App-solutely essential: Some basic apps for learning music

June 18, 2014









Flickr Creative Commons:  Tinkerbrad


Any student that has walked into my studio has probably seen me whip out my phone for one reason or another. The stopwatch is useful for timed breath tests, the metronome is useful to find the right tempo, the list goes on and on...

But for students just beginning to learn to read and understand music, your smart phone or tablet can be even more useful. I might assign you a song that is 400 years old, but that doesn't mean we have to live in the past! Here are some of my favorite useful (and fun!) apps for beginner musicians.








I like this one because it shows you the notes on both the piano keys and the staff.  This is for absolute beginners who need to learn how to plunk a song out on their keyboard at home.






This is a slightly more fun take on the same idea.  As far as I can tell, it does not have a piano feature. Both of these apps are $0.99. There are free music reading apps out there, but I don't find them to be quite as user-friendly.









This is a game that teaches increasingly advanced rhythms as you master each level.  It's addictive!  Also, the music selections are very sleek, and don't become annoying with repetition, which is a real bonus! :)  The first fifteen levels are free with the light version.  If you feel like being challenged,  you can download the pro version for $2.99.








This is the app I use when I need to warm-up in my car or learn music on-the-go.  There are optional piano key labels, and you can choose from a list of different options how many keys you would like displayed at once.  In my opinion, this is a must have for any singer, and it is free.









Once you've learned the notes and rhythms, it's going to be helpful (before you meet with your pianist) to make sure you are keeping a steady tempo. BPM is also the universal way musicians communicate with each other about how fast a piece of music is. This app comes with a variety of sounds and flashing lights to help you keep track of the downbeat even when you're singing your guts out! It is also available for free.



Mind Games: Improving Your Mental Practice


I tell all my students that learning to sing is a sport. It requires training your voice and your ears, the development of muscle memory and a passion to improve every time you show up for a lesson. What the audience hears is art, but they only get to hear you after months of coaching and practice have sculpted you into the Rocky Balboa of opera or musical theatre. 

So, what can we learn from actual athletes that will help us become better musicians? Sports psychologists have discovered that the most skilled athletes in any sport spend a lot more time looking at the target (the basketball hoop, the catcher’s mitt, etc.) than less skilled athletes. This focus is called the “Quiet Eye”, and using it gives them the time to prepare their movements mentally before they actually take the shot. 


I propose to you that the next time you’re out for a jog, stuck in traffic, or sitting in a waiting room, you have the perfect opportunity to become a better singer. Concentrate on something you’re working on in your voice lesson that you’d like to improve. Be very specific with yourself about what it is and stay positive. Hear the music in your head and try to form the most perfect version of it you can imagine. Try to feel the sensations in your body that you have felt the time you’ve sung your very best.

Avoid negative commentary like “Don’t miss the high note!” or “Don’t run out of breath!” and instead try things like “I need to sing more into the preparation note to nail this high note” and “I need to remember to breathe here in a relaxed and deep way”. Repeat this process until the thoughts become second-nature.  The results will show up right away the next time you practice!


Happy Singing! :)



Created & designed by Jessica Renfroe