A friend recently pointed me to an iOS app that Apple make but don’t seem to sing about much, but has really changed the way I practice guitar, and seems to be a great potential song writing tool too: Music Memos.
The app starts from a simple premise: it lets you record little bits of music as you play, just as you would with a voice memo app. That in itself is useful enough when practicing - it’s always good to listen back to yourself and hear what you sounded like not what you think you sounded like - but once you have recorded your little clip, it does all kinds of useful other bits. It’ll do an automatic transcription of what you played, putting it on a bar based view with the chords for each bit annotated over the track
You can also add a backing band to your recording, adding various drummer styles and an automatic bassist (which I don’t think is even available in GarageBand, Apple’s normal go to software for amateur musicians). The range of drummers isn’t as comprehensive as say GarageBand’s, but it’s enough to let you get an idea fleshed out quickly without making the UI overly complicated. It also will sync my recordings via iCloud so I can listen to them later on my iPad, or open them up in GarageBand directly if I then want to take the moment of inspiration further, or I can post them to SoundCloud etc. to share them with people.
But for all its features, one of the best things is that for the most part the UI when you’re playing is uncluttered and simple letting you concentrate on playing guitar, not the app.
The main UI just has one button to let you start and stop recording, and there’s even an automatic mode that I assume will track when you start and stop, but I’ve not yet played with that (when practicing I don’t need it to automatically record my scales :). At a lot of guitar apps I’ve tried have very cumbersome user interfaces and when I’m playing guitar I don’t want to be thinking about the app, it’s enough for my brain to cope with trying to play new things my guitar teacher has set me.
The number of times I practice and think “oh, I wish I ‘d recorded that” is reasonably high, so having an app I can just have to one side and turn on quickly to capture something fills a niche nicely. I’ve also taken to using it at my lessons: I have a terrible memory for rhythm patterns and timing, and so I’ll get a new riff or sequence down whilst at my lesson, but the next day looking at the sheet music have no idea how it was meant to flow. With Music Memos I now just record that riff at my lesson before we move on, so for the rest of the week I have that reference to hand.
If you’re a guitarist with an iPhone I really recommend you give it go, and a big thanks to Jason for pointing me to it!