The BEST Apps for Beginners
There's a lot out there that will entertain young students.
But apps that ACTUALLY aid in their musical development?
That's a game-changer.
If you're reading this you're likely a parent of a young musician or a beginner looking for new ways to boost your skills.
Most of my students are eager to learn faster than I can teach them in their first few lessons. After all, learning a new instrument is simultaneously exciting and daunting: there's so much ahead to learn, and so many skills to digest and master.
Thankfully, over the years, I've collected a few apps that both teach and engage young students so they can practice their newfound skills outside of the classroom.
Here are my top apps (in no particular order):
Treble Cat Lite
"Treble Cat Lite" is the free version of "Treble Cat" (which is $4.99 in the App Store). (For the uninitiated: treble clef is the system used to read notes for saxophone, flute, clarinet, oboe, trumpet, horn, and many other instruments.)
This app helps students learn to read notes on the staff. It starts by having the user identify a handful of notes within 30-60 seconds, and as the levels progress, it introduces more notes at a faster pace.
Bottom line: this is a GREAT way to help young musicians boost their note reading skills. Most levels can also be played without sound, which is perfect for study periods when making noise isn't ideal.
Full disclosure that I was probably one of the first people to use this app back when it was originally released. And there was a short period of time where I thought it was no longer available, and got unnaturally sad about it. (Especially because I'm a dog person, but even as a dog person, this app is adorable...)
"Rhythm Cat" serves three purposes:
to teach students how to identify note durations (quarter, eighth, sixteenth, half, whole notes, etc.)
how those note durations fit within a span of time (how they line up with the metronome)
aids in helping students develop their own internal sense of pulse
By showing students what the individual note durations look like, students are able to more quickly identify how long a note is meant to be held. That knowledge, in turn, is used to help musicians understand how that note duration fits into the larger picture of the musical piece.
Here in central Texas, metronomes are a VERY big part of the musical learning process. Why? Because they help students hear how the music should fit within a given span of time (e.g. not rushed or dragged), AND they help students develop and internal sense of pulse (which is vital in performance).
The app starts each series of levels by first showing students note duration. Then, the user is asked to tap the screen along with what they see and hear, which allows them to line up what they see AND hear with how their body (even if it's only a finger) moves. This is incredibly useful because students get visual (seeing the note), aural (hearing the note) and kinesthetic (physical movement) feedback. Win-win-win.
The icing on the cake? Earning a perfect score means that the app meows. I don't care who you are - that's precious.
Note: This app can be challenging to find in the App store for some reason. I had to put "Rhythm Cat James Uhart" in a Google search to find it in the App Store. But once I did, voila. Download made and $4.99 paid.
This app is perfect for students who learn well by using flashcards. Music Tutor is essentially an app that functions like "smart" flashcards; if you mis-identify a note or take a few extra moments to identify it, the app will have that note be more prevalent in the rotation until it feels easy.
Although advertised as "sight-reading," I use this mostly with students to improve their note recognition skills (both in identify the correct note, and speeding up their recognition pace over time). A bonus with this app is that you can set a timer to play for as long as you want: 1 minute bursts are great for a quick practice session that can be done at any time of day, 5 minutes for a warm-up as students are assembling their instrument and getting ready to play for the day, and 10 minutes for when they're really feeling it and want a deeper challenge.
A caveat here is that you'll need to adjust the settings to make it most applicable for young saxophonists. Here's what you need to do once you've downloaded the app:
1. Go to Options
2. Select "Treble"
3. Set Range to: F4 - F5
4. Set Note Names to: C, D, E, F, G, A, B
5. Once you press the brown "START" button, the screen should look like this:
(The app defaults to this "Music Notes" setting, not the "Piano Keys" setting)
As students master the app on these settings, we can then "up the ante" by creating a wider range of notes and/or including sharps and flats.
Tonal Energy Tuner
Ok so this one isn't free and it's more than what beginners need, BUT, you better believe I now require my 7th graders through college students to have this. For less than the price than a latte, this app will give you literally every tool you need as a musician.
Don't worry - I'm not sponsored by or profit from this. It's just, as I say, "the answer."
Here's what this little guy can do:
Recognize sounds (and therefore tell you whether you are in tune, sharp, or flat...and by exactly how much)
Plays back sounds along with you (it has a microphone function where it can play notes along with you)
Transpose to your pitch (as in, what each note is for you as a saxophonist, not "concert pitch" like most tuners)
Play multiple tones at once (using just and equal temperament, no less)
Analyze your vibrato for a visual aid
Record audio and video
Play back any recording slower, faster, or transposed up or down (so, as you're working up a passage, you can hear EXACTLY what it will sound like up to performance tempo, and adjust your practice accordingly)
Give you a loud metronome click
Subdivide anything and everything in almost any time signature (except 15/16, but you know, that's really ok.)
Gradually give less frequent clicks to help you ease away from using the metronome and develop your own sense of pulse
Count out loud for you
Reward you for practice streaks
There's honestly so much more here, but that's what I use the most. Every single day. With every single student. And every day in my own individual practice. Because it's just that awesome.
As someone that has bought her fair amount of almond milk lattes over the past few years, this is honestly the best $3.99 I've ever spent.
Happy practicing, beauties!!