, the pattern starts to move away from you, and the dots that make the pattern light up to try and help you get back on track (or make you panic, one of the two). Get too far off and the app will stop and give you a chance to restart or quit. In the practice levels, you can choose to go through the whole piece or just work on sections where you are having issues.

Choosing sections in Practice Mode iPad

Choosing sections in Practice Mode iPad

I like the fact that you can choose as many or as few patterns as you want in practice mode. As in most music, the trouble spots are where you have to switch from one pattern to another. How far the line goes across tells you how accurately you tapped that rhythm. I didn’t do as well on the 7th rhythm. The one thing that I wish for this app was that it could listen to you actually clap rather than just tap the screen.

Clapping Music is free on the iTunes store and it’s made by Touchpress. There was an issue with the latest iOS software but they have updated and it’s fixed.

I’d love to see more of these kind of apps that don’t just teach you about a piece but give you a way to experience it in a first-hand way. Maybe some Vocal Rhythm Etudes from Bill Douglas (Formerly known as Rock Etudes)?

or maybe Living Room Music from John Cage?

Both would be harder to make work for sure but I’d love to see more apps that move you from playing on your device to engaging with others in music making or being an actively engaged audience member


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:




Musyc – Kinetic Music Sculpture App

Musyc is a very cool app. I don’t really use this for practice or composing but the thought behind it and the way that it works is so fun that I wanted to share it. I mostly consider this app to be a digital kinetic sculpture. Though you can make some interesting music using it and it has the potential to add some fun to a performance.

When you first open the app, it gives you a very well done tutorial on using the different shapes and adjusting the sounds. They also have samples that demonstrate the music and movement capabilities of the app. The great thing about these is that even if you choose to try the free version of the app, you can see most of what you might want to pay for in action though you cannot adjust these much unless you do pay.

In Musyc, each of the shapes will give you a different sound, though same shapes do not interact with each other. The size of the shape doesn’t really matter for pitch. Each time a shape hits something else, a tone is generated. So a bigger shape might make more noise just because it’s likely to hit more things. The pitch does change depending on where it is on the screen. You can interact with your sculpture and just drop shapes or you can set up a shape generator and specify how often it drops a shape and at what angle and speed.

The basic shapes in Musyc

The basic shapes in Musyc

You use lines to give form to your sculpture and to give the shapes something to bounce off of and make noise. There are also special shapes that will do things like vacuum up anything that comes close to them, (called a black hole though this looks like a hurricane to my south Texas eyes), generate gravitational pull (planet), bounce an object away at a random speed and angle (bumper), or rotate like a paddlewheel to shoot shapes in a particular direction (cross). There are also shapes that will change the pitch, effect pieces that come within their influence or adjust the rate of something, like tempo. Most of the special shapes are part of the paid version.

Special shapes are only available in the paid version of Musyc.

Special shapes are only available in the paid version of Musyc.

Also as part of the paid version, you can make your own sound sets and record a specific motion of any of the pieces that you would like.

Some of the many soundkits provided.

Some of the many soundkits provided.

There is also a mixer that is extremely helpful when you are trying to track down an errant sound.

Audio Mixer. Tapping on a shape here toggles the sound.

Audio Mixer. Tapping on a shape here toggles the sound.

The most interesting part of this app to me is making and using your own sound kits. You can mix and match the numerous sound kits that Fingerlab provides. Or for more fun and customization, you can record from the iPad, this won’t give the best sound but you can import sounds from a variety of sources as well.

Sample editing.

Sample editing.

Here is a recording that I made using just the iPad and spoken word. If you know where these lines come from, you and I can definitely be friends.

The base scale of the Musyc app is a whole tone scale. They are very specific in telling you that this is what you need to use…so of course, I want to try this with another 6 note scale…like a blues scale. I’ll get back to you on that one.

You could also just choose to have percussive sounds. In order to test adding samples through iTunes, I added some found percussion sounds that a friend and I made. They loaded exactly as expected and I think that it made an interesting hybrid with the included digital woods synth.

There is some stuttering in the recording. This is partly a result of throwing a few extra shapes at it while it was going and partly because the app was having some difficulties. I killed all of the apps on the iPad, and restarted it but it still seemed like it was a bit too much for my iPad or the app. This latency isn’t there unless you are recording…perhaps because it is having to do the video and audio at the same time.

The possibilities here are what makes this fun. You can generate pieces of music that sound good but you’ll have to work a bit to make this happen. When you share, you can share audio or video. I don’t have the latest iPad so for me, the video is a bit stuttery as well. For example, the cross should show as turning but the video didn’t capture that.

Musyc Video Export from K. Paradis on Vimeo.

Also, make sure that you are signed in to the service that you want to use to share the video or you’ll need to transfer the video using iTunes file sharing. Also, be aware that it takes a bit of time to encode a video so bear that in mind before you try to record too long of a snippet. The only other wishes that I have would be the ability to rename the sound sample files in app and have the ability to pick the background color. The color seems to be set by which sound set you choose. I hate to choose the aesthetics of color over sound but if you want a certain color background, this is what you have to do currently.

You can use the app as a kind of digital art piece if you set something up and leave it going. I could also see using this app in a concert in certain settings. What would be really interesting for that is if you could load a MIDI file directly and be able to map shapes to it…maybe have it generate the movement based on the MIDI info. Or it could be fun to use this as a rhythm generator, show it on a bigger screen and improvise to it…or even better, let a percussionist use the app and improvise to what they are doing while also showing this on a bigger screen.

All of this together makes a very interesting and fun app that can definitely be a time suck if you aren’t careful. I recommend getting the paid version. You can pay separately if you didn’t want all of the extras but can easily end up spending more than you would if you had just bought it outright. The developer of Musyc is Fingerlab. They also make the excellent DM1 Drum Machine app.

Musyc is a plus app though it is a lot more comfortable and fun on the iPad. There are two versions, free with in-app purchases. Or the full version for $3.99. This is where the fun stuff is so I recommend getting the full version and supporting some interesting indie developers. Musyc is currently on version 2.0.1 and requires iOS 7.0 or later.

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.

John Cage: Prepared Piano, and Percussion

This was originally going to be a post about the prepared piano app from the John Cage website but in the process of making sure that I had the info that I needed, I ended up finding a few other interesting things available for iOS that involved John Cage and I wanted to share those as well. These come from the celebrations of what would have been his 100th birthday in 2012.

Just in case you don’t know what prepared piano is, here’s the link for Wikipedia that gives all of the details. But essentially, prepared piano is a way to make a piano sound like a kind of percussion/gamelan combo by adding extra things like screws and leather into the piano. It ends up making some tremendously cool sounds but it takes a while to set up.

But the result is worth it. John Cage’s Mysterious Adventure for prepared piano is performed by Boris Berman in this next video. I highly recommend his prepared piano recordings.

Happily, there is an app available that uses samples from Big Fish Audio prepared piano sounds.

John Cage Piano is the name of the app and it comes from the John Cage Trust. A non-profit that celebrates and studies all things Cage. I love that they had the idea to make this app. What a great way for people to hear and experience the concept.

John Cage App Splash Screen

John Cage App Splash Screen

The app is a straightforward sample pad. Supposedly, the free version only shows nine notes but I don’t find that to be true. Both versions show 30 notes. The iPad version that you pay 99¢ for does the exact same thing that the iPhone version does. Bigger boxes on the iPad though. In true John Cage fashion, both versions have a shuffle button that you can use to get that random thing going.

Prepared piano on iPad with note names showing.

Prepared piano on iPad with note names showing.

Prepared Piano iPhone - No note names

Prepared Piano iPhone – No note names

Included is an essay on prepared piano and you have the ability to make recordings. Please do NOT hit the share button though, well, unless you’re ok with the test that you just made going out to a website. A bit of a bummer that you can’t send your piece to SoundCloud or another app on your device. Alas, you can’t even e-mail it to yourself. The only way to get your recording is to go into iTunes and import it into your computer using app filesharing. You could also record directly into your DAW from your device, if you had the right cords. It is a fun app to play with and I really love the sound of prepared piano. John Cage Prepared Piano is available for iPhone for free. Or you can get the iPad only version. Android users are in luck here as well.

Since this post has turned into a John Cage fest, I’ll let you know that if I win the lotto, I’ll be buying this amazing sample set of prepared piano sounds from IRCAM.

If you like this sound as much as I do, you’ll be glad to know that you can find even more info about John Cage and prepared piano in a free iBook from the New York Public Library. It’s a short iBook that has quite a few videos, including one with a gamelan transcription of a prepared piano piece. (Told ya it sounded like a gamelan to me!)

The book is nice because you can take it with you but the website has most of the same videos and excerpts but a lot more of them.

The next app is also free and celebrates John Cage. It comes from Third Coast Percussion. It is an exploration of the fourth movement of Quartet for Percussion by Cage. I love the idea here. You can look at the score or hear the piece.

Third Coast Percussion-Cage Quartet

Third Coast Percussion-Cage Quartet

The fun part is that you get to choose the instruments that will play and can even sample your own.

TCP Cage - Choose a sound or make your own.

TCP Cage – Choose a sound or make your own.

I like that there is an animation to the instruments. Easier for kids to see which one is playing while they listen. I do wish there was a way to both hear the music and see the score on the device but since it’s made for iPhone, that would probably be more frustrating than it would be worth. The app does include a link for you to buy the score and the recording.

“Whether I make them or not, there are always sounds to be heard and all of them are excellent.”

~ John Cage

Not the piece from the app but here’s some more Cage from Third Coast Percussion to listen to. Hope this interests you enough to continue to explore the man and the music…and the sound further.

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.