Stephen Wilcox

Stephen Wilcox

Stephen Wilcox received a B.M. in instrumental performance (tuba) and a B.M. in music theory from West Chester University, a M.M. in Composition at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, as well as a Ph.D. in Composition at the University of Pennsylvania. Most recently, he has been creating online music theory courses for Rutgers University and working as an instructional designer at UC Berkeley.

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Octave Division: ColorScales & MicroSketch

/, Face-2-Face, Free App Friday, Higher Ed, Music Creation, Theory Tools/Octave Division: ColorScales & MicroSketch


The repetitive/complementary nature of the octave is a concept all students seem to understand. Similarly, learners can easily see that in Western music, the octave can be divided into different pitch collections: pentatonic, diatonic, chromatic, etc. Further, thanks to equal temperament, it is easy to demonstrate these divisions visually and auditory on any piano keyboard. The confusion comes when we begin talking of microtonality (divisions of the octave that are smaller than a semitone). “How can there be pitches between adjacent keys on the keyboard?” Well never fear, today we will be looking at two iOS apps that put the fun back into music fundamentals.

ColorScales by Bennet Lin and MicroSketch by Op. 133 Studio LLC allows for the exploration of these smaller pitch divisions. Both of these apps use the principle of Equal Temperament to divide the octave into equal slices. As such, regardless of the number of divisions in a single octave, the distance between pitches will always be the same. Since both apps are “cracking the same nut”, it is inevitable that some of the same functionality will be will be present. Let’s start with their pros and cons and then move on to an in-tablet demo of each.

Music Toolbox demos both ColorScales & MicroSketch below, so take a look.



  • FREE APP!
  • Divides the octave evenly from 2 – 48 times.
  • Multiple performance interfaces, depending on divisions of the octave. You can specify a grid or a standard piano keyboard with added divisions.
  • Divisions and octaves are shown with clear color variations and iconography.
  • Highly customizable interface.
  • Simple and intuitive settings
  • The colors can be turned off.
  • Monotone! You can only play one tone at a time. Makes me wanna cry.
  • One sound set. It’s an attractive sound set, but unchangeable.
  • In the piano’s interface, it only allows for a single piano keyboard per screen. Two would probably fit and would allow for less swiping to other octaves.
  • No AudioBus or MIDI Support
  • When in the keyboard interface without colors, I wish the “black keys” were black instead of a shade of grey. This would be very helpful for demonstration purposes.

  • Divides the octave evenly from 7-96 times
  • Polyphonic (you can play multiple notes at once)
  • 16 different sounds sets (synthesized sounds not samples)
  • Sustain, reverb and pan settings
  • Midi & AudioBus compatible
  • Highly customizable play area
  • Built in metronome
  • A little pricey at $4.99
  • Non-intuitive dual area settings interface that is separated into “settings” and “sounds.”
  • Diatonic pitches (white keys) on the piano are shown with letters and white backgrounds. However, these marked pitches do not always correspond to standard concert pitch frequencies. I will talk more about this in the demo.

In-Tablet Demo: ColorScales

In-Tablet Demo: MicroSketch

By | 2017-03-21T19:00:45+00:00 March 22nd, 2015|

About the Author:

Composer, Music Educator and Instructional Designer, Stephen Wilcox received a B.M. in instrumental performance (tuba) and a B.M. in music theory from West Chester University, a M.M. in Composition at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, as well as a Ph.D. in Composition at the University of Pennsylvania. Most recently, he has been creating online music theory courses for Rutgers University and working as an instructional designer at UC Berkeley.

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