Teach Better Lessons With These Music Oriented Apps And Services
Decades ago, when I was first learning to play an instrument (the piano, as it were), the only bit of “technology” that would make it into a lesson was a simple metronome. Nowadays, gizmos and gadgetry abound, infusing themselves within almost every aspect of the learning progress.
That is, for the teachers and students who know how to take advantage of them. After polling a few fellow teachers about what they found most useful, I was able to prepare a list of a few tools you might want to add to your kit. With time, you’ll see the quality of your lessons skyrocket.
Why carry around binders full of dusty old sheet music if you don’t have to? That’s the reasoning behind forScore, the music reader for iPads that allows you to display music scores. It does for music what e-readers did for books, and, just like e-readers, it comes with some electronically-powered features that grant capabilities well beyond your played-out paper copies.
According to forScore’s creators, you can “annotate, create setlists, rearrange pages, add bookmarks, play along to an audio track, and more,” all within the app itself. forScore automatically organizes your library of music, and even has several options for hands-free page turning. Thanks to their partnership with Musicnotes.com, you can purchase sheet music from their expansive library and enjoy it directly from forScore.
Designed exclusively for iOS, the app looks and functions gorgeously on Apple devices, which is where the rub will lie for some. If you don’t have a fancy iPad, like yours truly, you’ll have to give this one a pass. Thankfully, there are alternatives for Android users like MuseScore, which I definitely recommend taking a look at as well.
“Where the hell am I going to find a copy of that music?” It’s a question many a teacher have asked to themselves during a frantic search for a hard to locate tune. Scribd, a kind of online document repository, is one possible for option for tracking down electronic copies of even the rarest songs.
You’ll need a subscription ($8.99/month) to sign up and access their library, but they do offer a 30-day free trial for getting started. Once you’re on board, you can start perusing their rather robust library of sheet music, filtering results by genre, instrument, or artist. Be sure to get a grasp of the basics by reading over the help center page as well.
“500,000 high-quality guitar, bass, and drum tabs & chords” in one spot? Sign me up. Songsterr is another great resource when you need access to popular tracks, and has some enhanced features that include the ability to play along with each track at different speeds and loop sections of a song until you’ve got them under your belt. Compared to options like Guitar Pro, I find the Songsterr interface to be better designed, and, stacked up against Ultimate Guitar, it’s the more affordable choice ($4.99 for lifetime access versus a $2.99/month subscription).
I’d wager just about every musician out there has at least heard of GarageBand. Be that as it may, I’ll still cover some of the broader points here. The app, exclusive to iOS, functions like a miniature, on-the-go audio capture/creation studio. You can record your students, make backing tracks -- whatever you need to make your lessons more productive and engaging.
Even if you don’t have your instrument of choice on you, GarageBand includes built-in options for replicating a range of sounds (though, personally, I find these somewhat limited). The guitar sounds, for instance, trend toward the “cheesy” side, and the virtual session drummer is only adequate for simple tracks and quick loops (for anything more complicated, you might instead want to break out the sticks and do it yourself).
Those, however, are minor gripes. Overall, GarageBand is a great recording option if you’ve got an iDevice. If you’re not part of the Apple-faithful, you’ll either have to find a workaround that’ll allow you to run GB on your Windows machine, or make use of an alternative like LMMS, Mixcraft, or FL Studio Mobile.
Soundbrenner claims they have “the best metronome app in town,” and I, for one, am inclined to agree with them. I’ve tried other metronome apps in the past -- Metronome Beats, Pro Metronome, Mobile Metronome -- and they’ve all been good. The Soundbrenner Metronome, however, feels like the most well-designed and useful, to me:
- You can do all of the “standard” metronome stuff, of course, like setting time signatures, BPM, subdivisions for beats, and changing tones and accents.
- You can save beats to a library, allowing you to recall them later for practice.
- You can even link the app to one of those wearable, vibrating Soundbrenner Pulse devices, allowing you to feel the beat as you practice. It’s free to use. No disruptive advertisements.
To top it all off, the app has a slick visual aesthetic and is simple to navigate. I haven’t found another metronome app quite as feature-filled as this one so far, and I recommend the Soundbrenner Metronome to all my students and fellow musicians.
Ear training was always a chore for me growing up, which is why I’m slightly envious of the fact that today’s young musicians can benefit from apps like Perfect Ear. The app is designed for both piano and guitar, and contains a wide range of rhythm training, scale, chord, and interval exercises. It has notes on music theory, exercises to improve melodic dictation, a pitch trainer, a sight reading trainer, and even an expansive scale dictionary.
Just start the app, then select between interval exercises, rhythm exercises, and the perfect ear sections of the program. Students earn points for completing the various “tasks” Perfect Ear throws at them, and I feel this “gamified” version of learning difficult concepts is a great approach. This is one of the most complete ear/theory apps around, and is suitable for both raw beginners and experienced musicians who want to brush up on their skills.
If you’re looking for a large library of useful piano knowledge, the Piano Companion provides exactly that in pocket-sized form. Chord dictionaries, scale dictionaries, the Circle of Fifths -- it’s all there. Most beneficial, I think, is the reverse chord/scale lookup feature, which identifies what curious combination of notes you might have stumbled upon in your playing. Be forewarned, though, the “free” version of this app will bombard you with ads periodically. Get ready to drop $9.99 to access the pro version, unlock the extra features, and kill those distractions.
For a similarly-styled database aimed at guitar players, the Guitar Chords Finder provides a straightforward, no frills option. It’s completely free, has zero adds, and a library of more than 880 chords (at present). While there isn’t much in the app beyond chords and variations, the no-nonsense approach and robust selection of chords gets this app the nod.
Drum rudiments are one of the keys to building speed, fluidity, and ability on the kit. Drumate gathers them all in one place, allowing you to adjust the tempo, create training patterns, and, overall, improve your abilities. There are ads on the free version, but they aren’t anything too intrusive. Upgrading is only $2.99, and helps the developer out with making updates (a worthy cause, in my opinion). When introducing new students to the basics of playing the drums, this is usually one of the first apps I tell them to snag.
Whenever I want some challenging, well-composed tracks for my students to rock-out to, I usually turn to JamTrackCentral first. They’ve got a large library of practice tracks aimed at building improvisation and technique, organized by different artists (some of the best guitarists in the world compose their tracks), styles (13 and counting), difficulty levels (beginner to advanced), etc.
Functionality on the free version of the service is rather limited, though, so upgrading to the premium membership is probably the way to go if you want to access to as much as possible. Just make sure you have £14.99/month to shell out on the subscription and you’re golden.
Of course, if you don’t feel like paying just to gain access to some practice tracks, there’s always good-old YouTube. You can find hundreds of channels with various styles, instrument focuses, etc., and not have to drop a single dime. Some of my favorites include Free Drumless Tracks, Now You Shred, and Elite Backing Tracks, though, you can likely just run a quick search and find whatever you need to fit you and your students’ practice needs.