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Do you want to be a world-famous concert violinist? There’s an app for that now

Queensland virtuoso violinist Ray Chen has made an app for turning the hard slog of music practice into a place musicians can find their tribe.

Feb 10, 2023, updated Feb 10, 2023
Taiwan-born, Brisbane-raised violin virtuoso has invented an app to help others match his rigorous practice mantra. (Image Ray Chen)

Taiwan-born, Brisbane-raised violin virtuoso has invented an app to help others match his rigorous practice mantra. (Image Ray Chen)

“Everyone knows they should practice, but it’s always one of the most difficult things to get through with,” he told AAP.

His app called Tonic lets musicians live-stream their practice sessions, receive feedback and accumulate rewards on a personalised dashboard – providing motivation much like the exercise apps Strava and Peloton.

Chen is more familiar with practice than most – by the time he was a teenager, he was playing violin two to three hours every day.

The Taiwan-born Chen, 33, a former Brisbane Grammar School student, has played with the likes of the New York and London Philharmonic and has returned to his home town Brisbane numerous times as a soloist for the Queensland Symphony Orchestra.

Crucially, he began playing when he was very young with a group who quickly became his friends, and the joy of making music with them has provided more inspiration over the years than any concert hall applause, he said.

But the friends he took lessons with gradually gave up their instruments one by one, as the initial excitement wore off and practice became a chore.

Chen believes that’s because practice can be lonely and repetitive, and it’s hard for musicians to hold themselves accountable when they have little encouragement or feedback.

So he took inspiration from the video games he loved as a kid to design an app with avatars, progress tracking and a leaderboard.

People can stream their practice sessions live for anyone around the world to hear and comment on. There’s sound but no video, and Chen hopes this will prompt musicians of all abilities to lift their game.

“Knowing that anyone could come into your practice room is quite thrilling for most people, who don’t get so many performance opportunities,” he said.

That’s something Chen has never been short of, having performed in the world’s best concert halls for a decade. Yet he has set up a live stream of his own practice room in Tonic.

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With the app’s launch on Tuesday he’s not practising as much as usual, as he works to ensure Tonic will withstand a drastic increase in users.

The app is free, and Chen hopes musicians may one day get paid to practice on Tonic, much like streamers playing video games on Twitch.

The beta version had about 8000 monthly active musicians, most aged 15 to 35. Some are aiming to play in conservatories or orchestras, while others have picked up their instruments for the first time in ten years.

Their progress has inspired Chen, who has encountered some challenges of his own while adding tech exec to his resume.

“I felt like I was like screaming and kicking myself every single day, it was really tough, one of the toughest things I’ve ever done,” he said.

Chen and his development team have heard from dozens of people who regret quitting their instruments, and he hopes Tonic will remind them of the magic of playing.

“That’s what music really does, you are transported to another place and I think that’s one of the most inspiring things that you can do for yourself.”

Musicians can find the app at www.jointonic.com

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