Music Study Apps Part 2 – PracticeLooper

PracticeLooper HeaderFor Part 2 of Music Study Apps, I am going to take a look at an amazing, brand new, app that is going to make anyone’s life easier who has to listen to a piece of music and figure out how to play it by ear. Or anyone who wants to play along with a piece of music and repeat certain sections  over and over.

PracticeLooper SmallPracticeLooper by Signals and Stuff is a brand new app just released January 18, 2015! The price is currently $4.99

PracticeLooper has a wonderfully clean design that is simple, straightforward and to the point! It is beautifully done and works well on iPhones or iPads both.

BASIC PREMISE: The app allows you to load a file from your iTunes, set up looping sections, adjust the pitch of the recording and also adjust the speed of the recording. When adjusting pitch or speed in this app things actually work as expected!

Let’s Dig in….

First step is to load a tune from the iTunes. This is the ONLY time I ever ran into issues with this app. Upon tapping the 8th note/music icon at the bottom of the screen you see a list of the tunes in your iTunes library. Of course if you are using iTunes Match then you need to make sure that the tune you want has actually already been downloaded to your device from within Apple’s Music app. The list I saw though actually included a few tunes that were NOT on my device but NOT all of my tunes – this was the weird part. The way I figure it is there has to be issues with iTunes Match and the way Apple works the music library on my device. I’m pretty sure this is NOT a “bug” in PracticeLooper.

The solution was simple on those weird tunes – jump into the Music app and tap the cloud icon to download it.

From there all was smooth sailing….

OVERVIEW – The waveform loads into the middle of the screen. You see the detailed, large view on top with a smaller overview of the entire track underneath. In that overview you will also see a rectangle indicating what section you are looking at in the larger, detailed waveform. Grab that rectangle and drag it to quickly change the detailed view. Pinch and zoom works as expected.

Hit the play button and off you go.

CHANGING PLAY LOCATION – If you want to jump to a different spot in the music then drag the playhead. If you want to jump right to a different spot in the detail view then simply tapping ABOVE the waveform will jump you to that spot – To figure out where to tap simply think about where the bulb part of the the playhead is at – ABOVE the waveform.

PracticeLooper 2LOOP SETTING – In order to start a loop simply tap the loop icon. Where ever the playhead is at you will see a loop marker drop in. Then you will notice that the loop icon is spinning, indicating that you need to set the end point for the loop. When the playhead gets to the appropriate spot tap the loop icon and your loop has been set! Don’t worry about being too precise as it is easy as pie to adjust the start and stop points. Once your loop is set the detail view will zoom to the loop section (if you don’t like this you can turn it off in the settings but I’m not sure why you would want to)

EDITING LOOP – Simply tap near the little white triangles, on the detailed waveform and drag to adjust the end points of the loop section.

MULTIPLE LOOPS – You can set up as many points to loop as you wish. Each loop section will be a different color.

ENDING THE LOOP – If you are done with the loop then tap the X in the middle of the loop icon. Beware though that this will actually CLEAR the loop. If you want to save it for later use then simply tap ABOVE the detail view outside of the loop section and the tune will continue on.

SPEED and PITCH – The rehearsal starts with adjusting the speed and sometimes the pitch of your loops. Slow practice is vital as we all know! So slow that loop down, rehearse it a zillion times, adjust the speed some more and keep building up speed until eventually you are a pro!

SAVING LOOP SETTINGS – As you open and close tunes the loop setting you have done will stay there and reappear the next time you open that tune! Nice touch!

PracticeLooper MidiMIDI GIVES EVEN MORE OPTIONS! – The fun doesn’t end with the nice clean and easy to figure out interface though! The developers have built in the option to control this app from a MIDI device! That means that you could use this app and hardly even touch your iPad! This is a surprise inclusion to me! A very nice one too! Click the screen shot to the right here to see all the different setting you can control via MIDI.

FURTHER DEVELOPMENT – A nice option would be to set a loop, slow the tempo down and then be able to repeat it 10 times with each time slowly increasing in tempo until the original tempo has been reached.

FINAL THOUGHTS – For an initial release this app is a polished, well working app that gives us musicians of today a HUGE leg up from what we used to have to do! I remember wearing out the start and stop buttons on my tape decks in the past, guessing about how far to rewind and hoping that my tape didn’t break!

The developers have a nice video on their website and their website is well done as well. Having a video like this and a well done website is essential to a successful app launch!

This is an essential app for musicians learning someone else music.

Music Study Apps Part 1- notetracks

NoteTracks Header

When we as musicians sit down to figure out and to study a piece of music there has usually been a bunch of paper, pencil and clicking going on. You hit play and start writing down which section is which, taking notes on where the main theme starts, when the chorus comes in, where to start adding, drums, strings, backup vocal….. and the list goes on and on until you have successfully marked up your paper all over the place in scratches and scrawls that you are lucky to read the next day.

With the advent of technology there are more and more apps available every day to give us a hand in our never ending quest to learn that next tune.

Let’s take a look at the Notetracks Smallnotetracks app which was just released December 5, 2014. The app is currently on an introductory sale of $4.99

This app will help ANYONE who has to listen to a piece of music and analyze it. This app could be used by anyone from elementary age up through college and music professionals as well!

Notetracks 1Upon opening the app you will need to create a new project. Upon entering that project you will need to import your recording from the iTunes library or you can import from DropBox as well. If you are using iTunesMatch, as I am, you will obviously have to make sure you have actually downloaded the track from the cloud first form within iTunes. If you haven’t already downloaded the tune from the cloud first you will see that it is grayed out and you will not be able to select it. You can see that I have this very situation going on in the screenshot to the right.

Once you imported your audio file you are then off to work!

ADDING TEXT, SYMBOLS, and DRAWINGS: You will see the waveform below the timeline and the artwork with a nifty volume slider on the left along with a mute option – more on that later. At the top, in the blue toolbar are your transport controls as you would expect and then the options to start adding Text, Symbols, or Drawings to your project. The obvious choices would be that I am sure you will want to type in the form of the piece – Intro, Verse, Chorus along with where different instruments come in.

Notetrack 2At this point I am sure you will start to experience a few of the frustrations that I found in working with this app. It is easy enough to add in one item – you tap the Tools option in the blue menu bar, select Add Text and a new track of information is added below the waveform. the next step is obvious, tap the +, type in the text and there it is! You can even select which color or size it appears as. THEN…. if you are like me you add a few items and you start to realize that if you want to move things around/change colors or sizes… you MUST make sure to DESELECT the previous item! Otherwise you start to change items you did not want to change! In fact sometimes you move or change items that do not even appear to be selected. Once you have played around with the app for about ten minutes you will get the hang of adding, changing, deleting, and moving items around.

HINT – Again, I can not stress this enough – save yourself some frustration when moving items around! Move the item, edit the color, size and placement THEN TAP IT AGAIN TO DESELECT IT!

A nice feature when wanting to add a number of items at the same spot is that if you drag an item downward the track will expand, as you can see to the left where I have 3-4 things stacked up. Another nifty feature when adding Symbols is that you can simply make sure the correct Symbol is already selected, then tap on the timeline wherever you want to add that symbol – skipping the process of tapping the + and making sure the playhead is in the correct spot. This allows you to add for instance a number of Symbols throughout the entire track all at once.

DRAWINGS: as for adding drawings… this is a nifty feature to have, just don’t expect a large drawing space with lots of tools – think basic and you will not be disappointed.

NAVIGATING and EXTRA TOOLS: About now I am sure you will have decided to see how easy it is to move around in your track. If you want to jump to a specific spot in the waveform, like at the 3 minute mark then simply tap there, even while the track is playing. Of course if the track is playing at the one minute mark and you try scrolling to the five mark, putting the playhead out of view, the screen will frustratingly jump back to the playhead – so simply tap the stop button, move to the spot you want. It would be nice if they gave you a few more seconds before the screen jumped back to center the playhead.

Pinch and expand motions work nicely, allowing you to zoom right in close to see the details or expand all the way to see the entire track at once (which of course is going to make all your notes, symbols and drawings a bit clustered)

In the blue toolbar there are some nice features along with a few annoyances. Let’s take a look at these….

LOOPING and MARKERS – If you tap the infinity icon (the sideways 8) you will get a message that the “Loop markers are not set”. Setting loop markers is easy – simply double tap the waveform where you want the first marker and then double tap where you want the second marker. There is still one more step to getting a loop going though you must press and hold on the loop marker number. This will turn the marker blue (Warning, until you actually lift your finger you will not be able to tell that the marker has become blue because the top stays orange – hopefully the developer fixes this). Long press on two markers and now you have a loop going!

If you tap the Location icon you will be able to edit the markers a bit – you are able to delete them or hide them.

Notetracks 3EQ, PITCH and SPEED OPTIONS – If you tap the Slider icon you will see that you have options for adjusting the Pitch, Speed and EQ of the piece. Quite frankly, as far as I am concerned these are not much help. when you adjust the Pitch for instance, the speed changes. When you adjust the Speed then the pitch changes. If you try to tap the – or + icons on the Pitch options they just simply do nothing. Do be aware that it is simple to mess with these options and then reset them – although unless you read the manual, you will probably never figure it out – simply double tap to return to original settings. I am also very unsure about why the original setting for Speed is not in the center.

OTHER OBSERVATIONS:

It is even possible to add in more than one piece of music into the same project. I am not sure why but that feature is there. When you do add a second piece of music you will want to use that mute button on the album art of the first piece – otherwise you end up listening to two pieces of music at once!

BUGS:

  • Sometimes when undoing and redoing actions things do not actually get undone or redone correctly
  • The playhead centering itself constantly is annoying! In fact – just save yourself a bunch of frustration – make sure the playhead is near where you wish to edit, add, and annotate things at!
  • The Rewind button and the FastForward button do not work at all. This in conjunction with the playhead issue is very frustrating after working your way through a piece of music. The solution is to zoom all the way out, tap the timeline at the beginning OR you can tap the timeline at the far left until you make your way back to the start.

SHARING:

What good is all of this work if you have others to share this with and can not get your information out of your iPad and into their hands?

The Export PDF feature gives you a PDF that you can pass along to others. I have included my simple project – Notetracks_Brule Example. I did not finish this one but just used it as an example for you to check out. You can see that it comes in as one ridiculously long PDF page from left to right. You will have to zoom WAY in but after zooming in this is quite useable!

HINT – When exporting your PDF you MUST make sure to have the track zoomed in enough to be able to read all of them text boxes. NoteTracks DOES NOT do this for you. If you are zoomed out and your boxes are all squished up, the PDF will look exactly the same!

There is also a Copy Text option as well allowing you to take all of your text notes and paste them into an email, text app or whatever. This feature of course would be much more useful if there was a way to figure out where in the timeline each note had been placed.

NoteTracks SharingHINT – PAY ATTENTION HERE PEOPLE – The real gem of sharing is hidden away – again, reading the manual to things pays off boys and girls! When you are at the main screen and you tap on the existing projects option you will then see a list of your projects on your iPad. MAGIC PART – Swipe left and you get to the options to the “Open In” button allowing you to share the project via dropbox, email, AirDrop, other apps and the sort. Check out the screen shot to the right

FINAL THOUGHTS:

This app is NOT meant to learn a piece of music by ear, giving you tools like slowing the tempo of the music down but keeping the pitch intact. See Part Two of my Music Study Apps for a tool for THIS sort!

Notetracks is going to prove to be invaluable when trying to figure out the form of a tune, taking notes while listening to it, and then sharing that information with others! I look forward to where this app will go in the future. There are a few issues with what it offers as is but the features that work are very helpful to any musician who has take notes and annotate a piece of music!

I have to do this sort of annotation constantly with my electronic group as we are performing arrangements of every single piece we perform. Not many people write for our instrumentation. NoteTracks is the perfect fit for us in this sort of situation!