What Does It Take For An iPad App To Be An Instrument?

iPad Music Software: In this video, developer Rob Fielding (Mugician) offers his thoughts on what it takes for an iPad app to become an instrument on a par with traditional ones – and he puts out the challenge for other developers to create capable & challenging iPad instruments.

You may want to bump the YouTube quality up to 480p when you watch this, to be able to see the captions better.

Check it out and let me know what you think it takes for an iPad app to become a real instrument!

via rrr00bb:

This is my take on what iPad instruments need to do to be playable.

If you see some of my users doing non-constructive criticisms of other instruments (specifically yours! πŸ™‚ ), please don’t take it too seriously. I don’t do that myself, and it bothers me.

Some of Mugician’s evolution was guided by Jordan Rudess’ Morphwiz, Roger Linn’s Linnstrument, and the many things I learned working with Leon Gruenbaum’s Samchillian (my Xstrument instrument is a derivative of it)

48 thoughts on “What Does It Take For An iPad App To Be An Instrument?

  1. Okay, that's more like it. I am not personally sold on using an iPad this way so far, but he covers all of the points that have bugged ME about hand-held "music" devices and while he does it, shows off an excellent piece of music, which illustrates part of what he says. Excellent.

  2. Okay, that's more like it. I am not personally sold on using an iPad this way so far, but he covers all of the points that have bugged ME about hand-held "music" devices and while he does it, shows off an excellent piece of music, which illustrates part of what he says. Excellent.

  3. Okay, that's more like it. I am not personally sold on using an iPad this way so far, but he covers all of the points that have bugged ME about hand-held "music" devices and while he does it, shows off an excellent piece of music, which illustrates part of what he says. Excellent.

  4. Okay, that's more like it. I am not personally sold on using an iPad this way so far, but he covers all of the points that have bugged ME about hand-held "music" devices and while he does it, shows off an excellent piece of music, which illustrates part of what he says. Excellent.

  5. Okay, that's more like it. I am not personally sold on using an iPad this way so far, but he covers all of the points that have bugged ME about hand-held "music" devices and while he does it, shows off an excellent piece of music, which illustrates part of what he says. Excellent.

  6. Okay, that's more like it. I am not personally sold on using an iPad this way so far, but he covers all of the points that have bugged ME about hand-held "music" devices and while he does it, shows off an excellent piece of music, which illustrates part of what he says. Excellent.

  7. Very interesting. It's clear he's thought about this a lot.

    The big limitation on iPad apps is lack of real velocity sensitivity, which really limits how expressively you can play.

  8. Very interesting. It's clear he's thought about this a lot.

    The big limitation on iPad apps is lack of real velocity sensitivity, which really limits how expressively you can play.

  9. Very interesting. It's clear he's thought about this a lot.

    The big limitation on iPad apps is lack of real velocity sensitivity, which really limits how expressively you can play.

  10. Very interesting. It's clear he's thought about this a lot.

    The big limitation on iPad apps is lack of real velocity sensitivity, which really limits how expressively you can play.

  11. Very interesting. It's clear he's thought about this a lot.

    The big limitation on iPad apps is lack of real velocity sensitivity, which really limits how expressively you can play.

  12. Very interesting. It's clear he's thought about this a lot.

    The big limitation on iPad apps is lack of real velocity sensitivity, which really limits how expressively you can play.

  13. Well, I wouldn't think that lack of velocity sensitivity is a real deal breaker. Keep in mind that organs of any stripe (either renaissance, baroque, modern or electric) have never had velocity sensitivity and that never stopped JS Bach or Jimmy Smith from being virtuosos. The harpsichord is another instrument without a velocity response.

  14. Well, I wouldn't think that lack of velocity sensitivity is a real deal breaker. Keep in mind that organs of any stripe (either renaissance, baroque, modern or electric) have never had velocity sensitivity and that never stopped JS Bach or Jimmy Smith from being virtuosos. The harpsichord is another instrument without a velocity response.

  15. Well, I wouldn't think that lack of velocity sensitivity is a real deal breaker. Keep in mind that organs of any stripe (either renaissance, baroque, modern or electric) have never had velocity sensitivity and that never stopped JS Bach or Jimmy Smith from being virtuosos. The harpsichord is another instrument without a velocity response.

  16. Well, I wouldn't think that lack of velocity sensitivity is a real deal breaker. Keep in mind that organs of any stripe (either renaissance, baroque, modern or electric) have never had velocity sensitivity and that never stopped JS Bach or Jimmy Smith from being virtuosos. The harpsichord is another instrument without a velocity response.

  17. Well, I wouldn't think that lack of velocity sensitivity is a real deal breaker. Keep in mind that organs of any stripe (either renaissance, baroque, modern or electric) have never had velocity sensitivity and that never stopped JS Bach or Jimmy Smith from being virtuosos. The harpsichord is another instrument without a velocity response.

  18. Well, I wouldn't think that lack of velocity sensitivity is a real deal breaker. Keep in mind that organs of any stripe (either renaissance, baroque, modern or electric) have never had velocity sensitivity and that never stopped JS Bach or Jimmy Smith from being virtuosos. The harpsichord is another instrument without a velocity response.

  19. I agree with most of these, except "no eye candy". I actually don't care about how an app looks, as long as it is well designed and is not made to deliberately look like crap. I'm looking at you, Thumbjam!

    – Blaos

  20. I agree with most of these, except "no eye candy". I actually don't care about how an app looks, as long as it is well designed and is not made to deliberately look like crap. I'm looking at you, Thumbjam!

    – Blaos

  21. I agree with most of these, except "no eye candy". I actually don't care about how an app looks, as long as it is well designed and is not made to deliberately look like crap. I'm looking at you, Thumbjam!

    – Blaos

  22. I agree with most of these, except "no eye candy". I actually don't care about how an app looks, as long as it is well designed and is not made to deliberately look like crap. I'm looking at you, Thumbjam!

    – Blaos

  23. I agree with most of these, except "no eye candy". I actually don't care about how an app looks, as long as it is well designed and is not made to deliberately look like crap. I'm looking at you, Thumbjam!

    – Blaos

  24. I agree with most of these, except "no eye candy". I actually don't care about how an app looks, as long as it is well designed and is not made to deliberately look like crap. I'm looking at you, Thumbjam!

    – Blaos

  25. Hi, it's the video author here. I meant that with respect to 'living within your means'. There isn't enough touchable area on the iPad to waste it on pixels that don't do anything. There isn't enough CPU, because when you finally got the right sound, there's always a request for another effect that uses even more CPU; so no matter what you do, eye candy will hurt the sound engine or playability in some way. I know that this is *crazy* talk, and it's why I just gave up on selling an app for now.

    The demand for real and playable instruments isn't really there yet unfortunately. There are an overwhelming number of musical neophytes rating apps in ways that severely punish anything with a learning curve. You could create an app that beams Randy Rhoads' personal guitar into your hands, and it would get nothing but 1 and 5 star ratings evenly split between those who want instant gratification and those who want a challenge.

  26. Hi, it's the video author here. I meant that with respect to 'living within your means'. There isn't enough touchable area on the iPad to waste it on pixels that don't do anything. There isn't enough CPU, because when you finally got the right sound, there's always a request for another effect that uses even more CPU; so no matter what you do, eye candy will hurt the sound engine or playability in some way. I know that this is *crazy* talk, and it's why I just gave up on selling an app for now.

    The demand for real and playable instruments isn't really there yet unfortunately. There are an overwhelming number of musical neophytes rating apps in ways that severely punish anything with a learning curve. You could create an app that beams Randy Rhoads' personal guitar into your hands, and it would get nothing but 1 and 5 star ratings evenly split between those who want instant gratification and those who want a challenge.

  27. Hi, it's the video author here. I meant that with respect to 'living within your means'. There isn't enough touchable area on the iPad to waste it on pixels that don't do anything. There isn't enough CPU, because when you finally got the right sound, there's always a request for another effect that uses even more CPU; so no matter what you do, eye candy will hurt the sound engine or playability in some way. I know that this is *crazy* talk, and it's why I just gave up on selling an app for now.

    The demand for real and playable instruments isn't really there yet unfortunately. There are an overwhelming number of musical neophytes rating apps in ways that severely punish anything with a learning curve. You could create an app that beams Randy Rhoads' personal guitar into your hands, and it would get nothing but 1 and 5 star ratings evenly split between those who want instant gratification and those who want a challenge.

  28. Hi, it's the video author here. I meant that with respect to 'living within your means'. There isn't enough touchable area on the iPad to waste it on pixels that don't do anything. There isn't enough CPU, because when you finally got the right sound, there's always a request for another effect that uses even more CPU; so no matter what you do, eye candy will hurt the sound engine or playability in some way. I know that this is *crazy* talk, and it's why I just gave up on selling an app for now.

    The demand for real and playable instruments isn't really there yet unfortunately. There are an overwhelming number of musical neophytes rating apps in ways that severely punish anything with a learning curve. You could create an app that beams Randy Rhoads' personal guitar into your hands, and it would get nothing but 1 and 5 star ratings evenly split between those who want instant gratification and those who want a challenge.

  29. Hi, it's the video author here. I meant that with respect to 'living within your means'. There isn't enough touchable area on the iPad to waste it on pixels that don't do anything. There isn't enough CPU, because when you finally got the right sound, there's always a request for another effect that uses even more CPU; so no matter what you do, eye candy will hurt the sound engine or playability in some way. I know that this is *crazy* talk, and it's why I just gave up on selling an app for now.

    The demand for real and playable instruments isn't really there yet unfortunately. There are an overwhelming number of musical neophytes rating apps in ways that severely punish anything with a learning curve. You could create an app that beams Randy Rhoads' personal guitar into your hands, and it would get nothing but 1 and 5 star ratings evenly split between those who want instant gratification and those who want a challenge.

  30. Hi, it's the video author here. I meant that with respect to 'living within your means'. There isn't enough touchable area on the iPad to waste it on pixels that don't do anything. There isn't enough CPU, because when you finally got the right sound, there's always a request for another effect that uses even more CPU; so no matter what you do, eye candy will hurt the sound engine or playability in some way. I know that this is *crazy* talk, and it's why I just gave up on selling an app for now.

    The demand for real and playable instruments isn't really there yet unfortunately. There are an overwhelming number of musical neophytes rating apps in ways that severely punish anything with a learning curve. You could create an app that beams Randy Rhoads' personal guitar into your hands, and it would get nothing but 1 and 5 star ratings evenly split between those who want instant gratification and those who want a challenge.

  31. Rob

    Thanks for the comments.

    I think we have to accept that serious music apps are a niche and that the fart pianos of the world are going to continue to be an annoyance.

    That said, though, there are a growing number of musicians taking the iPad seriously as a platform.

    When I started posting about iPad music software, the response was almost 100% negative. Now, a good portion of Synthtopia readers are at least open to the idea that tablet computers have a lot of potential uses for musicians.

  32. This some pretentious shit about music apps on ipad. Not everyone intends to show off their musicianship with their ipad. Some people are just happy to have some fun with their ipad for a little while.

  33. This problem ultimately affects the prices that people are willing to pay for *any* instrument of *any* quality in the store. Instruments should even be their own category because of their steep learning curves IMHO. If Korg made an instrument that was better than a $100 hardware equivalent, people have had too much disappointment to even consider it at that price. If you are a musician, you have said this to yourself dozens of times already:

    "Damn, that was a waste of money. Again. It looks really pretty, but it's impossible
    to do my job in the band with this thing."

    It's not pretentious to meet the requirements! Toys are toys, but musicians do actually work for a living, and there are basic things that an instrument has to be capable of. Every real instrument has a base of players that have a certain skill level – that's the real measure of how good it is.

  34. This problem ultimately affects the prices that people are willing to pay for *any* instrument of *any* quality in the store. Instruments should even be their own category because of their steep learning curves IMHO. If Korg made an instrument that was better than a $100 hardware equivalent, people have had too much disappointment to even consider it at that price. If you are a musician, you have said this to yourself dozens of times already:

    "Damn, that was a waste of money. Again. It looks really pretty, but it's impossible
    to do my job in the band with this thing."

    It's not pretentious to meet the requirements! Toys are toys, but musicians do actually work for a living, and there are basic things that an instrument has to be capable of. Every real instrument has a base of players that have a certain skill level – that's the real measure of how good it is.

  35. This problem ultimately affects the prices that people are willing to pay for *any* instrument of *any* quality in the store. Instruments should even be their own category because of their steep learning curves IMHO. If Korg made an instrument that was better than a $100 hardware equivalent, people have had too much disappointment to even consider it at that price. If you are a musician, you have said this to yourself dozens of times already:

    "Damn, that was a waste of money. Again. It looks really pretty, but it's impossible
    to do my job in the band with this thing."

    It's not pretentious to meet the requirements! Toys are toys, but musicians do actually work for a living, and there are basic things that an instrument has to be capable of. Every real instrument has a base of players that have a certain skill level – that's the real measure of how good it is.

  36. This problem ultimately affects the prices that people are willing to pay for *any* instrument of *any* quality in the store. Instruments should even be their own category because of their steep learning curves IMHO. If Korg made an instrument that was better than a $100 hardware equivalent, people have had too much disappointment to even consider it at that price. If you are a musician, you have said this to yourself dozens of times already:

    "Damn, that was a waste of money. Again. It looks really pretty, but it's impossible
    to do my job in the band with this thing."

    It's not pretentious to meet the requirements! Toys are toys, but musicians do actually work for a living, and there are basic things that an instrument has to be capable of. Every real instrument has a base of players that have a certain skill level – that's the real measure of how good it is.

  37. This problem ultimately affects the prices that people are willing to pay for *any* instrument of *any* quality in the store. Instruments should even be their own category because of their steep learning curves IMHO. If Korg made an instrument that was better than a $100 hardware equivalent, people have had too much disappointment to even consider it at that price. If you are a musician, you have said this to yourself dozens of times already:

    "Damn, that was a waste of money. Again. It looks really pretty, but it's impossible
    to do my job in the band with this thing."

    It's not pretentious to meet the requirements! Toys are toys, but musicians do actually work for a living, and there are basic things that an instrument has to be capable of. Every real instrument has a base of players that have a certain skill level – that's the real measure of how good it is.

  38. This problem ultimately affects the prices that people are willing to pay for *any* instrument of *any* quality in the store. Instruments should even be their own category because of their steep learning curves IMHO. If Korg made an instrument that was better than a $100 hardware equivalent, people have had too much disappointment to even consider it at that price. If you are a musician, you have said this to yourself dozens of times already:

    "Damn, that was a waste of money. Again. It looks really pretty, but it's impossible
    to do my job in the band with this thing."

    It's not pretentious to meet the requirements! Toys are toys, but musicians do actually work for a living, and there are basic things that an instrument has to be capable of. Every real instrument has a base of players that have a certain skill level – that's the real measure of how good it is.

  39. Right, but some musicians who do "work for a living" are also able to make great music with instruments that don't meet the expectations of your checklist… especially in the electronic world. Heck, monosynths won't even let you play a chord. (nor will traditional horns of any type). Pianos don't permit pitch bending. As someone else has pointed out, harpsichords aren't pressure sensitive. And harmonicas only have one scale/key per instrument… and only one octave (thus breaking two of your rules). Same deal with the triangle. And drums. The oboe and piccolo would make fat fingered people upset, but those instruments don't care. As for toddlers and real musicians sounding the same… maybe it's because the stuff is so good now, toddlers *can* sound good. Drum machines come to mind. (my guess is you dislike them too).

    Your playing sounds very impressive, but one look at the interface makes me shudder. I have to learn a totally new way of playing just so I can use it? What happened to that bit about "seasoned musicians"? No seasoned musician is going to know this interface.

    Oh well, just some thoughts. I don't disagree with everything you said. πŸ˜‰

  40. Right, but some musicians who do "work for a living" are also able to make great music with instruments that don't meet the expectations of your checklist… especially in the electronic world. Heck, monosynths won't even let you play a chord. (nor will traditional horns of any type). Pianos don't permit pitch bending. As someone else has pointed out, harpsichords aren't pressure sensitive. And harmonicas only have one scale/key per instrument… and only one octave (thus breaking two of your rules). Same deal with the triangle. And drums. The oboe and piccolo would make fat fingered people upset, but those instruments don't care. As for toddlers and real musicians sounding the same… maybe it's because the stuff is so good now, toddlers *can* sound good. Drum machines come to mind. (my guess is you dislike them too).

    Your playing sounds very impressive, but one look at the interface makes me shudder. I have to learn a totally new way of playing just so I can use it? What happened to that bit about "seasoned musicians"? No seasoned musician is going to know this interface.

    Oh well, just some thoughts. I don't disagree with everything you said. πŸ˜‰

  41. Right, but some musicians who do "work for a living" are also able to make great music with instruments that don't meet the expectations of your checklist… especially in the electronic world. Heck, monosynths won't even let you play a chord. (nor will traditional horns of any type). Pianos don't permit pitch bending. As someone else has pointed out, harpsichords aren't pressure sensitive. And harmonicas only have one scale/key per instrument… and only one octave (thus breaking two of your rules). Same deal with the triangle. And drums. The oboe and piccolo would make fat fingered people upset, but those instruments don't care. As for toddlers and real musicians sounding the same… maybe it's because the stuff is so good now, toddlers *can* sound good. Drum machines come to mind. (my guess is you dislike them too).

    Your playing sounds very impressive, but one look at the interface makes me shudder. I have to learn a totally new way of playing just so I can use it? What happened to that bit about "seasoned musicians"? No seasoned musician is going to know this interface.

    Oh well, just some thoughts. I don't disagree with everything you said. πŸ˜‰

  42. Right, but some musicians who do "work for a living" are also able to make great music with instruments that don't meet the expectations of your checklist… especially in the electronic world. Heck, monosynths won't even let you play a chord. (nor will traditional horns of any type). Pianos don't permit pitch bending. As someone else has pointed out, harpsichords aren't pressure sensitive. And harmonicas only have one scale/key per instrument… and only one octave (thus breaking two of your rules). Same deal with the triangle. And drums. The oboe and piccolo would make fat fingered people upset, but those instruments don't care. As for toddlers and real musicians sounding the same… maybe it's because the stuff is so good now, toddlers *can* sound good. Drum machines come to mind. (my guess is you dislike them too).

    Your playing sounds very impressive, but one look at the interface makes me shudder. I have to learn a totally new way of playing just so I can use it? What happened to that bit about "seasoned musicians"? No seasoned musician is going to know this interface.

    Oh well, just some thoughts. I don't disagree with everything you said. πŸ˜‰

  43. Right, but some musicians who do "work for a living" are also able to make great music with instruments that don't meet the expectations of your checklist… especially in the electronic world. Heck, monosynths won't even let you play a chord. (nor will traditional horns of any type). Pianos don't permit pitch bending. As someone else has pointed out, harpsichords aren't pressure sensitive. And harmonicas only have one scale/key per instrument… and only one octave (thus breaking two of your rules). Same deal with the triangle. And drums. The oboe and piccolo would make fat fingered people upset, but those instruments don't care. As for toddlers and real musicians sounding the same… maybe it's because the stuff is so good now, toddlers *can* sound good. Drum machines come to mind. (my guess is you dislike them too).

    Your playing sounds very impressive, but one look at the interface makes me shudder. I have to learn a totally new way of playing just so I can use it? What happened to that bit about "seasoned musicians"? No seasoned musician is going to know this interface.

    Oh well, just some thoughts. I don't disagree with everything you said. πŸ˜‰

  44. Right, but some musicians who do "work for a living" are also able to make great music with instruments that don't meet the expectations of your checklist… especially in the electronic world. Heck, monosynths won't even let you play a chord. (nor will traditional horns of any type). Pianos don't permit pitch bending. As someone else has pointed out, harpsichords aren't pressure sensitive. And harmonicas only have one scale/key per instrument… and only one octave (thus breaking two of your rules). Same deal with the triangle. And drums. The oboe and piccolo would make fat fingered people upset, but those instruments don't care. As for toddlers and real musicians sounding the same… maybe it's because the stuff is so good now, toddlers *can* sound good. Drum machines come to mind. (my guess is you dislike them too).

    Your playing sounds very impressive, but one look at the interface makes me shudder. I have to learn a totally new way of playing just so I can use it? What happened to that bit about "seasoned musicians"? No seasoned musician is going to know this interface.

    Oh well, just some thoughts. I don't disagree with everything you said. πŸ˜‰

  45. it's not a new way of playing at all. it is a right-handed guitar layout, except it's 100% in fourths so that there are no special cases in the scale and chord shapes.

    but i get you about some instruments being simple and that's fine for some instruments. what bothers me is that *everybody* thinks that an ergonomically useful instrument is *somebody else*'s problem.

  46. Oh, I see now. Still, it is different (mildly) from a regular guitar… plus the positioning is different from a guitar (unless you're a lap player). So, users still have to adapt. But dont' want to beat a dead horse. It was awfully impressive to hear how fast you could on your ipad instrument. And I welcome this discussion about making iApps more musical. Nice work.

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