There are many great iPad and iPhone Apps available for use in music lessons. I’ve found using interactive technology adds more fun to weekly lessons while drilling students on important skills like note recognition and rhythm. I’ve used the Note Tutor and Rhythm drill apps quite a bit in my music lessons and have found them to be useful in building basic skills and confidence. I’ve also used the Metronome and Cleartune app for my flute students instead of the analog versions because of the great visual displays, although I keep analog backup versions in my teaching bag. I also list two well-organized music reference apps for scales, chords and keys that I recommend for more advanced students who are beyond the basics. Lastly, there is a short list of interactive music instruments like piano, synthesizers, a drum machine and DJ looper to inspire students to make their own sounds, songs, riffs and grooves. Sound exploration is key to keeping students engaged and inspired.
I recommend exploring the music and music education sections of the App Store for new instruments and reviews. Download the free version of apps, if available, and try it first before upgrading to the full version to be sure that you or your student will use the app often. This post contains something for every musician from beginner to professional.
Music Apps for Drilling Note Reading and Rhythm:
PianoNotes Pro (pictured above) – A great sight-reading app that drills both clefs together or separately and allows you to pick the key you would like to drill. Piano keys can be color coded to help students move quickly between notes. Many students ask me about sight reading drills and this is one of the best apps to use.
ReadRhythm A great tool for drilling rhythm. The app provides different levels of difficulty presented in 2 measure increments. Within each level, there are different patterns to practice and test on. You can practice with the rhythm played in the background and then test with the metronome playing only. As you play, different color dots show you if you are early, spot on, or late in your attack and an X signifies missing the note entirely. Many students have more trouble with rhythm and feel than notes. Timing is everything!
Note Tutor – Provides digital flash cards to drill notes on both clefs and ledger lines. You can customize the range of notes you want to drill depending on the skill level of the student. I start using this in the first year of lessons with students and teach them the tricks to remember notes on the staff so they begin to learn notes beyond where they are reading at the moment (ie FACE, EGBDF for treble clef and ACEG, GBDFA for bass clef). The app works great for students who are slow at memorizing notes.
Piano Tutor This app has two components, a note recognition section similar to Note Tutor and a neat ear training section. The ear training section has you listen to a note and then try to find it on the keyboard. You can play the goal note as many times as you like as you hunt and peck for it’s match. After a few tries, finding the right note gets easier as the student learns what the different ranges of the keyboard sound like. This is a great way to introduce the practice of ear training to the student.
Utility and Reference Apps:
Recorder – I use the sound recorder app in lessons to record songs for students so they can listen to them later for reference. If I record a song, I email it to them so they can download it at home. Students sometimes record their songs at home if they have a similar device and then bring their recorded performance to the lesson for me to listen to. This puts the old phrase ‘I played it better at home’ to the test!
Metronome – This metronome is designed the same as those pesky wind up metronomes that you always have to re-wind as it slows down. Don’t worry about that here! You can easily change the tempo by moving the virtual weight up and down.
Cleartune – This is a user friendly and very accurate tuner app you can use with any instrument. You can tell if you are sharp or flat by 25 cents each way and the note you are playing is displayed in Hertz as well. Great for any instrumentalist or audiophile. Cleartune also provides different tuning temperaments.
iHarmony – This is a professional scale, chord and harmony guide. No fancy graphics or other bells and whistles here, just the info you need to quickly get through that jazz gig or composition project. The app is well organized and includes chord harmonization for major, minor, all modes and specialty scales. Very useful!
Circle Theory (pictured below) – This scale, chord and key signature reference app is laid out graphically in the circle of fifths (or fourths). The outer circle stays the same with the roots of the major keys organized in fifths. You can change inner circle depending on what information you are trying to find (ie. sharps and flats, triads, relative minors, modes and transposition) so that you can compare the results with the original major roots. The ‘show notes’ feature includes playback of the scale or chords you are looking for.
Interactive Music Play and Recommended Instruments:
PianoMan – This is an interactive piano game in the style of ‘Guitar Hero’ that mainly offers classical pieces from major composers. The newer version includes more folk songs and popular tunes and also offers some of the latest pop hits for an extra fee per song. I use this app in lessons once in a while, especially if the student is frustrated and needs a break from a challenging song. It’s a great way to learn about different classical composers and their most famous works. Balls drop down from the top of the screen pointing to the keys you have to hit and you can adjust the speed/difficulty of the playback. Some of the pieces are very challenging!
Virtuoso – Piano instrument with two layers of keyboards that can be shifted up and down by octave. Great for a single player or a duet when the top keyboard is rotated 180 degrees to face another player. Color coded key labels are an option if you want to know which octave you are playing. For midi keyboard novices, remember that C3 is middle C. This is a simple and easy to use instrument.
MiniSynth Pro (pictured below) – For those of you who want to know more about synthesizers and the inner workings of oscillators, wave forms, filters, LFOs, arpeggios and other modern audio manipulation effects, this app is for you. It’s intuitive enough so the audio technology novice can play around with the controls in the various menus and get to know how they change the sound. Audio producers and performers will also love this app for it’s ease of use, the interchangeable X/Y matrix and the ability to record ideas on the go and export them later. The app also saves custom patches and includes a number of presets to start from much like other software instruments.
Morphwiz – This is an award winning, innovative instrument that was released a couple years ago designed by Jordan Rudess (Dream Theater). Instead of using a traditional piano keyboard as the note trigger, color-coded vertical lines are used. The instrument has dozens of preset synth sounds of all octaves, timbres and textures in various scales. You move your finger (or fingers) horizontally to change notes and vertically to change the dynamics of the note or another setting you wish to use for vertical movement (it depends on the patch). This is another instrument that is exciting for audio novices as well as audio professionals. There is a detailed edit menu where you can redesign the sound, pick a new scale and much more. This is equally useful as a live performance and audio production instrument.
iDrum Further down the electronic music rabbit hole is this step-style drum sequencer from Izotope. This app is extremely fun and easy to use, comes with electronic groove presets complete with built in patterns that you can play and edit. After playing around with the patterns of a particular electronic music style, say ‘Dubstep,’ you can then choose a pattern to edit. The pattern will expand into the individual sounds used to make the groove (ie. Kick drum, snare, hi-hat, sound effects, etc.) and you can choose the sound you want to edit using the 16 step sequencer editor. This is a great way to learn groove/beat making and become educated about various styles of electronic dance music!
Looptastic This app is for all those budding DJs and Producers out there. Looptastic comes with ‘Loop Sets’ containing all the parts of a song ready for you to mix together on the fly. After loading a loop set, you can drag each loop into the window for playback at will. There are three windows: Right, Center and Left. Choose where the different loops go and then mix back and forth between the right and left sections using the horizontal slider. Loops in the center channel will continuously play. For DJing, load up two different songs, put one in the right window and one in the left window to mix smoothly from one song to the next. There are endless possibilities here for mashing up sounds and styles while learning how tracks are put together. Brilliant!