iPad & iPhone Music App Tutorial: Exploring Instruments In ThumbJam

by chip on April 19, 2013

ThumbJam is one of those magical apps that walks the line between amateur and professional users with grace and style, simultaneously filling every musical need without breaking a sweat. It’s easy to sit down with ThumbJam and quickly master the basics, knocking out some fantastic tracks in a speedy way, based upon the inviting interface and simply astounding samples. If you’ve got some previous experience with music and technology, you’re apt to dig into the rock solid MIDI implementation built into ThumbJam, as well as the ability to create and edit your own instruments. There’s not a lack of things to keep you creating music in ThumbJam; in fact, there’s probably more than most users will every put to the test. So many features are seamlessly jam packed into ThumbJam that it’s fairly easy to miss something that may very well scratch your creative itch. We’re going to be digging deep into ThumbJam in this tutorial series, looking for the full picture on the features that you know and love, as well as some that you might be encountering for the first time. We’re going to keep things going with an in-depth look at ThumbJam instruments and the different ways that you can use them.

In the first piece of our ThumbJam tutorial, we focused on the highly customizable and expressive interface, certainly an inspiring way to pull the music out of your device; the real meat and potatoes of ThumbJam lies in the sounds that you can produce though, so that’s where we’ll put our attention today.  In its core patches, ThumbJam utilizes some very high quality samples, which playback with brilliance and power.  These are not simply one recorded note transposed over countless octaves, you’ve got multi-sampled instruments, ensuring high quality playback,  In addition, you’ve got lots of ways to control your sound output and manipulate the way that the samples playback within your session.  You can layer sounds, add effects, extend them with sustain, and even expand your choices with additional sampled instruments from Sonosaurus.  The included instrument presets and the way that you can manipulate them are just another element that really makes ThumbJam shine.

Loading The ThumbJam Presets
When you first start out with ThumbJam, you’re going to want to load and experiment with the included presets.  Upon first notice, you’ll see the name of the currently loaded sample set written in white text at the top of the screen.  If you’d like to change the sample, tap on the “Sound” tab in the upper left hand corner of the screen.  Once you do this, you’ll be presented with several choices; press the top button, which reads “Change Instrument.”  You’ll find yourself at the “Select Preset” window with a long list of included presets.  When you first purchase ThumbJam, Sonosaurus includes forty high quality presets that walk a gamut of sound sources, ranging from traditional acoustic instruments to electronically manipulated sounds.  You’ve got things like a Mandolin, a violin, or a bowed acoustic bass, as well as choices like  muted funk guitar, a TJuno Saw, a Theremin, or a blues organ.  When you find an interesting instrument, simply tap on the name and then go back to the main screen; pressing on the different strips will trigger the samples immediately.  This is far from every sound that you’ll possibly need, but you’ve got forty versatile, high quality instruments – there’s a very good chance that you’ll find something good to get your started.

Sorting The Presets
You’ve got several choices to sort the presets that will help you find your preferred instrument quickly and easily.  Directly below the “Select Preset” heading, there are four grey buttons, labeled “All,” “User,” “Defaults,” and “Category.”  The “All” button does exactly what you’d expect, simply listing all the instruments currently residing in ThumbJam, only separated by two subheadings – “User” and “Defaults.”  Tapping on the “User” heading will give you a list of only the instruments that you have personally modified or created, delivering quick access to some of your preferred choices.  The “Defaults” button will provide an alphabetical list of all the presets that came with ThumbJam, as well as any that you downloaded from Sonosaurus.  The “Category” button separates all of your ThumbJam patches into ten different categories – “Acoustic,” “Bass,” “Brass,” “Guitar,” ” Keyboard,” “Percussion,” “Strings,” “Synth,” “Woodwind,” and “Other.”  Most of these categories are pretty self-descriptive, with the exception of “Other” – this contains any user modified or created instruments without a category label.  You’ll notice that the names of the different categories are listed along the right hand side of the window; tapping on any of these names, will quickly jump you right to that category.  Once you start filling ThumbJam with additional instruments from Sonosaurus or even instruments that you’ve created, these sorting options can be a lifesaver.  

Edit And Keep Current Scale/Key
There are two more options that you should be aware of within the “Select Presets” window, since you’ll probably need them at one point.  In the upper right hand corner of the window, you’ll find your standard “Edit” button that exists in most iOS apps.  Tap on that button and you’ll get the option to delete any of your modified or original samples with a red circle on the left hand side of the title.  Tap on that and you’ll be presented with a delete button; if you’d like to skip the whole “Edit” button altogether, you can simply swipe from the right hand side of the name to reveal the “Delete” button.  Notice that you can only delete your modified or original instruments – the initial presets are permanently connected to ThumbJam.  The other option that you’ll need in your work with instruments is the slider button at the bottom of the window labeled “Keep Current Scale/Key.”  Each instrument has a specific root and scale attached to it, and when you load the instrument, you’re going to load the corresponding scale and key.  When you’re in the middle of a serious workflow, this change can be quite disruptive, breaking your creative energy.  Switching the “Keep Current Scale/Key” option to “On” will prevent ThumbJam from changing the scale or key as you move between instruments.  While these are small pieces of the puzzle, they can certainly considerations that will keep your ThumbJam work moving forward productively.

Downloading Samples
Once you’ve worked your way through the provided presets in ThumbJam, you’ll be ready for more, and fortunately, Sonosaurus has got a fantastic resource to keep you inspired.  Once again, tap on the “Sound” tab in the upper left hand corner and select the “Download Samples” from the bottom of the list.  You’ll find yourself on the “Download Samples” window, which contains of a regularly growing list of additional instruments that you can load into ThumbJam.  Directly below the “Download Samples” heading, you’ll see two grey buttons labeled “Instruments” and “Loops”; we’ll be discussing Loops in an upcoming tutorial, so for now, keep “Instruments” selected.  This is an awesome resource – you’ve got a collection of instruments that are made with the same high quality concerns as the original presets, multi-sampled and fine tuned.   These instruments are residing on the Sonosaurus servers, so you’ll need an internet connect to download these instruments.  If you’ve got that access, simply tap on a name from the list and your new instrument will start downloading.  They’ll be added to your Instrument list, so you’ll need to go back to the “Change Instrument” button to find and load them.  It’s easy and tempting to just grab every possible patch possible, but remember, these are good samples, and as a result each one takes up several MBs; if storage space is an issue on your device, you may want to choose wisely.  Nonetheless, this is an awesome way to keep your ThumbJam work fresh and get those creative juices flowing.

Loading Multiple Samples Onto The Screen
Once you’ve got a number of instruments loaded into ThumbJam and gotten comfortable with the interface, you’re ready to load multiple samples onto the screen.  Start by loading a cool lead instrument into ThumbJam, picking your key, finding your scale, and then setting the octave and span to your liking.  In part one of the tutorial, we discussed splitting the screen – do that by pressing the Split Screen button on the left hand side of the screen.  Directly below the Split Screen button, you’ll find another option – a button with a labeled 1.  Once you press that button, you’ll get a pop-up message that asks you if you’d like to load a second instrument.  Choose “Load” and you’ll be sent to the “Select Preset” window.  Choose the instrument of your choice – a nice bass sound might be a good balance.  When you return to the main screen, you’ll find that the left hand side of the split contains your first instrument, while the right hand side of the screen contains your second instrument.  At this point, you’ve got a world of performance possibilities at your fingertips that involves two instrument samples.  

Personalizing The Split Screen & Multiple Instruments
It’s important to remember that having two samples loaded into your layout opens up more potential than simply the opportunity to have two sounds on your screen – you’ve got some cool personalization options.  As we discussed with the split screen layout, both sides of the screen can load different musical elements.  Each side of the split can have its own unique scale and even its own key.  You can assign different octaves and spans on each side, customizing it to work well around your performance.  You can even alter the way that each side interacts with your finger, setting the screen to articulate each note or glide between them.  In order to do this, simply tap on the side of the screen that you’d like to change and then press the appropriate button to adjust your key, scale, octave, span, or the way that the screen reacts to your finger.  This all means that you’ve got more than two sounds across a split screen – you’ve got two completely unique instruments!

Advantages Of Multiple Instruments
There’s one more useful element that comes along with multiple instruments that you’ll find yourself using more than you might expect.  You’ve also got the ability to quickly switch between two full layouts based upon the instruments that you’ve selected and customized.  Tap on the split screen button and you’ll return to the single screen layout based upon the first instrument that you selected.  Notice that any changes you’ve made to the customization options will remain when you return to the single screen.  At this point, find the multiple instrument button below the split screen button – it’s currently reading “1″.  Tap on it again and you make a quick switch to the second instrument that you’ve loaded.  Once again, all of the personalization choices that you’ve made about this instrument, including key, octave, scale, and span will remain steady.  For the live performer using ThumbJam, or even someone at home recording, having two instruments easily at your fingertips is a goldmine.  

Using Sustain
You’ve got another option for working with the sound of your instrument during performance, and this is one that we commonly associate with a piano or keyboard – a sustain pedal.  On the left hand side of the screen, two buttons below the “Sound” tab, you’ll see a button with a picture of a sustain pedal.  Press and hold that button and then tap one of the strips on the main screen; instead of the sound quickly dying, the sound will sustain until you lift your finger.  This works well, but there’s also a more practical way to utilize sustain during performance.  Double tap on the sustain button and you’ll notice two black buttons appear on the lower left hand side of the screen, labeled “Sustain” and “Sustain Lock”; you’ll also notice that the sustain pedal button will turn gold.  The black “Sustain” button on the lower part of the screen does the same thing as the sustain button near the top of the screen – it simply places that button in a more convenient location for the performer.  The “Sustain Lock” button is a different story though, applying sustain to your whole performance.  Once you press the “Sustain Lock” button, you won’t be in sustain mode, but you’ll notice a brown stipe on the left hand side of the screen.  Once you press the “Sustain” button on the lower left hand side of the screen though, your performance will be filled with sustain.  In order to turn off the sustain, simply press the “Sustain Lock” button one more time.  You can get rid of these buttons by double tapping on the button with the sustain pedal near the top of the screen again – the sustain pedal will turn while once again and the black buttons at the bottom of the screen will disappear.  The sustain feature can be useful when applied tastefully to your performances, bringing out a lush quality to the sound.

Opening A New Realm Of Professionalism And Practicality With ThumbJam Instruments
ThumbJam has so many good things going for it, but in reality, the high quality and vast options of the instruments take this instrument to a completely new realm of professionalism and practicality.  The presets sound fantastic on every level; sometimes its hard to believe that you’re simply triggering samples as opposed to playing a physical guitar, synth, or string instrument.  The fact that Sonosaurus continues to support the addition of instruments to the app without an additional cost is stunning; they’re not skimping out on the free stuff either – the downloadable instruments feature the same high quality that you find in the presets.  With all the customization options available in ThumbJam, these high quality instruments will fit into just about any setting too.  Take some time to experiment with ThumbJam across a number of different instruments and layout settings – there’s a wealth of possibilities that explode out of your options, so spend time exploring them.  We’ll be back soon with a discussion of modifying and creating your own instruments in ThumbJam.

The true strength of ThumbJam lies in the amazing instrument samples which come with the app and can be added into the mix through the Sonosaurus servers. The fact that you can use ThumbJam to trigger multiple instruments is an amazing resource that benefits both live performance and recording. What do you thin about the ThumbJam instrument samples? What are your favorites and what are some more sounds that you’d love to see integrated into ThumbJam? Or maybe you’re just not a big fan of these samples? LEAVE A COMMENT and let us know what you think of the ThumbJam instruments.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Bob April 19, 2013 at 2:54 pm

This was the second music app I purchased…..almost 2 years ago. Couple of more benefits on the split instruments:

You can use the feature to play octaves since each scale octave is independently adjustable.

Unfortunately, the volume is not adjustable per instrument unless you go to the edit function and tweak the instrument volume setting.

Unrelated note: since TJ is Audiobus compatible try running some of the instruments through one of the freememium amp apps such as AmpKit, Amplitube or JamUp. If you have GarageBand you can also run through its amps. Try doing this with ” The Wahtooth ” instrument to channel your inner Hendrix or SRV.
You’ll easily spend 15 or 20 minutes doing so.


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