Is an ipad a musical instrument? What is a musician?

A traditional musical instrument makes sounds. Someone who plays it to a reasonable level is a musician. So, is an ipad loaded with music apps a musical instrument? Similarly, is someone who uses say, guitarism; drumbeat +, bass loops and has the ability to swipe their finger up and down Thumbjam or press a synth keypad with the chords tab on to produce an arrangement - a musician?

The point is that I went to a gig last night where the 'musician' produced and played solely using apps on his ipad. It was very good. However, in discussion afterwards he told me that he could not play any traditional music instrument to any workable degree eg couldn't play a chord on a guitar or keyboard. His dilemma was what to call himself really.

Traditionally, a traditional music composer, arranger or producer can play an instrument or has a band or orchestral background. On this forum there are people such as Derek Buddemeyer and Doug who I would call excellent musicians (as are many others ) and they play at least one or two tracks themselves on traditional instruments to mix with manufactured sounds produced from apps. There are some who produce a lovely finished sound solely by arranging loops of manufactured sounds or presets from various apps - just like a bricklayer laying bricks. So, who is the musician or are both?

I am not denigrating or criticising an apps arranger/composer or whatever but is it important to differentiate between someone who can play to a reasonable standard from an apps technician/sound engineer? After all, they both produce lovely music. Are they both musicians? Is an IOS musician an apt description? Does it matter?

Personally, I am old school and would feel a bit deflated if Derek said that actually his songs were totally produced from Sessionband and all he did was plug in the chord progressions. Or Doug on the keyboard or piano. Having said that I do marvel at the expertise of those who produce fantastic arrangements using solely apps and one finger.

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Comments

  • edited June 2013

    A conductor is a musician. A composer is a musician. Don't confuse musician with instrumentalist, it doesn't depend on the tools you use, it's about having music in your head and translating it to the real world.

  • You could also go to a gig and see Dub FX create an entire track live with just his voice and a looper. Amazing artist. Is he a musician? Do his fans care? I very much doubt it.

    Some of us 'oldies' had no choice if we were into music when we started out. You had to learn an instrument the traditional way, guitar in my case. It could be argued technology has leveled the playing field now, and anyone with very little musical knowledge can get great results quickly and painlessly.

    I'm pretty sure the vast majority of the listening public couldn't give a rats arse how 'qualified' an artist is just as long as their entertained, either live or recorded.

  • I remember having lessons at school to play the Tuba! Not sure why I picked it but it seemed a funny choice at the time.

    You could say what is language ? All language is made up from scratch and so are definitions. I suppose it is what we deem it to be from our own perception.

    I say call them all vibration sculpters !

  • Good question!
    I would say that some apps place the user in the role of "composer", or arranger. Simply swiping or tapping a few times and bravo, a new piece of music is created is right along the lines of the old "Casio tone" performers where you basically have a whole band in your keyboard and you are guiding the chord progressions/fills etc.
    Other apps still require you to be a musician in the traditional sense, and that's kind of where I come from. I've played guitar for 30 years so I really don't need an app that does all of the work of playing a guitar for me. Then again I got my first drum set in '82, but for years I've preferred to bang out drums on drum pads with samples so who knows? LOL

  • edited June 2013

    This question enters my brain from time to time :) I'd agree with @PaulB that since we do consider composers, conductors and also (gasp) DJs to be musicians, it's fair to say that an iOS-only musician is still a musician.

    The more interesting question to me is whether to call these people instrumentalists. E.g. if someone plays guitarism really well but doesn't know how to play guitar, is he a guitarist? My natural inclination is to say no, but what defines a guitarist?

    I've been playing guitar for many years, in many bands, performing for and entertaining many live audiences of hundreds at a time. Yet I primarily strum chords - I don't play complex leads or solos. So I call myself a "rhythm guitarist". Or perhaps an "amateur guitarist". Or perhaps I just say "I can play some guitar". It depends on who I'm speaking to. I'd never call myself a guitarist in front of Satriani. In front of non-musicians, sure I would.

    Guitarism lets me play 95% of what I normally play on a real guitar. So for my skill level, it is effectively a guitar. So if I'm a guitarist, then anyone who plays guitarism is also a guitarist. But I'd never say that in front of Satriani, only non-musicians :)

    BTW a highly-related article that John Walden published yesterday to MusicAppBlog.com:
    http://www.musicappblog.com/ios-music-apps-toys-or-tools/

  • @Rhism just to be clear, I wasn't knocking your software in the least- from what I've heard it's amazing...

  • @Dubhausdisco Of course, didn't take it that way!

  • Yes the definition of "musician" has definitely expanded over the years!

  • Roger Waters: It's like, you give a man a Les Paul guitar and he becomes Eric Clapton, and of course that's not true. And if you give a man an amplifier and a synthesizer, he doesn't become, you know, whoever; he doesn't become us.

  • Hmmm...interesting subject. Here's my deal. I grew up playing guitar with all the traditional equipment...amps, effects pedals, etc. I've always been kind of a gadget guy and picked up a sony psp for portble gaming...then discovered a "game" called traxxpad...a portable sequencer where you can assign notes from an instrument and layer other instruments on top in a step sequencer to create tracks. it was kind of a fun tool and i was able to produce some cool stuff...although far from professional sounding due to the lack of usable soundbanks. A few years ago, I suffered an accident that left my shoulder in really bad shape and was not able to play anymore for quite some time. I then, invested in an iPod touch to busy myself while re cooperating. I discovered Xewton Music Studio and found it much like Fl Studio on PC and started writing on it...then guitar amp sims started showing up and I dove in like crazy buying them up, along with every other music app that hit the store...some good, some really bad. As apps progressed into more usable tools, I've been able to construct convincing tracks solely on my iPad and have been quite impressed. I generally tend to focus more on apps that resemble their physical counterparts....just because I am more comfortable playing keys on something that represents a piano rather than swirling my fingers around randomly to generate notes in some alien design. I do use loops on occasion, but usually it's a loop that I've created and it's copied and pasted in sequence until the next chord change comes about. I take a lot of pride in my work and having a "traditional" musical background (meaning, I learned on physical instruments first) has helped out quite a bit. My shoulder never did quite heal and it never will...so for me, the iPad has been a wonderful tool that enables me to do what I love without hauling around a room full of gear. So, do I consider myself a musician...a composer...producer...? Yes. Now for the flip-side....there are people who are doing things with iOS apps that have never touched anything but an iPad or iPhone as far as "instruments" go....and they are doing amazing things...things I couldn't even fathom doing myself...so "hats off" to them...they have every bit of my respect....and yes, I consider them musicians as well....even if they are labelled "iOS" musicians. For me, music is a universal language that speaks love, hate, passion, and filled with emotion. If someone can conjure up something that stirs these feelings in me...then they have done their job and I applaud them for it. To have a feeling or thought and have take shape in a song that speaks to someone else is really what it's all about. I'm just glad there are so many talented developers out there who provide me with the tools I need to "speak" to those who have lent their ears to what I have to say. We've come a long way from banging stones together....you can make music out of anything...master whatever "thing" that is for you.

  • I'm a former Sax player that went to school on a Band scholarship. Back 200 years ago the Saxophone was not considered a musical instrument, nor were the players considered Musicians, because it was a new-fangled gadget. "Musician" like "Sculptor", is not based on anything except what's in the person's mind. Us Musicians can perceive music as to how it was created or played, whereas other people just hear it. Just saying.

  • I'm not a musician, but I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night. (Just a commercial for a hotel chain that is on television... Sorry about that.)

  • @boone51 Awesome quote. Somewhat elitist but I think it nails the premise. Being a musician isn't just a binary yes/no, the quality level matters a ton.

    I'd say that a musician is someone who: (1) composes / performs with true musical intention, and (2) materialises that intention to a degree that other people can perceive and appreciate it. The quality of a musician is determined by: (1) how sophisticated is his intention and (2) how accurately does he materialise it.

    Going back to instruments and music apps, every instrument (real or virtual) has limitations on the types of intentions it can materialise. So you have to pick the right tool for the job. Triangles and cowbells are "real instruments" but far more limited than an electric guitar. Guitarism is a subset of (i.e. more limited than) a real guitar. More advanced apps like GeoSynth and TC-11 have fewer limits (and require more skill too).

    For me, the reason I'm so passionate about guitarism is that it makes it wayyy easier to play the subset of guitar that I tend to play, which I've found to be a pretty useful and fulfilling subset. It won't turn you into a Satriani, but with a little practice and understanding of chords it can turn a complete non-musician into a "me"-level guitarist, which means he can also play in bands, perform for live audiences of hundreds at a time, and maybe experience some of the unforgettable on-stage moments I've experienced over the years. That to me is a Really Big Deal!

  • Organists use their fingers to hit an exact spot in the correct time. This effects mechanical contrivances to release compressed air to one or more pipes. Their instrument was built and installed by highly trained professionals. The organist spent hours configuring the stops to get the exact sound they want.

    Like I spend hours configuring a synth and play by fingering an exact spot in the correct time. That effects software contrivances that compress the air around a speaker. This was built by highly trained professionals and installed by that marvel called the App Store.

    What's the diff?

  • edited June 2013

    There isn't.

    I say again, don't confuse the playing of an instrument with musicianship. It's possible to make any instrument sound awful. Different instruments require different levels of skill to control what they produce, but a good musician will play the simplest instrument better than a non musician.

  • The simplest instrument? The human voice? Years of training and lucky genetics is the difference between a vocal musician and me. But still the songbirds laugh and cringe at the best of them.

  • @PaulB Some of John Cage's music might defeat that argument.

  • Well, aesthetics vary and opinions differ.

  • So true. I got kicked out of a violin class. I thought I was doing ok. Lol.

  • Mr. Cage was a "composer", whose experimental compositions were just that- experiments. Having an audience sit through around four minutes of ambient noise from wherever the piece was "performed" is an interesting but ultimately disappointing excercise in my mind. From the Stravinsky/Varese/Zappa school of thought it's trivial at best, as a composer's job is basically to put something "in a frame", and Cage did the absolute minimum by simply setting a timeframe for the piece and nothing else.
    Anything can be musical, but music cannot be anything.

  • I think that the future will be interesting to see how this shakes out. In the end, I think that consumers, for lack of a better term, will drive it all. I can see me enjoying compositions that are made on mobile devices, but going to a concert where the "artists" perform....that may be different from seeing the more traditional shows...or not. To me it's more about the feel, and I think our perceptions about what a musician truly is will take time to evolve and adapt, but if it sounds good and is original, I'll still enjoy it. I think that the definition of a musician...or instrumentalist will always be subjective, but over time I believe it will continue to evolve for everyone. There will always be a rare few that stand out, regardless of where technology takes music. To me, the more interesting aspect is how technology and art can be so intertwined and what differentiates art from science.

  • I think anyone who makes music on anything can safely be called a musician,be it a Guitar, Piano or an iPad or a computer..in fact nearly everything we here today has had some sort of computer work done on it...is the iPad an instrument..I think it is..certainly apps like Gestrument and TC-11 are unique to iPad..I cant go out and buy a hardware TC...does it take as long to learn to play thr iPad as it does a guitar or a piano...that depends upon the level you want to go to...I dont think you ever stop learning an instrument even when you get to virtuoso level..there is always more, and as Derek said there are people doing stuff with the iPad that is simply stunning and way beyond what I can do..I would say they are virtuoso musicians with this instrument...i.e Richard Devine etc...I think also that anyone who puts their music out there today is not just a musician but also a kind of historian...Iv'e been playing keys and drums, a bit of guitar and bass for about 35 years...I should be a load better than I am..but I got to a level that suited me and whatever band I was gigging with or working with at the time seemed to take lots of time..so less time learning, you never really stop learning, but you kinda get lazy, well I do lol...strangely enough drums are my favorite things to play..then keys, bass, guitar...but as I started to record stuff on my own many years ago, wether writing for myself or a band..using tape recorders or little 4 tracks I had to play all the bits myself..no iPads or VST'S then...so I was forced to learn a bit if I wanted to finish a track..and i love it..the whole thing..recording, engineering, mixing, playing, writing, trying to play different styles..I will say one thing for the iPad..its made me push myself and it did feel, and does feel like learning a new instrument all over again..and it has also made me want to try different styles of playing and progamming..

  • @Rhism although I absolutely love your app and the sounds it produces...it is...and this is hard for me to say...very difficult for me to play...you see, I don't know chords (the names of them) I play by feel and sight...hmmm...maybe I should learn them. Eh, too busy playing. I also don't know scales or modes...just make stuff up...lol.

  • Ooh, that button is smokin'! Gotta add to the fireworks display (after all, the 4th is nigh).

    Some parallel thoughts, in no particular order:

    Art is Art if you notice it. If anyone notices it. The reaction can be positive (luv it!) or negative (that's an insult! (this about a luminescent green turd on a carefully polished mahogany slab)). But there must be some reaction. From there everything is but personal taste.

    There's an apocryphal story about Dali. This kid comes up to him to ask his opinion on his art. Dali says "come back to me when you can show me you can draw a straight line. Then I'll believe there's meaning in those squiggles".

    Desktop publishing. Suddenly anyone can put 15 different fonts on the same page. Sturgeon's Law continues to hold (90% of everything is crap. He was generous). (My wife is a professional at DTP. I got inside looks at the skill needed). There was a period when nobody wanted to pay anybody for it because it was "solved".

    Web page design. Same story. (wife moved on)

    Photoshop. And P&S digitals. Same story. (I do photography too. The best images start with looking at the viewscreen, not through it. In days of film, one good shot per roll was a good session.)

    iOS music. Same story, though still being written.

    It's the content, stupid, not the wrapper.

    Well, for musicians, my output is the wrapper. So for me your wrapper is my content. There's a moral in there somewhere.

    I am merely a musician in my own mind, far less than you all; I am rather a engineer, and skilled in the art of computing. Somehow that field has yet to get it's Photoshop. There have been attempts (Lego Mindstorm, Lab View, Max MSP, my own VNOS), but none really have caught in that way yet.

    My best friend's comment on first open-boxing the D-550: "Forget about the movie, or the book of the movie - now I'll just wait for the synthesizer patch to come out!". He was a pro engineer in the late 60's and early 70's in LA. Taught me all I know about mixing. RIP, Jim.

  • I think @derekbuddemeyer nailed it with this......

    "For me, music is a universal language that speaks love, hate, passion, and filled with emotion. If someone can conjure up something that stirs these feelings in me...then they have done their job and I applaud them for it. To have a feeling or thought and have take shape in a song that speaks to someone else is really what it's all about"

  • If I nail two boards together, am I a carpenter?

    I don't know. I've certainly done some carpentry but am I a carpenter?

    Mind, I think everyone on earth is a musician and am glad for it but when I consider other trades/pastimes I'm not sure I apply the same criteria.

    Whether or not an iPad is a musical instrument on the other hand seems an absurd question. I can make music come out of my stove. In that moment, it's a musical instrument.

  • When I was in a band way back in the 80s we used to dream of the democratisation of music, where you could carry a recording studio in your pocket, and where the record companies would no longer control manufacturing and distribution. Little by little we have arrived at just that situation.

    When everyone can be a musician, who is a musician?

  • Someone who doesn't make your ears bleed...

  • No Thrash Metal for you.

  • @Rhism - a guitarist is someone who plays guitar. Guitarism is not a guitar. It is a fun instrument based on guitars, but in no way is it an actual guitar. As for what to call someone who plays it - guitarismist (?)
    ;-)

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