The development of smartphones and other hand-held computing devices has brought rapid changes to the ways in which we live, work, and play. Not all of these changes are positive; I doubt I’m alone in reporting that I am more distracted and find myself less able to focus on long-term mental tasks (such as long periods of time reading difficult texts) than I did ten years ago. “The jury is still out,” as they say, regarding the benefits and risks of allowing young children to use these devices.
For now, though, it is enough to say that these devices are here, they’re not going anywhere, and they might as well be put to good use in brass playing and teaching. In today’s short post, I’ll present six apps that I use in my practicing and teaching, some on a daily basis. While there are many other such apps available for both iOS and Android devices, these are the ones that I have found to be the most useful.
1. FrozenApe Tempo, $1.99.
Long gone are the days when students needed to go to the music store and spend $10-20 or more on a small metronome with limited battery life and an amazing ability to be lost or stolen. Those that wanted advanced functionality would have to be prepared to pay well over $100. Now any student with a smartphone can purchase and use a metronome app with many advanced at a fraction of the cost, and with the benefits of a rechargeable battery and of “always” being with him. While there are other—some free—metronome apps out there, I have found this one to have the ease of use and volume produced that I want. While I don’t use the advanced features very much at all, there are a number here for those that are so inclined.
2. Peterson iStroboSoft Tuner, $9.99.
While at nearly $10 this tuner is pricey for a smartphone app, it offers the precision of a strobe tuner for what is still a fraction of the cost of the “hardware version.” As a low brass player and teacher, I am always looking for tuners that will accurately “hear” the lowest notes on the tuba and bass trombone, as many handheld tuners do not. This app does, which is a major selling point for me.
3. TonalEnergy Tuner, $3.99.
At first glance, this app might seem redundant, or perhaps it seems to make the previous two so, as it includes both a metronome and a tuner, in addition to a pitch generator and waveform analysis. It is the latter two functions which I find most useful here. The pitch generator can be useful to players that want to perform singing or mouthpiece buzzing exercises with a correct starting pitch while they are not near a piano or other instrument to provide that pitch. The waveform analysis is particularly helpful, as it gives players a visual indication of whether they are producing steady tones, and how many overtones are being generated.
I do not use the metronome function of this app very much because I find the FrozenApe Tempo app to be quite superior in that regard. The Peterson iStroboSoft Tuner is a marginally better tuner than this one, though I enjoy seeing the “happy face” that this app yields when I am in tune! Like the Peterson app, this one also can “hear” the low partials on tuba and bass trombone.
While there are other apps that perform certain functions better, this is the closest thing to a “do everything” app for musicians that I have found.
4. Randomizer Wheel, $0.99
This “virtual roulette wheel” can be programmed to randomly decide among the items on any list the user programs into it. I use it in each lesson to decide which of twelve scale routines the student will have to play for me, leading students to affectionately dub this app “The Wheel of Doom.” By using this app in lessons, I have created a situation in which the student is as likely to have to play an “easy” scale routine as a “hard” one, and I am thus prevented from “going easy” or “coming down” on a student for any reason. While I don’t use this app in my individual practice, some players might find the introduction of some “chance” into their routines to be beneficial.
The above four apps are the ones that I use the most frequently; I mention the two below simply because I find them interesting.
5. Decibel Meter Pro, $0.99
Honestly, I purchased this app because I wanted to see “objectively” how loudly I played at fortissimo. While there was an observable difference between dynamic levels, it was not as great as my ego had hoped. Still, this could be useful for demonstrating to students that their dynamic ranges are not as wide as they should be, or even for determining when noise levels in a performance space are too great and some sort of acoustic shielding is in order. Granted, such shielding is usually placed in front of the trombonists, not behind them….
6. iBone, $2.99
I have yet to think of a genuinely useful purpose for this app, but it’s still fun. This guy is much more skilled at it than I am!