General help - transferring basic muscal knowledge to Thumbjam

Posts: 1
Joined: Wed Apr 28, 2010 10:38 pm

General help - transferring basic muscal knowledge to Thumbjam

Postby iceboy99 » Wed Apr 28, 2010 11:03 pm

I hope this isn't too dumb a of a question. I have some musical background, but not with string instruments, and it's been quite a few years. I can read music, but I'm having a hard time doing more than just "jamming". I would like to play, say the piano, as I would a real piano. I'm not clear on the use of scales and which one to choose.

Also, I was kinda expecting a key layout that was similar to that of a keyboard. For example, right now I'm looking at the playing area and I haven't been able to find a layout that has consecutive piano keys. I'm unclear how "scale" relates to "keys' and how they both relate to what what I see in the playing area. For example, what I'm seeing now has A#, but the next button is C. Where's B?

Maybe I don't know as much about music as I thought I did (which is entirely possible), but I guess I'm just looking to play a song like I had a piano or trumpet and a sheet of music in front of me and I'm not clear what I should be choosing to do that.


User avatar
Posts: 1033
Joined: Tue Dec 15, 2009 3:25 am

One of the things that

Postby Jesse » Thu Apr 29, 2010 12:53 am

One of the things that separates ThumbJam from many other music apps is the fact that you can specify what the key/scale you want to play in so you don't have to think about hitting the right notes on the tiny touch screen. The notes that are not in the selected key/scale are simply not there. That said, the piano keyboard layout that TJ doesn't have gives you some options, for instance if you play on all the white keys starting from C you are playing the C Major scale. If you need to hit every note you want the Chromatic scale. You can obviously play any scale and key on a piano keyboard, but you have to know which notes to play, which takes time and practice.

If you think of ThumbJam as a new instrument to learn you will get more out of it, I believe. Choosing Chromatic scale is one option but the grid and the screen size makes hitting the right notes a challenge. Or you have to look at the key and then figure out what scale the song is primarily in, switch to it and see if you get the notes you need. Finding the right scale becomes the challenge. Future versions will let you hand-customize the notes in the scale, and also provide split screen layouts where you can define different keys/scale in each portion.

That said, I'm not opposed to introducing an optional keyboard interface later on either.....

Posts: 10
Joined: Wed Nov 03, 2010 9:43 pm

Hi, Got Thumbjam a few days

Postby Littlemachine » Wed Nov 03, 2010 9:54 pm

Got Thumbjam a few days ago, absolutely amazing app! I do think though that an optional keyboard interface would be great. Where the unused keys in the scale would be greyed out. It would make the layout of the scales more visual and it would make thumbjam a perfect learning tool, where you could transfer your practicing and songs to other real instruments more easily. I have never seen that in a VST, but it's a simple (?) idea that could be really useful, I think.

Posts: 27
Joined: Fri Apr 22, 2011 12:42 pm

Personally, I find the "scale

Postby raketemensch » Tue Apr 26, 2011 11:53 am

Personally, I find the "scale keyboard" to be one of the greatest musical inventions ever. EVER. Yes, I know my scales, I've taken decades of music lessons and put my theory together, but in terms of writing a song, removing all of that from the picture and giving me just the notes I want/need is.... Well, it was impossible up until now, because we didn't have programmable, re-arrangable playing surfaces.

With that said, I can understand the question being asked here. I've seen it handled in different ways in different apps, with very different effects. I'm going to mention a couple, with the caveat that TJ is by far the best of them for both playing (locally) and composition. I'm just talking theoretically here, using some other apps for reference, but I would definitely buy TJ before any of the others if you're on a limited budget.

I've found 4 apps now that implement this theory of the "scale keyboard," which is the best term for it that I've seen so far. It's actually what they call it in the first app I'll talk about, which has 2 great features:

Pianist Pro
1) It has a "regular" piano keyboard above the scale keyboard, which makes changing keys on the fly wicked simple, which is nice while performing
2) In its (core) MIDI implementation, sliding your fingers up and down the keys sends midi data beyond just the note. I use this live to play a Hammond B3 VST on my macbook, and when I slide my finger up on the "key," it's like stepping on the Vibrato pedal, and intensifies the crap out of the sound. IMHO, it's even a vast improvement on the interface of an actual B3.

However, its interface seems to have WAY too much going on at times, and you can't get rid of most of it, which leaves a much smaller playing surface, which is one of the areas that TJ rules. I really hope that TJ's "expression" movements (sliding left/right for volume, tilting, etc) can be used to send similar MIDI expression data.

This app came really close to being my perfect app, and it's the one that made me buy the iPad. The main issue with it is that it doesn't do MIDI yet, although it's very much in development as we speak. I've been using a beta version of it and sending feedback, but I'm still hooked on TJ.

As for its scale piano interface, it lays out the notes more like a harp than a keyboard. I've found that this really does have an effect on the way I play it, it feels more like dragging your fingers across strings than striking keys on a keyboard. The difference is entirely in your head, but hey, that's the point of interface design, right?

MorphWiz uses a color-coded system of telling you where your root/tonic is, rather than giving you some sort of piano keyboard for reference.

I've had and played various FM synths for... well, seemingly forever now, and while I've known a lot of people who enjoy tweaking them, I've always just played with the default sounds and not ventured into customizing them or building my own. Now I understand why -- the interface. The interface in SynthX for tweaking your sounds is the bomb, and its built-in synth engine is just incredible. It's amazing that it's all crammed into this little tablet in your hands.

But to the point, it has a very nice feature to its "scale piano," which is that instead of displaying keys in a rigid layout like TJ, the notes are rendered more like strings (the earlier harp analogy also works here) and above these "strings" there is a faint layout of regular piano keys. This is really nice for having a reference to know exactly where you would be on a piano keyboard. This piano keyboard area, while not playable, is also the means of moving up and down the scale and controlling how many notes are on the screen -- drag this area to the left to move the displayed notes higher on the scale, right to access lower notes, and pinch/un-pinch to control how many notes are displayed at a time. It's very quick and simple to do, and works well during live performances.

It does have core MIDI working, but lacks the ability to send expression controls, just the notes. The expression stuff is in development, though.

You most likely know about this, since you're here reading the forums, but this is just about my favorite playing and composition tool. I'm dying for the 1.4 release, as it sounds like this one will have Core MIDI in it, but in the meantime it's an awesome tool for practicing while on the road, sitting at work, taking a lunchbreak, etc. There are 3 or 4 classical pieces that I've had floating around in my head for almost 2 decades now, and TJ has finally given me the tool I need to get them out of my head and into reality.

Its playing surface is in the Keyboard style, but it eschews all trappings of the keyboard itself. The dark red note is your root/tonic, and you build your relationships in terms of intervals from it. I do wish these "keys" were in bolder colors, as they are essential reference points, but it's extremely playable as is. Changing the span and octave settings isn't easy to do on the fly, as it is done in sub-menus, but the decision to move them there gives you a larger area for playing, which is one of the things that gives TJ its edge in my book.

Really, I'm talking about 2 different things here -- the first is a standalone musical application, and the second a MIDI controller. I tried separating them while writing this, but I can't really separate them when talking about the playing surface. The layout of notes and the way you play the keys are too intertwined.

Right now, TJ is at the top of the heap when it comes to a standalone application. Its use of samples over synthesis allows you to play any instrument you want, wherever you are, without the need for MIDI and a synthesizer or softsynth to generate all the different sounds. This alone makes it an indispensable tool, my go-to for working out whatever I'm hearing in my head.

Soon, it looks like it will also become an incredible MIDI controller as well. Many people may already be using it as such, using DSMI instead of Core MIDI, but I haven't had much luck getting this working yet. I suppose I could just put some time into setting up OSC-> MIDI on my Macbook, but Core MIDI is what I use with my other tools, and it's nice to have that interface unified.

I would take what Jesse said above and really think about it. Are you replacing a piano, or learning a new instrument? To me, the best approach is the latter. We have a whole new, programmable interface in front of us, a sea change of a kind that hasn't come along in music for centuries. Should we continue to refer to it as a piano, or embrace it as something completely new? In one approach we see strings to be played like a harp, but in the layout of a piano keyboard. It's useful to the brain, but does it fit the new modality? I don't think so.

Songwriters, for centuries, have used the piano as the go-to instrument for writing and composing. Guitarists, violinists, wind players, brass players -- when they are writing a new piece of music gravitate to the piano keyboard layout.

But can it be improved upon? I believe it already has. I think the potential here is so vast that it would be a shame to shoehorn it into an old wooden box, no matter how grand it may have been.

(sorry for the long-windedness, but this has been rattling around in my brain for a year now, it feels good to get it all out)

User avatar
Posts: 1033
Joined: Tue Dec 15, 2009 3:25 am

Wow, I feel honored to be

Postby Jesse » Tue Apr 26, 2011 11:19 pm

Wow, I feel honored to be contributing something you feel so strongly about!

Let me take a few items you mentioned from those other apps and convert those into proper feature requests.

What kind of additional MIDI control messages would like TJ to be able to send, and from what touch gestures? For instance, it currently will send notes, and optionally pitch bend (whenever appropriate, eg for tilt bends, and shake vibrato), track volume, track pan. It sounds like you have some other expression messages in mind that would be per-note... pressure, aftertouch? Please expound.

I have (and already partially implemented) a new option for changing the note range and position for the play area that is very similar to the drag and pinch style that many apps have. I think I can get it to not take any extra space too, by having it pop up on demand when you press and hold a button on the sidebar to start using it. It also will not limit you to octave factors, you can end up with any number of notes as a span.

Posts: 27
Joined: Fri Apr 22, 2011 12:42 pm

That's great news on the

Postby raketemensch » Wed Apr 27, 2011 12:56 pm

That's great news on the octave/range front. I love the idea of little hooks that you can use to pull up the gui, anything that makes the playing surface a higher percentage of the screen is great in my book, and being able to quickly change those settings on the fly is awesome.

It's funny, I'm not even sure which cc I need to use to control the vibrato and leslie effects, the app I use for it just *did* it automatically. I actually felt smart for a bit, until you asked :]

The touch gesture is pretty much your current X-axis, which I think you currently use for volume most of the time. You touch a key at one end and it's a mellow, normal sound, but as you slide your finger further across the key the vibrato picks up and the leslie spins faster.

I'm playing tonight, so I'll fire up the midi monitor in Plogue and see which parameters it's sending for those controls. Could you set it up so that there is a sensible default CC (volume, pitch, pan), but we could enter a different CC# to customize it if necessary? I dunno if that's more GUI than you had planned, and I know you're already neck-deep in features for 1.4 and beyond.

User avatar
Posts: 1033
Joined: Tue Dec 15, 2009 3:25 am

I'm pretty sure it was just

Postby Jesse » Wed Apr 27, 2011 3:12 pm

I'm pretty sure it was just the Mod Wheel CC (1), that's what usually controls that kind of effect.

Posts: 27
Joined: Fri Apr 22, 2011 12:42 pm

$20 says you're

Postby raketemensch » Wed Apr 27, 2011 3:38 pm

$20 says you're right.

Obviously, you're not going to take that bet :]

Posts: 27
Joined: Fri Apr 22, 2011 12:42 pm

Yup, you were right.

Postby raketemensch » Thu Apr 28, 2011 9:31 pm

Yup, you were right.

Return to Technique

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 1 guest