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Daily iPhone App: Magic Guitar

Smule, as we've said before, is an interesting company. Its goal is to bring new musical experiences to people through technology like the iPhone. The company's latest release, Magic Guitar, definitely follows that philosophy. Like the very popular Magic Piano for the iPad, the app enables you to "play" guitar music, even if you don't have any experience with the real thing.

The most interesting thing about Magic Guitar is you hold it. The idea is that you're fingering chords on a guitar neck, so you're supposed to hold the iPhone in the palm of your hand, with your fingers wrapped around the far side. As "notes" fall down towards a line on the screen, you're supposed to put your fingers down where they drop, and as you do, various notes in the song will be played. It's tough to explain, but once you see it in action, it makes sense.

Unfortunately, while Magic Piano offers a variety of songs to play, Magic Guitar takes a freemium route. There are only a few songs that come with the free download, and some of those are very short, with only one verse and a chorus. Additional songs need to be purchased through the app, and Smule has chosen a weird, currency-based system for purchases. You buy points instead of the songs. There are some good pop tunes available, and it would be fun to hear and see some of them being played, but I felt awfully limited by the initial choices and didn't buy any.

The app itself doesn't do a great job, either, of giving you specific feedback on the notes you play. Hitting the screen a little ways off from the target note does make the sound come out differently, and a match is scored with one to three lightning bolts. I found it fairly easy, even when I thought I'd made a few mistakes, to score well. Of course there are other difficulty levels, but I think the app itself pales in quality to something like Magic Piano, where there were a lot more choices of both songs and game modes.

At any rate, all of those arguments are somewhat moot, given that the app in question is free to download anyway. If the idea of playing a guitar on your phone sounds interesting at all, you should definitely give it a shot, though I think Smule will find that there's not quite as much interest in in-app purchases on this as on their other musical apps. That balance of free content versus paid content is often a tough one to hit right, and I think Smule fell just a little short of the line this time.

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