iPad apps: Smule’s Magic Piano

I have procrastinated like crazy wrt writing about iPad apps that I have. I especially feel bad about not having spoken about this app as it is that awesome. If you do want to read the post just jump to the end for a video tutorial (a bit dated)

Smule has a lot of interesting apps around music, most of them made for iPhone (but works decently in iPad too). My favourite as you must have surmised is “Magic Piano” Read the publishers notes here.

This is a free app. Essentially, as advertised it is a piano, with a twist. It has modes and in three of the modes which show the actual piano, the keys are laid out in different ways. In one the keys spiral in, in the next mode it is laid out as a normal piano and in the third mode the keys are laid out in a circle. You can zoom in (with lesser and broader keys) or zoom out (with more keys which grow significantly narrower the more you zoom in) You can also drag across the screen to change octaves. All in all a software piano app, to be frank there are better piano apps if all you want is a copy of the piano to play on. I do find the circular and spiral pianos interesting in that it could make a lot of sense in a device with restricted screen space, viz. an iPhone. However on an iPad it is just a curiosity.

So apart from the free part why am I so excited using this app when all I seem to be doing is deriding it? The magic my friend is in the fourth mode. In this mode the piano keys disappear and you have a black blank screen in front of you. Any touch invokes a tone, multiple touches are allowed and more often than not what you play is melodic. As long as you are dragging you finger or playing in the areas nearby the tune you make is always melodic. Kids would love to play around in this mode. It is truly a freestyle mode.

As you can see I *like* the freestyle mode; a lot. However that’s still not the reason I love the app. So having pointed out that the four playing modes (all in Solo section) do not flutter my heart could it be the World section which does it? Well that section is interesting as it plays random tunes as being played by people around the world. But what they are playing is the heart of the matter.

They are playing out of the main section – “Songbook”. This section has a large library of tunes from “Fur Elise” to “Walking in Memphis”, from “Toxic” to “Piano Man”, from “A Whole New World” to “Yankee Doodle” There is a free tune you can download daily and for others you pay a virtual currency called Smoola. Of course you can buy these Smoolas with hard cash, though you do start with a some Smoolas.

Once you download you can play it, as simple as that. The notes drop from the top in a beam of light and you tap on the screen, the note make a sound and pops and you move on to the next one. Very reminiscent of Guitar Hero except for the fact that there is no competition, even with yourself. The note drops and you play it at your convenience, you do not even have to press near the note, anywhere on the screen will do (though it will throw up a message if you are too far away) If you do not touch the note will wait for you. So in short it is not a game. What it is, is an interactive music app. As a user you try to hit the notes at the right tempo to regenerate a classic piece of music, or a tune you love. Instead of listening to the music passively, or learn an instrument for 10 years to play the tune, you just hit notes on the screen and enjoy the music created. My writing skills (or lack thereof) prevent me from painting a more detailed picture so all I can do is suggest that you download the app and try out the songbook. I believe you will find it revolutionary, in a very emotional and visceral sense.

One great thing is that the folks at Smule keep making the app better. One such much need change was to introduce a listening mode. So if you press the headphones icon on any song you own the app will play through the music. This is great for situations where you do not know the tempo of the music. Another such positive change was the introduction of challenge level. So at easy you only use one finger even for chords, while in medium you use two and in difficult you use four fingers for chords.

Also about the Smoola, earlier if you spent the free Smoola it was not refilled unless you bought it. However in the recent update they have added a kind of adsense scheme where they will offer to show you a video (normally an ad for another app) against which you will get five free Smoola.

I think this is one of the best apps in the iOS universe. I normally start my day playing on it. Thanks to Mahendra’s great series on Western Music I am enjoying it even more, as many of the free downloads are of classical work. Hope you are as crazy as I am and love this music app.

To get an idea of what the app can do hop over to his old video on youtube. ( I had thought of making a video but that would take 6 more months 😉 ) The video is quite dated so rest assured that the app is even better. Maybe I will actually do a video sometime soon 🙂

Thanks for your time. Happy listening, and playing.

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