Tempo Advance Metronome

I decided to try Tempo Advance because it looks a lot like the Cycles metronome. I love the Cycles metronome but it hasn’t been updated in a while and some graphic issues introduced in the last update haven’t been fixed. I find it hard to blame any developer for quitting or finding other stuff to work on when people who will routinely pay $5 for watery coffee get offended by an app that costs more than 99¢. But I also love having the ability to practice against rhythms and not just straight 8th’s or 16th’s and wanted to have something else in place just in case Cycles disappears or stops working.

There is a lot to love about Tempo Advance. Like Cycles, you can view the beats in a ring. But you can also have a more linear view if you turn your device to landscape. They refer to this as rotary and linear on their website.

iPhone 32nd, dotted-16th rhythm in portrait.

iPhone 32nd, dotted-16th rhythm in portrait.

iPhone 32nd, dotted-16th rhythm in landscape.

iPhone 32nd, dotted-16th rhythm in landscape.

Due to the setlist options, I can program in all of the rhythms that I use to practice and just pick those by name without having to program the device every time.

iPad setlist

iPad setlist

When you save for a setlist, it takes everything you’ve set included the metronome sounds that you’ve chosen. There are quite a few to choose from too. You can change them as a set or choose to set each of the three possible accent/unaccented sounds individually. This can be especially helpful when it comes to polyrhythms. If you need to practice polyrhythms, I can’t think of a better app that I’ve seen yet. If you have headphones on, it is preset to have each rhythm in a different ear. Like almost everything about this app, you can tweak these settings to what works best for you. It’s very easy to select the polyrhythms that you want to work with. When you bring up the polyrhythm selector, you have two columns of 20 numbers. Want to work out your 11 against 20? Knock yourself out.

Choosing your rhythm or polyrhythm on the iPad

Choosing your rhythm or polyrhythm on the iPad

When you make a setlist, it is very easy to map out a metronome for a multi-meter piece or if you want to have a rhythm change under you, as in Bolero. You can save  a rhythm as a preset as well but since you can’t name those yourself and it doesn’t save all the settings and won’t automatically move to the next rhythm, I find that less helpful than the setlist.

In terms of other helpful ways to practice with this metronome, you can either automatically increase or decrease the BPM by up to 100 every so many bars. You can set this to turn off by either number of bars or by time.

Speed up or slow down by bars or times.

Speed up or slow down by bars or times.

I do wish that you could set this to increase and then automatically decrease back down to your starting point like Dr. Bettotte will but if I want that right now, I’ll use Dr. Bettotte instead. Another technique that I haven’t tried it yet but I can see myself using is a setlist to practice something in all of the Oubradous rhythms one after another. If you want to do this, you need to set a tracker time or measure amount before you save to the setlist. You can overwrite it if you forget though.

There is no iCloud syncing of the settings like there is for some of the other metronome apps that I use. However, sharing setlists is ridiculously easy through e-mail. I don’t usually play concerts that have this type of setlist but if you do, it would be very easy to share with your group. If they have Tempo Advance, they can just open the setlist in app and everything is ready to go. You can also share the setlist as text as well. If your students have the app, you could use it to assign them a rhythm to use to practice

There are also some cool little touches that tell me that Frozen Ape is paying attention. If you have the metronome in portrait view and turn on the proximity sensor, you don’t even have to touch it to get it started. You can set this to toggle playback, go to the previous song or preset or the next song or preset. I’m trying this out right now though I did turn it off while checking some of my facts for this post. Also, you can choose from multiple themes or even make your own. I can see that my 13 year old self would have really loved this and maybe spent more time on it than I should have so let your young students know about this at your peril. Just like the setlists, you can share the themes between devices. Frozen Ape has a lot of video tutorials on their site and if you are a drummer, Mike Mangini, drummer for prog rock group Dream Theater has tutorials as well. There is also a way to sync this app to receive triggers from multiple pedals using airturn. I don’t have one of those yet so I was unable to try that.

I love this metronome. I could replace Cycles with Tempo Advance completely except for one thing. One of the main types of practice that I do which I call doubling, is perfectly setup on Cycles, I can automatically increase the tempo by up to four times with a few taps on that app. For instance, I might practice something at the horribly annoying tempo of 20 BPM. Then, I’ll increase the speed to 40, practice it there, then 60, then at 80 BPM. Then I’ll drop back down and do the same thing starting at 21. Cycles is the only metronome that I’ve found so far that will automatically do this for me. If Tempo Advance did this, I might drop Cycles altogether if it doesn’t get that update.

Tempo Advance is from Frozen Ape.

It is a plus app for $3.99 from the iTunes store and requires iOS 6.0 or later.

I highly recommend this one.

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.