The story of making Song Rhythm Tracks even more usable.

The challenge

The initial concept of Song Rhythm Tracks was always of an app having much more usability than what was then available. That was the key motivation. The then options were all too limiting – creating rhythmic backing tracks of high quality for backing to songs in less than a minute, even less than half a minute and having this track easily searchable on a mobile device.

PC Workstations are not fit for the purpose.

We used PC workstation products that had quality. Still, they took far too long to use and didn’t provide a mobile usability experience – no easy download to a mobile device and no MP3 tags once they were there. The iOS music player could never be considered a musician’s player.

Here are some usability improvements that have brought Alive Drumming to its current-day Song Rhythm Tracks app.

A ‘table’ mobile app

The Song Rhythm Tracks interface continues to evolve.

The table app is a proven mobile experience that Apple innovated with iOS.

Alive Drumming has wrung every last bit of utility out of this iOS collection, adding comprehensive search facilities and section headers, providing complete setlist functionality for the tracks.

Recently we added features to help with very large setlists – next and previous setlist buttons and a setlist fold feature to close them while you are browsing.

A musician’s player

Dark mode on the Song Rhythm Tracks musician’s player

Musicians have different needs for audio players, so we added speed (tempo) control to the playing, displayed the arrangement in the text while it plays, and showed a progress bar. Hence, the musician knows how many repeat choruses are left. Our latest innovation is to include a configurable fade ending—country folk like this. Oh, and with those setlists, you can play the whole setlist at once, with a configurable pause between them or an auto-pause at every track, and we always show what’s up next and count down to the next track. Musicians have different needs when it comes to audio players.

The evolution of assistance

Apps, particularly innovative ones, have always needed a degree of help within the app to explain and guide. We added a guide button with explanations for each part of the interface. Then in a later release, we included a ‘video’ button that opens our website page with the video instruction. Most recently, we have added balloon-type tooltips, which we feel some will prefer.

Selecting an arrangement

The key to Song Rhythm Track’s usability has always been Alive Drumming’s innovation in arranging the rhythm track. We believe we are the only developer to take this approach or anything like it. Instead of using a digital audio workstation (DAW) method to arrange the playing sections, complete with fills, pre-fills, pushes and stops, and everything else that drummers do, we take the approach that ideally our user should not need to know anything about all that. All they need to be able to do is describe the form of the song, and the app will do everything else – arrange the sections, the repeats, the middle choruses, any intro and outro sections, and always include a count-in and characteristic ending. We look at it this way; the app should do what you expect your drummer to do. You wouldn’t be telling them how to arrange their Drumming, would you?

Alive Drumming has analysed all the artist’s audio; we know where everything is. We catalogued all the artist’s recordings and categorised them all. The interface to you is a page of ‘pickers’ where you select your rhythm and arrangement. It usually takes less than a minute. That’s it – your ‘arranging’ is complete.

Later we figured that a common need was to create an almost identical track with everything pretty much the same but with minor changes, such as a new rhythm, so we added a ‘copy track’ feature. Some excellent arrangements now take less than 5 seconds! No other app has this sort of usability!

Let’s let everyone share!

Sharing has kept evolving within the app: Now you can share arrangements, setlists, and audio. This makes the app so much more usable.

Sharing Arrangements

Press the share button when you are viewing the arrangement details, and that arrangement gets posted for everyone to copy using the track’s name. Simple, almost silent and tremendously effective.

Sharing Setlists

There is a similar mechanism for setlists – view the details of the setlist, press the share button, and your entire setlist of tracks is shared using the name you have given your setlist. Anyone else can get a copy of it by searching for that setlist name from the same place.

Audio File Sharing

From the main table, pressing a track’s share button share’s its audio. It uses the standard iOS interface allowing you to use whatever facilities you have configured on your device, such as email, messaging, the filer app, and much more. Moreover, the shared audio has MP3 tags for the arrangement and the rhythm, including tempo. So useful.

Everyone appreciates a demo’

Early on, we figured out that having ‘factory tracks’ in the app would help newcomers better figure out how to use the app. It did and we never looked back. Later, we took it a step further and developed sampler apps containing even more tracks pre-arranged and included within the app. They may not be precisely the arrangement you wanted, but they showed the way! They have been an enormous success. Folk love them. Our latest release of the core app, Song Rhythm Tracks, includes all the samplers apps’ track definitions in the main app, in folded setlists, so that folk can download whichever tracks they want to. We hope this allows our users the best of both worlds.

And then we had an ah-ha moment.

The Future

Since that is what so many folks appreciate, why not give them exactly that and only that? The idea of the Rhythm Tracks Collective was born, a Netflix-like service of pre-arranged rhythm tracks that you search and consume, much like movies on Netflix. We are working on it now and can’t wait to bring it to market.

We feel the evolution of Song Rhythm Tracks and its focus on usability is nearing completion. There is less and less we want to change to make it more usable. Instead, Alive Drumming will focus on this new product and make it available. Song Rhythm Tracks distinguishes these two products as the ultimate powerful arranger. At the same time, Rhythm Tracks Collective, we hope, will be the most available rhythm tracks, easily accessible with easy adoption.