Can’t play an instrument? You can still ‘paint’ music with HarmonyWiz

Jordan Rudess
Is there anything Jordan Rudess can’t do? The prolific keyboardist for post-progressive giants Dream Theater is also an ace app designer for iOS devices, and his latest creation, HarmonyWiz, ups the ante for what his company Wizdom Music offers for both novices and professionals alike.

HarmonyWiz will take a single line you input by touch and then flesh it out into multi-part arrangements. In other words: Ta-da — you’ve just painted a symphony! You’re an instant Mozart.

“I’m really passionate about offering tools and apps to people that will bring that ‘music magic’ to them, even if they’re not musicians,” explains Rudess. “You can get a musical result without ever having to study one bit of theory. And that’s a really great thing.”

“You can get a musical result without ever having to study one bit of theory. And that’s a really great thing.”

Rudess, 57, sat down with Digital Trends to discuss Wizdom Music’s goals for HarmonyWiz, why he loves using his apps while performing onstage, and how this app enhances your compositional skills. You could even say that Rudess is the king of harmonic app convergence.

Digital Trends: I watched the HarmonyWiz tutorial you put up on YouTube, and I was struck by not only how easy it is to use, but what you said about how it saves composers a lot of time. I don’t think it’s, as you put it, a “minor musical miracle” — it seems pretty major to me.

Jordan Rudess: (laughs) Thank you. It really is pretty cool. Everyone from a novice to a professional musician can enjoy HarmonyWiz. You can use it as an instrument too, but that’s not the purpose of the app. It works with AudioBus and AudioShare and you can just play it and run it, but the app was designed to allow you to create a multi-part arrangement based on “painting” a single musical line.

It seems like the more novices play with it, the more comfortable they’ll feel understanding what the notes mean and what notational elements like measures and bars are.

Yeah! It’s a nice introduction to musical notation. My main goal with HarmonyWiz was to do something that would appeal to people who just want to play with and learn music — those who have never done it before. And then I also wanted to offer musicians something that, first of all, would make them smile. I think it’s almost a guaranteed smile, because for anybody who has composed or arranged — how could you not? You put in a line, and HarmonyWiz automatically arranges something. (chuckles)

Beyond that, we wanted to go a little deeper, so we put much effort into giving you some tools to actually go in there and make your own edits. You can copy–paste, stretch it out, change the harmonies, and force harmonies to do what you want.

Have you composed original music with it yourself?

I haven’t composed a complete piece with it yet, but it’s totally possible. What I think would be really fun would be to arrange something with HarmonyWiz that a string quartet or quintet could play.

I’d love to hear that. Could you see using HarmonyWiz onstage at some point?

Well, HarmonyWiz wasn’t designed as a performance instrument, although you could certainly try that. But I do use my other apps onstage with Dream Theater. I used the Geo Synthesizer app on our last album [2013’s self-titled epic Dream Theater] on a tune called Enigma Machine. I played this kind of wild lead on it.

I wanted to create apps that offered the next level of expressing the possibilities I didn’t find on my keyboards.

On the album before that [2011’s A Dramatic Turn of Events], I used another app of mine called MorphWiz, on a song called On the Backs of Angels. MorphWiz was really the first app I enlisted onstage, and that one was my entrance into the whole world of bringing together the world of audio and visual — allowing the user to change the audio waveform and, at the same time, be able to change the visual waveform, too. That’s what got this whole thing started.

From there, I did SampleWiz. With it, you can walk around with a sampler in your pocket, on your iPhone. It does a lot of things that large hardware instruments don’t do. For example, with SampleWiz, you can take a single sample of a sound and play it over the keyboard, and it will actually change the performance and the attack time of the sample. It becomes the harmonic results that you want.

Was it always one of your goals to ultimately use your apps onstage?

Yes. I wanted to create apps that offered the next level of expressing the possibilities I didn’t find on my keyboards. When I first touched the multitouch surface on the original iPhone, I felt it right then and there: “Wow, this is going to open up so much creative potential.” I started playing around with a preliminary piano app on an iPhone years ago, and I thought it was really, really amazing.

Tell me more about how HarmonyWiz pushes the compositional envelope.

I love the idea that you can take a composer’s or an improvisor’s thinking, and give a computer a certain role to almost mimic that kind of thinking. I mean, I can put a single-line melody into HarmonyWiz, press the button to see what it does, and go, “Wow, I didn’t think of that!” The original version of HarmonyWiz in the stores now is based on a modification to the rigidity of the classical harmony rules.


For example, I would take a single melody on piano and I’d play it 50 times in different ways. I’d start with a classical harmony note and extend it myself to see what it could do. My developer and I would look at it together, and I’d go, “So what am I doing? How often am I even playing a chord against this melody?” We’d have to decide when to play that chord. Like if I was on a I [one] chord in the key of C and then I played a V [five] chord, which would be a G chord, what are the possibilities of the next chord? What do I usually do, depending on what the melody note was?

So you tried not to do what you might instinctually do there.

Yes! HarmonyWiz can be a composer’s helper, because it will do something he didn’t think of, and it’s also an educational tool, because when you harmonize something and it gets fleshed out to a multi-part arrangement, it will actually tell you the Figured Bass on the bottom. For you music theorists, Figured Bass gives you the type of chord and the position of the chord in key. It will tell you which chord it is, and which inversion it is. Somebody going to music school could totally use this as a learning tool and find out how classical harmony works.

HarmonyWiz really stands out in an app world congested with time-wasters.

It’s a funny thing, the app world. Hundreds of them come out every day. The App Store is totally swamped. I got really lucky with Wizdom Music. I came into it with an honest, well-thought-out position and an interest in using multitouch to change the way we think about creating music. My integrity, if you will, of coming into this whole thing allows me to this day to have a voice in the app world — as overcrowded as it is.

You can download all the Wizdom Music apps here.


Amazon slashes prices on Echo devices that play Alexa’s sweetest-sounding music

Amazon slashed prices on Alexa-controlled Echo devices with the best music sound quality. All Alexa smart speakers stream music, but some sound better than others. Save on Echo Plus and the Echo Sub bundled with Echo and Echo Plus speakers.
Emerging Tech

Astronomers plan to beam Earth’s greatest hits into deep space, and you can help

A new project from the SETI Institute (search for extraterrestrial intelligence) will give the public the chance to submit compositions to be beamed into space, with the aim of connecting people around the world through music.
Emerging Tech

Cheese tastes different when it listens to Led Zeppelin, Swiss study finds

A funky new study says that exposing cheese to music changes its aroma and flavor. What’s more, the genre of music matters. Researchers from the Bern University of Arts played music to nine, 22-pound wheels of Emmental cheese.
Smart Home

Sony’s Aibo robot dog can now patrol your home for persons of interest

Sony released the all-new Aibo in the U.S. around nine months ago, and since then the robot dog has (hopefully) been melting owners' hearts with its cute looks and clever tricks. Now it has a new one up its sleeve.
Home Theater

SoundCloud hopes to add listeners with 50 percent discount for students

SoundCloud launched a student discount for it's top-tier SoundCloud Go+ membership, dropping the price to just $5 a month. It's a good deal for students, but will it be enough to keep the music platform from going under?

Don't spend hundreds on Pro Tools or Logic. Try one of these free alternatives

Believe it or not, Pro Tools isn't the only digital audio workstation worth your time. Check out our picks for the best free recording software, whether you're looking for a lightweight app or a full-blown audio workstation.
Home Theater

iPhone owners can finally hear the highest-quality streaming music on Tidal

If you're an iPhone owner who is after the highest possible audio quality from your streaming library, you now have the best option out there: Tidal's Masters Quality Audio (MQA) is now available on iOS.
Home Theater

Get loud with the best outdoor speakers to rock your party in any weather

From rugged, solar-powered backwoods listening companions to floating pool party jam boxes, the best outdoor speakers partner with your lifestyle to let you listen to your favorite tunes wherever you go.

Apple Music offers a few subscription options. We break them down here

Competition for music streaming apps is quickly dwindling with giants like Apple Music and Spotify dominating most of the market? But how much does Apple Music cost and what does a subscription to the music-streaming platform entail?
Home Theater

If you’re a Spotify Premium subscriber, you now get Hulu for free

Spotify Premium subscribers have yet another reason to love the Swedish streaming service, with the company now offering ad-free Hulu accounts to all premium users at no additional cost.

The best free music download sites that are totally legal

Finding music that is both free and legal to download can be difficult. We've handpicked a selection of the best free music download sites for you to legally download your next favorite album.

Apple Music vs. Spotify: Which service is the streaming king?

Apple Music is giving Spotify a run for its money, but which service is best for you? In our Apple Music vs. Spotify showdown, we compare and contrast all we know about the two streaming music services.
Home Theater

Apple Music completes its Amazon migration, is now available on Fire TV

Amazon's popular Fire TV devices are now compatible with the most popular on-demand music streaming service in the United States, thanks to a new integration with Apple Music that has finally hit Fire TV devices.
Emerging Tech

This streaming music service pays artists in Bitcoin, plants trees if you listen

Feedbands is an environmentally friendly subscription streaming music service that pays its artists in Bitcoin, and plants trees in exchange for authenticated listens from customers.