Practice tool

I wanted to write a post about a new practice tool that I’ve really come to love…my iPhone.  There are several apps that I’ve been using lately to help with my practicing (some have actually replaced other things that I don’t need to lug around anymore), and to make practicing more fun.  Its pretty amazing to have all these tools in the palm of my hand.  Even just 5 years ago I wouldn’t have been able to imagine it!

The first app is an awesome metronome.  It rivals my Dr. Beat in its features (which is broken anyway).  I don’t even understand all that can be done with it, actually.  I don’t use it all the time, only when I forget my Korg metronome/tuner that the Navy supplied me, just because I don’t want to completely run down my battery.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t have a free version, the only one available is $1.99 for the iPhone version, and $.99 for the Android version.  It’s totally worth it though!  It even has a 5 star rating in the Apple app store.

Screen shot of the home screen of the Scale-master app.

Another one that I’ve found good use with is an app called Scale-Master.  It’s a tool to help hear intonation by providing drones.  It seems to have been developed with the classical musician in mind.  In this app, you can calibrate the pitch from A415 all the way to A466 (which, according to the app, is a full half step above and below A440!).  I can’t think of a reason why you would need that, but its pretty neat!  Also, you can set it to Bb, D, Eb, and F pitched instruments (no A…darn) so that you don’t have to think about transposition, it will transpose the pitch for you on the screen.  I know that I always have to think super hard about Eb clarinet transposition!  Especially when I’m playing a scale and using the dominant pitch as the drone…I get so confused, haha.  Also, you can choose from five possible octaves.  There are a lot more features that I have no idea how to use, including an “auto play” feature.  I think this is much easier to use than a tuning CD just because you can select your pitch much quicker, and a lot of CDs don’t have the octave ranges that this app has.  And here’s the good news, its FREE!

The next app I want to discuss is called Tempo SlowMo.  The basic purpose of the app is to take any music track and slow it down so that you can learn the song.  I don’t use it for that, although it might be beneficial when preparing for ensembles to play along with a recording just to get the feel of it.  The reason I like it is because it has a recording feature, so it acts like one of those dictation machines that you can play back at a slower speed.   I use it to double-check my rhythm at fast tempos.  I’ll record the passage, and then I play it back at 50% of the tempo.  That means if I record something at mm = 120, I can play it back at mm = 60!  It is very revealing at times!  I’ve done this for many years, but I used to use something like this: Very ancient technology…it had the mini cassette tape and everything.  The problem was the quality was never very good, and the tape degraded the more you recorded over it.  (I started hearing my old recordings in the background of my new recordings!)  And there were only two speeds…slow and fast; with the app I can do 75% tempo if I wanted, or slower than 50%.  Also, pitch would  be affected (playing it back slow would lower the pitch by an octave).  This app keeps the pitch the same, which is helpful.  The only thing I don’t like about it is that I haven’t found a way to delete old recordings…I feel like that’s going to be very confusing the more recordings I put on it.  This app is free in the Apple app store (I’m not sure about other versions for other smartphones).

A feature of my iPhone that I have been using is the voice memo recorder.  It actually records instruments pretty decently!  I don’t think I would send it in for an audition, but it gives me an accurate idea of how I sound!  I’ve been recording parts of my practice sessions with it.  Here’s a little gem that I recorded using my phone:


I hope you enjoyed the little squirrel drawing I found on Google to go along with it. Anyways, it sounds a little like I’m playing in a bathtub, but that’s because of the room I was in, not the recorder itself.  Because it is designed as a voice recorder, I think it automatically evens out the sound levels, so a little is lost that isn’t lost when using a proper recorder (like dynamics).  But I think its great for getting general feedback on my playing, especially since I don’t have the luxury of taking lessons at the moment.  The app is included with the iPhone when you buy it.

The last app I want to talk about isn’t exactly traditional.  And it doesn’t exactly make my practicing more efficient…only more fun.  Lately I’ve felt less than excited to play my long tones and my scales.  They were starting to get really boring.  But, I figured out a way to make them feel fresh again…I found an app can play various drum beats, and you can adjust the tempo just like a metronome.  Its called Drum Beats+, and I love it.  I’ve been using it for my long tones, scales, and articulation practice.  It puts a fun twist on the same old stuff.  I use an earbud in one ear so that I can hear it clearly (it can be hard to hear over my playing sometimes).  There is a free version, but I liked it so much I went ahead and paid the $2.99 for the full version.  The only problem I’ve found is that its hard to play anything that’s not in simple time (i.e. 6/8 time), because all the drum beats are based on pop songs…and there’s not that many pop songs that use compound time!

So there you go.  I use many tools to practice, and I’m lucky that I can combine many of them into a little device that I can fit in my pocket.  Oh the wonders that technology brings us!

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