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Percussionist 2.0 – Part 2: 7 best apps for mobile device

Best mobile app for percussion

Typical scenario if you catch me while studying timpani: me, timpani, the score, my smartphone on the music stand running the metronome app or my Ipad connected to the audio system with one of Beethoven’s symphonies at the highest volume.

Ok, I admit I’m a tech addicted (I always feel moved when I look at my Malletkat and I think that someone designed it!) but actually the benefits some apps for mobile devices can give me during my practice time or on a stage is really huge.

So in this second post of the series “Percussionist 2.0” I will discuss some of the apps I consider most useful and precisely:

  • Drum Guru;
  • Garage Band;
  • Sample Tank;
  • Tempo and Mobile Metronome;
  • gStrings and ClearTune.



First of all I should explain why I talk about “app” and not about “software”, although technically both concepts are the same. The difference is that in the informal language we usually associate the word “app” with mobile devices while we use the word “software” when we refer to desktop computers or laptops.

At this point you may ask why I choose to talk about mobile devices rather than personal computers. My choice is personal but it reflects my everyday use of these devices.

This because most of those complex tasks that some years ago could be accomplished only by “heavy” machines as desktop or notebook computers are nowadays easily achieved by those small devices that we can carry in a pocket or in the palm of our hand.

Don’t worry, I do not think that a tablet can replace a sound card with 150 channels or render an HD video after a heavy editing. For these needs we can always count on our old dear box under the desk, that’s to say our desktop computer.

I’m talking about “light” tasks as: replace the score on the music stand, watch instructional videos, listen to music, interface with a midi keyboard or simply run as a metronome or a tuner.

Let’s examine some of these apps.



Percussion entrepreneurs! Take note of how Drum Guru works.

It is basically a catalog of video lessons recorded by some of the greatest drummers in the world. For example: Peter Erskine, Steve Smith, Steve Gadd, Tommy Igoe, Mike Portnoy etc etc… These are just some of the most famous names. I also bought other videos created by not so known drummers and they were educationally valid too.

What do these artists do? They decide to record a series of lessons that deal with specific topics. Every video talks about a single concept. Then they sell every series of lessons for about € 1.50 each. In this way you buy a certain number of video lessons with the related scores. If necessary, you can switch to the “solo score” version with the metronome and you can study at a slower speed in respect to the video.

Why does this idea works well? Simply because the videos are well done, the conceptual “pills” are usefu, the artists are among the best in the world and, last but not least, the lessons are very cheap!

Now imagine Evelyn Glennie explaining you, for example, the basics of her technique. She records these lessons in a series of 8 videos lasting five minutes each for a total of 40 minutes of master classes and you can have everything for just € 1.50.

Consider this: how much would you pay for a 40 minutes master class with Evelyn Glennie? Of course, a face to face lesson has a completely different value than a recorded video. Let’s put in that way: how much would you pay for an educational DVD by Evelyn Glennie with an hour of contents? I hope more than two euro…



The first book for marimba by N.J. Zivkovic is created for those who begin playing mallet percussion. The pieces are very simple and the author has created an accompaniment part that can be played by the teacher on a bass marimba or on the piano.

Let’s imagine that the teacher works in a typical Italian school which doesn’t have a bass marimba nor a piano (you have to assume that if he had a piano he wouldn’t dare to play it because of his incompetence).

What does this teacher do? Using the “smart instruments” option of Garage Band he creates an accompaniment in 5 minutes on his iPad and he uses it during the performance of his student (who regains his smile after the teachers’ reproaches for not having studied enough.)

Well, I am that kind of teacher and you can actually find some of those accompaniments on my Soundcloud profile. I don’t know what Zivkovic could think about how I totally altered the meaning of his music but I can say that now my students love playing those songs.

Of course, Garage Band is not only an easy tool to create simple accompaniments using the “smart instruments” option even if in my case, basically, I just use it for this purpose.




Foto by Robbie McCarthy / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

The apotheosis of the nerd percussionist: the possibility to simulate the wah-wah of a distorted electric guitar through the volume controller pedal of the Malletkat connected to the iPad running SampleTank.

Let’s start again from the beginning: what is Sample Tank? It’s is a premium application which consists of a collection of pro-quality sounds. When conncected to a MIDI keyboard as the Malletkat you have endless sound possibilities at your fingertips.

What do we do with all these sounds? I don’t know because I still use the Malletkat and Sample Tank as toys (very expensive toys indeed).

Yet I remember when, before iPad and Sample Tanks became famous, I used to connect the Malletkat to an external sound card that was in turn connected to a laptop. Veeery uncomfortable. Not to mention the high price of the music libraries and, finally, the impossibility to find decent sounds for marimba and vibraphone.

All these problems are now partially solved by this beautiful app. Enjoy!



Well, let’s consider something more practical. When I study I need a metronome. If it’s an app on my smartphone or on my tablet then it’s better.

Here’s my personal choice of a couple of applications which I also recommend in the video “4 Things you need to start playing percussion” as an alternative to a digital metronome device:

  • Tempo (for Apple): The function I love most about this metronome is the ability to change the speed of the metronome through a very comfortable virtual wheel. Then you can insert accents within the articulation of the beats so as to be able to program specific metric combinations. For example you can play a 7/8 as a 2 + 2 + 3. Finally, the classical programming setlist so essential during the live shows.
  • Mobile Metronome (for Android): simple, efficient, for free. Nothing more to add.



Anyone who knows me (or has the misfortune of having me as a teacher) is aware of what I think about digital tuners. Still, if used wisely, they can be very useful. Especially when you forgot the tuning fork at home.

For this reason I suggest you to have a tuner always with you and the one I recommend you is “gStrings” for Android and “Clear Tune” for Apple.

I will not dwell on the various features of each app, for me it’s enough that they are able to pick in the best way low frequencies and complex overtones of timpani.

The rest is unnecessary.



Ok, once again I invite you to contribute by writing in the comments what music applications you use most often during your practice time or on a stage.

In the next post I’ll talk about the most interesting websites for percussionists and drummers. If you missed the previous episode read the article in which I speak about the best “percussionist-friendly” videos available on Youtube.



Question: What are the 3 app (for Apple, Android or other operating systems) that you consider most useful? What do you think about those apps I mentioned in this post? Leave a comment.