An introduction to online platforms for virtual music rehearsals, including SonoBus, JamKazam and Jamulus
What is a rehearsal platform?
These are websites or software that allow musicians to meet up in a virtual music room to play together using their internet connection. All of the platforms listed in this resource use specialist techniques to minimise 'latency' which is the delay heard on online video conference platforms (Zoom, Microsoft Teams etc), making it impossible to keep in time when playing music.
Why not use Zoom?
Video conference platforms like Zoom can be great for some rehearsals, you can see each other and they are good for social interaction, but they have too much of a delay or latency to make rehearsing together and hearing each other practical.
Do be aware that online audio latency cannot be minimised to the point where the audio from one musician will instantly reach the headphones of another. Many of these platforms give users a handy latency display showing how long their audio signal is taking to reach other members; latency in this context is displayed in milliseconds, and 25 milliseconds is considered to be an acceptable timeframe. Anything above 50 milliseconds will make it impossible to stay in time.
Before getting started ...
Have realistic expectations: Whilst these platforms should exceed the experience of using online conferencing tools for music rehearsals, do remember that they're never going to be a perfect replacement for an in-person rehearsal and ensure your group is aware of this!
Equipment and technical ability: Some of these platforms require specific equipment and a certain amount of technical knowhow. Do use your group's collective knowledge to make sure everyone can use the platform.
Troubleshooting: It's rare that these platforms will perform straight 'out of the box' so do be prepared to persevere and experiment with the technology and your group's setup when using these platforms.
No video: Most of these platforms are audio only, so that your internet connection is fully dedicated to audio. This may mean having a re-think as to how you manage and direct rehearsals as the group cannot see each other. On some occasions it may be possible to simultaneously use a rehearsal platform whilst also having the group use Zoom to see each other, however this may slow the internet connection and cause an audio delay.
What each member needs: An overview of what all members will need to use to get the most out of a rehearsal platform:
Computer / Device: Most platforms require all users to be using a desktop or laptop computer. However some do work with handheld devices (smartphones, tablets etc) instead.
Power options: These platforms will perform better if your device/laptop is plugged directly into its power supply.
Wired Headphones: All users will need headphones to hear the other members of the group. Wireless headphones should be avoided as they can add a delay to the system.
Audio Interface (recommended for some platforms): This is a physical device that connects to your computer via USB or Firewire allowing you to plug one or more microphones into your computer. Ideally all attending an online rehearsal should be using one of these, as the audio interface can process audio signals faster than a computer's inbuilt hardware.
Asio4All Audio Driver (audio interface alternative for Windows users): If using a Windows computer, the free driver software 'Asio4All' can be used as an alternative to an audio interface. Once installed this small piece of software allows your computer's built in microphone to be used with the rehearsal platforms.
Microphone: When using an audio interface you will need to use a compatible microphone and audio cable.
Ethernet wired internet connection: All platforms recommend that everyone attending the rehearsal plug their computer / device directly into their internet router using an ethernet cable (rather than relying on the WiFi connection). If your device / computer does not have an ethernet socket you can use a USB to ethernet socket converter, which will allow you to plug into the router.
How to set up and use the platforms
Access our guidance below to various different online platforms.
SonoBus: A free, easy to set up platform that allows users to join on a computer, laptop or mobile/tablet device.
JamKazam: A platform with free and paid for options allowing users to setup private rehearsals spaces online. This platform also offers video rehearsal.
Jamulus: A free platform that can be configured to work with private or cloud servers to increase quality / connection speeds.
JackTrip: A paid-for Virtual Studio that delivers high quality sound with minimal time delay. Below is a guide for creating an RPi computer to use with JackTrip VirtualStudio software.
We hope you find this Making Music resource useful. If you have any comments or suggestions about the guidance please contact us. Whilst every effort is made to ensure that the content of this guidance is accurate and up to date, Making Music do not warrant, nor accept any liability or responsibility for the completeness or accuracy of the content, or for any loss which may arise from reliance on the information contained in it.