Hello everyone! I’m in the middle of working on some big upgrades (more on that below) so I don’t have any new features to announce at the moment, but I wanted to keep you in the loop as far as what’s happening behind the scenes at Strum Machine.
In my last update post, I mentioned that I was feeling a little overwhelmed with my to-do list of over 200 items. So in June, I decided to post a survey within Strum Machine to all my long-time users (who had at least a couple dozen hours of experience with the product). I ended up hearing from nearly 250 people and having over 100 email exchanges afterward!
A small portion of the hundreds of survey responses I received.
I’m always talking with my users over email or on this forum, so most of the survey responses were things that were already on my list. But hearing from hundreds of folks all at once gave me a great sense of how many people are wanting each particular improvement, which makes it much easier to prioritize!
Once again, a big thank you to everyone who responded to my survey! Now, here are the results and how they fit into my plans:
The most popular request, by far, was for more strumming patterns, both for more interesting-sounding bluegrass rhythm and to better accompany a wider range of genres, such as swing, Celtic, gypsy jazz, and so forth.
Status: In progress! (See and give feedback on list of strumming styles here.)
Recording samples for new strumming patterns on my trusty Huss & Dalton guitar.
Now, some of you may know this is a project I’ve tackled several times in the past, only to hit roadblocks (most with being unable to get the strumming to sound realistic) early on in the process.
That’s not going to happen this time. I’ve got a much better recording area, much better microphones, and thanks to lessons learned from past attempts, a much better idea of the approach I need to take. And I’m very pleased with my most recent prototypes! (I’ll post something for you to listen to in the near future.)
That said, I’ve still got a ton of work ahead of me, and a possibility that my new home recording studio will be unavailable for a bit due to potential mold-under-the-carpet issues (having someone come to collect samples on Tuesday), but I’m cautiously optimistic that I will have something available to try out later in the fall. So hang in there!
Quite a few people also mentioned wanting more options for instruments: banjo, piano, percussion, fiddle, and others. Fiddle is likely a no (can’t realistically recreate bowed/sustained-note instruments) but I’m totally onboard with the others. The work going into the new strumming patterns (especially on the coding front) is going to pave the way for adding more instruments later on. As someone who was primarily a banjo player for many years, I’m especially excited about tackling that one.
Several folks have also asked for a metronome “instrument” they can toggle. That’s also something I plan to add.
Medleys are when multiple tunes are played back-to-back, as is common with Celtic music for example. It’s been something people have requested for years. Problem is, I initially programmed Strum Machine with the assumption that only one song would be loaded at a time, and that assumption runs deep into the oldest parts of the Strum Machine code-base.
But in the course of working on the new strumming patterns, I was stymied by these old modules, which had grown to thousands of lines of poorly-organized code that I had grown to loathe working in.
So I decided it was time to rip everything apart and put it back together in a more elegant, forward-looking fashion.
Columnized excerpt (~50%) of the SongPlayer module, a single 1,200-line file that badly needed a complete makeover.
This is called refactoring, and in this case it was a laborious two-week process involving thousands of lines of code over hundreds of files… but what I ended up with is not only more suitable for adding new strumming patterns and instruments, but as a bonus, it can easily support playing multiple tunes in a row! (Plus it’s so much more pleasant to work with…)
Of course, I still need to put together a user interface for this, and I am focusing on new strumming patterns at the moment… but medleys are definitely going to come sooner or later!
Count-In Improvements: Lots of folks asked for a variety of count-in options: a delay (not just the existing double-count-in option), more voices to choose from, a metronome-tick count-in, and some other ideas. I plan to tackle them all at once in the future, probably next year after I release some of these bigger improvements. I did sneak in one of the requests, though: the count-in volume can now be changed.
Auto-Advancing Playlists: This means having Strum Machine automatically go through the songs in a playlist, possibly even starting each one automatically. Lots of tricky things about this idea but there’s enough support for it that I’m definitely going to implement some version of it. At the very least, I can make it so that it automatically goes to the next song in a list after stopping the current one.
More Charting Options: Specifically, the most-requested ideas were ending variations (different chord for the 1st/2nd time through a section) and time signature changes in the middle of a song. The refactoring I mentioned above has laid the groundwork for both of these features, and possibly others that were requested.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention a couple things that were also mentioned many times, but that I won’t be working on in the near future: adding lyrics and melodies. The biggest reason is licensing: I would need to get legal permission to use the lyrics and melodies, and I don’t even know where to start with that. (Chords are not subject to copyright.) Perhaps someday I will open that can of worms, but for now I want to focus on making Strum Machine the absolute best rhythm accompaniment app for bluegrass and other acoustic music styles that I can imagine, and that will probably take me at least a few more years of work!
The other most common request was for more songs, which in my case will likely involve hiring music experts to help me expand the library. I’m also holding off on this for now, as I don’t have the mental bandwidth to juggle that and my current improvement projects. Rest assured, though, this is something I am keeping in the back of my mind and will pursue when the time is right.
Finally, there were a few folks in the survey who expressed their fears that Strum Machine might close down someday and they wouldn’t be able to use it anymore. I may write a longer article about why this isn’t something to worry about, but for now, I just want to reassure anyone who might’ve been worried about this: Strum Machine isn’t going anywhere! It’s the most fulfilling project I’ve ever worked on, and I love being able to offer it to the music community. Plus, it’s grown more than enough to be able to support my modest monetary needs, so there’s no risk of me having to turn my attention elsewhere for financial reasons. And sooner or later I will finish putting plans in place to ensure it continues to operate even if I get randomly hit by a bus or something.
OK, that’s all for now! I look forward to having another update to post for everyone. For now, it’s into the inbox to answer Strum Machine emails that came in over the weekend, and then back to work on the strumming patterns!