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Technology: Percussion Practice Software

Dr. Marc Jacoby • Technology • November 23, 2014

​​Did you know that there are over one million apps each on Apple’s App Store and Google’s Google Play store? And it’s not just that there’s a boat-load of apps to chose from, it’s that there seems to always be something being released that does the “it” better (or differently) than the others. Take drumming, for example. There are many apps that you can use to learn how to play rudiments, drum set, world percussion, and even mallet keyboards. Their goals may be similar, but different app developers harness unique features of the device and provide creative interaction that can make it seem engaging and useful for specific needs and learning styles. This month we’ll look at some apps that are geared toward learning rudimental and drum set performance.

Traditional Rudimental Drum Training
These apps all have one goal in mind: learn to play the rudiments. Enshrined over time (since early post-Revolutionary War), the 26 Standard American Rudiments (now over 40 and counting) are the building blocks of the many musical styles your drum students will encounter. Everything from single and double stroke rolls, paradiddles, flams, and so on are important to the formation of good drumming techniques and skill development. A search for “drum rudiments” on the App Store and Android Store returned about 40 apps dedicated to this, in some fashion. Some are purely reference apps that allow the user to see the notation and sticking and listen to a model. Others have more involved pedagogical support, and even assessment tools.

Rudidrum ($3.99, iOS) focuses specifically on the rudiments, providing a very interactive practice experience. The developers have done a great job of presenting each rudiment with notation, sticking, and a number of interactive features. The tempo is adjustable from 20bpm to about 230bpm, and can be adjusted while the rudiment track is playing. The snare drum sound used is very good and both it and the metronome volume can be adjusted independently. There are many other customization options including the length of the count off and the number of repetitions (from zero to infinite). Even the sticks animate properly for the particular rudiment, providing a good model to watch and observe.

Rudiment Tap ($0.99, iOS/Android) takes a different approach, focusing instead on developing the correct sticking for each rudiment. Rudiment Tap displays the rudiment notation and sticking, and with a snare drum featuring left and right zones, evaluates your performance for correct “sticking” and timing. This comes with a warning from the developer: “Never hit your device with drumsticks.” Good thing to remember! This app is made to be played with your fingers (I guess toes could work, too).
The app’s metronome can be adjusted anywhere from between 30bpm to 250bpm. For many of the rudiments, especially rolls and paradiddles, it does a decent job in assessing correct sticking. But for something like flam rudiments, it doesn’t discriminate when it comes to the space between the grace note and primary stroke that make up a flam. Play the two strokes incredibly tight together or wide enough to drive a truck through, regardless of the tempo, the evaluation doesn’t seem to care.

The Pocket Percussion Teacher ($1.99/$2.99, iOS/Android) is more like a Swiss Army knife for percussion training, as it has content for rudimental drumming, keyboard mallets, and world percussion. Not only does it contain a section on rudiments, it contains both the standard 40, as well as those crazy hybrid rudiments with funny names like “Cheese Huts” and “Flurta, Flurta, Flicka Flee Flee.” (Okay, I made that second one up.) The app comes with the standard rudiments, some basic exercises, and one of their own “Stand Jams.” Everything else must be acquired through their in-app purchase. These extras cost anywhere between $0.99 and $5.99. Be prepared to wait a bit before you can actually use this app because when you first purchase it, you’ll have to download all the basic content. This seemed to take a while even on a robust WIFI network.

More than a glorified electronic catalog, the Vic Firth app (free, iOS/Android) gives the percussion enthusiast access to much of the great content that’s found on their website but in a slicker app package (full disclosure: I’m a VF artist/endorser and developer of a game on their website, Speed Note Reading Tutor). Each rudiment screen has the notation and sticking, practice tips (text-based) by various Vic Firth artists, video lessons by Dr. John Wooton, and play-along tracks to practice with. The play-along tracks have five distinct tempos, although instead of listing the specific metronomic markings they use descriptors like bronze, silver, and gold to signify levels of difficulty. The snare drum sound doesn’t sound much like a real drum and there’s no way to adjust the metronome click sound against the drum sound. Portions of the app are downloadable but others do rely on YouTube videos, so an Internet connection is a must.
 
Drum Set Training
Drum Guru (free, iOS/Android) combines high-quality video lessons by professional drummers with a useful practice and play-along tool. While the app is free, it only comes with a “Sampler Pack” of seven lessons. But, they do show off the good production quality of the videos and practice tools, while featuring some of the best-known drummers and educators on the scene today.  All other content is purchased in-app, with most add-ons being $0.99 per package containing between four and six individual lessons. Each lesson is short and to the point with good explanations by the presenting drummer. Many different styles are covered, including familiar ones like jazz and rock, as well as Latin, reggae, metal, gospel, country, and more.

Lesson packages are easily browsed or searched by music style, artist, or level. Package size varies from about 80 MB up to and above 160 MB, so be careful, as downloading a lot of packages will severely eat up a device’s storage space. The videos have two playback speeds, normal and slow. While the slow version makes it easier to catch intricate patterns both visually and audibly, it does warp the sound and can be a detriment in presenting a good audio model for the student. The Practice tool allows you to play along with the exercise or groove with or without a metronome. The playback tempo can be increased or decreased by about 50 percent each way. Again, slowing the playback down too far does create some audio fidelity “messiness.”

While most apps are either free or low cost, Drum School ($5.99, iOS/OSX) is certainly one of the more expensive apps for this category. But for your $5.99, all 286 grooves are included, which means no in-app purchases! Like others in this category, this app has content sorted by music genre that includes a good representation of rock, jazz, Latin, Afro-pop, and others. There aren’t explanations of each particular groove, but the app does include a video demonstration with multiple camera angles. You can control the video playback speed (although it has the same audio issues as Drum Guru).

The practice tool displays the drum pattern notation, as well as providing controls to mute one or more of the parts. There’s also a bass track that can be added to give the groove better context. Since these are MIDI tracks, tempo can be controlled without distortion of the audio quality. The tracks have a decent enough sound, although they don’t sound as natural as the real drums used in the videos. Drum School contains both drum set and rudimental drumming examples. 

Drum Genius (free, iOS/Android) is a comprehensive reference library and play-along practice app created by bass player Mauro Battisti as a practice tool for his own students. Since Drum Genius wasn’t originally created as a drum set learning tool, there is no notation of the drum parts, making it more suited for advanced players than novices looking for beats to learn. Claiming to have 300 loops in the library, the app gives you the first three for free. Additional loops can be downloaded through in-app purchases: 10 loops for $0.99, 50 for $2.99, or all 300 for $9.99. Each loop comes with a brief description that includes references to a particular drummer and discography. Even though the loops were created using a MIDI sequencer and drum set sound library, the sound is very natural and life-like. Aside from jazz, there is an extensive library of styles including Afro-Cuban, Brazilian, and some odd meter examples.
 These apps for mobile devices constitute a small sampling from the many offerings on both the Apple App Store and Google Play store. Whether you go with one that’s free yet requires in-app purchases or a fee app that comes complete with content, it’s great to have options in choosing the one that has the content and features that seem to fit your individual needs and budget.


Dr. Marc Jacoby is an associate professor of Music at West Chester University of Pennsylvania, where he serves as jazz studies coordinator and teaches in the Applied Music and Music Education programs. Jacoby is a co-creator and contributor to TheMusicInteractive.com website, which distributes music games and activities designed for interactive whiteboards and mobile devices. In addition to his own titles, Jacoby has developed educational multimedia including games for Yamaha / PlayinTime Productions, Mark Wessels Publications, and CD-ROM’s for Rowloff Productions. Jacoby has been a certified Apple Pro Apps trainer and is an artist/clinician for the Yamaha Corporation and Vic Firth, Inc., a Sibelius Ambassador, and has served on the Educational Advisory Committee for Latin Percussion, Inc.

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