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Daily iPad App: Wild Chords

Wild Chords is a really amazing app -- at its absolute base, it's an excellent and easy-to-use guitar tuner, perfect for kids or adults. But the real magic of Wild Chords is in actually playing the guitar along with the main game; this game will teach you, chord by chord and string by string, how to strum away some really excellent tunes.

The app very colorful and well-made -- its simplicity hints that it's for children, but even as a beginner-to-medium guitar player, it was never condescending. The app starts easy, with a quick tune-up and then just an open chord test, and things get harder from there. The basic idea is that you're playing along to tame animals, so you need to play the right chord as your in-game character passes them while walking down a street: Eventually you'll be playing the A chord to tame an Ape, and a C chord to tame a crocodile, and so on. The game even shows a really nice sense of musical wit: The A minor chord is portrayed by a sad ape, the A major is a happy ape, and so on.

The other level type, meant to teach individual string plucking, features birds sitting on five different telephone wires, with each of them given a number. On that game, you're mean to hit the fret marked by their number, and then strum the string they're sitting on. It's a very nice visual way to show tablature, and it works great. The feedback isn't perfect -- strumming the birds just puts them to sleep, and that's not too instinctively positive. But once you get the feedback whether you're doing it right or not, it works.

The best part of this is that all of the animals you're collecting and taming are all attached to real songs, so as you strum to hit the right notes, you're actually accompanying an original song on the iPad as you play. Even the first lesson of the open chord is included in this, so Wild Chords pulls off the impressive feat of going from no guitar experience to being able to play along with a song in seconds. The later songs are really great too -- unfortunately, there are no lyrics, and these are all original songs, not pop hits or even the "traditional" tunes most people learn early on in guitar lessons. But they're all very catchy across a nice variety of styles, and given that the game doesn't ever punish you for experimenting (as long as you hit the notes you're supposed to hit), you can improvise and play in between the beats all you want, and it all works great.

That said, if you're already a guitar expert, this might not quite be challenging enough. While the levels do get tough (you can even demo the more advanced levels, just to see what they're like), expert guitar players might not find much to learn until the very last few areas. Still, I think what's there does fit in with what most amateur players would want to learn, and Wild Chords does a lot with very little. I don't know what note detection system they're using or how it was designed, but considering that I was simply using the iPad's microphone in a quiet room with no special connection or setup, I was impressed by how well the app detected what I was playing and rewarded me accordingly.

And here's the real kicker: The app is completely free to play. There are a few in-app purchases for extra content, but there's enough content in there already that you'll know after downloading and playing with it for a while if you need any more levels. I haven't done a lot of shopping for guitar tuner apps on the App Store yet, so I'm sure there are more advanced or feature-filled tuners out there, but in my mind this tuner is nice and works well enough that it alone is worth downloading the app for.

Wild Chords is a really excellent app for the iPad -- it has already won awards in Europe, but just recently arrived on the North American App Store. If you've got young ones who've been looking to start learning guitar, or wouldn't mind figuring out a few chords for yourself, grab a five-string and the app, and see what you think.

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