iPad Apps for Encouraging Improvisation – McCready & Pisano

I was excited to perform a joint clinic with Richard McCready at the 2013 TMEA/TI:ME 2013 Conferences in San Antonio last week.   Fifty minutes was not enough time to do the clinic justice -and juggling all of the gear made it challenging, nonetheless it sure was informative for the large crowd and lots of fun to present!The clinic focused around the concept of using iPad Apps for Encouraging Improvisation, but more importantly, the creativity that is developed and used through the act of improvisation.  Richard and I both are teachers and performers and we both have a common love of sharing our knowledge and exploring creativity through music making.

I started the clinic by talking about “old school”, traditional, improvisational learning approaches.   Anyone my age or older that has learned improvisation in a school setting will talk about using the Jamey Abersold Jazz Recordings -indeed, they are fantastic.  (By the way, Jamey has made his “Red” book about improvisation free to all as a downloadable PDF!)   We spent years learning the vocabulary of scales, chords progressions, riffs, and patterns…  I started the clinic by reviewing four interesting and useful “old-school” iPad apps that adhere to that approach (Click the link to go to iTunes, Click the image for a larger view of the app):

  1. Scales Lexicon

    SCALES LEXICON. Great app for learning dozens of scales. Gorgeous, easy-to-use, and fun!

  2. iImprov Fundamentals

    IIMPROV – FUNDAMENTALS. Jam-along songs with tempo control, and jazz theory explanations. Also versions that cover bebop, minor II-V, modes, and a chord/scale compendium.

  3. iMprovisor

    IMPROVISER. Many pages of jazz and blues practical exercises in 12 keys. Nobody ever plays the blues in Db, but this app does!

  4. iRealB

    IREAL B. Band-in-a-Box meets the Real Book meets the iPad. Jam along to computer generated accompaniments, create leadsheets, download user-created leadsheets from user forums.

Next, Richard began to talk about improvisation and creativity from a fresher, newer perspetive, that of creating music and improvising by ear and with little or no formal or “visual” training.   The dialog evolved into the manipulation of sounds and recording sequences with incredibly innovative iPad apps.  He also did a quick “show and tell” of a JamHub (Bedroom edition) which allows electronic musicians to “jam” anywhere without bothering their neighbors…  The apps that he demonstrated during this time were:

  1. Mugician

    MUGICIAN. Polyphonic fretlessness! This app allows guitarists to improvise in touch-screen setting due to an inventive screen layout where lines are separated by 4ths. It makes total sense when you’re used to a fretboard and the ability to create chords, slides and bends.

  2. Impaktor

    IMPAKTOR. With this app, you can finally let the drummer have the melody! Drum on a nearby surface, the iPad hears the sticking as input, and translates it into synth sounds. Banging the pots and pans is now a 21st Century skill.

  3. Echo String

    ECHO STRING. Probably the best of the many harp/autoharp apps available. You can create up to seven partitions of diatonic chords, including sevenths. Moving string labels allow you to see common chord tones – great for learning pivot tones. You can also record performances in the app and play them back.

  4. Thumb Jam

    THUMBJAM. One of the “cool” and easier-to-use apps for improvising (jamming) on the iPad. The sounds are good and the abilities to chose “scales” as a basis for a solo makes this an excellent exploration tool for musicians looking to improvise with the latest technology.

After a “cool” session by Richard, I did a quick “impromptu” improvisation using the Every Day Looper app (wicked-cool by the way!):

EVERYDAY LOOPER. One of the easiest to use apps for making quick recorded loops of anything. The easy-to-use controls of this app coupled with the intuitiveness of operation make this a “no-brainer” for anyone looking to quickly compose or improvise quick-backing tracks or short compositions.

Not to be outdone, Richard then did a quick “impromptu” multi-improvisational recording using the Cube Jam app:

CUBE JAM by Roland. Import songs from your iPad library, change speed or key, dub another track over the top, and then mix down your own version of the song. Perfect for recording and listening back to your own solos.

We closed the session jamming to the chord progression by Pink Floyd’s “Breathe”.  Richard created a GarageBand file of the background music (via the iPad app), which we displayed with the projector to the audience.  Richard improvised using a Black, Roland AX-09 keyboard and I used a pocket Bb trumpet with a twist…   I used the Yamaha Silent Brass Mute and connected the output to an Apogee Jam.  Then, I connected the Apogee Jam to my iPad and used the iPad app JamUP Pro XT to alter the sound of the trumpet significantly.   Both of us were inputting into a Roland BA 55 amp (outstanding sound).   I can’t tell you how tremendously “cool” it was to be jamming with Richard over Pink Floyd chords to a full house at the Texas Music Educator’s Association/TI:ME Convention!   Needless to say, I was making some very ethereal sounds come out of my “old school” trumpet coupled with the iPad effects!

GARAGEBAND – While many think of this program as a “loop editor”, the performance aspects of this app are quite appealing.Although we just scratched the surface on all of the apps that we had prepared for the session, we actually were able to highlight about a dozen of them.  You may find all of our hand-picked apps at our Pinterest Board:

JAMUP PRO XT – A fantastic multi-effects processor for guitar or bass (or anything else you can plug-in). Includes the ability to run 7 simultaneous effects. Audiobus and MIDI capable.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our Pinterest Board, iPads for Encouraging Improvisation

If the board is not visible click this link to go directly to the Pinterest Site.

The “Gear” that we used our session:

Most of the gear that we used are easily found at online stores such as Sweetwater.

Richard and I also talked about an incredible social media site that I started for Music Educators on Facebook –  The Music Educators Facebook Group.

We both also encourage anyone to check out the TI:ME (Technology Institute for Music Educators) -they are a fantastic organization that helps music teachers to learn about and benefit from technologies such as those discussed at our session.

Keep the conversation going, we encourage you continue this conversation in our comment section below, at the Facebook Music Teachers Group, or via our Pinterest board.

Enjoy!

Dr. Joseph Pisano

Joseph M. Pisano, Ph.D. is the creator of many education websites, a lecturer, clinician, trumpeter, and conductor. He is currently the Associate Chair of Music and Director of Bands in the Calderwood School of Arts at Grove City College in PA. He been named a TI:ME Teacher of the Year, received the JEN Jazz Educator Award and the PA Citation of Excellence. He is a past Vice President of the Technology Institute for Music Educators and the current Vice-President of the PA Intercollegiate Bandmasters Association. He also writes for DCI Magazine, Teaching Music Magazine, and is the Educational Editor for In-Tune Monthly Magazine; he has contributed hundreds of articles to various publications. Find out more at his website jpisano.com.
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