When I was a beginner-level musician, the only resources at my disposal were theory books, my teacher and a metronome. If I got stuck, I often I had to wait a week until my next lesson to work through a problem.
If you’re studying music, you’re on the lookout for ways to improve your understanding. Today new tools and apps can help you make breakthroughs without waiting for a teacher. Your musical education is fairly accessible, whether you need help with basic theory, practice exercises or sight-reading.
If anything, you have different problem than I did – which resource should you choose? You have hundreds of apps, blogs websites and videos competing for your attention.
To help you, I dug through reviews, teacher recommendations and music education journals. I found apps and blogs that are widely-considered to be impressive and credible. Some were developed by teachers who have been in the business for decades, and others are side projects of professional musicians. Here is an overview of some basic musical concepts and the related technical resources to guide your study.
Music theory is the study of the practice of music. Although it is as old as the existence of music itself, technology has transformed the study of theory. Concepts and methodologies are now more accessible. These websites and apps can help you build a foundation and fill in any knowledge gaps.
MusicTheory.net is a free website with exercises, lessons, and product recommendations. Topics cover everything from learning about key signatures to major and minor keys to ear training and reading music. You’ll find interesting tools like the “tempo tapper” and the “pop-up keyboard.” The interface is very basic, but you don’t need a complicated website to learn theory (it’s complicated enough!). The app is supported through two paid iOS apps if you want to get more in depth instruction, but there is plenty of good free content on the website. There are myriad apps for music theory too. Music Theory and Practice is a popular one that combines theory lessons with exercises to match. You can pick and choose from the subjects you want to learn about, including an introduction to scales, the circle of fourths and fifths, inverted major chords and modes.
Ear training is the envy of every aspiring musician; a finely-tuned ear can identify pitches, melodies, chords, and even entire songs just by listening to them. While some people are more naturally inclined than others in this way, technology can help improve your ear. Needless to say that ear training is critical for all aspects of learning an instrument.
Several blogs can be helpful for ear training. I Was Doing All Right is well-known for its ear training studies. Within the writing, you can find exercises for call-and-response ear training, as well as improvisation and composition. The blog also has an ear training app and a online song randomizer for practice. Hear Chords can take you through an ear training test, and provides resources on concepts like absolute pitch, relative pitch and listening to chord progressions.
Reading Music and Sight Reading
If you can sight-read well, you can look at a sheet of music and play it at first glance. Of course, this habit comes with time and practice. However, there are no shortage of websites and apps that will help unblock your practice. A basic Google search will provide you with tips and research from experts on how to improve sight-reading.
You’ll find hundreds of tutorials on YouTube that will show you how to identify where notes are located on the staff and on the keyboard, and what the key names are. You can learn the basics of sheet music, fingering, theory and even specific song tutorials.
If you’re the type of learner who needs interactivity, apps like Music Sight Reading PRO and Music Tutor Sight Read provide lessons that incorporate note recognition and rhythm. The lessons are organized in a way that is supposed to be accessible. If you have more patience, you can go for a software platform like Sight Reading Mastery. This software was developed by a music teacher, and you can change the difficulty level to your speed, listen to your own playing, and log your progress.
There’s no reason to feel out of rhythm anymore, with the multitude of play-along apps and tools in existence. These new technologies serve as a more modern update on playing along to a recording in order to imitate it.
Although rhythm is a basic concept, it serves as a nice way to hone your sense of timing. Touch Pianist allows you to play along to “Moonlight Sonata” and control the rhythm. While the computer takes care of the melody, you are able to focus on improving your rhythm and tempo.
Rhythm Cat is a game that helps both adults and children understand rhythm. Levels of the game get progressively more challenging. This game was developed in collaboration with music educators.
Many individuals and companies are hoping to transform the way people learn by making it fun. These websites and apps hope to turn studying music into a game, where you can be rewarded for points and incentivized to challenge your brain.
Companies like Joytunes hope to reinvent learning through three piano apps. No prior music knowledge is required for Piano Dust Buster, wherein you compete against other players and learn the basics of notation. The interface is colorful and simple, making it ideal for children or those who want to ease in slowly. Their app Simply Piano is slightly more advanced, and teaches concepts like sight reading and two-handed playing. Pop songs are included in their repertoire, so as a beginner you can play some of the hits.
Then there are platforms that are basically video games. For example, Rock Prodigy is ‘your personal guitar tutor.’ The app aims to integrate lessons, skill acquisition, videos and live assessments of your playing. You can get scored based on your accuracy. Think Guitar Hero for learning the real guitar. This platform is designed to take beginners to an intermediate level. For this and many platforms like it, you can plug in your acoustic or electric guitar.
While you’re practicing, consider using Sheet Music Scanner. It scans sheet music using your phone or tablet’s camera and plays it back to you. Just choose the instrument, pick the speed, and give it a go!