Are you a musicmaker or a noisemaker?

First impressions

Over the many years that we’ve been on Earth, we have learned to play a few instruments to a fairly decent level. Our guitar skills certainly wouldn’t rival Johnny Cash’s, and Kenny G isn’t quaking in his boots over our saxophone prowess, but we’ve managed to thump out a few tunes or twelve since we were in school.

It had been a while since we’d picked up anything that plinked, plonked or plunked, and therefore we were intrigued by the Musyc app that combines shapes, sounds and effects to create intriguing … music, of a sort. The tutorial seemed to be fairly simple and the lines and shapes appealed to the mathematician within. We therefore took the plunge and paid no money whatsoever for the free basic version. As it installed itself on our iPad, we prepared to unleash our inner Mozart crossed with a spoonful of Stephen Hawking.

How it works

According to the user guide: “You simply draw shapes and Musyc’s physics engine does the rest, bringing your sound compositions to life”. The tutorial introduces you to the elements of the app. First, you begin by drawing a “wall” with your finger, sweeping it across the screen to reveal a horizontal line. You then select the circle from the toolbar and tap the screen to place it. It instantly starts bouncing on the wall, creating a sound every time it hits it.

You add two other circles and they offer different notes depending on where they bounce. You are also shown how to move them along the horizontal so their notes change.

Instruction continues to moving the entire arrangement around the screen, zooming in and zooming out with the usual Apple pinch motions, and then adding a square, triangle and rectangle to the proceedings, each of which produce a different sound. The rectangle is actually rhythm and the circle, square and triangle are melody.

Just when you think you’ve got the gist of it, it starts throwing a lot of other options at you in rapid succession.

You can place the wall at the top of the screen and attach the symbols to it via a hanging line, where they swing and hit each other. Their size and shape can be changed at whim, and then you can meddle with the type of sound you’re getting using the Sound Kit at the top of the screen; everything from Soft Mallets to Sheffield Sound, Modern Jazz and beyond.

Adjust the pitch of each object you’ve got, or add some effects. If you’re not happy with something you’ve chosen, just select the eraser and remove whatever offends you from the screen.

The sequencer adds yet another element of interest, as it pops out shapes at either rapid or languid speed, depending on what you prefer. Then hey-ho, you can just put a “black hole” at the bottom of the wall to absorb the shapes after they’ve bounced down from the sequencer.

When we tried it

We followed the tutorial fairly well, although we did find that once in a while the app didn’t seem to recognise that we were doing what it requested, so it kept asking us to use the eraser or place the black hole. We ended up with multiple black holes gobbling objects at a rate of knots, but thankfully because we were aware of how the eraser worked, we were able to get rid of the superfluous ones.

We came out of the tutorial and began it again. This time it seemed to be fine. Maybe we had inadvertently had our other hand on the screen of the iPad the first time, causing issues.

Once we’d gone through it properly, we started creating some masterpieces. Luckily we were wearing our headphones at the time, or we might have ended up being shouted out of the room. We tried various shapes and mucking around with the pitch like we were DJ Craig, but somehow we couldn’t seem to get anything that didn’t jar the eardrums. That being said, we were pretty keen on the Sheffield Sound option, which made what we were working on slightly more palatable. We still didn’t imagine that Andrew Lloyd Webber would be knocking on our door anytime soon.

Even though we put it down for a while, a little tired of our clashing notes and rhythms, we soon came back to Musyc, determined to do better. Sure enough, after some patience and ill-placed black holes, we got to the stage where what we’d produced sounded pretty great.

Final thoughts

This will appeal to anyone with a love of maths, music and noise. It can become quite addictive, and who doesn’t like a load of knobs and dials to play with, even if they’re virtual?

There is no doubt that kids will be big fans of this app, and although mummy and daddy might like the idea of little tykes figuring out how shapes can be manipulated to create different sounds, take our word for it that headphones for wee Jill and Johnny will be an absolute must if you want to keep your sanity.

Pro: Visually interesting. Lots of options, even in the free version. Satisfies the frustrated musician in all of us.

Cons: Tutorial seems a little buggy sometimes. You’ll lose all your friends if you don’t use headphones.

Cost: Free (more options cost extra)
Seller: Fingerlab
Devices: iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch
Rating: E for Everyone