polychord (US$9.99) is a virtual instrument for making and creating keyboard / electronic-style music on the iPad. With its easy-to-use approach and layout, polychord makes it painless to get your head around the basics and start making some really lovely sounding and creatively inspiring music. Whether you're an expert musician looking to perform live or a novice, you'll find polychord engaging and fun.
There are two main components to playing polychord: chord circles and strum keys. There are nine Chord circles, each representing a chord that is derived from the musical key you've selected. Each chord circle has seven chord inversions around it, so you can play a variant of the root chord (minor, major seventh, augmented fifth etc). This gives you 63 chords to play in total in a really straight forward and easy-to-read (and touch) structure.
Strum keys is a virtual keyboard with 13 keys or individual notes that are derived from the corresponding chord circle you're playing at the time. There are no keys present that wouldn't melodically fit in with the chord circle you're playing. Strum keys is placed horizontally at the edge of the iPad, making it really easy to reach for and play, as opposed to so many virtual keyboards that mimic a traditional piano layout. You can play individual or multiple keys, or strum the strum keys up and down, which produces a very satisfying sound. Additionally, swipe the keys to pitch bend or add tremolo. polychord lets you specify strum keys to play a specific scale pattern, like blues pentatonic, dominant Bebop or Ionian, depending on the style of music you're looking to play.
The idea is to play chords with the chord circles and a melody over the chords with the strum keys. In theory, polychord makes it nigh on impossible to hit a wrong note, and with very little practice you'll soon have some nice chord circle progressions and strum keys melodies under your belt.
Once you've got an idea for a song, turn on Auto Accompany to add drums and bass (27 patterns) to your track. There's also a customizable arpeggiator which plays the notes of the chord you're currently on. When you switch chords, Auto Accompany's drums, bass and arepggiator will follow you. It all adds much more dynamic to your song.
For more advanced musicians, and those wanting to dig deeper, polychord lets you mould and tinker the sound with some very practical variations and customizations (filters, envelope control, warm and fat waves, bitshift mode and timing). It's all accessible and generally designed to be tweaked on the fly, particularly in live performances.
When playing, everything is really responsive, with very little noticeable latency, so it really does feel like you're playing an instrument while you're tapping away on polychord.
Additional features include saving and exporting, sharing with Soundcloud, Twitter and Facebook, MIDI (for using polychord as a controller with a DAW) as well as virtual MIDI (controlling other apps) and finally, full Audiobus support and integration.
Speaking of Audiobus integration, polychord with a few other choice music apps on iPad (see video below) really does make for an exciting and rewarding music-making experience.
Spending some time with polychord, the things I loved about it most are just how engaging and playable it is. And it sounds great, too! If you're looking to approach a musical task from a different angle (like songwriting), polychord is a great way to inspire and think differently. Or if you're a beginner, or someone looking to kill some time, polychord is also just a lot of fun, too!