iPad & iPhone Music App Tutorial: Modifying Instruments In ThumbJam

by chip on May 10, 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. Now that we’ve checked out the interface and instruments, we’re going to personalize things by modifying instruments.

In the second part of our ThumbJam tutorial, we focused upon the vast potential, selection, quality, and performance options of the instruments from Sonosaurus; while these instruments are a major plus for this app, they’re just the beginning of the sonic adventures that you can find within ThumbJam.  The app provides a number of ways that you can modify the given instruments that come with ThumbJam and then save those modifications for future use.  You can manipulate everything from the way that the samples playback to the effects shaping the sound, and the way that those samples interact with your fingers.  It’s completely possible to start with a preset and end with something completely new and unique.  At the same time, you can start fresh by recording your own sounds, working with these same elements, and produce your own instruments.  ThumbJam is more than a way to playback samples, its also a platform for capturing and manipulating samples and a very defined and creative level.  Once you step into this world, you’ll find a completely new world of possibilities in ThumbJam.

Starting With A Preset Sample
When you’re first working with original sound creation in thumbJam, its a good idea to master the basics by modifying some of the presets to your liking.  Start things out by selecting an instrument within the “Select Preset” windows – for this example, I’m going to choose “Synth Strings Lead.”  Don’t worry about loosing a preset sound that you love – if you follow the instructions below, we’ll be saving our modifications as a new instrument.  Once you’ve chosen your new instrument, tap on the blue “Done” button to return to the main screen.  Now find the “Edit” tab in the lower left hand corner of the screen, which will present your options for modifying the preset sample that you’ve selected.  You’ll see five different buttons, labeled “Sample,” “Controls,” ” Effects,” ” Save Preset,” and “Hide Menus.”  Press the “Save Preset” button and you’ll see another button appear in the middle of the screen entitled “Save as New Preset” – once you press this, you’ll be prompted to choose a new name.  Type in new name like “1st Modified Instrument” and press “Save.” At this point, you’ve created a new instrument that will be a modified version of a preset; best of all, you won’t loose the original preset.

Altering Sample Playback
The core of the instrument lies in the sample and the way that the sample will playback when triggered, so let’s start with that element.  Within the “Edit” tab, select the “Sample” button, which will take you to a new window where you will work with that sample.  Let’s start things out by making sure that we don’t overwrite the sample; press the button in the upper left hand corner of the window, which looks like this:

The “Attack Time” is the amount of time before you hear the sample after you press a particular strip on the screen.  You can adjust the “Attack Time” anywhere from 0 ms to 300 ms, creating quite a range.  The lower the number that you select, the more immediate the sound will follow your touch; for example, if you set the “Attack Time” to 0 ms, you’ll hear the sound right away.  The higher the number that you choose, the longer the delay between touching the screen and hearing the sample.  If you choose 300 ms, there will be a slight pause and fade in from the sound.  This is an important consideration that applies directly to how you will be using the sound.  If you’re going to be creating a lead with lots of fast notes, you probably want a low “Attack Time” so that you can knock out a rapid fire stream of notes.  Sustained chordal pads might benefit from a higher “Attack Time,” providing the feeling of a lush, open quality as each chord comes onto the scene.  

The “Release Time” is the amount of time before the sample disappears after you lift your finger from a particular strip on the screen.  This also contains a wide time spectrum, giving you the option of setting the “Release Time” between 10 ms and 10,000 ms.  The lower the number that you select, the more immediately the sound will disappear once you lift your finger.  When you’ve got the “Release Time” set to 10 ms, it evaporates almost immediately after you lift your finger.  Higher numbers will create a sustain within the sound that continues long after you lift your finger from the screen.  When you get into thousands of ms, especially when you reach 10,000 ms, that sustain is going to continue long after you lift your finger.  Once again, you should consider how you’ll be using these sounds before you adjust this setting.  If you’d like to perform a part with short, rhythmic figures, you’re going to want a low “Release Time” to avoid any muddiness in the sound.  On the other hand, you can also create open sonic washes with a lazy feeling, a high “Release Time” number would give you exactly what you desire.

Directly below the “Release Time” slider, you’ll find a button labeled “Polyphonic” with options for “On” and “Off.”  Polyphony refers to the simultaneous playback of multiple pitches, and you’re choosing whether you want this option.  When the button is in the “On” position, ThumbJam will playback multiple pitches, based on the number of fingers that you have touching the screen.  Moving the button to the “Off” position means that ThumbJam will simply move between individual pitches as you press the screen multiple times.  This is a good thing to consider, which will depend on how you want to use this particular ThumbJam instrument – if you’d like to play chords, you probably want “Polyphonic” on, but if you’re going to do individual lead lines, it would make more sense to have this option off.

Making Changes To Finger Drags
The “Drag Changes Pitch” buttons determine exactly how the pitches will change when you tap a pitch, hold it, and then drag your finger across the screen.  When you have the “Off” button selected, you won’t hear any difference as you drag your finger, the same pitch that you tapped initially will simply sustain.  Choosing the “Continuum” option will take away the different pitches completely, giving you more of a “fretless” effect, allowing your finger to slide between pitches.  When you had the “Scale Snap” button in the “Off” position, you won’t stay within the chosen scale and you’ll actually even hit the microtones between the notes.  Selecting “On” will keep your movement within the scale.  The “Glide” selection lets you use a pitch bend between notes, creating a bit of a slur between pitches.  The “Step” option simply re-articulates each note as you move between the different bars on the screen.  When you switch the “Legato” button to the off position, it will create a different attack each time you move your finger between each note; having it in the on position changes pitches without a new attack.  Each of these options give a completely different sound and feel to moving your finger across the screen.

There’s a couple of more options for altering the movement between notes as you drag your finger across the screen that are controlled with the two lowest sliders on the screen.  The first one of labeled “Time Interval” and this controls the amount of time that it takes for one note to glide into the next one.  You’ve got a range of 0 ms to 300 ms; when you’re set on a lower number, your pitches will change more automatically, and when you’ve got higher numbers, the pitches take a short time to change.  You can also “Humanize” this movement, determining whether you’ll get a more direct change.  The higher the percentage, the less direct your movement will be.  These are important embellishments that can make big changes to the overall sound of dragging your fingers across the screen.

Controlling Sound With Finger Movements And The Accelerometer
At the bottom of the window, you can switch to the “Control” view, which will allow you to dictate the way in which your finger interacts with the screen and the way in which the accelerometer interacts with your music.  You can assign three different parameters to change as you move your iPad or iPhone in the air, reacting to the accelerometer readings.  You can also program your patch to react to a quick movement of your finger on the screen or shaking your iOS device.  As you alter these parameters, your current setting will read near the bottom of the screen in white writing.  This adds yet another layer of interesting subtlety that you can add to your ThumbJam performances.

There are three different parameters that will react to the movement of your iPad in the air, based upon the accelerometer readings.  Each parameter has a selection of buttons as well as a slider that determines the movement from your finger or the iPad that will alter parameters in your music.  ”Volume,” can be assigned to a Vertical Tilt, a Vertical Inverted Tilt, or a move on the X-axis; you can also have a Fixed volume.  The associated slider will let you set the minimum volume anywhere from -40 dB to 0 dB.  ”Pan” reacts to a movement along the X-axis, the Y-axis, or a horizontal tilt; you can also keep the panning stationary with the None option.   The slider lets you set the maximum depth or how far to the left or the right the panning will move, ranging anywhere from 0% to 100%.  ”Pitch Bend”  will alter the note up or down based upon a Vertical Tilt, a Vertical Inverted Tilt, or a Horizontal Tilt; of course, you can also set the “Pitch Bend” to one parameter with none.  You’ve got a wide range of note bends available, going from 0 semitones to a full octave of 12 semitones.  When you program these parameters, you can add a great deal of detail and expression to your music, as well as a strong physical quality to your performance.
You can also program ThumbJam patches to respond to finger movements or shaking your iOS device with additional buttons and sliders connected with two parameters.  ”Vibrato” will connect to either a finger movement or shaking your device, and of course, you can disable this function through the “None” button.  The slider beneath the collection of buttons will establish the maximum depth for your “Vibrato”; you can think of this as the width of the vibrato that you’ll get from your movements.  You’ve got a wide range of depth settings, allowing you to set the depth anywhere from 0% to 100%.  The “Tremelo” parameter works much in the same way, with the same buttons and slider.  If you take the time to consider how you’ll be using this patch, you really design a physical experience that will react with nuance for your performance.

Adding Effects To Your Instrument
The last selection at the bottom of the “Edit” window will take you to “Effects” view, giving you access to three different effects that you can place upon your patch.  You’ve got the option of adding “Reverb,” “Delay,” or a “Lowpass Filter” to your patch, and the quality of the effects is substantial.  The primary parameters for each sound are available to be customized, giving you some options for personalizing the way that the effects interact with your patch.  While this isn’t a substitution for a proper effects program or final mastering, it certainly allows you to add another level of depth and character to your patch.

There are some commonalities that exist between the “Reverb” and “Delay” effects, in addition to the parameters that make each one unique.  Both effects have an “On/Off” button that will either enable or disable the effect.  They also both have a “Level” slider that acts as a Dry/Wet selector – the lower that you set the “Level,” the more unaffected sound you’ll be hearing, and the higher you set the “Level,” the more effect you’ll hear.  The “Reverb” also includes a slider for “Room Size,” which will alter the sustain that you hear in the sound.  A higher percentage will give you a longer sustain, while a lower percentage will keep the sustain short.  The “Delay” also includes a “Delay Time” slider; this determines how much time will pass between each repetition of the effect.  There are two buttons – one that allows you to sync your delay to the tempo that you’ve established and one that assigns a “Ping Pong” element  to the sound, bouncing between ears with each repetition.  There’s also a “Feedback” slider that sets the length of time that the delay will continue; a higher number means a longer delay while a lower number shortens the delay.  These are good, solid effects that can add some depth to your overall sound.

The Lowpass Filter is a bit of a different beast, but easy to manage once you’ve got a handle on it.  The maximum and minimum cutoff levels cue into the specific frequency range that will be effected by the Filter.  Both sliders can be set between 100 Hz and 11025 Hz, letting you tap into a very specific frequency area or  establish a wide range.  You’ve got the option to control the maximum cutoff through the accelerometer as well, linking it to the X-axis, Y-axis, or Vertical Tilt; this provides some very interesting sonic changes as you move your device.  The Resonance and Q Limit plays with the tonal quality of your sound.  These levels can be set to between 0% and 100%, but higher levels will results in some very squeaky sounds.  Once again, you can control the Resonance levels with the accelerometer, using the X-axis, Y-axis, or Vertical Tilt, leading to some interesting sonic variations.  The Lowpass filter certainly takes a little more development to apply well, but it’s worth the time and effort.

Shaping Patches Into Something Suited To Your Musical Tastes
ThumbJam delivers a highly customizable experience, letting your shape patches into something that honestly reflects your musical preferences. Once you start modifying your patches, you’ve got a lot of options at your fingertips. When you’re first starting to alter your patches, it’s almost an overwhelming amount of elements that you can change. Just take some time to play with each one and hear the results; repeated attempts to modify patches will eventually yield the results you desire. Take it slow and experiment with each element individually until you can connect the sound with the different variables. It’s a bit of a process, but in the long run, it’s worth it; you’ll find a world of sonic possibilities arise within ThumbJam once you’ve been modifying sounds.

The ability to modify instruments within ThumbJam really extends the power of this app. You’ve already got an amazing interface and a set of high quality samples; the fact that you can shape this experience around your own tastes is amazing. Your ThumbJam creations can get really interesting once you start modifying instruments, lending a very individual sound to your music. Have you tried modifying instruments in ThumbJam? What techniques and approaches have made your instruments really come alive? Do you find that you modify instruments in ThumbJam all the time or would you rather just not bother? LEAVE A COMMENT and let us know how you modify 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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iPad & iPhone Music Tutorial: Exploring Instruments In ThumbJam
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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

ErikLindblom May 10, 2013 at 4:50 pm

I have used Thumbjam since the early beginning!
And, Thumbjam is in the top 3 of all time apps to iPhone/iPad! So fuck’in good and wonderful!
The intrument sounds great and the interface is da shit! Love to Jesse!!!


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