Most anyone who has worked to learn a musical instrument knows how useful it would be to have a buddy who would sit with you and strum along while you practice new songs. Often small errors in timing and meter can slip by before you have a piece up to speed, and by the time you figure it out, it’s become a built-in mistake.
But who wants to sit and play rhythm for you for hours on end while you work through problem spots? There are a number of software programs that have been developed to try and provide such a service for music students, but some are costly and have learning curve of their own before you can use them effectively.
Luke Abbott has introduced a new system which he calls Strum Machine, designed to be your practice buddy using actual recordings of an acoustic guitar strum. Instead of a software purchase, he offers it as a subscription service asking only $5/month for full access to the program. The system has hundreds of popular bluegrass and old time songs and tunes already programmed into its library, and it’s quick and easy to program in ones of your own.
From the main screen (using your web browser) you can change the key or the speed of any song, and program it to increase the speed a bit with each repetition if you like. In any situation, Strum Machine will provide a standard bluegrass rhythm guitar that sounds just like a real guitarist, regardless of key or speed. It can also provide a loop feature to do focused practice on just some section of any song.
There is nothing to download, as it is a web application, so you can access it wherever you have a connection to the internet.
Strum Machine will work on most Mac or PC browsers (Firefox, Chrome, Safari) and on most smartphones. It does not work well with Internet Explorer or on older Android phones. The user can switch from keyboard to touchscreen controls for use on tablets or phones.
A full demo is available online, and you can sign up for 30 days of use for free.
Abbott has developed a very useful and effective system here, with intuitive functions and very simple controls. There is no need to be able read music or tablature, and only the most rudimentary knowledge of music to create new songs or tunes. Chords can be changed to 7th or minors, and it’s easy to program in stops or “diamonds” in the chord progression.
Strum Machine would be effective for someone learning any of the common bluegrass instruments, and already has a number of common instrumental numbers programmed in. Singers who don’t play guitar well would also benefit from having a strum buddy handy when they want to work on songs. It seems that it would be especially useful for fiddle or bass students who would benefit from having a constant reminder of the proper pitch as you are learning.
A savings is offered for subscribing for a full year, but there is no binding contract required. Just pony up the $5 per month as long as you want to use it.
Even experienced players should find this far more rewarding than practicing with a metronome or drum machine, giving you the sound of a quality guitar instead of a click to work with.
This could also be a welcome gift for someone you know who is learning to play, or who may be getting a new fiddle, banjo, or mandolin for Christmas.
Well done Strum Machine!