You might think of your smartphone as something your music teacher asks you to turn off before your lesson. With the right apps, however, it can move from being a distraction to a tool that helps you practice, play, and learn about music wherever you are! Here are eight apps every pianist should have for Android or iOS.
The simplest and most common tool for the beginner pianist is a metronome. If you’ve taken at least a few piano lessons, the myriad uses of the device have likely already been drilled into you. When starting out, a metronome teaches you basic rhythm and helps you stay on tempo while you’re playing. Downloading a metronome app on your smartphone saves you a trip to the store and consolidates your gear.
Unlike the old-school wooden contraptions you may have seen, some metronomes piano apps have extra features. Metronome stands out on iOS for using a custom timer built by clock software specialists, which is more accurate than the standard iOS code most metronome apps use.
A good choice for Android users is Metronome Beats, which combines great features with a developer who actually responds to user concerns and bugs.
Have you noticed some more forward-thinking musicians ditching the three-ring binder or stack of loose-leaf sheet music for an iPad on their music stand at live gigs? Chances are, they were running forScore. A sheet music organizer might seem like a simple app that’s hard to do wrong. Maybe you even think opening up some PDFs in Adobe Reader is close enough. But aside from organization and easy searchability, the key component of forScore is speed. You’ll never know how slowly the pages in e-readers or PDF apps turn until you are waiting on one to know what note you need to play next! Musicians call forScore’s turning “near-instantaneous” and “as fast as paper.” On Android, Midi Sheet Music is the clear leader. It doesn’t have the across-the-board professional acceptance that forScore does, but it is free (without ads!).
Music Theory and Ear Training
Depending on your instructor and your curriculum, you may already get a healthy dose of music theory within your lessons. A great way to use technology to supplement your lessons, however, is to use piano apps that focus on music theory and ear training.
Here, both iOS and Android have excellent solutions with Tenuto and Perfect Ear, respectively. Both apps solve the problem many have with learning theory from a book by including interactive keyboards that show you what you’re playing and why it adheres to a specific rule of music theory. Exercises and quizzes keep you sharp by turning work into games. Do games really accelerate the learning process? Well, just think about how easy it was to memorize the names of all of those Pokémon!
A Piano Itself
Sometimes you’re away from your piano, but how many of those are times when you’re also away from your smartphone or tablet? Enter the many excellent piano apps on iOS and Android that replicate the actual instrument! Of course, a touchscreen with flat representations of keys and sound coming from a single tiny speaker is no substitute for a real keyboard. But when you want to practice, to paraphrase a great photography adage, the best piano is the one you have with you.
Once you’ve resigned yourself to playing this way, the iOS piano app of choice is Virtuoso Piano Free 2 HD. The app does everything it can to replicate the key-tickling experience on a touchscreen, and while it’s better suited to the larger keys on a full-sized iPad, you might be surprised at the creative solutions you can come up with if you have six iPhones to play on at once.
The Android equivalent Perfect Piano is even more flexible, supporting external Midi keyboards over USB OTG so you can make use of the practice games and recording features in a more tactile way.
Perhaps more than any other pursuit, learning piano is best done one-on-one with a private instructor. None of these piano apps can take the place of that relationship, but they can definitely keep you motivated at home or when you’re on the road. The more resources and tools you have at your fingertips, the faster you’ll learn!