I have been looking at a few Apps that are available for learning music and ear training and I have to say, they’re not in short supply. There are some excellent “official syllabus” apps relating to the Associated Board of the Royal School of Music with aural training exercises designed to develop your aural abilities at the grade level you are at, but I have to say I’m a little disappointed at the prices they’re asking.
ABRSM Aural Trainer is using the “FREE” app with in app purchase model and that’s fine but almost $5 for a module puts the “official” app in the “pricey” bracket. To add insult to injury the first app module is being offered in the UK for 5 POUNDS. With the US Dollar and British pound NOT being equally valued, I find this a bit disturbing. So it will cost actually 11 pounds to buy the full version of this app when its advertised as Free.
Pricing aside though, the app is very specific in its aim and does prepare you for what to expect during an exam. Its quite a big download and there’s no native iPad that I can see so it has to be used in x2 mode, but it looks fine in that. It’s a bit fiddly turning the screen from side to side but the exercises are easy to understand and execute.
A third party app, Auralbook is asking an amazing $29.99 for it’s full 3 part module which also covers the ABRSM syllabus. That’s not cheap. It may well be the fault of Apples pricing policy, but once again the price in pounds sterling gives the British buyer a small kick in the stomach for living in the UK.
Auralbook is an equally weighty download, coming in at 135mb and there are native iPad versions. On using the app it works quite well, I scored well on the free version of grade 4 exercises and the screen and recording functions worked smoothly but I found the narrators voice a bit cold compared to the ABRSM app. Its useful and intuitive and quite a challenge but a little “stuffy”.
On the other hand there are some very interesting Apps available on a more limited budget. Melody Cats have three lovely and simple apps for training all age groups. They cover treble, bass and rhythm and their “lite” versions are just the ticket if you just want to give it a try for free. Their full on “Pro” versions come in at a not-so-bad $3.99 compared to double figures for the more formal apps. I tried the free Rhythm Cat App which offers levels very much based on the “angry Birds” model so that is comforting and familiar to many, but it’s also very good fun.
I found my iPad screen reacted badly sometimes but I have quite a thick screen protector on there. On my iPhone (without its screen protector at the moment as I am awaiting a new one) it performed much better and I was able to get 3 stars on all the levels quite quickly. The same went for my iPod WITH its screen protector on. It’s really good fun and it really does give you a lesson. If you didn’t know ANYTHING about reading music before using this app, an enquiring mind could come away with a lot of info about written music. This kind of game appeals to me in three ways;
- Its a challenge as opposed to an exercise that you are being graded on, which keeps a bit of fun in the learning
- There’s always that third star to aim for
- It’s instantly available to play and learn without having to sing or clap in public so an ideal brain teaser on public transport for example.
There are many others out there that will give you some aural practice and yes, they are more like games than educational tools but any practice is good. I typed into the App Store search box “music training” and the first three pages of results found nothing over three dollars and some of those apps have very good customer ratings, despite this being a bit of a niche market.
Teachers using the ABRSM syllabus will probably justify the extra outlay for using the official apps and they do look excellent. I could see my old piano teacher, Mrs Nicholson getting excited about the format – but if you just want to dip your toe in to the water the alternatives won’t break the bank, especially the Melody Cat collection – and you come away with an achievement slightly better than the knowledge that all your pigs are dead and buried and that the Birds were angry enough to help you.
To get you started, the lovely, kind people at Melody Cat have given me some free copies to give away. Watch my twitter feed @pianomarc and follow me for a chance to win a full pro version of Rhythm Cat H.D. There’s also a give-away running on Facebook to be drawn on Sunday the 17th. March 2013