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.

Piano

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.

Music Recommendations!

Perhaps you are lying there thinking, “Gee, I enjoy Sigur Ros, especially agaetis byrjun,  but I want that Sigur Ros sound with a more prog-rock edge and less Hopelandish.” If you are that person I offer to you a band called Mogwai from Glasgow and their extremely excellent album, Mr. Beast. Guitar, Bass, Drum, Piano and Computers! They sound marvelous. The sound is richly detailed and multi-layered and the album goes from alternative to metal to that sort of sweeping soundscape. As a taste, you can watch the video for “A Friend of the Night” from Mr. Beast on the Youtubes. Get thee hence and make with the clicky-clicky. I am completely hooked on this album. You should be, too.

If, for some reason, you have never listened to or heard of Sigur Ros, Youtube hosts full channels dedicated to Hopelandish. Search for them on Youtube and click on pretty much anything.

In a completely different vein that sounds nothing like Sigur Ros or Mogwai, I saw that Since I Left You by the Avalanches has been starting to appear quietly and sheepishly on “Best Of” album lists and this made my heart grow three sizes bigger. If you have never heard Frontier Psychiatrist or listened to the other fine and excellent tracks off Since I Left You, you can watch the video on the Youtubes as well. Yes! A Frontier Psychiatrist VIDEO! GASP! It’s an album that richly deserves to be on the best-of lists.

Book Decisions / Concert DVDs

I am going to finish my current book, Bill Bryson’s “The Mother Tongue – English and How It Got That Way” rather quickly because he is neither a difficult nor slow read, although it’s interesting because it is a survey of linguistics right before English + the Internets = Mayhem.

I have two books up on my docket next and I’m not too sure which one to attack.  I am thrashing between:

– Fairy & Folk Tales of Ireland, edited by W.B. Yeats (the original awesome)

– Crafty TV Writing by Alex Epstein

I am going to read them both. I am just undecided on which one.

I have for the time being given up on the Great Shark God’s Audacity of Hope with a mild pang of embarrassment.  It is not because I do not hang on everything the Great Shark God says, I ran headfirst into his very lengthy “Faith” chapter and I’ve reached a point where unless your name is “Jefferson, T.” or “Adams, J.” I am not terrifically interested in yet another take on Christianity and the Constitution.  I will likely just skip the chapter to finish the book.

On a completely different topic, we have discovered concert DVDs in the new 5.1 surround sound audio rig in the living room and it is heavenly.  We are watching the Police Reunion Tour concert right now and the extra money blown on the upgraded speakers and the big subwoofer is paying off handsomely.  I see a future of buying concert DVDs in the future.