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ScaleGen review – A brilliant scale generator from Jesper Nordin

ScaleGen is the new app from developer Jesper Nordin, of Gestrument fame. I've made no secret about my love for Gestrument, one of the most unique apps on iOS. Easily a Top-5 app for me. So when I heard Jesper had a new app on the way, I couldn't have been more excited.

Where Gestrument is a powerful instrument/MIDI controller, ScaleGen brings something unique to iOS - namely a scale generating app. At first this may not sound like much, as many of our favorite apps already feature built-in scales. But the absolute depth and flexibility presented here will make you take notice.

The interface of ScaleGen is simple and, say it with me now, "user-friendly". Much like Gestrument, this app is perfect for the iPad, in that the touch interface is perfectly used. Most of the real estate of the screen is taken up by the playing surface. Here is where you can play the notes of your selected (or created) scale.

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As you can see from the screen shot above, the layout is fairly intuitive. The pitch for the notes go from lower to higher (left to right), and the velocity is on the Y-axis. Swiping or tapping on the notes will get sound. As the app is polyphonic, you can play chords easily as well. Adjusting the size of the playing surface can be done easily by tapping the "+-" button in the lower left, to expand or contract the size of the notes on the grid.

In the upper section of the screen is where you will find most of your scale and settings options. Setting the root note is self-explanatory, and the visual keyboard can be used to manually enter in notes for your scale. Above the standard keyboard are additional "keys" for entering in microtonal notes (see below)

Where I'd suggest you start of with ScaleGen is with the built-in preset scales. Here is where you will find part of what is possible with ScaleGen. Tap the folder icon, and you will see an immense list of scales provided. These of course include your standard Western scales, but also a huge selection of non-Western scales. When selecting these non-Western scales, you will see where microtonality comes into play.

As I briefly discussed on a previous review for WorldScales, Western scales are based on equal temperament. That is, scales are comprised of notes that are an equal distance apart. Microtonality, however, will vary based on the scale. When you choose one of these non-Western scales, you will see a "+" or "-" with a corresponding number above the note on the playing grid. The option to use these microtonality scales with other iOS synths will open up many possibilities.

In addition to the option of exporting these scales to Gestrument (explained a bit later, I promise) is the option to use ScaleGen as a virtual MIDI controller. In the Settings (gear icon) is the option to not only change the internal sound engine (piano, vibraphone, strings, etc.), but also connect to another iOS app via virtual MIDI. This is a great option for controlling your favorite synths, and is especially nice for those apps that don't have much in the way of custom scale options (i.e. bs-16i).

On the right side of the screen are additional buttons, which allow you to select sections of a scale for additional manipulation. You can select a segment of the scale, and manipulate that in several ways. Reverse, randomize, or trim are just a few. You can individually adjust a certain step with the Edit tool, or you can even just draw a scale.

ScaleGen is a great way to create scales, but where it really shines is in what you can do with those scales. As mentioned before, you can use virtual MIDI to control your iOS apps as a controller. The touch interface works really well for this. When I dialed up a Phrygian scale, and sent it out through Jam Maestro, and fired up the "Epic Lead" guitar preset, there was some straight up Yngwie Malmsteen cranking out of my headphones. What makes this example more interesting is that I can't stand Yngwie Malmsteen, but I was having a blast playing like him. Now I just need to work on the hairdo and pompous attitude.

You can also export your scales as a MIDI or text file. This is made very easy by tapping on the folder with the arrow. Here you will notice another hidden gem. You can send your custom scale directly to Jesper's other app, Gestrument. Gestrument will import your scale, and instantly save it among the other scales already found in Gestrument. So easy, so beautiful.

ScaleGen is another one of those apps that I feel like I just simply can't spend enough time explaining all of the great features. Hopefully the two demo videos above will help you to understand the power and possibilities. Admittedly, I'm not a huge non-Western scales guy. If I have a guitar in hand, you can bet dollars-to-donuts that you're going to hear a minor pentatonic scale being played on the solo, because that's about all I know. And that's the beauty of an app like ScaleGen. I so often fall into a common pattern when creating songs. Having access to a massive amount of scales can trigger ideas that would never have come to me on my own. Pick an exotic scale (Mesopotamian Ishartum anyone?), send it into your favorite app, and see what happens. I love an app that can expand my horizons, can make me go somewhere I wouldn't have gone on my own. And when that app is so brilliantly made, with such attention to detail and quality, I can't recommend it enough.

If you're thinking about purchasing ScaleGen, please consider clicking through our App Store link below. Thanks!

ScaleGen (AppStore Link) ScaleGen
Developer: Gestrument AB
Rated: 4+5
Price: $13.99 Download

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