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Making music with Windows Mobile - Mobile Minute

Pocket Stompbox
Once upon a time, guitar effects were achieved by shredding amplifiers and setting guitars on fire. But ever since the first synthesizers, computers have plaid an integral part in creating music, even with analog instruments. Since a PDA is really just a small, low powered computer, it stands to reason that you can use your Windows Mobile device to create music as well, right?

Here are a few tools to help unleash your inner Mozart or Hendrix.

Pocket Stompbox

I've got to start with one of the coolest and potentially most useless toys out there. Pocket Stompbox (pictured above) is like a software version of those effects pedals you see guitarists stepping on. The program comes with 9 different effects, including Overdrive, pitch shifter, phase shifter, delay, reverb, and chorus.

Here's how it works. You plug your headphones into your PDA, hold the microphone up to your guitar, and shred away. While the rest of the world will hear just how incompetent a guitarist you are, you'll be listening to the sweet sounds of an overdriven acoustic guitar. You can adjust settings for each effect, and you can even use the software to record loops of your music.

Overall, it works surprisingly well, but there's two maddening things about this software that keep it from being a useful tool for musicians.
  1. It relies on your internal microphone, which means your sound quality will be a little less than perfect.
  2. Mobile processors aren't really made for handling real time sound effects processing, so there's a latency. Hit a note on your guitar and you'll hear it a split second later on your headphones, making it kind of hard to actually play anything accurately.
Here's a sample of a little riff I recorded using Pocket Stompbox's digital reverb setting. It's followed by a simultaneous recording I made using a good microphone.

Pocket Stompbox is $14.95, but there's a free trial available. The trial version only operates for a few minutes at a time, and only gives you access to reverb, chorus, delay, and graphic EQ effects.

Frequency TunerFrequency Tuner

Okay, so let's forget about using your PDA as a digital effect processor for a second. Surely, there are other ways to use a PDA with your guitar/keyboard/accordian.

Freqency Tuner is a free program that does a halfway decent job at using your built in microphone to analyze the frequency or sounds played near your PDA. In other words, you can use it as a guitar tuner. And while most cheap guitar tuners only let you know if you're close to hitting an E, A, D, G, B, or E, Frequency Tuner is built to analyze pretty much any note.

It's not perfect, and in testing I found myself frequently looking back and forth between my Korg guitar tuner and my PDA to see if they agreed. Most often they were close, but not identical.

There are several things you can adjust to improve your results. First, increase your trigger level a bit (although not all the way) to help rule out background sounds. Second, find the microphone settings for your PDA and turn off automatic gain control.

I'm not quite ready to throw out my Korg tuner, but Frequency Tuner will do in a pinch.

Pocket Tune

Pocket TuneNot ready to trust your PDA with frequency detection? Not a problem. Pocket Tune uses the built in speakers to play notes so that you can tune your guitar, bass, cello, viola, or violin by ear.

Just select your instrument and Pocket Tune presents a few buttons you can press to play preselected notes.

This free program also includes a metronome that can play at up to 240 beats per minute in 2/4, 3/4, 4/4, 5/4, 6/8, and 7/8 time.

It's not exactly a drum machine, but as you can hear, it does help you keep time.

Sorry to keep subjecting you to my guitar noodling. If anyone's interested, not only am I not putting together a band, but I'm taking donations to make me stop playing.

JB PianoJB Piano

If the guitar's not your cup of tea, you might want to check out JB Piano.

This free program is pretty straightforward, giving you a piano keyboard to tap out simple tunes. You can even record and play back music.

The one problem is that the program requires Appforge Booster in order to run. When you install JB Piano, you'll be able to use it for 30 days without registering. But since Oracle purchased Appforge, it could be difficult to find a registration code for booster.

Wikipedia has some tips on where to find updated versions of Appforge Booster for Palm and PocketPC.

Pocket Clanger Theramin

Clanger Theramin Piano and guitar too straightforward for you? How about a pocket theramin?

Clanger Theramin lets you create interesting music (or at least sounds) simply by moving your stylus across the screen.

It takes a little getting used to, and a lot of tweaking to make sounds that go beyond squeaking noises. But you can probably spend hours annoying friends and family, and isn't that what homemade music is all about?


While most Windows Mobile powered devices are designed more for looking up contacts and sending a quick email, these little tools are great multimedia devices. Not only can you listen to music and watch movies, you can create music as well.

But don't expect your PDA to replace your guitar or synthesizer any time soon. Rather, think of it as a handy little tool, or at least a toy, for fiddling with music on the go -- sort of like a harmonica. I kid, I kid.

There's even free software that will help you learn music notation.

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