BeatMirror review – Ten Kettles expand on their iOS musical education app offerings

Download from iTunes App StoreAs an aid to your efforts as a musician, iOS doesn’t just have to be about synths and drum machine and DAWs; it can also be about improving your musical skills. I’ve looked at a number of iOS music apps that might fall into this ‘utility’ category over the years here on the Music App Blog. There are some really good offerings but, as with that subscription for your local gym, buying an educational app doesn’t buy you the right to the skills it teaches; some practice is required for that.

Ten Kettles are a developer that work in this musical training arena and I’ve given coverage to both hearEQ and Waay previously here on the blog. Both are very good at what they do so, if you want a little ear training (to improve your mixing skills) or to brush up your music theory (to enhance your composition skills), then both are worth a look.

Ten Kettles latest app – BeatMirror – was released a couple of weeks ago, and falls into the same ‘musical eduction’ category. In this case, it’s an app aimed primarily at drummers and, as music apps go, this might be a challenger for the ‘most simple app ever reviewed’ title here on the blog….  although, in this case, ‘simple’ most certainly doesn’t mean the same as ‘not useful’.

Just how good is your….. timing? If you tend to wander, BeatMirror might be just the practice aid you require.

Don’t be late (or early)

BeatMirror’s function is quite simple; it gives you feedback on your ability to hold a specific tempo. The app uses your iPhone or iPad microphone to monitor the sound close by and, if that contains a strong rhythmic element (such as from a drum kit!), it will display the tempo (averaged over a short time period to smooth things out a little).

You can set a target tempo – and there is a small, flashing, virtual LED that matches that target tempo as a guide –  but, in terms of app settings, that’s pretty much it :-)

And, as you play, the app continues to display the actual tempo you are keeping, the average tempo and how far ‘out’ you are (the drift) compared to the target tempo. If you are close (within a few bpm), then you also get some positive feedback (‘not bad’, for example). In addition, a large horizontal line gives you some easy-to-see visual feedback on whether you are playing too fast or too slow compared to the target.

This is not an app that it takes ages to master :-)

Hit it

OK, now my drumming is pretty basic but I do like to do a bit of practice as I work on my skills. In fact, my Roland electronic drum kit has a tempo detection function built into it and I use that regularly to check just how well I can keep to a fixed tempo…..  so I can easily imagine how BeatMirror would be useful in that role if your e-kit doesn’t have that feature or you play acoustic drums.

In use, I found BeatMirror did a pretty decent job of detecting the tempo being played….  although my own feeling was that the ‘live’ tempo data was more accurate if (a) the drum part had a clearly defined beat (obviously; but if you play lots of complex rhythms and lots of fills, maybe you could more easily throw the app?) and (b) you kept things fairly close to the target tempo (once you strayed by more than 20 bpm things could get a bit out of wack….  but then so has your drumming if you are that far off).

You can set the target tempo…. and then test how well you can match it.

I did some testing where BeatMirror was simply listening to a loud metronome and this confirmed it was – in this most straightforward of tests – getting things spot on. It also did a perfect job when the sound source was a drum machine (in this case, an app on my iPhone).

Once behind my kit – and with the drums being monitored thought my studio speakers – BeatMirror also got it spot on providing of kept fairly close to the target tempo. I did try to see if the app would cope just based upon the sounds of the drum pads (so, for example, I could practice with my headphones on to hear the Roland’s sound, while, in the room, my iPad just heard the sounds of sticks on the mesh and rubber surfaces). This wasn’t so successful but that’s perhaps because Roland have done exactly what’s required with an e-kit and made it acoustically quiet for easy practice :-)

Incidentally, I also tried the app with an acoustic guitar. It did a decent job but the same qualifiers mentioned above applied here and perhaps more so….  A clear rhythmic pattern in your strumming was required and you needed to not stray too far from the target tempo in order for Beat Mirror to give you solid feedback.

The app seemed happy to work over quite a wide range of tempos…..

Beat detective

BeatMirror is priced at just UK£2.99/US$2.99 so it’s not going to break anyone’s bank. The app is universal, requires iOS9.0 or later and is a 25 MB download. I’m sure drummers looking for some tempo training would be more than happy to cough up. It might be nice if the Beat Mirror ‘tempo’ LED was a bit bigger…  and it might be even nicer if (a) it had LED patterns to match different time signatures and (b) an option to turn it off completely. Both these features would, I’m sure, be useful for those, like me, who are ‘drummers in training’.

There is an obvious competitor to BeatMirror – liveBPM – and which I’ve looked at in the past here on the blog. This is very slightly more expensive but is still current (it was updated in May) and offers a slightly different approach to the visual feedback provided. It doesn’t offer the ‘target’ bpm feature but does tell you your actual bpm and displays a chart showing how that changes over time. Anyway, given the pocket money prices involved, owning both is not such a stretch.

In summary

BeatMirror is a neat little utility that will, I’m sure, appeal to drummers looking to work on their ‘tempo lock’ skills. It works great for practice and would, I’m sure, also be quite a neat tool to have at your side during a gig (providing your iPhone’s mic doesn’t get overwhelmed by the on-stage sound levels) if you need to keep yourself on (tempo) track.

I can easily imagine Ten Kettles adding a few new features to the app over time (as they have done with hearEQ and Waay. Anyway, a simple app that does it’s one job with a minimum of fuss  – the kind of software the App Store can excels at – and sensibly priced. If your time keeping needs some work, BeatMirror might be just the utility app to help you along the way.

BeatMirror

Download from iTunes App Store
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