Do you wish to sight read or simply learn to read music better? Do you feel like you struggle to sing in tune, or feel like you don’t really understand exactly what singing “in tune” means? Do you feel that you’re an okay singer, but your lack of music comprehension is holding you back? If so, it’s time to consider practicing your musicianship skills. Don’t worry: it’s not as scary as it sounds.
“Musicianship skills” is an umbrella term that covers a lot of territory. Basically, it refers to everything that makes for a gifted musician: development of ear training skills, the ability to read music, a full understanding of your instrument and how to take care of it, the ability to accurately reproduce pitches you hear, or harmonize with them. These are highly desirable skills that make performers more versatile, independent, and ultimately, castable.
If you’re looking for ways to develop these skills, fear not: here are five apps you can download right now to help you get started.
1. Music Tutor
If you’re brand new to music theory, simply learning to identify notes on the staff is a good starting point. Music Tutor is a great app for that! It plays like a simple game, where you practice identifying notes on the staff by their note name or by their corresponding piano key. You can practice in treble, bass, and alto clefs. (If you sing soprano or alto, you’ll likely only ever use treble clef. Tenors and basses may use bass clef. Alto clef is very uncommon in vocal scores.) The app also includes a handy reference to help you learn.
This app is very easy to use and provides helpful statistics after each practice round to inform your learning. As an added bonus, the design is clean, sleek, and intuitive. If you don’t yet know how to identify notes in your music, this free app is a must-download!
Get it in the app store or google play store.
Cost: $3.99, with a free website option.
While I’d set out initially to make this list entirely free, Tenuto is simply too good to pass up, and at an extremely competitive price.
Tenuto is by musictheory.net, a wonderful resource on music theory for beginners and experts alike. On both the site and app, you can explore 24 different practice exercises, including exercises that can help you learn to play piano or guitar, as well as 6 music theory “calculators.” As you continue to grow as a performer and musician, you may find yourself returning to this app frequently for practice!
If you’re moving on from the exercises in the previous app, I’d recommend your next step on this app be to explore the key signature identification exercise. Learning to recognize key signatures is invaluable for performers, as it will help you learn the basis of solfeggi singing (you know, the Sound of Music thing– Do, Re, Mi), which creates a starting point for learning to sight read and sight sing.
If you can identify what key you’re in, you’ll always know what note is “Do”– the first note in the scale. Once you can identify do, you can train your ear to recognize the relationships between the rest of the notes of the scale, and then you’ll be able to sight sing most anything.
(Confused yet? If so, just disregard the do re mi stuff for now and we’ll explore it in a more accessible way in the next app.)
You might also want to check out the interval identification exercise listed in the “staff exercises” section. Interval identification will be an important skill for sight singing, and lays the groundwork for training provided by other apps in this list.
If you’re brand new to the concepts presented by these exercises, I would give musictheory.net a cursory glance to get an introduction to the topic. Note that you can customize each of these exercises, so if you’re especially confused, it may help to lower the number of variables the exercise gives you so you can practice at a slower, more accessible pace.
Once you graduate from these exercises, explore the ear training exercises as well, especially the keyboard ear training and interval ear training apps. If these seem out of your comfort zone at the moment, consider checking out the next app and returning to these for more practice later.
If you’re strongly opposed to paying $4 for the app, or are using an incompatible device, you can enjoy exercises similar to those on the app through musictheory.net itself. If you are able to get the app, though, the convenience and flexibility the app provides definitely make the purchase worthwhile.
Get it on the app store.
3. Functional Ear Trainer
I learned of this app because my professor raved about it back when I was a music major! My professor’s enthusiasm was well-earned, because this app is wonderful.
If you’re new to the concept of ear training, this app is a great place to start. It’s a simple game: you listen to the note the app plays, and then try to identify which note you just heard. What sets this app apart from other ear training apps is that each time you correctly identify a note, the app automatically plays a short riff leading to “do”, which helps you to hear the relationship it and between the note you identified. You’ll be surprised by how quickly this helps you master identifying notes by ear!
Beginners might find it easier to start the exercises on this app with numbered buttons representing each note rather than solfege syllables, however I recommend you give the solfege syllables a try once you’ve explored the app a bit. As I mentioned before, learning to understand solfege is invaluable for learning to sight read.
This app is really easier to experience than explain, especially for beginners. Download it and play around with it, and you’ll start to understand.
Get it on the app store or google play store.
4. TuneUp Lite – Intonation Ear Training Game
A bit outdated, but nonetheless an excellent tool– I heartily recommend TuneUp to anyone looking to improve their ear regarding intonation.
If you feel prone to singing off-key, or have trouble understanding what exactly singing “in tune” means, this app is a highly accessible and effective introduction. Pick a difficulty level and listen to two pitches. If the second pitch sounds lower than the first, click the “flat” button. If it’s higher, click the “sharp” button. You have three lives– see how high you can score before you make three mistakes!
This simple, addictive game is deceptively educational. Play on easy for a bit and work your way up to expert. You’ll be surprised to find that pitches that previously sounded identical actually have small shades of difference between them which you never quite noticed before.
This app is the perfect starting point for developing your ear for intonation. It’s not difficult to understand, and it makes learning feel second-nature. I truly can’t recommend this app highly enough, and would love to see and updated version released in the future!
Get it on the app store.
Tunerval is the perfect follow-up to TuneUp, and to the skills you developed with Tenuto and Functional Ear Trainer.
This app adds a little more depth to your intonation understanding as established by the previous app. In Tunerval, you have to identify whether the second note is sharp, flat, or in-tune, which requires careful listening and plenty of practice. Each time you choose correctly, the exercise becomes slightly harder by a few cents. (Cents is the unit of measurement used in evaluating intonation. If you’re a few cents off a note, no one will tell, whereas 50 cents off is technically another note entirely!) Further, Tunerval is so named because it teaches you to tune intervals– the spaces between notes.
This is where your training from Tenuto comes in handy. Practice identifying the intervals by sight and ear in Tenuto, then learn to audiate them accurately in your head using Tunerval. You have to memorize the sound of the interval exactly in tune in order to excel with this app.
This app has a definite learning curve, but if you stick with it, you’ll find it’s both addictive and extremely effective. Once you’ve memorized how to identify an interval on sight and memorized exactly how it sounds, you’ll be able to learn to sing anything just by looking at the page!
I highly recommend this app, especially to anyone who found use in TuneUp and wants to further sharpen their skills.
Get it on the app store.