Widgets Magazine

Smule develops “Magic Fiddle” to spread music without inhibitions

A Stanford music professor is co-founder of the company holding the spot this week for No. 1 bestseller among paid iPad apps.

Magic Fiddle is the latest installment in an effort from Smule, a company co-founded by assistant music professor Ge Wang, to bring music to the masses, no matter one’s musical background.

Smule, the company that produced iPad and iPhone applications such as Ocarina and LeafTrombone, created the Magic Fiddle from an idea born after virtuoso pianist Lang Lang, in an encore performance at a concert, performed a piece on a Smule-created piano app instead of the piano on stage.

“Why not try to take advantage of all this new technology for people to do something different?” Wang said.

The purpose of the Magic Fiddle is not only to have fun with music but also to have people try something new, Wang said.

“We tried to make this for everyone,” Wang said, “or at least for anyone who has interest in playing music or likes music.”

Smule gives back to the University through its research on mobile devices and social interactions, a study based in the Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics. The research looks at what mobile social experiences can be created by using cloud computing and new devices to bring the global community together to make music.

Smule’s research and work have expanded rapidly in recent years, leading Wang to teach a new course at Stanford called “Mobile Music,” in which the design aesthetics and technical aspects of developing social mobile device platforms are explored.

With Magic Fiddle, Smule hopes to bring musical performance closer to the carefree associations of playing an app. That is not to say that the Magic Fiddle is only a game—those with experience, including Stanford’s St. Lawrence String Quartet, can use their previous knowledge while using the application.

The Magic Fiddle differs from pre-existing musical applications because the application is more of an expressive musical instrument that has game-like aspects, leaving more space for creativity and flow, Wang said. Instead of having the song pre-recorded, the player creates the music off the iPad — a detail that closes the gap between technology product and musical instrument.

The application comes with a storybook, which teaches the user how to play. First, it shows how to hold the iPad correctly, perched on the left shoulder; then, it teaches about notes and eventually introduces songs. The iPad is far from a traditional violin — there are things that the iPad cannot provide, like the tactile feedback of an actual instrument — but the musical selections strive to recreate the musical experience.

Magic Fiddle’s songbook is full of classical music. Although the music is limited to one genre, Wang felt that the classical music is the usual repertoire associated with the violin and it remains a constant favorite among the users. In the future, more song choices will also be available.

The application also asks you to name the fiddle, creating a bond between musician and instrument. Wang wanted to expose more people to the practice of making music.

“We want [to] make musical experiences for people that take away inhibition,” Wang said. “Why don’t we have the fiddle teach you how to play itself?”