SoundPrism was released for the iPad a few days ago, and of course I bought it right away. The app presents a novel new interface to music creation that will both be a great learning aid for budding musicians, a fun tinkering device for hobbyists, and quite possibly a useful musical instrument for experienced musicians.
Sebastian Dittmann, one of the creators of SoundPrism, notes in the introductory video how it is not necessary to know any music theory to create music with the app, and indeed it is constructed in such a way that anything you play will sound good. That is no small feat, and it makes it a great instrument for beginners. But in order to understand how this was achieved, and to learn how to really take advantage of the app, it is interesting to explore the music theory behind its construction.
I am by no means an expert on music theory, but I quickly figured out the basics and thought I’d share.
Playing major scales
The notes on the SoundPrism screen are structured around the well-known pattern of the major scale. SoundPrism opens to a bright green screen which represents the C major scale, and which you can always return to by pressing the targeting icon in the bottom righthand corner. If you scroll the SoundPrism interface along the vertical axis the color of the screen will change to indicate a change of pitch, which means that the layout of the notes represent a different major scale. I’ll return to that later.
Let’s use Solfège terminology to refer to the notes of the scale regardless of pitch. You’ll no doubt recognize the “do-re-mi” pattern from the famous song from The Sound of Music. This is the basic pattern of playing a major scale in SoundPrism:
The scale naturally extends in both directions:
At first glance it looks like a pattern that will need to be memorized, but it is simpler than it looks. There is actually only a single note in each vertical column of the matrix, and to play the scale from low to high, you simply move through the columns from left to right, playing the dark keys:
There are seven rows on a single SoundPrism screen, and the middle row represents the base note of the scale, so on the “home screen” the middle row contains four octaves of “C”, only three of which are immediately visible:
Moving between keys
As already mentioned, you move between the different keys by scrolling vertically. SoundPrism has twelve different screens you can cycle through, corresponding to the twelve different notes in the chromatic scale, and each has its own color. The order of the screens corresponds to the Circle of Fifths. Scrolling upward moves clockwise around the circle of fifths, starting with the key of G, while scrolling downward moves counterclockwise, starting with the key of F.
The different keys are color-coded as follows:
Armed with this basic knowledge you should be able to play any number of known songs in SoundPrism as well as construct your own. I’ll post more later as I explore the interface further, and I highly recommend that you follow Audanika, the makers of SoundPrism, on Twitter, YouTube, Facebook and Tumblr as they have promised to post tutorials of their own very soon.
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