You’ve heard all the complaints about laptops onstage. But since there are many arguments for a laptop, why not put all that powerful hardware to use, and make your Mac laptop part of a musically-expressive performance?

Track Master, a Mac-only application available on the Mac App Store (and one of the few serious music offerings we’ve seen there), is a great place to start. It transforms the built-in, multitouch-capable trackpad on recent MacBooks, MacBook Pros, and MacBook Airs into a MIDI controller.

The trackpads on those are actually impressively sensitive and accurate, tracking as many as eleven fingers at once. (So, uh, you can use all of your fingers and invite a friend’s index finger. Or play it by yourself, if you’re the guy who killed Inigo Montoya’s father.)

I’ve been playing with Track Master all morning (uh, yeah, sorry about the blog posts coming late), and it works brilliantly. With mappings to X/Y or scales, you can assign it to any number of instruments and effects. There’s an added bonus, too: by taking over your trackpad for musical use, you don’t risk bumping your trackpad, which makes the QWERTY keyboard more useful as a controller live, too.

If you still want to hide away your laptop, you can also make use of the larger Magic Trackpad hardware.

Full feature list:

Notes Mode

  • Play in any key
  • Can play with up to 11 fingers
  • Chromatic or other scales for easy input
  • Key latching, simply press escape while touching the trackpad Ed.: Yeah — that’s important! Keeps it on when you need it. I turned off the option to use “click” for the same feature to avoid accidentally disabling the feature.

X-Y Mode

  • Tracks X, Y and finger on off for each number of fingers
  • Has assignable control for up to three fingers
  • MIDI learn functionality built in to make assigning controls a snap

Interface

  • Shows exactly where your fingers are on your trackpad
  • Displays which notes are active based on where your presses are

Also, due kudos to Apple: this kind of functionality is exactly the sort of thing an intelligent operating system should provide. Now, can you just please stop breaking plug-in validation, so we’ll love you forever?

Here’s an easy review: if you’ve got a (supported) Mac, get this. Period. US$4.99 well spent.

Track Master at the Mac App Store

  • eshefer

    I wonder if this will work with my old macbook pro, which is a aluminum core 2 duo of the per-unibody design variety.

    the track pad does have multitouch (two finger gestures). anyway it looks like a cool piece of software, either way.

  • http://debsinha.com Debashis Sinha

    Anyone know if this is US only? I tried various ways of finding this (the links above, a search in the app store) but it doesn't show…i guess that is the price I have to pay for living in Canada…!

  • Peter Kirn

    Hmm, should be available wherever the App Store is. And that includes Canada. Anyone?

  • http://www.lutins.co.uk scott mc laughlin

    @Debashis, works fine for me in the UK…

    Unrelated questions, in XY mode, what does toggle do? and is it right that I can't get multiple sets of XY values simultaneously with two/three fingers?

  • eshefer

    just to answer the question I asked above, ragarding whether it works on older multituch macbook pros.

    the answer is probably no. this is a safe buy only with a unibody macbook, or the rounded edge plastic macbook.

     it doesn't seem to be working with a 2007 macbook pro core 2 duo (turning it on make the curser invisible but any movment on the trackpad moves the curser, again. the again, I might be missing something.

  • Peter Kirn

    Right, just because your trackpad does a two-finger gesture doesn't mean it tracks multiple points. I think it only works with the most recent models. But a Magic Trackpad will still work, if you can get hold of one of those.

  • Jake

    Thats a shame, I've got a unibody MBP with a track pad that supports 4 finger gestures, but I'm on 10.5.8 still (no need to upgrade when everything works, especially live 7 seeing as I decided to avoid live 8), so I suspect that my hardware is up to it. But its only 10.6.6 and above that's supported, think its one to bookmark for when I inevitably bite the bullet and upgrade which is a way off yet seeing as thats going to take either a stable live 9 release with features that make it worth it to me, or Maschine dropping Leopard support. Hopefully the former will come first…

  • http://lsdprogramming.com David

    @scott You asked about what "toggle" does. It simply sends an on/off midi message when you have that many fingers on the trackpad.

    I usually have toggle controlling an on/off of a plugin and the x-y controlling parameters within the plugin. That works pretty well for me.

  • Deez Nuts

    No mention of this working with the stupidly named 'magic trackpad' ?

    Does it ?

    I'd consider picking one up if it does.

    If it does, can you use the magic trackpad for musical input whilst still using your regular mouse to work as a regular mouse ?

    If it doesnt work with magic track pad: what an over-sight!

  • Deez Nuts

    ya it works with magic trackpads according to the website.

    Peter, you clearly cut & pasted the feature list….so why on earth did you omit the requirements ? Whilst you listed the requirements in your write-up, you omitted the fact it works with magictrack pad.

    in fact, in the 'requirements' section which you didn't cut & paste, the very first thing it says is magic trackpad.

    Sloppy journalism right here!

  • Deez Nuts

    And according to the Apple store it needs a 64-bit processor to work

    say what ?!

  • Deez Nuts

    actually disregard what I said about you omitting the magic trackpad compatability. I didn't read your article right. Some sloppy reading right here! lol

    but really you should have pasted the requirements along with the feature list :P

  • Deez Nuts

    that can't be right though, can it ?

    a god damn 64 bit processor to use a friggin trackpad + midi generating app ?

    really ?

    FML.

  • David

    i had no idea that we didn't support 32 bit processors. Hopefully we can support this in the update.

  • http://lsdprogramming.com David

    Yeah sorry, we don't have any non 64-bit computers to test it on so that got missed. I already fixed that issue and our next update should be done by tomorrow.

    Then we wait for approval.

    Then you can download and enjoy!

    - LSD programming

  • http://noisepages.com/members/eatyone/ Guillaume LECTEZ

    Here core2duo MBP 10.6.6(32bits) and it's ok…

    Peter said:

    "uh, yeah, sorry about the blog posts coming late"

    I understand, this appz is reallllyyyyy niccce!

  • Markus Schroeder

    I bought this on my old 2006 MacBook, of course I could not use it back then no multigesture but for $1 I thought it would be a good future investment, then didn´t come around to test on my MBP 2011, since I got my iPad 2, shortly after ;)

    BTW: no problem in the German Appstore.

    And also there still seems to be a small problem with 3 fingers swipe up/down. sometime the application behind it scrolls with that, too.

    I also would wish for a hot key to activate. not just one to deactivate it.

  • Jengel

    Hey Peter,

    MBP 2011, 15" quadcore, Ableton Live 8. 

    Tried to just get it to control parameters through remote midi mapping and was disappointed to find it develop a ~3 second lag as soon as I mapped it. Anyone else have problems with it?

  • http://noisepages.com/members/gunboatdiplomacy/ justin johnson

    awesome.  adding functionality without an extra piece of hardware.  i can't wait until software makers build this into their applications.

  • akrylik

    So is CDM about making music or buying music gear?

    I really like it when CDM gets artists to talk about their craft…

  • http://lsdprogramming.com David

    @Jengel

    That 3 second lag is strange. 

    I know this may sound strange, but try positioning Track Master's window in a way that it does not overlap Ableton Live at all.

    We found that sometimes it would behave strangely because of Ableton updating its window underneath it.

  • Peter Kirn

    @akrylik: Heh, I'm a bit behind in video editing / transcription editing.I like covering actual music making, too! I need a … staff. ;) But stay tuned…

    Of course, this is five bucks if you've got a compatible MacBook. So, if someone *does* do something musically interesting, please tell us!

  • http://lsdprogramming.com David

    @MegaTonne No =(

    In order for Track Master to get your finger movements, the mouse has to be in the middle of the window. We had to lock it there when Track Master is on.

    Originally, this wasn't the case, but gesture behavior changed in Lion and we had to adapt the app to the new behavior.

  • http://www.jhhl.net/iPhone jhhl

    Go look up kivy if you want to try programming your own multitouch interfaces on your MBP's touchpad. It's python based.&nbsp ;http://kivy.org/#home
    P.S. MUUUUCH more in Kivy as well. 

  • http://www.parliament.uk/business/lords/ Rt. Hon. Charles Art

    Cripes – this little thingamy-jig is simply splendid! Hours of fun playing Kontakt instruments using the old trackpad… cracking wheeze. Top drawer. 

  • David

    Well Lion broke our implementation for gestures so we had to rewrite it to be something at works in both 10.6 and 10.7.

    I don't know if our market will be any bigger but the app averaged about 1 sale a day before 2.0 came out.

    Nobody is really using the store for music making utilities.

    I think when there's more competition there that it will be more viable for developers and users. Right now there is little reason to use the Mac app store to find music production software.

  • zenzen

    Bonus points and much <3 for the Inigo Montoya reference!

  • scott

    for max folks using the magic trackpad there's the fingerpinger object. and i have a max patch that pretty successfully divided the space up. in fact i pasted an overlay on top of the surface which worked fine. however it ran the CPU cycles way up on my 2006 -era Macbook and crashed occasionally, so improvements need to be made for stability. incidentally if anyone uses the trackpad and wants to avoid accidentally clicking the buttons, position the device so that the two front bumps don't contact a solid surface. then it's an awesome multitouch X/Y pad.

  • Bel

    Umm sorry if this sounds stupid, but I doesn't seem to be working for me. I've got the mid-2010 Macbook Pro with Lions on it so it should work. Am I doing something wrong?

  • Bel

    *Lion that is

  • http://noisepages.com/members/arvidtp/ Arvid Tomayko-Peters

    I'm using fingerpinger in max with the built-in trackpad and a magic trackpad on an early 2008 mbp (last before unibody – the only non-unibody to have full multitouch) and its grrreat. Really stable and useful. I've come up with an abstraction that does a pretty good job keeping fingers mapped to the same parameters when you remove/add fingers.

    The main problem is that the trackpad is still a mouse, so sometimes the mouse cursor will be flying all over and windows will be scrolling. If there was some way to just tell the OS that it was not a mouse but still get the raw data out, I would definitely pay for a utility do do that – but i've never come across such a thing that works with the multitouch/magic trackpads.

    My solution to the button problem with the magic trackpad is to put two small suction cups from a window thermometer on the bottom near the rubber button-feet. Keeps them from contacting the ground, but when i actually want to use it as a mouse, I just pull them off. The bottom surface is apple-shiny-plastic®, so it works great :)

  • http://www.tete-de-son.com/ Tête de Son

    "Can play with up to 11 fingers"

    Hum…

    11 ? Who can do tha…

    Mmh, ok I get it : it's male-only !

  • r

    it's awesome. but uh, how do we use the keyboard as a control surface when trackpad has to be in focus to use it?

  • Leslie

    Excellent little app. What a difference it makes…

    For more please donate a coffee to …

  • scott

    @ arvid – yeah, i wanted to say the instability i think was not from using the fingerpinger object but figuring out ways to not poll it for data so often. it's best to filter and thin the data stream a bit – at least on older Macbooks the fan noise revs up something awful as it tries to deal with all the data. it did try to drop the BT connection at times which was frustrating, but could have been my macbook's fault.

  • r

    It's great. Not mapping the vertical dimension in the keys mode (the obvious thing would be velocity) is a missed opportunity though.

    Also, I wish I could alt-tab to other apps and come back without having to click the switch again, but maybe there's a technical reason why that's not possible.

    I've always dreamed of something like this for touchpads. I'm kindof amazed it's taken this long. Better late than never though!

  • r

    BTW would love to be able to map the keyboard to stuff too. Then this would really be a controller powerhouse.

  • Ulysse

    pricess bride reference… very good sense of humour!

  • http://www.gedkirkham.co.uk geddy

    I am trying to MIDI map Track Master to an X/Y effect in Ableton but I am having difficulty doing so. Can anyone shed any light onto how to MIDI map the Track Master pad?

  • Victory

    working great with reason. would like to see a slider mode with an option to pick-up from the last value input.

  • Andy

    Trackmaster really needs a 'soft takeover' function. I can't believe this has not been mentioned! The target jumps like crazy on replacing fingers on the pad. 

  • Rick

    kind of useless if you need Ableton to be invisible for Track Master nog to lag….any solutions anyone?

  • Stefano

    Please fix Ableton lag….. Can i hope for a fix???

  • Barba

    This looks pretty good, gotta go get an iTunes card!

  • fericcio

    how can i set it properly on ableton live?