“Song Rhythm Tracks” – A Comparison

Song Rhythm Tracks” is Alive Drumming’s mobile Musician’s App providing production-ready rhythmic backing.  It is available on the Apple iOS App Store.

   

Alive Drumming brings musicians production-quality rhythmic backing, in it’s most convenient form — a mobile App to select, download and play Alive Drumming’s “Song Rhythm Tracks”.

Song Rhythm Tracks

Song Rhythm Tracks are a new type of backing track composed entirely of rhythmic backing (no melody or harmony) arranged to the musical form of the song — it’s “songform”. These tracks are complete performances like one gets from a professional drummer. They have a count-in, introduction section, choruses and characteristic endings, framed by fills showing where sections start and end. Even musical bridges and middle choruses have higher intensity where appropriate to the style. All this without a typical arranger’s interface thereby keeping it simple. One can select a track in under 30 seconds — under 15 seconds once one gets the hang of it.

The App’s player has tempo adjustment and a facility to sequence the tracks for your gig or jam session. It is for musicians of all abilities. New musicians use the App to provide an accompaniment to songs. They get a rhythm that is sympathetic so they learn to keep time, get into the groove and internalise the song’s musical structure – All this while enjoying engaging and inspiring rhythms. Gigging musicians catalogue their backing into setlists and use it to guide performance. Having quality rhythmic backing, with a setlist facility and a musician’s player, all in the one App is so convenient one finds oneself using this rhythmic backing more and more.

Musician’s Player

A “Musician’s Player” — what’s that? One that dims the screen, will play in the background, has good-sized buttons and allows you to change the volume with the physical buttons. Yes, that but this player also displays the musical form of the track such as

“4 choruses of 32 bars of standard AABA form (8|8/8|8) 
with no intro’ and a 4-Bar ending”, 

and provides visual tracking against this as it plays. This is the information musicians want right before they are about to play a track. If they start to lose their place a bit while they play, a quick glance at the display will likely get them back “on track” again.

Massive Library of Rhythms

There’s a huge number of rhythms and endless musical forms for your songs. Once selected, the arranged track is downloaded from Alive Drumming’s servers and then it stays on your device for playing. Alive Drumming grants the user rights to remix the track so they may be transferred to a computer to be included in the user’s own compositions and album releases.

What sets Song Rhythm Tracks apart?

We do not often see new innovations in this area — usually, it is a refinement or reworking of a workstation product — but Song Rhythm Tracks are a totally new approach addressing that age-old need for musicians to get good rhythmic backing, easily.

No More Sequencing

The choice of selecting the song’s form by name, or by using stick notation, over providing a sequencing interface is an innovation that has not been seen before and one that gives this App its character. It means that the musician needs only to know the musical form of the song. They will know this even if, at first, they don’t realise it. A musician might not be familiar with the names being used but the App also provides a description using stick-notation, so when one selects by songform name,

“32-bar AABA”, 

the track also gets displayed using stick-notation as

“32 bars of standard AABA form (8|8/8|8)”.  

There’s plenty of resources on Alive Drumming’s website on songform. In fact, songform names do not have to be used at all, one can also select using stick-notation,

“8|8/8|8”, 

and get the very same description displayed,

“32 bars of standard AABA form (8|8/8|8)”.  

The App also provides for a musician’s own definition of a song’s form using “stick notation”, e.g.,

“8|4/8|6”, 

allowing for complex, user-defined forms. Also, even more complex forms are possible with independent repeats of four parts to a song. Even drumming breaks and pushes are now available for arrangements.

The App also includes a facility for sharing song arrangement, so if an arrangement for your song has already been shared you will be able to look it up and use that.

No More Drum Loops

Song Rhythm Tracks provides complete, production-ready backing tracks rather than drum loops. What’s more, Alive Drumming’s servers do not use drum loops either; they use high-quality recordings of talented drummers where a recording is more likely to be 8-bars long than a single drum hit or a single bar of playing. Alive drumming doesn’t provide a sequencing interface, so there are no drum loops to sequence. Instead, there is a simple selection interface to specify (i) an arrangement of the song’s form and (ii) the rhythm. This keeps the interface clean. The only option is a complete track from count-in through the choruses to a characteristic ending. Looping isn’t even provided in the player interface. It is clear that this App is about practising and performing with high-quality, complete, production-ready tracks. It’s for professional musicians and discerning amateurs. It is very, very far from a toy drum-machine; but it gives us the most musical enjoyment we’ve had in a long time.

A Service

Alive Drumming’s back-end servers do the sequencing and audio production, delivering the completed track to the mobile device. This is not the approach taken by other drumming apps where everything is within the app, either using bespoke loops or using iOS’ general midi sounds. This means Alive Drumming’s solution does initially have the user waiting for the download to complete, but this permits higher-quality and a greater selection of audio tracks from the server.

Musician-friendly Design

The user experience is “performance-friendly” adopting standard iOS features such as tables rather than esoteric design and sequencing interfaces. It’s been designed to be simple to use by musicians for musicians. Having a straightforward interface to specify a track is important to musicians because we are playing new tracks all the time and don’t want to be wasting playing-time sequencing drum loops — so true is this that I suspect the vast majority of musicians never do sequence drum loops — it’s too much effort and provides poor results. However, it is a totally different prospect with Song Rhythm Tracks where one takes between 15 to 30 seconds to specify a new track, which provides a great sounding backing.

It is the same musician-friendly approach with the player. It’s important to musicians, whether performing or practising, that the player is easy to use — read large buttons — and it is so much more useful having the sectional structure of the track displayed instead of an album cover. Finally, musicians need setlist facilities integrated with the player. They need to be able to order their tracks, adding and removing tracks across multiple set-lists. These are core features that differentiate a musician’s needs to that of general music listeners. These aspects combined make this App dead easy for musicians to prepare, practice and perform setlists of these tracks.

The competition?

This is a very new type of App but let us consider the alternatives to Song Rhythm Tracks.

Workstation Products

Similar High-quality Audio, Total Flexibility, Higher Purchase Price, Less Convenience.

Procuring and learning sophisticated workstation tooling for professional musicians to create high-quality backing music. This has similar great audio quality with more features and flexibility but also will take considerably more time, say around 30 minutes, to create a new track using sequencing software, render it, tag it and transfer it to a mobile device. You gain in compositional features and flexibility but lose out on convenience — particularly in the setlists and player.

Other Mobile Drumming Apps

Lower Quality, Lower Price, Different Convenience

There’s quite a variety of Drumming Apps with many features and facilities. They are generally less expensive but don’t deliver in the same way. Here is one which is closer to the Song Rhythm Tracks use-case.

Session Band Drums

This App aims at a similar proposition — good quality drum backing with a mobile interface, but it falls short in delivering both (i) high-quality rhythmic backing music and (ii) a convenient interface. The user interface is based on visual sequencing, specific to the task. This is an improvement to having to use a workstation based sequencer and transferring to the mobile device but I suspect is still too complicated and would still be a barrier to entry for a lot of musicians. As one has to sequence tracks, it is definitely more cumbersome and slower to use than Song Rhythm Tracks. Also, there is no real setlist facility and I don’t think it delivers enough on engaging, realistic drumming. It is though less expensive that Song Rhythm Tracks with lower initial cost and no limit to the tracks one can sequence.

Mobile Midi Musician Song Apps

Lower quality drumming, self-contained, more facilities

There are other mobile apps for musicians that are song-based that have attracted dedicated followers. iRealPro and Songster are two such.

iRealPro

This is a deservedly popular App, although probably not ordinarily considered in terms of rhythm-only backing music. It does a great job of managing setlists, has a user-contributed library of tunes, which often means preparing a tune is very efficient (via lookup). Its strength is in getting a full multi-instrument accompaniment (rhythm and harmony) to well-known tunes complete with an on-screen chord-sheet of that tune which is tracked as the song progresses. It probably is based on midi-technology and provides good facilities to balance the mix. This mix can be adjusted to have the rhythm part only.

iRealPro has good sound quality for its price but there are not many rhythms to choose from and the drumming-only audio-quality isn’t really there. It’s impressive on first encountering it but after a while hearing the same drumming loops over and over loses the lustre. This is particularly true if only playing rhythmic accompaniment rather than a full ‘combo’ as iRealPro does sounds more impressive at a complete mix than rhythm-only tracks. Why is this rhythmic audio lacking compared to Song Rhythm Tracks? iRealPro is an app with a limited collection of audio loops. I don’t hear different loops being used for different tempos of the same rhythm. I don’t hear the human variation that makes drumming come alive and I don’t hear truly great drumming like one does with Song Rhythm Tracks. This does matter with rhythm because these are the things we expect from real music. iRealPro has a big following for an inexpensive tool to assist in learning new tunes; Song Rhythm Tracks really plays in a different market. It’s more about enjoying playing to a large variety of high-quality rhythmic accompaniment while learning and performing tunes.

Songster

There are other mobile-based Midi Apps but nothing significantly new when considering high-quality rhythmic backing with a convenient interface. Songster is a competitor of iRealPro with a slightly different market and similar results. There are other drumming specific Apps but they all fall down in terms of supplying the realism, excitement and breadth of Song Rhythm Tracks’ audio quality achieved by being server-based. What’s served is complete high-quality tracks already optimally sequenced and audio-engineered before being delivered to the end-user. No sequencing or audio engineering occurs on the mobile App. It simply selects, requests and plays the tracks.

Conclusion

Song Rhythm Tracks is a new type of product for truly high-quality rhythmic backing that is convenient to select and play. You are not going to get tired of these backing tracks. You are not going to have to sequence anything. You will find that the player and setlist’s user-interface encourages continued use. You will get to appreciate the form of your songs more and you might include these tracks into your own single and album releases. Don’t be put off by experiences with mobile drumming Apps. Song Rhythm Tracks are something different.

Whether you are learning a new tune, jamming, gigging or cutting your latest album, this Song Rhythm Tracks provides a solution.

Check out samples of the audio at Alive Drumming’s Samples page

Check out these articles from Alive Drumming that give further insights into the thinking behind the product –

How to practice, then how to jam

When to work on your rhythm?

Why songform with rhythm tracks?

Download the Song Rhythm Tracks App on the Apple App Store

   

Try Alive Drumming’s sampler apps to sample previously arranged tracks of popular tunes. It is then easy to use the app to adjust these to your practice and performance requirements. All the sampler apps are the same Song Rhythm Tracks app but with the included sample tracks.


songform” refers to Alive Drumming’s identification of a song’s form, taken from a drummer’s perspective of the compositional structure of a song. In addition to adopting names for common forms such as 12-bar blues and 32-bar AABA, Alive Drumming introduces their stick notation to describe a song’s form. Stick notation is simply a list of section lengths in bars separated by a vertical bar, ‘|’, or a slanted bar, ‘/’ where the following section is a bridge.