During the practice of an instrument or when jamming with your band, your focus should be on the music, not in all the gadgets you have surrounding you. The experience should be seamless, and things like pushing play on a CD player or finding music inside iTunes can certainly get in the way.
This is where ideas like the iOS apps Blue Jam Player and Blue Scales Trainer can help you. The first allows you to create playlists and control them on your iOS device (say iPad or iPhone) from your pedalboard. The second does the same with scales and chords visuals to enable practice. Both great ideas that we decided to check out.
Blue Jam Player
The focus of the Blue Jam Player is, as the name implies, jamming with the device while playing your guitar. Once you see the main screen of the app at launch, you can access the settings if you do a right swipe from the left of the screen.
The first step is to build a playlist. There is one already pre-built and 16 empty slots. All songs can be loaded directly from iTunes and have their key and tempo detected, which is quite impressive. You can edit that manually. Of course if you want to challenge the app you can load that super complex prog song you love which has 5 key changes and 4 different tempo signatures to see what happens. In our tests the songs we loaded were straightforward pop rock songs and this worked quite well.
Note however that songs downloaded to your iOS device from the Apple Music streaming service are not eligible for loading into the app at the time of writing. This is not a limitation of the app, but rather a limitation imposed by Apple; other apps are also affected by this. You will have to use songs you actually own, from your iTunes library.
Once your list is created, you can go to the effects properties and geek out on the various parameters if you want. The app has a few options of enhancing the audio of the track you’re jamming with: Reverb, Equalizer, Delay, Flanger and Filter.
Next is the Bluetooth setup. In our case we tested with the IK Multimedia iRig Blue Turn and it worked right out of the box (you can buy it Amazon or Reverb from the links below):
The two pedals are pre-configured by the app, so the left one plays and pauses the songs in your playlist, and the right one rewinds the song to the beginning. In a future release it would be good to see configurations so we could use the pedals to do something else, like skip through the playlist for example.
Finally the settings page allow you to tweak things like enabling background playback – useful if you want to run your guitar sound through garage band or another app that models the guitar sound – and autostart the next song so you can jam 24/7 non-stop !
Ok, back to the main screen, where on the left hand side you will see the playlist you’ve loaded, and on the right side you will see the 5 effects, in addition to pitch shift and time pitch controls.
The pitch shift is quite useful for transposing songs which are not in the same key as your instrument, without changing their speed. The speed will allow you to slow down and practice difficult parts slowly and then build up from there. Some musicians say you should aim to get good at 110% speed so you don’t struggle when you play with the band at 100% speed. With this app you can achieve just that.
At the bottom right corner, the playback controls, which can be actioned on the screen or via bluetooth pedal. There are four playmodes: loop the current song, play current song and stop, keep playing through the playlist, and repeat A-B. The icons are quite informative of which one is which, so give it a shot. The A-B is quite useful, and you will have to use the toggle box on the right (A/B) to set A, then B, then start the loop. Pretty cool once you get the hang of it.
The app was pretty stable during the tests and it was lots of fun to interact with. There is room for improvement but it is very useful right our of the box. Needless to say, the songs used don’t have to be songs, they could be jam tracks. You could create tracks to jam right from garage band, publish them to your iTunes library, make a playlist inside this app and then jam to them controlling everything from your bluetooth pedal. Pretty cool !
Blue Scales Player
From the same developer, here the focus is practicing instead of jamming. The playlist concept is the same, although apparently the playlists are not shared between the apps. There is a pre-built one with some cool loops in various keys, and they all show what the key is, what the tempo is, and what the progression within the key looks like. With a bit of patience you can load up your own progressions and practice with them. Note that while the loading process is the same as in their other app, in this one they edited the name of the artist to show the progression instead (example: Acoustic Guitar Loop – C,Am,F,G). Cool trick given metadata limitations.
The bluetooth pedal setup is the same, but on the settings screen this time you have options: left pedal can zoom into the scale or start/stop toggle the song, and the right pedal can show the next scale or switch to the next song.
The scales can be configured in the main screen as well as the key, and the usual suspects are there: pentatonic, major and minor, and blues. They are derived from the CAGED system so as you would expect the app shows the notes of the scale, the number of the pattern, and from what fret position they start. Neat trick is that it also shows the root note and the chord notes from the root, which can help navigate some of your guitar hero solos.
The zoom modes can be enabled via pedal if configured, or swiped left and right from the scale screen. Note that if you double tap on the scale mini box it will take up more screen real estate, useful once you’re doing configuring and just want to play.
The play section is similar to the Blue Jam Player app and has basically the same controls, meaning you can A-B a section and jam with it improvising over an E minor pentatonic until you are better than Eric Clapton or you battery runs out, whichever comes first.
Finally from the settings you can check the chord charts for each key, from the settings page. They also mention common progressions for the key being highlighted.
Also no issues here regarding stability, all very easy to install and run smoothly.
Both apps are very useful and can help a lot musicians in their quest. We will be using them quite regularly as they are not just gimmicks, they seem designed by someone who jams on a regular basis.
The possible improvements we foresee are:
- How to handle key or tempo changes.
- More configuration options for the pedals.
- Including other scales not derived from the Major scale, like Harmonic Minor.
- Showing all the modes from the major scale not just major (Ionian) and minor (Aeolian).
- Instead of zooming on patterns of the CAGED system, showing a lead pattern which normally crosses around 3 of those patterns diagonally and covers more of the neck
- Having options for users of the 3 notes per string system.
Check their website for more:
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