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Manly Guitar Works Riffmaster Pro

Music learning / playback slowdown program

 

by Phil O'Keefe

 

Learning to play a musical instrument can be a fun and enjoyable activity, but it's not without its frustrations. With the variety of methods and tools available, just deciding on the best approach for you can be a bit daunting. Everyone has their own preferred methods of learning and what works best for a visual learner isn't always going to be ideal for someone who is more audibly oriented. I tend to fall into that second category, and while I can read music, I have always preferred trying to figure things out from listening to the original recordings as opposed to reading someone's interpretation that has been transcribed to sheet music or tablature. However, even that can be tricky. Occasionally the part you're trying to figure out is buried in the mix, or is hidden by the vocals, or the notes just fly by too quickly for you to be certain of what's being played. These are the types of issues that the Riffmaster Pro app from Manly Guitar Works was designed to address.




What You Need To Know

  • Riffmaster Pro is a small application that runs on a variety of platforms and is intended to help you hear what is being played in various different ways that will hopefully make it easier for you to transcribe or learn the parts. This is primarily done through algorithms that allow the program to slow down the playback speed.

  • Riffmaster Pro is available for Windows (Windows Vista - Windows 10), Mac (OSX 10.5 and up) and iOS (iPod Touch, iPhone and iPad iOS 7 or later) devices. For this review, I tested version 4.2.1 on a quad core 2.2 GHz i7 Macbook Pro running OS X 10.8.5.

  • Riffmaster Pro is a relatively simple program that is laid out intuitively, which makes it very easy to understand and (pardon the pun) get up to speed with. The first thing you need to do is to load the audio you want to work with. This is done with the File menu, or with the "+" icons, which are located above the waveform display, and also in the lower left corner. These open a browser which you use to locate and select the file, which is added to the Play List area of the program.


 

  • You can also drag and drop files directly from the desktop into Riffmaster Pro.

  • The Riffmaster Pro Play List isn't really one in the media player sense and doesn't play one song after the next, but rather is a list of songs that have been loaded into the software for ready access. It takes a second or two for the waveform to display on first playback, but the program remembers after that, even when you switch between the various songs in the Play List, which you can do freely.

  • Riffmaster Pro supports MP3, WAV, MP4, WMA, Ogg Vorbis, AIFF, FLAC, M4A and CDA audio formats.

  • The waveform display that takes up most of the upper half of the program's display. Left-clicking on the waveform places the playback cursor at that spot. The waveform can be set to auto scroll, and you can zoom in and out by using the menu options that appear when you right-click on the waveform display.

 

  • Immediately above the waveform display are icons for playback, + (adding a new song), a search icon (represented by a magnifying glass) that appears to be functionally identical to the + icon, a note pad and pen icon that allows you to change the file's Title, Artist, Album, Guitarist, Genre and Year metadata, a disc icon for saving, and a trash can icon to delete the currently selected song from the Play List.

  • The same icons and functions are also duplicated in the lower left corner of the program, right below the Play List.

  • The Windows version of Riffmaster Pro includes a CD ripper that will save MP3 and WAV format files, while the Mac version omits the ripper since the developers feel that the one in iTunes "does a far quicker job."

  • Right below the waveform display are various tools you can use to adjust the audio playback. This is where you'll find the transport buttons for play, stop, rewind and fast forward. A Volume slider allows you to trim the playback level to your preferences, and a Balance control is also provided. This can be really helpful for cutting out extraneous distractions when the guitar solo or other part (this program is useful to other musicians besides guitarists!) that you're trying to figure out is panned more to one side of the mix than the other. A button marked > <  allows you to return to the normal stereo mix balance instantly.

  • Unlike using the varispeed knob on a vintage tape recorder, Riffmaster Pro doesn't inextricably tie pitch and speed together so that adjusting one always has an effect on the other; pitch and speed parameters can be adjusted independently, allowing you to slow down a part while still hearing it in the original key - no transposing necessary.

  • For Speed adjustments, there are two preset speed function buttons, one -20%, and -10%. Hitting them more than once will further decrease the playback tempo. A third button labeled 0 allows you to return to standard pitch instantly. There is also a speed function slider that allows you to freely adjust the tempo from -75% to +75%, and anywhere in between. The + and - buttons to either side of the slider allow you to raise or lower the speed in 1% increments.

  • The separate Pitch function offers a similar slider control and +/- buttons, which increase or decrease the pitch by one semitone. There is also a 0 pitch function button for getting back to the original pitch quickly. The pitch function covers a staggering +/-2400 cent range - that's up to two octaves above or below the original pitch. An increment/decrement button gives you fine tuning control and increases or decreases the pitch by one cent per click. Again, pitch and speed adjustments can be made completely independently.

  • An export audio menu function allows you to export and save the loop or entire song with the adjusted speed and / or pitch.

  • Riffmaster Pro also includes a Super Vocal Reducer. As with all vocal eliminators, the effectiveness of this will of course vary from song to song. This one is reasonably effective, and having it included is a nice bonus since it can help you hear parts that might otherwise be masked by the vocals. 



Limitations

  • Currently Riffmaster Pro is not available for Android devices, although their website says that an Android version is in the works and is coming soon.

  • Does not support video files.

  • There's no way to adjust the displayed amplitude of the waveform. Material that is less dynamic or heavily compressed can be a bit harder to "read" in order to mark loop points because of this.

 

  • Only one loop region can be defined per song at a time.

  • Unlike the incredibly solid and artifact-free speed adjustment, extremes of pitch shift do lead to significant pitch shift artifacts.



Conclusions

Riffmaster Pro is very fast and easy to work with - both of which are major plusses for learning software. It's also very solid and reliable, and I experienced no crashes or other glitches while using it. The speed-shifted sound quality is surprisingly good, without the choppiness or significant artifacts I was expecting to hear. The pitch function does have some, but they're not so bad as to be distracting, and are really only noticeable when the pitch is changed drastically. I found the app to be more than usable even when dropping the speed by 50% and the pitch down by one octave, but most of the time you won't even need to go that far with it, and many people will use the tuning function primarily for fine-tuning. Just dropping the speed by itself is remarkably clean, and it makes figuring out exactly what notes are being played much easier. While you'll still need to put in some effort, there's no doubt that Riffmaster Pro can be a useful practice and learning tool that, given a bit of effort on your part, will help you develop your ear (musical listening skills) and will ultimately help make you a better player. And we at Harmony Central LOVE anything that helps people Make Better Music. Riffmaster Pro is definitely recommended, but don't take my word for it. There's a 10-day free trial version for Mac and PC available on their website, so go download it and give it a try for yourself.  - HC -

 

Resources

Riffmaster Pro ($49.00 MSRP, Mac and PC versions - iOS version $6.99, available in the App Store)

Riffmaster Pro product web page    

Riffmaster Pro can be purchased from the App Store, or directly from their website.






 

 

 

 

 

 




__________________________________________________

 




Phil O'Keefe is a multi-instrumentalist, recording engineer / producer and the Senior Editor of Harmony Central. He has engineered, produced and performed on countless recording sessions in a diverse range of styles, with artists such as Alien Ant Farm, Jules Day, Voodoo Glow Skulls, John McGill, Michael Knott and Alexa's Wish. He is a former featured monthly columnist for EQ magazine, and his articles and product reviews have also appeared in Keyboard, Electronic Musician and Guitar Player magazines.  

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