How An App Made Me A Better Musician

artist: Misc date: 10/22/2012 category: features
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How An App Made Me A Better Musician
There's a new app out called Jamn that gave me three beautiful insights into music making. It got me out of a rut. It opened my mind to new music directions. It made me a better musician. OK the bar was pretty low. I'm not much of a musician. Yes I know a bunch of chords. I can perform 30 minutes of popular covers but seldom hear calls for an encore. In fact never hear calls for an encore. If I focus insanely hard, I can scratch out a comedy pop song. I once wrote a jingle that went viral. Nothing very deep, juicy or emo. Just catchy. I love music and play every day, but really I'm not much of a musician. Can't keep good time. Can't perform consistently. Audiences make me nervous. And I never really understood music theory. Until now.

Background Fill

It all began about three months ago when I met a guy called Johnny. Johnny said he had invented an app that would make me a better musician. Johnny said the app would reveal the relationships between keys, scales and chords in a way never seen before. Johnny got pretty excited. He scribbled circles, waved his arms, fingered his fretboard and went on and on about how modern music was circular. The app wasn't developed yet. I didn't really understand what the hell he was talking about but it sounded cool. I signed on as a beta tester. Lucky me. You gotta know that Jamn is not a standalone app. It goes with a guitar, keyboard or uke. It's not a fast food, instant gratification kind of app either. It's not a toy. Jamn needs an open mind and a little commitment. Just like any instrument I suppose. Music theory is obvious to some people, but I never understood the logic behind chords and keys. I can hear what sounds good, but how it works was a mystery. It's hard to see any logic in an alphabetical guitar chord finder. Or in a song chord/lyrics chart. It's there in traditional sheet music but that's not easy to read fluently. Jamn reveals the logic of music and it's a magical thing. It lays out the music notes in a circle called the Jamn Wheel. By default, the wheel shows the C major scale white notes on a piano keyboard. Much less obvious on a fretboard. Give the wheel a spin to instantly transpose a scale into another key.

Instrumental Arithmetic

The Jamn Wheel also has an inner circle. On it are a bunch of dots that indicate the triads (three note chords) derived from the current scale. Click a dot to see a major chord plus fretboard fingering. Click on a ring for a minor chord. There's also a dot inside a ring that shows the odd-man-out triad, the diminished seventh chord. I was always vaguely aware of the existence of major and minor scales. I didn't really get why I needed to know that to build a chord. I didn't know how they were related. On the Jamn Wheel, the major scale begins in a box marked with a blue line, and goes clockwise around the wheel. The relative minor scale, begins in a box marked with a red line and also goes clockwise around the wheel. Until I saw it laid out like this I had no idea that the major scale and its minor scale used exactly the same notes. You could say the scales fell from my eyes. That first flash of insight confirmed Johnny was onto something. I was hooked.

Where's That Confounded Bridge?

Jamn taught me a scale has a limited number of triads, some major, some minor, some oddities. What really surprised me was how many songs, something like ninety percent, only use the chords shown on the Jamn Wheel's default inner circle. The second big revelation was how I could apply this to my music. Instead of fiddling around finding cool sounding chords by trial and error, all I had to do was check Jamn for chords in the key. I tried this with a song I'd couldn't finish writing. Eureka! The diminished seventh clicked with the melody. I then found even more chords that sounded good via Jamn's pull-down chord finder. Unlike conventional, illogical alphabetical chord finders, the Jamn chord finder only shows chords that work in the current key. Suddenly I had a stack of chords to choose from. Why aren't all chord finders structured like this? Who knows.

When I Was Young I Listened To The Radio

I don't have a great ear, but I can get satisfaction by turning on the radio and jamming along in real time to a song I've never heard before. Before Jamn this was really hit and miss. Sometimes easy, sometimes hard. Why? Turns out the hard songs are in an unfamiliar key. Another ah-ha moment came when I realized you could punch a couple of known root notes into the Jamn Wheel, spin the wheel to figure out the key, and all the unknown chords in a song just click into place. It's a shortcut to learning, applying and recalling new chord. Scale and key patterns. Your mileage may vary. Will you get anything from this app if you already know music theory? Probably. Dial up key transposing, finding chords that work in a key, locating chord and scale fingering, exploring exotic scales and variations of blues and rock scales. It's all there. Jamn has only been on the app store a couple of weeks. I've used it about two months as a beta tester and it's left me with a much better understanding of harmony. Now I know how chords and scales work. Songwriting is easier and more satisfying. Jamn has increased my confidence and lifted me from a rut. I'm still nervous of audiences and drift out of time, but yeah, I'd say Jamn has made me a better musician. It gave me three joyful flashes of insight. Thanks Johnny. Hard to believe it's only a buck.
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