Awesome Guitar Software is Awesome

I have two — two! — pieces of awesome software to showcase today for the iPad. Perhaps you thought the iPad was only good for watching Netflix streaming but now it is made of rock.

TabToolKit by Agile Partners

At first blush you may be all “buh?” But let me tell you the greatness of TabToolKit.

If you’ve played guitar for years… and years… and years… and years… you occasionally open up an old book or an old bag and there, lurking within, is a badly scratched out downloaded from an ASCII document from some repository tab of some guitar song or other you really wanted to learn but all you had was this tab that sort of told you where to put your fingers and not a hell of alot else. You struggled for a while and then gave up. TabToolKit:

1. Organizes your tabs. If anything else, it means no more printing them out, folding them up, or ripping them while trying to play awkwardly on the couch.
2. Displays them in a neat and easy way for practice — especially on an iPad with an easel stand.
3. Uses Guitar Pro tabs which have all the parts to a song, the sheet music, and the tabs so the music-saavy can actually look at notes and go “oh, that is way less difficult than I thought.”
4. Has metronomes, speed up, slow down, looping and repeat features for working on a particular practice.
5. Count in and play at any point in the song.
6. Drop voices in and out.
7. For those wondering how to play said power chords, it highlights where to hold the strings down on the fretboard.
8. And Guitar Pro tabs are extremely plentiful for free.

I love this piece of software. I absolutely love it. I recommend TabToolKit to anyone with a guitar — a beginner, someone looking to improve, someone wanting to carry their collection of tabs around conveniently, anyone. It is squee in a can. It’s iPhone/iPod/iPad — the iPad version is a native, full screen version.

Amplitube for iPad by IK Multimedia

I love the original Amplitube but getting my guitar jacked into my Macbook Pro was always a huge hassle — converter boxes that never worked, feedback noise, weird issues. I ended up with an actual guitar-to-usb cable that lost sound and had high latency but at least worked. Despite this, Amplitube is such a marvelous piece of software it justifies buying a Mac (a Windows version is now available) to complement one’s electric guitar. Who wouldn’t go through the trouble for all those stompboxes, amps and cabs in one place to model any sound, anywhere?

Now I have Amplitube for iPad. Sure it has far fewer stompboxes, amps and cabs then the big software load but what it has is more than enough to model up any sound for any purpose.

1. The iRig dongle works out of the packaging without any software or configuration. Plug guitar into iRig. Plug headphones into iRig. Plug iRig into iPad. Done.

2. Amplitube for iPad (iPhone, iPod) works right out of the box and comes with 12 presets, 11 stomps, 5 amps and 5 cabs for the full ($20) install of the software. The stomps and amps all have little knobs that turn by running a finger along the screen for custom settings. Settings can be saved.

3. The modeling sounds excellent. The latency is low. The feedback is non-existent.

4. Everything sounds better with the Delay pedal which does lock to a BPM. You, too, can sound like a bad Yes knock-off!

I have not played with pulling in my own track and putting effects over it on the fly but this is a supported feature.

It’s just full of squee. Instead of carrying around a Mac and a whole toolbox full of chords and gizmos to get it to work and then not able to get it out to a speaker or an amp all I need is my regular guitar cable, the iRig, headphones and/or output device and the iPad. It sounds fantastic.

For someone who just wants to sit and pick up a guitar and play, and have the guitar sound good through the headphones, this is a must-have. The iRig is $40. The software is either free (Amplitube FREE) with the option to add to it, or $20 for the full build. Everything, yes, is $80 but $80 is the cost of a single, good stompbox*.

So see? The iPad does do things other than just stream videos.

The alternative I recommend for the same price is TabToolKit and a Line6 PocketPOD, but the Amplitube has the visceral feeling of messing with gear where the PocketPOD is dialing to a setting. Not that I don’t love the POD, but I am more likely to have the iPad on me than the PocketPOD.

The End of Innovation?

I freely admit this post is a “Someone is WRONG on the INTERNET” reaction but it has gotten under my skin as the meme jumped from blog posts to podcasts and yesterday, I briefly saw it mentioned on a website of actual yea olde Main Stream Media.

The meme, started on the original Cory Doctorow post on Boing Boing and then passed around by hand through word of mouth, states the iPad hails the “end of innovation.” Perhaps because my job is spending hours trying to see the forest for the trees, I look at components and devices and say, “How is this leveraged? How is this used? How can I employ this in a creative and interesting way to get maximum value?”

Some devices have one use. I don’t complain about the walled garden of the firewall or the intrusion prevention system. Some have many uses, like my Droid. Some are in between. One uses the tool for the job.

Holding the iPad in my hands, I asked these questions and all I see is the beginning. I know the interface is new and the whole cosmos of interface software and cloud-based storage will take 9 months to a year to appear and show people this new “thing” is more than a dumb xterm for streaming Netflix like from the years of the VAX. A year from now this question will be silly and forgotten. Today it’s the hot hot hot meme.

My thought process works through the device like this — and I like me bullet point lovin’:

* Before last week, a tablet was a $2000 device that required tethering to the host computer and was used for special purpose computing in drafting and art. Microsoft had tablets and *tablet software for years but they never bothered to bring it to market. Suddenly, we have a brand new market, and with a new market comes new competitors, new market pressures, and with new market pressures comes the pressure to fix issues, improve systems, and make things work. Look! Free Market! Capitalism! Innovation! This is what we, in the US, do best!

HP is throwing the gauntlet with HP Slate, which runs Windows 7 and the Notion Adam Ink will have the unbelievably slick Pixel Qi interface. But Apple got there first and has a head start…

* The nub of the argument revolves around the Apple Store. I find I do not have a core issue with a final auditing process on software before releasing it to the world.  Is it a horrible and terrible thing that an audit process is in place to keep software that crashes devices or is full of malware or turns your nice little device into a zombie host? I understand the world is not as seeped** in security as I am, but I see this as more a double prong:

1. It is a basic security check on software before it goes to market.
2. It forces developers to do the boring parts of a project and not just the exciting and interesting parts to make a completed application.

No one complains that XBox Live is a walled garden. Or the Wii App store. Or, hell, Best Buy. If you want to experiment with software and systems, new laptops are cheap and Ubuntu is a damn fine OS for that purpose. Yes, okay, perhaps it will take up to 6 weeks for your software to come to market via the Apple Store but this is a new pressure and a new set of regulations. You cannot simply release broken software and patch, patch, patch. (I am talking to you, OSS.) I for one am sick of the endless beta cycle.

* Another complaint is that one cannot write code on the iPad. First off, I doubt this will be true forever and I see an interesting market in a combination IDE and drag-and-drop construction kits to build new, cool things organically and on the fly like LEGOs. Second, no one is stopping you from joining Apple Developer Connection, downloading the toolkits and going to town on your own MacBook Pro or wherever you write code. What, someone cut your fingers off? They give you the SDK. They give you the developer guide. They give you podcasts. They give you sample code. They give you Human-Computer Interface*** guides. Youtube is full of lectures from Universities that give you an introduction. How much more do you want? Steve Jobs to come to your house?

Yeah, okay, you cannot write code right on the device (yet) but I cannot write code write on my washer, either, but code still runs in there in an embedded chip.

Of course, if you have an objection to Objective C, I’m right there with you. That’s a different argument for a different day.

* I heard, “You cannot make music on it! The MacBook Pro came with Garageband and now they don’t give me that and I am just a passive listener! I will never discover my magnificence as a composer!****” Really? Have you never heard of Google? I hear it’s on computers now. Can you not type “music software ipad” into it? Perhaps you can use that browser that comes on the iPad.

Less sarcastic: Anyone who has ever sat down to a DAW knows the mouse and keyboard are completely inadequate to the job. DAWs like Logic Pro or Pro-Tools require a small galaxy of tactile peripherals to hook to the computer to get it to work satisfactorily. Eric bought me Synthtopia’s MiniSynth Pro which, although being largely monophonic, was a joy to use. Yes, I don’t feel the ridges of the control surface under my fingertips but music production is a tactile art and it felt far more natural to push on buttons and push sliders with my fingers than clicking and dragging with a mouse. If anything is going to explode with the iPad, it’s this — electronic digital music production, DJing, mashups, and new music.

No, you cannot record live to it (yet). Nor can you hook a control surface to it (yet). I wouldn’t want to do any mastering on it and these applications desperately need access to cloud storage. But if anything is going to explode, it’s right here because it’s comfortable, easy to carry, and multi-touch for full five-finger action. When Propellerheads has something out for it, I will need to be alone by myself with it for a little while to cry.

* “I can’t draw on it! I can’t write my novel on it!” Considering tablets were designed and created as artist control surfaces to computers for a more natural interface, I won’t even go there because the stupid, it burns. Suffice to say, I hear Brushes for the iPad has gotten incredible reviews.

As for writing your novel, I do suggest a cheap netbook and dropbox. Or a bluetooth keyboard and the iPad dock and dropbox. Either/or.

* “I can’t open it and see what is inside! I can’t do my own hardware mods/maintenance!” I know I am a terrible engineer but I see this as a feature. I like building and modding machines, too. But I don’t want to foist my modded machine on millions and millions of people. Is it terrible to get a system into hands of those who are perhaps not a member of the Computer Priesthood who don’t want to or have to worry about upgrading their video cards and drivers? I mean, I don’t know about you but I love my Xbox360 and I don’t crack that sucker open… and no one says you cannot build your own tablet out of components. We need to learn and accept that bug reports, crash reports, and random failure due to hardware incompatibility is not an option any more, people do not want to support their own hardware, and move on from that point.

This is making me deeply crazy. The iPad is a peripheral device to your main MacBook Pro. It’s a surface. Surfaces have been around for a decade and all computing has not stopped yet! I do not think anyone is going to be doing any music mastering or live editing of full motion pictures or doing full animation or controlling supercomputing***** on it quite yet. On the other hand, DJ software using fingers to organically mix and scratch pieces together to build a track? Awesome. Unbelievably awesome. And the price is right.

The iPad has some features I am not thrilled with. I cannot read books off it because it makes my laser-eyes bleed. I tried and went back to the Kindle. Some of the software is rough around the edges. The integrated cloud storage it desperately needs isn’t there yet. I don’t like the smeary fingerprints. It is just a tad too heavy. But the end of innovation? Turning computers into completely passive devices and you into a passive drone? Don’t you have a TV for that? For people who claim to love science fiction and see the future, the minds seem pretty damn closed.

I have ranted. I am done now. Maybe.

* Fantastic tablet software, actually. If the HP Slate works, things will get interesting, fast. But Microsoft hasn’t been able to ship anything good in years save the Xbox360.
** Or as fascinated with. I need to go get help for my addiction to all things botnet.
*** This is the rub, right here. No more writing terrible interfaces. That’s where the innovation apparently ends — you have to buck up and put on big boy pants and produce code people want to use and can work with in a natural way. And In the End, the Command Line.
**** This one got under my skin because it was a comment made on the Slate Cultural Gabfest and I almost threw my Droid out the window. Except I love my Droid.

***** If you don’t think I’m not thinking about cheap surfaces and controlling huge distributed computations across clusters then you are crazy because I have had that thought.

Happy Ignore the Internet Day!

Like everyone else, the Internet ruined April Fool’s Day for me somewhere around 2002. Cute jokes still pop up every years — I particularly like XKCD’s new and improved interface for the Internet and the rescripting of Dinosaur Comics. Good ol’ Slashdot has a running list of links to the better jokes out there today. (I’m not so hot on Google’s renaming itself Topeka but some of them are cute.)

Generally, though, for us news junkies who hover it up by the bucketful and then regurgitate it in thoughts on a little screen, Ignore the Internet Day is annoying as hell. It is doubly entertaining this year as people receive their iPads and it is impossible to figure out if the reviews posted today are real or jokes. Perhaps the entire iPad is a joke.

I want my news free of gotchas! Any more than it normally is! I shake my tiny fist at you, Ignore the Internet Day.


For Christmas I bought a Yamaha Clavinova CLP digital piano from Jordan Kitt’s Music in College Park, MD. It is not the sexiest digital piano ever conceived but it has 88 gravity-weighted touch-sensitive keys, an excellent fully sampled grand piano sound and, most importantly, a headphone jack for silent playing. And while it doesn’t hold up to an actual grand, it feels much better than a plastic synthesizer with spring-loaded keys.

Mostly I bought the piano for Katie because I have this idea in my head that Katie’s life will be much richer if she has music hardwired in her brain. But I decided, what the hell, I would learn how to play, too, simply from constant practice and staring at the little numbers on the sheet music for hints where to put my hands.

I can read music (treble and bass clef) fine. I have a head full of music theory. I understand how music is built. I don’t need books and videos full of “this is middle C.” I need to just play — scales, hand strengthening exercises, easy to intermediate pieces. Scale runs up and down the keyboard with my left hand. I bought a book full of technique (keep the thumb in, how to go up and down scales in 3-4-3 formation, wrists up, proper posture, how to stretch with thumb or pinky for the leap) and another book full of “Early Intermediate Songs” (better known as lead and bass part together) and went to town.

The first month was constant pain for my left hand which wasn’t used to my pinky having to move anywhere — it has had no feeling for 15 years due to arthritis. Month #2 wasn’t too much better. But I’ve noticed that the playing has become smoother — muscle memory is starting to kick in. Things are easing up.

I suck horribly. I won’t remove the headphones to force people to listen to me work through Bach’s Minuet in G Minor with pain. But it all does seem to be, at day’s end, about muscle memory and endless practice if one already has a head full of theory. My muscles are starting to remember. That is the baseline: for your hands to figure out consistently where the A key is without having to look or hunt-and-peck, it’s two months of practice, minimum 30 minutes/day.

Meanwhile, Katie is having faster and faster recognition of what notes go with what keys and what fingers to press what keys when it says so she is already making progress. She is starting to figure out that practice == getting better == playing more awesome little songs.

Oh! I can recommend the clavinova for anyone who has limited space and/or resources but still wants a piano that plays like a real one. I am jonsing to plug it into my Macbook through its MIDI interface and see what sort of havoc I can enact. I need cables, though.

Snowmageddon 3: The REVENGE

My only hope is that the third movie in a series is never very good, so maybe Snowmageddon 3: the REVENGE will be nothing.  But the predictions have gone from “a dusting” to “2-4 inches” to “4-8 inches” to “10-20 inches” to basic flat-out panic this morning on WAMU. FOX Baltimore is running around the clock weather coverage for all us shut-ins. My worry is about the roads — even though we got one good day of sun yesterday — hadn’t completely melted and now they will refreeze into compacted ice with a layer of ice, sleet, and snow.

Katie’s school was open with discretion to parents. Since it is in the neighborhood — no major or minor roads, just subdivision roads — she went so she could get some running around time because the beans were piling up. But Eric will get her early before it gets really bad.

I will take more pictures and post them. But it looks like the UP outside.

The Snow Canyon and Snowmageddon 3: The Revenge

Snow Canyon
One Thousand Milli-Em

This is a not-terrible shot down the private drive my house and two others sit on. The Howard County Plow Guy ™ was kind enough to plow down our private drive even though it’s technically not his job to do so. He took pity on us. Otherwise we would be burrowing out like gophers through the snow still. Even so, these piles of snow are over five feet tall. They don’t look five feet tall so I took a comparison picture and used myself (5’1″) as a comparison measurement.

So the Weather Guy on the Weather Channel has upgraded Snowmageddon 3: The Revenge from a “weak storm you have nothing to worry about” to “this could tie up roads” to “OH MY GOD POWER LINES TREES ROOFS DEATH DOOM THE END OF TIME.” It went from 2-4″ to 4-8″ to 8-12″ to 10-20″ to “it’s going to be inches of snow so you better deal with it.”

And we’re out of eggs. We are not yet eating the components of food.


Now I understand why people with what I am going to graciously call “hereditary or otherwise non-avoidable sugar issues” (heh) turn into insane gym rats. I do not feel well unless I go and do some pretty vigorous exercise for at least 30 minutes. Otherwise I feel sluggish and sick and edgy. But with exercise, huzzah!

I finally made a compromise with myself to give up the weights and focus on just getting my heart rate into a nice warm spot for 30 minutes, so my poison is currently the stand bike. It lets me a) read and b) pedal which is all I really want. So far the arthritis isn’t firing too bad which is my main concern. I don’t seem to be losing any weight either, but I have given up on that front. If I lose weight, yay. If I don’t, yay. All I care about is feeling okay and getting books read, so this seems to get me there.

“The Theory and Technique of Electronic Music”

I found this book today. The website is very plain and the information is a bit obtuse, but it is a complete 337 page book on everything you ever wanted to know about sound design and sound synthesis, although it is extremely EE/Math oriented:

The Theory and Technique of Electric Music by Miller Puckette.

If this looks (even vaguely) interesting, hop on over to Cycling74’s site. They’re the people who make SoundFlower and a whole bunch of other experimental music tools. Unfortunately, Max/MSP is stupid expensive.

Math + Computers = Music!