I’m a musician, and I learned the tricks of the trade the expensive and slow way: with private guitar lessons, summer music programs, and more theory books than I’d like to admit. Thankfully, in 2018 you can get pretty far in your music-learning journey without the traditional methods. And, yes, we’ve way outgrown instruction booklets and Youtube videos. The apps I list below help you familiarize yourself with instruments and build a better understanding of music theory. Some actually listen to your performance and make judgements about your playing, too.
Some people learn better by example. Instead of trying to learn from a “guitar for beginners” book, the Riffstation app, website, and desktop app—now owned by Fender guitars—will teach you the chords to your favorite songs in real time. It syncs up with videos on YouTube, and depending on how clear the guitar tracks are in the recording, allows you to play along with them. Within the app, you can adjust the tempo of songs, add a metronome, and switch between learning the songs on guitar, ukulele, piano, or mandolin. If you feel like you’ve learned the song, but it isn’t in the right key for you, you change the key of the song with a virtual capo.
If the mobile app doesn’t have the song you want, you can use the website to request a song, or download the Riffstation Pro desktop app to analyze chords of audio files you own. $35.
Simply Piano by JoyTunes teaches you how to play piano by using the microphone on your smartphone or iPad. If you make too many mistakes in a row, it takes you to a practice mode, where the music is slower and a metronome ticks. The app gives you personalized drills and tracks your progress. It also offers well-known pieces of music ranging from John Lennon’s “Imagine” to Bach compositions. The free download offers two lessons, but after that, you need to upgrade to the paid subscription options. They offer subscriptions for 3 months, 6 months, and a year—$45, $60, and $90.
Letting your kids learn how to sing could do wonders for their self-esteem—and this app much cheaper (free!) than vocal lessons. Vanido uses your phone’s microphone to listen to your pitch, giving you real-time visual markers to track your accuracy. It even creates exercises based on your ability to keep pitch, and gives you daily reminders to practice. Free.
Tenuto doesn’t teach you music theory, but it’s a fantastic tool to fine-tune (pun intended) and reinforce what you’ve already learned. The app features ear-training exercises for notes, chords, intervals, and scales. Free.
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