April 15, 2013

App Review: Blob Chorus

Music training apps come in a few varieties. There are the note recognition apps which test you visually. There are the ear-training apps that test you audially. There are also apps that do both of these things. Blob Chorus is of the ear-training sort, although I wouldn't exactly recommend it unless you're desperate to entertain a very young budding musician with a lot of patience.

Blob Chorus, an app made by British company eChalk, is a simple extremely intuitive game in which you match the notes of singing blob characters. Gameplay consists of:

1) You hear each Green Blob sing a single note
2) The Purple "King" Blob sings a note
3) Pick the Green Blob that matches the King's note.

On the surface it's actually a pretty decent idea for a game. Basic note memory is a low-level skill but an important one. The ability to hold a specific pitch in the memory and either sing it back or recognize it on an instrument comes easily to some kids and more slowly to others (including this teacher as a young musician) so an app that works out this skill makes sense. 

Unfortunately the execution of this app holds it back from being very useful. The artwork is bland at best, with the most interesting item on the screen being the blobs themselves, which are all completely identical, save the purple coloring on the King Blob.

I can get over the bland artwork. What drove me crazy about this game was the audio file used for the singing. You can hear it (and play it) here. Each Blob sings the word "blob" in a baritone male voice with so much vibrato it obscures the actual pitch being sung. In sets of blobs where two are only a half step apart, the pitches sound almost identical. Some of the notes are sung longer than others, either from inaccurate recording or from shifting the pitch on a single recording thereby dilating the time of the audio file. The tone of the voice itself also obscures the notes being sung. Additionally, There is no key established so the notes are extremely hard to keep track of, even for a professional.

If you answer a question incorrectly, the wrong blob you just clicked on explodes. You get points for how many blobs are left on the screen by the time you get a correct answer, which is signified with a halo and flashing lights on the little presentation board (music stand?) in the lower right hand corner. The only option available is to increase the number of blobs on screen between 2 (easy) and 8 (hard). If you want to check out the frustration with the voices go to the link above or below and crank it up to 8 blobs. 

I did try this app out with a student to see if I'm just a curmudgeon who over-thinks these kinds of things. I sort of am. She seemed to like it, smiling a lot while she played and telling me at the end that it was good. She got a lot wrong though, mostly by choosing blobs with very close notes because it was difficult to tell the difference between them. Also, she didn't like the animation of the blobs exploding nearly as much as I did.

The Short and Sweet:
What: Blob Chorus
Where: Play it here or download it for your mobile device on Android or Apple
Cost: FREE!
Positives: Good concept, good skill to work on, intuitive
Negatives: Male voice, poor recordings used, poor artwork, 
Should You Download It?
If you want a tiny bit of frustrating fun then by all means. Maybe my standards for educational apps are too high, but this product could be much better with only a few tweaks. 

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