Playing it Smart: Three Phone Apps for Metering Success

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This morning my car needed some repairs and so while at home waiting for it to get fixed, I decided to get some practicing done before writing this post.

I pulled out my handy little smart-phone, turned on the apps and got to work.

Years ago when I was a back-packing student in the big city, I used to carry around a much larger and more cumbersome array of practice tools. By itself alone for example, my relic Korg AT-12 tuner is more than three times the weight of the average smart phone.

These days a smart-phone is the activity hub for hundreds of different things beyond a single device, so carrying around an antique like this today would be impractical – if not somewhat sadomasochistic.

This aging dinosaur still survives in the home office, but away from home I use three software applications (apps) and because they are so convenient and handy – housed on the iPhone that I carry with me at all times – I use them frequently.

I rely on these three apps for getting accurate feedback – in the practice room, in the car, and even at gigs and concerts.

ClearTune

http://www.bitcount.com/cleartune/

I am never sure what to call it but I have semi-perfect or really good relative pitch. Even so, I use tuners while practicing to keep my ears in shape. Since playing in tune with other people is relative, I do not use the calibrating meter of this app so much as the built-in wave forms.

I have seen colleagues on rare occasion pull out tuners in rehearsals and this is something I personally avoid. This action can send a mixed message and ultimately with intonation being relative to circumstance, a tuner’s meter is irrelevant.

This particular app produces a decent tone from which I can buzz or play scales and arpeggios to, and yet still hear as rendered by the phone’s tiny speakers. It has the four basic sound options – sine, triangle, sawtooth and square – and the sawtooth waveform seems to work the best.

A side effect of my semi-hemi-perfect pitch is that I always am thinking in horn pitch – one fifth above concert pitch. My first musical instrument was not the piano, and to this day my musical mind still operates in F.

One thing that I truly appreciate about the ClearTune app is that it can be tempered. I have mine pitched in F and so the meter both sounds and reads as Horn in F. That is nifty!

The ClearTune app is available for iPhone and Android devices for under $5 USD.

Metronome

http://thezistudios.com/products.php

There are probably better metronome apps out there, but this is one that I have picked up. A metronome app would be a fairly easy thing to create and program I imagine, and this company does a reasonable job at it.

I do get occasional freezes and hiccups – which can really throw me off when I am concentrating – but it seem like once it happens a few times, it goes away. I do like its Tap feature which allows for tapping a beat into the app and it telling me what that is in metronome beats.

I think this app was a freebie or was priced cheaply around $2 USD. If you can suggest a better alternative I am very open for ideas.

Decibel

http://www.gadgetfrontier.com/

This app is the least used in the trio but when I do need it, it sure comes in handy. The aptly named Decibel app simply does what the name says. Using the built-in microphone feature of the iPhone, it reads sound levels and outputs it into an easy-to-read decibel meter.

I use mine for two purposes:

  • to gauge loud and soft dynamics on the French horn
  • to gauge how loud something is in general

For general purposes – in gigs and at concerts for example – this app has been very useful. I am very attentive to loud sounds and how they might affect long-term hearing. Checking in with a metered decibel reader shows me how loud something actually is, as opposed to how I might imagine or think it to be.

This, I would argue, is the final argument as to why we use mechanical practice tools in the first place.

Why use tuners and metronomes?

For many of the basics of playing music most people need to rely on metered feedback. While the imagination is really great for shaping phrases and being creative, it isn’t so great at remembering how to stay in time and play in tune with other people.

Coloring with crayons requires that we stay within the lines on the page. Smart phone apps like these can certainly help to maintain that standard.

How about yourself?

Do you use any smart phone apps in your practice or teaching? Please share your apps and tips in the comments section below.

University of Horn Matters