Multirhythms Rhythm Trainer review – improve your rhythmic skills with a little help from Radicle’s iOS music app

Download from iTunes App Store multirhythms logoI’ve often noted here my search for the perfect iOS ‘virtual drummer’. Coming very close to the mark is DrumPerfect which is where I currently turn if I want ‘human’ sounding acoustic drum parts for my iPad music making… it’s not quite up their with BDF3 on my desktop computer but it is better than the alternative…

… which is, of course, my own drumming. This is about the same standard as my keyboard playing. Which is, of course, to say that it’s not that good :-) All of which is why a good virtual drummer is something that I depended upon for much of my own music production work.

Drummers can get a bit of a hard time from some musicians but not from me. For many years, having sat occasionally behind various drum kits during breaks in band rehearsals of whichever band I was playing in at the time, I’ve thrashed away for a couple of minutes… only to have to admit that it is a lot harder than it looks. Timing is not such an issue (I can just about play a guitar in time) but timing in four separate limbs most certainly is…. ‘limb independence’ is quite a skill to acquire….

Multirhythms Rhythm Trainer - can an iOS music app really help my drumming skills?

Multirhythms Rhythm Trainer – can an iOS music app really help my drumming skills?

A couple of years ago, I bought myself a cheap and nasty electronic kit just so I (and my eldest son who was having a few drum lessons at school) could dabble. Things did improve and, while I can still really only manage to hold a basic beat with three limbs (nope, can’t get the hihat footpedal cracked) going at the same time, I can see how some light might appear at the end of a very long tunnel if only I had the time to dedicate to some practice.

And, while I probably can’t use all four limbs on my iPhone or iPad screen, with an app like Multirhythms Rhythm Trainer – from developer Radicle – I can at least practice the brain training element of playing different rhythms with different limbs (er… fingers) without (a) having to be at my drum kit or (b) disturbing anyone else (even an electronic drum kit makes some noise).

So, if you are a drummer (or wannabe drummer) looking for a practice tool, is Multirhythms work a look?

Train your brain

Multirhythms was released in late December and has had a couple of minor updates since first release (it now stands at v.1.1.1). It is a universal app, 3 MB is size, requires iOS7.0 or later and is currently priced at UK£3.99. It is designed as a training app for your rhythm skills and, while it is most obviously targeted at drummers and percussion players, I suspect almost any musician could get some benefit from using the app to work on their timing.

The app is supplied with a good crop of rhythms to get you started.

The app is supplied with a good crop of rhythms to get you started.

The basic premise is that you can create multi-part (that is, several different drums) rhythmic patterns and then, at a tempo of your own choice, practice playing one or more of those drums by tapping the touchscreen in time with the visual cues the app provides. Those visual cues are not unlike the scrolling note display used in the Guitar Hero computer/console game where you have to ‘hit’ the note as it crosses the timeline.

So, for example, if you have a four drum pattern consisting of hihat, clap, snare and kick, you can let three of these play automatically while you try to play the fourth in time or you can have all four scrolling past and you have to play all four in time… or, of course, some combination in between.

Follow the pattern

The app is supplied with a catalogue of preset patterns to practice against but you can edit these, add new parts to them or build your own from scratch. Amongst the presets are some very nice Afro-Brazilian rhythms that would appeal to any percussion player. There are also some very challenging polyrhythms (most of which left me struggling unless I turned the tempo dial right down).

On first start, you get the pattern library display and taping on any of these folders will open up a list of the individual patterns stored within them. You then simply pick a pattern and this then takes you to a further screen where the pattern is displayed in a grid format. Here you can edit the pattern (just tap on a beat step to toggle it on/off, or add a new rhythm lane to the pattern.

When you dig into each of the categories within the rhythm library you can find the individual patterns.

When you dig into each of the categories within the rhythm library you can find the individual patterns.

There are other options available also… Tap on the label for the number of beats and this open options to adjust the number of beats or beat subdivisions in the pattern, change the relative volumes of the instruments or, indeed, change the drum sound used for each lane within the pattern. You can also use standard two-fingered pinch gestures to zoom in/out on the pattern display. All in all, you can make the patterns as rhythmically simple or as complex as you might like.

You can edit all aspects of the patterns, from the number of instruments used to the number of beats/steps....

You can edit all aspects of the patterns, from the number of instruments used to the number of beats/steps….

Limb from limb

At the top of the pattern display are the Play and Tempo options so you can hear the pattern played back in full while you edit and before you practice. However, as soon as you are ready to do some practice, just tap the ‘vertical line’ style icon (it’s located top-left in a series of three buttons). The display then changes to a vertical representation of the pattern and, if you hit Play, the pattern scrolls from bottom to top and you can attempt to ‘hit’ the pattern timing as the coloured pattern bobs pass through the plain while blobs that represent the timeline. The display also includes horizontal ‘bar’ lines to show you where each bar starts.

By default, you get two lanes (drums) to practice in the selected pattern.

By default, you get two lanes (drums) to practice in the selected pattern.

By default, you seem to get two drums shown in this scrolling display so you can practice your limb independence with fingers from your left and right hands. You can, however, customise this; simply tap the ‘music note’ icon that appears at the top of the display when in practice mode and this opens a dialog for configuring the practice session.

Options here allows you to adjust how many parts you are trying to play (the practice rhythms) as opposed to how many the app will play along with you (the accompanying rhythms). Unless you are particularly dexterous with your big toes, this is unlikely to be a platform for developing four-limb independence but advanced players could, of course, tap out different rhythms with multiple fingers if they wished. This dialog also allows you to change the scroll direction if you wish.

You can, however, make things more challenging :-)

You can, however, make things more challenging :-)

As you practice, the app gives you some basic feedback as to how well you are doing; ‘miss!’ is not so good while you also get notified if you hit a particularly good streak. And, depending upon your skill level (or, in my case, lack of it), even playing along to two rhythms can be quite a challenge…. start slow and build up the tempo is the obvious route to improvement.

You can drag lanes to make them practice lanes or accompanying lanes depending upon just how complex you want your screen tapping to be.

You can drag lanes in the dialog to make them ‘practice lanes’ or ‘accompanying lanes’ depending upon just how complex you want your screen tapping to be. Here, all fine lanes have been selected for practice…

In summary

And that is pretty much that… Multirhythms Rhythm Trainer is a simple little app that brings an uncomplicated approach to practicing something that, for the novice or rhythmically challenged, is quite a complex skill. It allows you to practice and improve your timing and (for two limbs at least) limb independence without disturbing anyone else and whenever the mood takes you.

Like all such practice tools, you get out of it what effort you are prepared to put in but I suspect the app would be suitable for all levels of rhythmic expertise as you can stat with just basic rhythms and build up to some really complex stuff… and for drummers (or budding drummers) wanting a means of working on their skills in any available downtime (that dull commute for example), it is going to be much easier to pull your iPhone or iPad out of your pocket/bag than a fully blow drum kit.

Multirhythms is a very neat practice aid and will undoubtedly bring some benefits to regular users…. At UK£3.99, it also represents very good value for money. Mainly one from the drum and percussion players but, at this price, accessible to the mildly inquisitive non-drummer also.

Multirhythms Rhythm Trainer


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    Comments

    1. Stephen Karnes says:

      No MIDI means I can’t plug in my 4×4 controller and practice my finger drumming. This feels like a huge missed opportunity for this app. In fact, when I first started reading the review I assumed that’s exactly what it was for. I know I can use the touch screen, but screen and pads are not the same. Hopefully they’ll update this soon.

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