Beatwave, PatterMusic, Virtuoso HD & More

I’ve lived in envy of those of you who can play a musical instrument. My musical talent is either latent, which would mean that I have yet to fulfill my melodic destiny, or it is nonexistent, which would suck.

I’m hoping for the former, but hope without effort won’t buy China, and I have tried to play some instruments, but met with little success.

Likely one of the oldest and easiest instruments to play is the recorder. It’s been around, is some variation, for centuries, and is used to teach music theory in grade schools and universities. I have several recorders, and when the mood strikes I break one out and start tooting. Can I play anything recognizable in it?

No. And that’s the sad part because I like the way this instrument sounds.

I also tried my hand - and lips - at that favorite of prisoners, soldiers, and cowboys, the harmonica. I’m a big Blood, Sweat, and Tears fan and back in the day, when David Clayton-Thomas thought he was BS&T, the band used the harmonica in ways that made me want to learn to play.

I have several harmonicas, from the basic Marine Harmonica, to a complicated shift-register model. Can I play any off them?


Over the years I’ve bought zithers, kalimbas, and pretty much every fringe instrument I ran across and the stories are all the same. I won’t be playing any live concerts any time soon.

The problem, I’ve come to realize, is that while I enjoy playing instruments, I don’t enjoy it enough to devote large portions of what little free time I have towards practicing, which is likely why Carnegie Hall isn’t expecting me. To play any instrument, be it triangles or pipe organs, you must practice. The more you practice the better you become. It’s a simple equation, and it works, but we live in a society full of instant gratification seekers, raised on instant oatmeal and microwave popcorn. Waiting is what other people do. We medicate weight loss, spray on our suntans, and inject our muscles. It stands to reason that taking the time to learn to play an instrument is not in our psyche.

I’m generalizing, of course, and glad of it. There many of you who took the time to learn to strum a guitar or twitter a flute, and I salute you while glaring at you through green eyes. I‘ll continue my half-hearted attempt at making music, likely until I die. And that’s OK, I guess. Maybe something will catch with me, and I’ll become a late blooming Herbie Hancock.

While we wait for that to happen those of you who feel my pain and share my desire to create music, and own an iPhone, iPod Touch, or iPad, will be happy to learn that there are apps for those of us who are not musically inclined. And they are free.

My personal favorite is Beatwave. This app is so very cool. Basically, all you do is touch the screen to create a pattern of notes. The app parses the pattern in time to a defined rhythm, and the result is a unique musical “sentence”. There are four channels in Beatwave so you can layer the voices, and each layer can have one of any number of different voices. The channel can then be samples and stored for improvised play.

You can share your good tunes with other Beatwave players and download new voices from the Beatwave in-app store. Some voices cost real money, and there are features, such as exporting your tune to one of several audio file types, that you have to pay for, but it is not necessary to enjoy your personal groove machine.

It’s like a game where there are few rules and no one wins or loses, and you have a great time whenever you play. No musical talent required, you just need a little creativity and there ya go.

It’s fun, it’s melodic, it’s likely the closest I’ll ever come to playing a real instrument.

If you like Beatwave, but also have a bit more of musical background than I do then you may enjoy PatternMusic.

Like Beatwave, PatternMusic provides an adjustable rhythm to which you add voices. The difference is that PatternMusic lets you add layer upon layer of music to create a rich, full bodied tune, or so much noise. After creating a pattern for each voice, you can then arrange the voices however you want.

Create a rhythm passage then have it repeat, then a bass passage, next a few wind-like instruments and smooth nice guitar work. Once you get all the instruments you want in your song you adjust how the play on the Sound Stage.

I strongly suggest you take the time to go through the tutorial. It takes only a few minutes and you’ll get a lot more out of the app.

PatternMusic will get you rockin’. The version for the iPad is free for a limited time, so grab it while you can.

OK, if you have a bit more musical talent and can actually play an instrument, like the keyboards for instance, or would rather invest your time learning how then you’ll like want to get Virtuoso HD.

Virtuoso HD presents two rows of keys so that you can play with both hands. Admittedly that’s a little tough to do on the iPhone, but on the iPad version it’s not so bad. The keys tones have been sampled from a grand piano, so the sound you get is rich and vibrant. This is the free version, so don’t expect to get simulated striking force, or adjustable reverberation, or the ability to save your tunes, but if you just want to plunk around or pick out a tune on a grand piano, well, here ya go.

Virtuoso HD, free.

That’s a wrap for this week. Next week I’m going to take a look, literally, at mobile movie and TV show watching, so stop back by.

More free stuff below with direct links.