Friday, June 28, 2013

ThumbJam--a powerful virtual instrument for everybody!

I included ThumbJam in my original iPad app lists, and not only do I still think it's one of the best virtual instrument apps out there, it's received a huge number of new features in the last two years. Oddly, I found out after my first mini-review that the developer and I not only grew up in the same smallish town, we shared a childhood best friend. Major small-world moment!
Though ThumbJam includes a high-quality library of sampled real instruments, from flute and violin to accordion and electric guitar, its interface does not attempt to imitate any of these. Instead, it is made up of a user-controllable number of parallel horizontal bars representing pitch. Part of the beauty of ThumbJam is how easy it is to jump in and play. Select an instrument, select a scale (a large selection of scales such as major, minors, blues, etc. is built-in, or you can create your own), and start playing!
Though it does work well to play with two thumbs, as the app name suggests, you can use more fingers if you like! Most instruments allow you to create vibrato and/or tremolo with your fingers, and some allow pitch bend by tilting or volume control along the horizontal bar. With some practice, it's possible to create a quite expressive solo.

ThumbJam is worth the price just as an excellent virtual instrument. However, its other features turn it into a powerful mobile studio. First is its looper. You can record your first loop to a metronome click, or just play, and ThumbJam will figure out your tempo. By default, the original loop continues under subsequent loops, which lengthen your composition if they are longer than the original, rounded up to the nearest bar. All that is easily adjustable in the settings.
You can also just record a jam session. The mic can be used to record vocal tracks as a loop or jam session. You can import loops or tracks straight into ThumbJam, and the app supports a number of export functions, including AudioCopy/Paste, Soundcloud, and email.
If that isn't enough, ThumbJam even includes a sampler so you can import your own samples or record them right into the app. I'm looking forward to trying this with a middle school class in the Fall!
Finally, ThumbJam can be used as a wireless MIDI controller. Phew!
Here are two videos to give you a better idea of how ThumbJam works. This one uses an old version of the app, on an iPod, but gives you a good idea of what the app can do:
And here is a fun demo of the sampler feature, used to create an animal drum kit:
Happy jamming!

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