The Apple Pencil, now compatible with pretty much all new iPads, is not just good for drawing and writing. Because if its bevvy of sensors — tilt, pressure, acceleration, and orientation — the Apple Pencil is also a pretty good musical instrument. Pen2Bow is a new iPad app which turns the Pencil into a violin bow, letting you use all of these natural gestures to play a virtual violin.
The idea is that you use Pen2Bow as a controller for a violin app, or for any other app which accepts MIDI signals as input (which is pretty much all music apps on Mac and iOS). Pen2Bow itself doesn’t actually generate sounds — its purpose is turning the swoops, swipes, and swirls of the Apple Pencil into expressive MIDI data. The piano keyboard has already been successfully translated into an electronic keyboard, complete with sensitivity to how hard you hit the keys, and even how you move them after the note has sounded. But a virtual violin can’t really be controlled with a keyboard.
Pen2Bow fixes this using there Apple Pencil. You can squeeze a huge amount of expressiveness from the little white stick, depending on how hard you press on the iPad’s screen, how fast you move it, and even the angle at which you tilt the thing.
As you can see in the demo video, Pen2Bow actually has some advantages over a real violin bow. For instance, a real violin bow has a finite length. You can only bow upwards for so long before you have to switch directions. Pen2Bow lets you bow upwards or downwards indefinitely, by moving it in a circle or figure-eight. And those funky trailing light-tails tell you whether you’re bowing up or down, according to their color.
Not just violins
While Pen2Bow is perfectly suited to controlling a violin, it can also be used with any synthesizer app. And you can use it with instruments that aren’t usually bowed, or which require a higher degree of control than afforded by a keyboard. The electric guitar, for example, is extremely expressive, with all kids of ricks to add vibrato and pitch variations as you play. To use Pen2Bow to play guitar, you just need a guitar synth app that supports enough MIDI control parameters.
Pen2Bow is just $8, which is a steal considering what it can do. And of course you’ll need an Apple Pencil and an iPad.
Download: Pen2Bow from the App Store (iOS)