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The great thing about the iPad or iPhone is that there are lots of apps. The bad thing about the iPad or the iPhone is that there are lots of apps. Though all apps loaded to the app store are vetted by Apple, they’re only vetted for general functionality, and not on the quality of the user experience or making sure the app doesn’t do anything illegal. As a result, there are lots of crappy apps in the app store. That’s to be expected, but it takes a lot of time wading through user reviews to make a decision if you’re looking for a particular type of application and there are several that do the same thing.

Such was the case when I was looking for an app that would help me replace my song binder which over the years, had grown to about three inches thick. It was pain lugging that thing around. But then recently, I discovered LINKSoft SongBook, a wonderful app that has allowed me to put my binder away, and use my iPad to display charts. It’s so convenient! And inputting music? No problem. With its integrated web browser, you can search songs on the internet, and you can import them into the app!!! That’s the feature that sold me on the app!

So along comes Ninebuzz wanting to promote their new app, Guitar Jam Tracks. I’m usually pretty leery of being contacted out of the blue, but in this case, I figured it was just an app, and I was willing to check it out. So I downloaded the app. I was not disappointed in the least.

At first blush, I found myself saying to myself, “Is this all there is? Just the pentatonic scale in the major keys?” But then I realized that that’s the power of this application. You get five jam track styles: Acoustic Blues, Humbucker Blues, Jazz, Reggae and Rock; in both major and minor styles, so 10 tracks in all. Pick a key you want to play in and the five pentatonic scale patterns and their respective positions on the fretboard appear on the screen. Press the play button and start jamming.

More experienced players may poo-poo this app, but I actually found it to be a very cool way to review the different positions. Also, the more experienced and adventurous can use this as a way to explore variations and joining and linking other types of scales. For me, especially when I’m playing live, if I’m not quite “feeling it” when it comes time to do a lead break, I will almost invariably revert to a 1st position pentatonic in the key that I’m playing. Then I’ll use that to break into other scales; not that I actually think, “Okay, I’ll now go from this major pentatonic into a Mixolydian.” I’ll admit that I use the pentatonic as a crutch, but it’s a good crutch because it gets me comfortable, and helps me get my mind off of thinking about what I’m playing and really trying to feel the music.

Such was the case when I started playing through the jam tracks yesterday before work (and just prior to writing this article). I picked a key, started following a pattern, then when I felt comfortable, started playing outside the patterns and exploring different possibilities. I’m not very academic with how I jam, I typically just go for it, and I found that the app actually helped me a lot.

For beginners, this can be an invaluable tool for learning how to improvise. I was originally looking for more with this app, but then realized that it’s absolutely perfect for what it’s trying to do. The problem you see with lots of instructional stuff is all the extra fluff like, “In this situation, play this, unless you’re faced with this, then you should play this…” That’s fine for more advanced instruction. For instance, Chuck D’Aloia of “Blues with Brains” fame completely changed my approach to playing. In his series of instructional videos, Chuck is all about situational awareness, and that has been more helpful to me than memorizing scales.

Circling back to Jam Tracks, it doesn’t give you any of that fluff because it’s not important. What I realized is that they give you the patterns, then it’s up to you play around, plain and simple. Some players may stay within each box, others may figure out that they can use the patterns to “walk” the fretboard. It doesn’t matter. The idea behind this app is to simply PLAY. More than anything else, with guitar, you can learn things intellectually, but until you actually start putting it to practice, your learning will not be complete. Jam Tracks gets you “doing” very quickly.

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I have finally moved into the tablet world and recently received an iPad as a job referral gift. Since it is the lowest level iPad, I haven’t been going crazy and loading up on apps – though to appease my kids I did get “Angry Birds.”

As fate would have it, soon after I got my iPad, app developers started contacting me about th eir wares. One of these developers created a nifty little drum beat backing track software with which guitarists can practice. It’s called Back Beats.

Check out the demo video:

Personally, I hate practicing or even recording to a metronome because it is fairly lifeless. But when I record or practice to an actual drum track, I can “feel” the ebbs and flows of the rhythm pattern, and that is reflected in my performance.

Anyway, the app is a measly 99-cents. For more information, check out the Back Beats website

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