TuneFox for iOS helps banjo pickers improvise

Like a lot of people, we are taking some time during the holidays to cast our gaze back over the past year, and finding a few things that we missed or overlooked during 2016.

One is a terrific new app for iOS called TuneFox from Listen & Learn. These are the same folks who created the popular Pocket Licks app for banjo and guitar, but this one uses a different payment method with a new way to teach how to integrate licks into your playing.

For banjo students, one of the most difficult concepts when moving beyond the beginner stage is understanding how to integrate new licks and phrases into an arrangement you may have learned. Since Scruggs-style banjo includes both melody, or melodic fragments, along with accompaniment patterns, or roll notes, in each measure, new players often find it easier to grasp improvisational concepts by substituting full measures into a song they’ve learned.

Whether you’ve memorized an arrangement from tablature or by ear, the tendency is for banjo students to initially see this arrangement as “the way it’s played,” and they may be leery of veering off from this comfort zone. TuneFox is designed to both show you simple versions of many popular jam sessions standards, and then lead you by the hand as it shows you how new licks can be substituted using a feature it calls the Lick Switcher.

This video from one of the developers, Bennett Sullivan, shows how to use it in this arrangement of Worried Man Blues. You’ll see how the tab version and the playback audio change to add new wrinkles to the song by switching out other easy-to-play elements of the style.

As you can see in that video, it’s a simple thing to speed up or slow down the playback in TuneFox, highlight loops for repeated practice, or choose different licks to mix into the arrangement. Before trying the Lick Switcher, it would be a good idea to familiarize yourself with the lick vocabulary that is included with the program.

The TuneFox app is a free download from Apple’s App Store, which will work on both iPhones or iPads. Access to the large library of songs and licks is offered by a subscription method, charging $9.99 for one month, 3 months for $19.99, or a full year for $99.99, far less than the cost of a private instructor. At this point, there are more than 250 song variations in the library and over 1400 licks, with more being added all the time. A 7 day free trial is included with the download so you can try it out.

This is a tremendously useful and effective app, both for learning new songs and for getting more comfortable branching out from the basic versions. Well done, Listen & Learn. Thumbs up – with two fingers!

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.