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Chapter 11. The Secret Multimedia World > Music on the PalmPilot

11.3. Music on the PalmPilot

You might think that the PalmPilot's chirpy little speaker would nip this palmtop's musical future in the bud. Actually, though, the music software for the PalmPilot excels at many musical tasks: serving as a tuning fork, metronome, ear-training instructor, or simple tape recorder for composers, for example. Here's a rundown:


Features an attractive four-octave piano keyboard and easy-to-use Record, Stop, and Play commands (see Figure 11.9). The good news: yes, you can actually record your own little melodies by tapping them out on the piano keyboard. The bad news: at this writing, the program remembers only the pitches you play, not the rhythms. You can record as slowly as you like, but everything plays back at a standard speed, without regard to the timings you used (every note gets the same rhythmic value). That's no problem if you're recording the fast part of "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring" or "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" (there is a "rest" button to insert a silent beat), but "What's Love Got to Do With It?" is out of the question. If the next version records note rhythms as well as pitches, PalmPiano will be a knockout program.


A terrific little songwriter's tool that lets you record and play back single-line melodies (see Figure 11.9). You specify the pitch by tapping piano keys and the rhythm by choosing from a row of note values (quarter note, half note, dot, etc.). The program uses its own textual notation for recording your melody: C22, for example, means to play the note C in the second octave for a quarter note—but all of this is generated automatically. It's useful to understand the notation, though, in case you want to compose a longer masterpiece by simply writing into, say, the Memo Pad.

The onscreen piano shows only about an octave, but the Octave button gives you access to three more octaves. There's even a Tempo slider to control the playback speed. As a bonus, the Metronome feature turns your PalmPilot into an outstanding visual and sonic electronic metronome—essential to performers, conductors, and composers. It can even accent the downbeat of each measure, no matter what the meter, and you can turn off the sound if you want.)

Figure 11.9. At left, PalmPiano, which looks better but doesn't record note rhythms —only their pitches. At right, PocketSynth, which does a great job of recording and playing back melodies.

If you repeatedly tap the plastic Scroll Up button at the bottom of the PalmPilot while using PocketSynth's metronome mode, an amazing thing happens: the program actually calculates your tempo, displaying the numerical metronome marking for the rate you're tapping. (This feature alone adds about $50 to the cost of the electronic metronomes on sale at your local music store at this very moment.)


Tap on the piano keyboard to hear a note and see it represented on the musical staff. What's it for? "If you are in the middle of nowhere and inspired with a tune, EbonyIvory helps you lock down the notes," says the Read Me file. Also good, it says, for "Impressing young children." Seriously, though, EbonyIvory works best as an interactive flash card program: for learning the relationships between the way notes sound, the key on the piano that produces them, and the way they look when notated on sheet music.


If you're a guitarist, this free program is indispensable. FretBoard displays the correct fingerings for any note, scale, or chord. Actually, any musician can benefit from FretBoard; just being able to listen to the cleanly played chords and scales is great ear-training practice. Have somebody change the pop-up menus, and see if you can identify the key, chord, or scale being played. A polished piece of work for real musicians.


This free program closely resembles FretBoard—its purpose is to show and play the notes of any chord type you select — except that it's designed for pianists. It plays and shows the chords on a graphic piano keyboard instead of the guitar fretboard.


A simple but effective electronic metronome, much like the Metronome feature of PocketSynth (see Figure 11.9). This program has two advantages: a big, easy-to-use, idiotproof interface (including a scrollbar to adjust the tempo) and a readout of the musical marking (such as Allegro or Andante) that corresponds to the current tempo setting. (Best in-joke yet: if you drag the scrollbar all the way to the bottom, you learn that you're playing "Mucha too slow-issimo!") Metronome lets you turn on the visual flashing and the audio beeping simultaneously, but lacks PocketSynth's accented downbeat, selectable beep pitch, and auto-tempo calculator.

Tuning Fork

For serious musicians only: serves as an electronic tuner for your tunable instrument. As shown in Figure 11.10, this program does only one thing: plays an A—but lets you adjust to various hertz settings, letting you tune to A-440, A-442, or whatever your orchestra settles on.

Figure 11.10. The PalmPilot is the perfect toolkit for the performing musician, serving splendidly as either a tuning fork (left) or a visual/audio metronome (right).


This superb, all-in-one program includes three modules. Two closely resemble Metronome and Tuning Fork; the third is a handy reference that instantly displays the key signature for each key you tap in a graphic Circle of Fifths.


Although you'll never mistake it for Phil Collins, this program is a drum machine, producing various drum sounds by making a surprising variety of different speaker sounds. Make up your own patterns, adjust tempo, switch between preset tempos by hitting a scroll button, and more. Neatest feature: you can specify the tempo by tapping.



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