Archive for the ‘App Review’ Category

App Review – By Gretta Dunn

Friday, September 28th, 2012


by OnSong

iPad/ iPhone/ iPod



With so many Apps out there for musicians these days, it’s hard to be sure which one is best suited to your needs. Most of them have the same features and functions plus a few added extras.  It’s kind of like looking to buy a car – they all do the same thing but it’s always the added extras that excite us and eventually get us to buy!

So in saying that I have taken two apps and compared them for you. The first one is “OnSong” – I personally use this app and like my red ute (the Aussie version of a pickup), this app is exactly what I need.

OnSong allows you to create, import and export Lyric and Chord sheets.

You can upload your own charts from your computer using iTunes file sharing, Dropbox, Songselect and many other services. The option that I think is fantastic is that you can import charts from the internet, which allows you to find music charts anywhere!

The next fun feature is that you are able to write your own chart, so for example, if you are writing your own lyric you can type it directly into the app and add your chords while you’re at it.

What I like the most about this app is that has a very easy key change feature for those of us who don’t think as quickly on the spot as we know we should!

There are so many other features I could go into, like sharing between devices, creating sets, syncing with iTunes music, linking with a projector, attaching Midi files for gigs, the flashing metronome, highlighting lyrics or chords, fonts, sizes and linking the band. The best option is to look into it yourself at



By Aron Nelson




The second app I have been looking at is unrealBook. I downloaded it after asking a friend of mine who is a professional bass player for Australian country artists what he uses, and after going through it I can see why, it’s fantastic for bands or musicians. I also think it’s probably the most practical and easy to use for Simply Music teachers.

The main feature of unrealBook is that you can physically write (as in hand write) out a number or chord chart onto your iPad. This is super exciting for those of you who need to write out charts on the go.

The other thing, and the more practical thing for a music teacher, is that you can upload your sheet music or PDF files by file sharing through iTunes. Also, now that we have access to download sheet music digitally, unrealBook allows us to store our music in one small device rather than lugging round heavy music books. Just think, all the Real Books on your iPad, not in your arms!

I can see this being really practical at concert time, instead of having a pile of books on the piano for students there could be one iPad.

OnSong will also allow you to view sheet music, but the snappy feature of UnrealBook that OnSong doesn’t offer is that you are able to make notes on the PDF’s you have uploaded, allowing you to make notes on the music and highlight warning points etc., like you would on a hard copy.

The final and super nifty feature of unrealBook is that you can connect multiple iPads together with this app allowing one to control the others. I have also seen that you can link two iPads together like you would your computer and an extra monitor and use the app like a book, i.e. Page 1, Page 2.

If you would like to find out more about unrealBook please visit

So if you’re in the market for a new music app I hope you take the time to think about what you really want to use it for.   It’s all well and good to wish for a Porsche when what you really need is a red ute!

We would love to hear what you music apps you are using and what you think of them. Let us know via Facebook.

Happy Apping!

App Review

Sunday, April 8th, 2012

By Gordon Harvey

Here are three more apps to add to the ever-growing list of innovative music resources in the post-PC universe.



iPad/iPhone/iPod Touch


Bebot is your friendly robotic creative companion, with a lot of power in his circuits.  Boot him up and you’re greeted with a cheery robot who responds to your touch with a little visual animation and a big synthesizer sound.

You can generate up to four notes at a time.  The location of each finger vertically and horizontally will affect both pitch and tone, allowing sounds that vary from gutsy growls to eery howls.  There is an amazing wealth of editing options, including controls like synth modes, sub-oscillator, timbre, pulse width and other sound generation choices, plus effects like echo, overdrive and chorus.  You can snap notes to various scale and chord grids, or leave it to your fingers to glissando across the frequency spectrum.

Your settings can be saved for later use, which lends Bebot to performance use, and the quality of the sounds is genuinely pro-level. It’s incredible to think that what we can get for $1.99 would have been worth hundreds or more in the early days of the synthesiser, if it were even possible to build it.  On top of that is the easy and fun interface. Walking to my kids’ school today, I made a composition using its loop settings.  It’s that easy.


Opal/Generative Music

iPad/iPhone/iPod Touch

$3.99 US, $1.99 Aus

If you’ve followed the career of Brian Eno, you won’t be surprised by this innovation.  Between being the weird synthesiser guy in the original Roxy Music, calling himself “the world’s only professional non-musician” to becoming a highly sought-after producer, Eno has consistently explored the boundaries of creativity, with a special interest in atmospheric sound – it was he who coined the term “ambient music”.

One of my favourite Eno phases was his experimentation with very long tape loops, where sounds repeated very slowly, deteriorating with each repeat, layering over each other, creating rich and mysterious soundscapes.  Bloom is a much more convenient digital version which also adds a visual component.

On launching Bloom, a soft drone begins, creating a tonal canvas upon which you make notes by tapping the screen, which responds with dots that expand, fade and reappear with the cycle of your notes.  Your musical artwork develops in complexity as you add notes.  The effect is gentle and immersive.

You can either create your own compositions or set it to self-generate. You can alter some settings, like colour themes or ‘moods’, the length of the repeat and the sound.  However, these variables are too limited to make it much of a tool for serious musicians.  Is best used as a generator of relaxing soundscapes.  My seven-year-old sets it to Listen mode to help her get to sleep.

The pleasingly named Generative Music also offers Trope and Air, similar apps, which provide more creative options, although I can see with even these that there is so much more that could be done.  If these apps had some of the control choices of Bebot, they could be uniquely creative composing tools upon which you could spend hours.

iReal b


iPad, iPhone, Android, Kindle Fire, Mac

$7.49 US, $8.49 Aus

For musicians working with lead sheets, practice tools don’t get much handier than this.  iReal b boasts some really worthwhile features.  At its most basic level, it’s a substitute for books of lead sheets like the Real Book that the app’s name draws reference to.  It’s also a substitute for a play-along CD, but with many more capabilities.

The app comes with a library of lead sheets ready to use.  Rather than actual songs, they are generic pieces in various common styles, mostly in the jazz genre.  These are useful for getting to know common chord progressions and styles.  After choosing a piece, you can have a digital band play for you to play along with.  The band can play in three different styles.  You can change the key and adjust the tempo to suit your needs.  You can also turn down an instrument in the band so you can, for example, remove the piano to play the chords yourself.  So it can be a practice tool for working on the chords, melody or improvisation.  You can isolate and loop a section if it needs extra practice.

You can also edit the song, adding lyrics, changing chords, rearranging, doing almost anything other than writing a melody, allowing a generic piece to be the springboard for a new composition.  You can even write a new chart from scratch.  You can print your piece or export it as an audio file, or a MIDI file, allowing you to open it in a composition or notation program for further editing.

If the selection of songs in the library isn’t enough, there is a large and active user community offering lead sheets you can download.  As well, if the three playback styles don’t suit you, in-app purchases allow you to expand your choices dramatically.  You can also pay to unlock guitar and piano chord diagrams.

It would be wonderful if the lead sheets also included the tune of the songs where there is one.  I also can’t vouch for the legality of songs provided through the iReal b community.  However, even with these limitations, this well-designed app is thoroughly useful.

More Apps

Saturday, September 24th, 2011

MSO Learn

iPhone, iPad – free

The orchestra is the world’s most powerful, complex and expressive musical instrument, or at least that’s how it feels when you’re witnessing all its parts coming together in a great performance, as if it’s a living, autonomous organism.  Of course, it’s really made up of a collection of instruments and their expert operators.  This app has been created by the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra as a guide to the orchestra and its players.  It’s both entertaining and educational, giving us a personal insight into the real people who make the orchestra work, and a look at the instruments.  Senior players from the various sections of the orchestra talk about the experience of being a musician and a little about themselves.  It feels a bit like a fan magazine as they tell us about their favourite restaurants or most embarrassing performance moments, but it serves to remind us that these serious-looking besuited musicians are as human as the rest of us when they confess they also happen to love show tunes or 80s power ballads.  You can also zoom into each section of the orchestra and learn about each instrument.  A valuable feature is Recommended Listening, which takes you to iTunes links to great performances of important pieces.  I’d have liked the Instruments section to be a little more comprehensive.  For example, it doesn’t look at the individual instruments in the percussion section.  Overall, though, this is a great way for young musicians to picture themselves as part of this wonderful musical machine, as well as an opportunity for music lovers of any age to educate themselves about how enthralling orchestral music can be.

Discovr Music

iPhone, iPad – $1.99

This app from Australian developer Filter Squad is an intuitive way to expand your knowledge of music. Search for an artist you like and a diagram appears with other artists in some way connected to them.  Tap on the picture of one of those connected artists and the diagram grows like a cell colony under a microscope, giving you a chance to look further afield.  Double-tap on any artist and you go to a biography, sample songs, links to iTunes, YouTube, blogs, reviews and other resources, and you can also share your finds on Twitter, Facebook and email, and create favorites.  I tried to stump it but found it even had a decent coverage of areas like classical, world and modern art music.  If you’re a bit of a music nerd like me, this provides hours of fascinating exploration, and plenty of cause for discussion, too.  A search on the Beatles draws a connection with Jimi Hendrix and the Beau Brummels but not the Beach Boys.  How are the connections chosen?  I’m not sure, but it’s all about expanding your knowledge and exploring paths you didn’t know existed.


iPhone, iPod Touch 99c

iPad $2.99

From Smule, the makers of the hugely popular Ocarina, comes this clever app which, at the very least, is an opportunity for lots of bizarre and funny attempts at music, but could also be a genuine creative tool.  All you need to do is find anything that makes a noise – a saucepan, a crunchy carrot, a purring cat – point your camera at it and hit Record.  An image of the sound source appears on a grid.  Tapping on the image plays its sound.  Gather a full set of images, tap out a pattern and you have your own found-sound composition.  It’s amazing how many interesting sounds can be made by everyday objects, and how musical the results can be, and of course you can even record actual musical instruments.  Before you know it, you’re your own Pomplamoose. You can record your song and create mixes, including the ability to create loops and change pitches and volumes.  You can then share it via YouTube, Twitter, Facebook or email, and access others’ creations.

Just one note: because of its lack of a camera, the iPad 1 can play and edit shared tracks, but can’t record new tracks.

Of course, there’s always more you could do.  It would be great to add a few further features of a typical sequencing app such as Garage Band, especially quantization (correcting rhythmic errors).  Smule are famous for adding live sharing to some of their apps, including duetting.  It’d be fun to hook up with others for online jams.  Maybe that will be part of an update in the future, but as it is, this is an enormously fun app.

The World of Music Apps

Sunday, April 17th, 2011

From Gordon Harvey

The amazing success of the iPod, iPhone and iPad has unleashed an avalanche of software for every imaginable interest.  Music has proven a hugely popular area, generating thousands of apps, many of which are genuinely useful and innovative.  We’ll highlight more apps in future editions of this newsletter.  Please also let us know if you have a favourite app.


iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch, Nokia, BlackBerry, Android, Windows Phone

Free, or $5.99 US, $7.99 AUS

This is one of those ‘how the heck do they do that?’ apps.  You’re listening to the radio and hear a song you really like.  You wait for them to back-announce it, but do they?  No they don’t, leaving you with the frustration of another one that got away.  But if you’d had Shazam, you’d probably know what the song is, and maybe even have added it to your collection, before it’s even finished.  You just launch Shazam, tap ‘Tag Now’ and point your device towards the radio.  Shazam spends 30 seconds or so listening and sends information to a database which analyses the sound and attempts to identify the song.  If it’s successful, it will give you the name ,artist, album, artwork and other information, and provide links to relevant services. It can take you to iTunes to download the song or to YouTube to watch the video, or allow you to share your find on Facebook and Twitter.  In some cases it can provide lyrics or tour information.  And it’s all free, provided you only want to tag five songs a month and can put up with a little advertising.  If not, you can pay for the Encore version, or the (PRODUCT)RED version which supports the fight against AIDS in Africa.

I’ve been amazed at how well Shazam does its job.  I’ve tried to fool it by throwing some pretty obscure stuff at it, and most of the time it identifies the song correctly.  Occasionally it will come up with the wrong answer, but usually the track it finds seems pretty good anyway, so when that happens I consider it a random find that might just take me down a new path.  I’m also impressed by its ability to hear.  I remember sitting at a Day On The Green event in the pouring rain waiting for the first act and hearing something good on the PA.  Despite the rain, the crowd noise and the low volume of the PA, it nailed the track.

Even at a price, this app is worth every cent if you’re the kind of person who’s always looking for the next new listening experience.



$4.99 US, $5.99 AUS

GarageBand will be well-known to Mac users – it’s a simple and user-friendly but powerful music composition tool which is a great entry point to the exciting world of digital music creation.  It comes free with new Macs and has been the main reason for many people to purchase one.  Now they have another, much more affordable choice with the release of GarageBand for iPad.

The real benefit of an app like this is the opportunity to put down your musical ideas whenever the muse strikes (although I wouldn’t recommend using it in the shower).  The built-in tools make constructing an idea simple enough that you don’t lose it in the process of figuring out how to put it down.

When you open a new song you’re offered an array of ways of recording your idea.  You might record yourself singing a melody using the iPad’s built-in mic, plug in your guitar, or create a rhythm on a virtual drum kit or a chord progression on a virtual guitar.  I’ve used its virtual keyboard to play in a melody or chords, and for small keys on a touch screen, it’s surprisingly usable.  GarageBand will play back your tune, and can ‘quantize’, that is, can correct your rhythm if it’s uneven.  But if it’s too far out or if you play a wrong note, you’ll have to record it again – unlike the Mac GarageBand, you can’t go into a ‘piano-roll’ mode to change individual notes.

GarageBand includes a substantial library of loops.  These are short snippets of recordings of various instruments or voices, edited to 1, 2 or 4 bars length.  A typical use of loops might be to put down a drum pattern under your piano melody, then add a string sample or synth stab.  You can change the tempo, and the loop will automatically adjust to fit.

This app misses some features of the Mac version, but it’s an amazing achievement for it to be so comprehensive on the iPad, especially at the price.  Many music-making apps are toys, but this one can be used as a serious creative tool.

For me, the real beauty of this app is the chance to quickly put down an idea when it happens, then develop it later.  It’s amazing to be able to record and assemble a genuine composition with nothing but an iPad, although if you want to really control everything about the piece, you’ll probably want to open it in a more powerful editing environment.  The product description says you can “send a project to your Mac and open it in GarageBand”, but when I tried to do so after I first purchased the app, I found it didn’t work.  Luckily Apple has just released an update to GarageBand for Mac that fixes the problem, so make sure you have the update.

I predict you’ll find this a brilliant creative tool.  It wasn’t that long ago that you’d have had to pay hundreds of dollars for program this powerful (and probably a lot less elegant and easy to use) on a computer.

Bubble Harp

iPad, iPhone, Mac

$1.99 US, $2.49 Aus

Elsewhere in this Newsletter we mentioned Peter Roberts’ Reverie Harp, an instrument that allows non-players to create beautiful sounds by simply stroking the strings.  Here’s a completely different use of harp sounds and fingertips.

Bubble Harp uses complex mathematics to create visual patterns that imitate the way bubbles form and interact.  As you stroke the screen, lines appear and reform around each other.  As they do, they play notes using harp samples, cycling their way through the pattern.  As you continue to play with the screen, the music changes according to the path it takes and the number and length of the lines.  You can create a simple repeating loop or a complex wash of sound, depending on the visual patterns you create and the way you move your fingers.  You can base the music on various scales, such as Pentatonic, Egyptian, and Blues scales, and can change various other characteristics.

This is not an instrument in the familiar sense, where you could think up a melody and work out how to play it.  The complex interaction of the lines makes music creation much more random and unpredictable, which for me is the fascinating thing about it.  You’ll come up with musical patterns you would never have thought of.  To me, this is an example of touchscreen technology having the potential to transform the music we make and the way we make it.  This app may be something of a toy (and as much about the visuals as the music) but it points to a whole new world of creative opportunities.  All it needs is some creative minds to ask “where can we go next?” and we’ll have a wealth of serious and truly imaginative musical tools.  In the meantime, this app and many others like it bring musical play to anyone with an iPhone or iPad and a few dollars.