When it comes to iOS music apps on the App Store, it’s not all about synths, drum machines and DAWs; there are a good number of iOS music apps that could broadly fall into the ‘utility‘ category and I’ve looked at some of them here on the Music App Blog. These might not have the instant ‘buy me!’ appeal of some of the more glamorous synths, drum machines or guitar rig modellers but, in their own way, they are just as much an integral part of what makes iOS such a great – and versatile – platform for musicians.
A number of these utility apps are educational in nature and there is a good selection of apps aimed at specific instruments (including the voice). There is also a fairly good crop of ‘teach yourself music theory’ apps. These include the excellent ScalePlay, which I reviewed just a week or so ago, but also Mapping Tonal Harmony Pro from Ariel Ramos’ mDecks Music development team, and which I’ve given some coverage to in the past.
And the reason for mentioning Mapping Tonal Harmony Pro specifically? Well, Ariel is now back with another music theory app; Tessitura Pro. The name derives from the musical term for the most comfortable note range for a given singer (or sometimes instrument) and where they/it perhaps sounds at their/its best.
In terms of the app, what mDecks are offering is a comprehensive environment within which to study and practice almost any aspect of scales and scale modes (and associated chords). Like Mapping Tonal Harmony Pro, this is perhaps an app more aimed at the serious music student rather than someone looking for a ‘Music Theory 101’ course to dip a first toe into, but if you are a more technical musician, and particularly if you love the harmonic complexities of styles such as jazz, then I suspect Tessitura Pro would have an obvious appeal. That said, it covers the full range of scale types…. so if you are a guitar-playing pentatonic fan (that’s perhaps more me then!), there is still plenty to learn here if you wish.
OK, a confession before we go any further; as I’ve commented here a number of times before, I’m a self-taught musician without much by way of formal music theory training. I’m not, therefore, going to claim an intimate knowledge of the kinds of materials contained within Tessitura Pro. Don’t, therefore, expect a full and detailed appraisal of the app (I’m not qualified!) but, as best as I can, I’ll try to give you a flavour of what it can do.
What’s on the syllabus?
At one level, Tessitura Pro can be thought of as a huge database of information about scales, modes and chords. That could, of course, be rather dry but there are two features of the app that make it much more engaging for the user. First, the UI of the app allows you to interact with the content in a fairly intuitive fashion. Second, the app doesn’t just show you the different scales/modes but also provides a means by which you can build structured – and varied – practice routines around them.
At a practical level, the app requires iOS8.4 or later, is universal in nature and is a 10MB download. It has been launched at just UK£3.99/US$4.99 but my understanding is that this represents a saving of over 50% on what will be the eventual price once the launch period is over.
The screenshots I’ve shown here are all taken from an iPad Pro in landscape mode and, in this form, the main screen is split into two halves (left and right). You can, however, also use the app in portrait mode if you want to focus on a specific element of the display in more detail.
On the left, you can pick a specific source (fundamental scale) or various chord forms to form the basis of your study. For example, in a number of the screenshots, I’m using a simple blues scale form, but there are a lot of different scale types to choose between and they are organised based upon the number of modes each offers.
Whether you pick a scale or a chord form, the upper portion of the left-hand side display then offers you a circular graphical form that you can rotate on the outside (which changes the root) or on the inside (which changes the mode). Whatever changes you make here are also reflected in the musical notation of the scale/chord and mini-keyboard display at the base of this section of the screen.
There are also all sorts of tweaks you can make to the way this half of the display shows the musical information. So, for example, you can show the actual notes or the musical intervals. You can also play the notes or the complete scale.
The right-hand side of the screen performs multiple roles based upon the four main tab buttons arranged along the top; Assistant, Info, Substructures and Patterns. The Assistant simply offers you some further context-sensitive information that you can explore and the detail of the help is dictated by the level of the Assistant – from Beginner to Wizard – set within the Settings page (this page includes a number of other global app settings including the option to confirm the note ranges used to suit a specific instrument or vocalist).
The Info page simply shows you some basic information about the selected scale/mode/chord shown on the left of the screen while the Substructures button digs a little deeper.
Time to practice
So far, this is very much a tour of the theory. However, if you choose the Patterns tab, the right-side of the screen then allows you to see – and create – a range of musical patterns based around your chosen scale/mode/chord. This really is quite interesting and, as the app both notates and plays back those patterns, this would make an excellent tool for developing practice routines.
The app ships with a whole bunch of pattern suggestions (for example, patterns that skip notes based upon intervals) but you can also create you own…. and, as there are options to play the created pattern, but then automatically shift through either the next key or the next mode – and the notation follows – this could make for a very powerful tool for those really looking to master a whole suite of scales, modes and chordal forms.
Indeed, I could image this being useful even if your grasp of music theory was a bit slim (like mine) as I’m sure it would let you generate some interesting ways to tackle scales you are already familiar with and generate new ways to practice them. The guitar player in me just wishes there was a guitar tab mode for the notation display though! Maybe that’s something mDecks might consider in a future update at some stage?
I’m sure Tessitura Pro might not be an app for every iOS musician. However, I can see it being incredibly useful for both serious music students and for music teachers. Even if your musical needs don’t stretch to the outer reaches of harmonically complex jazz or modal prog rock, the app would still have something useful to offer…. but you do need to have a desire to learn in order to capitalise upon the very clever – and musically comprehensive – design that mDecks Music have created here.
This is an app that could easily exist in a desktop format and work just as well as it does here under iOS. However, to see such a powerful teaching/learning tool available in such a compact format – and at the launch price of just UK£3.99/US$4.99, also a snip of a price – provides a very clear message about just how good mobile computing devices are in an educational role.
No, not an app for everyone, but if you are looking for some inspiration to support your serious study of scale, modes and chordal forms, then Tessitura Pro is a whole encyclopaedia of learning in an interactive app that will fit in your pocket.