There’s no shortcut for hard work
Artiphon’s Chorda is a cool groovebox in the shape of a guitar neck.
Music gadgets make it seem like we can become instant music masters.
Apps are probably the best way to get started making music.
Imagine you pick up an instrument that can make music like a pro with no effort. That’s the promise of music gadgets like Artiphon’s Chorda, and it’s a promise that’s impossible to keep.
The Chorda looks pretty neat, and it may turn out to be the next keytar. But plenty of musical gadgets promise to give buyers instant gratification. Promotional videos usually show somebody sitting by a lake, or in a city park—knocking out banger after banger. As somebody who has used and reviewed more than my fair share of these devices, I can say that they can be just as hard to pick up as a “real” instrument, and much less flexible.
“While some gimmicky music gadgets have turned out to be great for specific purposes, the majority fall short of delivering a satisfying musical experience. The allure of software and hardware doing all the creative work for us can be tempting, but it ultimately deprives musicians of the journey and fulfillment that comes with honing their craft and developing genuine musical skills,” music writer Michaela Melo told Lifewire via email.
Learning a musical instrument is hard. It’s a physical and mental challenge just to control your body enough to play the right notes, and then you have to add creativity and expression. Getting good is the result of years of practice, and those years are made up of long hours of disappointment.
It’s no wonder that people are prepared to short-circuit this grueling process with gadgets and apps. And while some of those gadgets can prove interesting, and even wildly creative, in the hands of an experienced musician, they won’t help beginners, especially beginners who want an instant fix.
“My experience with such gear has mostly been disappointing. I bought the Artiphon Orba 2, but found it close to useless,” electronic musician Abhoth told Lifewire in a discussion thread. [H]owever, one success story I can think of is with the Korg iKaossilator [now available as an app]. A close friend who was a non-musician discovered the joy of composing and arranging small tunes on that, and then had the motivation to learn more advanced apps and gear from there.”
“There isn’t a lot of artistic expressiveness in these devices, because everything is already predefined for the user.”
The Chorda actually looks pretty neat. It’s a stick resembling a severed guitar neck, with pressure-sensitive pads between the “frets” and a strummable pad at one end. You can use the pads to play chords, melodies, drums and bass lines.
The thing is, you still need to learn how to use it. It’s simple, but you still have to practice to get some coordination and fluency. But if you’re going to practice, why not practice piano or guitar? For already-accomplished musicians, these gadgets can be too limited. You will soon have an idea that is tricky or impossible to implement.
“Due to their nature they also tend to steer the user in different musical directions,” electronic musician Michaal Hell said in a forum thread started by Lifewire. “So there isn’t a lot of artistic expressiveness in these devices, because everything is already predefined for the user.”
The Chorda might not make it as a beginner’s tool, but thanks to the inclusion of MIDI, you can use all of its expressive, strum-tastic inputs with an existing instrument and software. and at around $200 on Kickstarter, it looks like a really interesting and affordable MIDI controller.
Speaking of software, apps might be the best way for beginners to get into music making. GarageBand on the iPad offers a far deeper, and yet equally approachable experience. My total favorite music app is the Koala Sampler (for Android and iOS), which lets you sample sounds from the world around you (or import regular samples), arrange those samples, and play with FX. The gimmick here is that it is at once extremely easy and fun to get something started, and yet has the depth to keep even the most demanding musicians happy.
Technology has broken down many of the barriers to making music. You no longer have to learn an instrument to make great music. But even grabbing pre-made loops from GarageBand’s extensive loop library, chopping them up and arranging them, takes practice and effort if you want to make something good.
And that’s the catch. If you want to do anything well, it’s going to take time and effort. We might see a musician, or a cook, or a dancer on TikTok or Instagram, making it all look easy. And we might want to do that ourselves. But as soon as we realize we have to put in some time and effort, we give up.
In some way, the only thing that separates us from these experts is time and commitment. And the fact is, there are no shortcuts for those.