Ear Sharpener – Ear Training in Context

I have always liked this app because of the unique way that it approaches ear-training. It hadn’t been updated in a while and I was afraid that it was going to be gone shortly. Nope! In a big surprise, it was recently updated and I love the changes that were made in it. It has much more depth now and I look forward to seeing it get even better.

Many ear training apps are just interested in whether you recognize intervals or chords. Important but they aren’t always in context. That is THE thing about Ear Sharpener. All of the ear training that you do is in the context of the key.

The first level in note training starts off in the key of C and you hear a cadence IV-V-I and all you need to guess is whether the note played is a C or a G. Tonic or Dominant. The rest of the scale is shown but greyed out. I like that this keeps the overall context for inexperienced students. I love that the ear training is in the context of a key. I think that this is a much more real-world way to train your ears. (I’m not going to give up any of my other ear training apps though. I’ve covered quite a few of those in this blog. It’s something that I think is very important. I also believe that it’s important to change things up as you can get too used to an app and stop really listening to it.)

iPhone Beginner Chord Level

iPhone Beginner Chord Level

You can practice hearing the root note of chords as well. The first exercise there is almost exactly the same except instead of hearing individual notes, you hear the chords in root position.

For each level, you have to answer 20 questions correctly in a row before you move on and not to make it too easy, you have to answer within one second. There is a bpm/timer circle on the upper right above the chords, answer too slowly and you’ll get the message that you were right but too slow and the number of answers remaining goes back up to 20. Miss the answer and you’re back up 20 answers again as well. Kind of reminds me of the penny pile practice trick. I like the reinforcement.

There are four different levels for practicing.

Notes practice starts in the key of C with just I or V and goes to the key of C with all twelve notes of the chromatic scale within a one-octave range
Chord practice also starts in C with a I or V chord and goes to a Major or minor chord on any of the twelve notes of the chromatic scale.

Note practice begins with only notes in the key of C major but covers a two-octave range instead of just one. The last exercise here is all twelve notes through eight octaves.
Chord practice starts just as the beginner section ended except now the chords are in 1st inversion. It ends with an 8 octave range, Major or minor chords on any of the chromatic notes in root, first or second inversions and with closed or open voicing.

Note practice goes back to one octave only in C major but now you have to recognize two notes at once. This then works it way up to end at the ear numbing finale with all twelve notes, an eight octave range, and 11 simultaneous notes. A bit crazy but give it a go. At least it’s entertaining. There are no chords under the Advanced menu

This has chord exercises that include augmented and diminished that work their way up to that eight octave, chromatic scale, all inversions and all voicings.

There is also a custom menu here and that’s the thing that I really like for scales and note recognition. If you have a piece that you are working on in a particular key or scale, you can set that up as a custom level and have practice that is applicable to what you are currently working on musically.

iPad Custom Level Maker

iPad Custom Level Maker

You can also make custom levels for chords.

iPhone Chord Custom Level Maker

iPhone Chord Custom Level Maker

This I find a little more awkward. I really like what they’ve done with this app but I do hope there are some changes in a few areas. The chord practice is one of them. I would find it much more helpful to hear the chords within the context of the key. So in the key of C major, I would expect to hear the chord based on e as a minor chord. I don’t mind trying to stretch my ears and hear a major or minor chord for each note of a major scale but it just doesn’t usually happen like this in an actual piece of music. Also available in the custom levels, is the ability to regulate how often you hear the cadence. I’m glad that’s there because it tends to get a bit annoying to hear it between every preset exercise.

There are a few other things that I would like to see for this app to be really great. If you make a custom level, you cannot edit it. If you make a mistake, you have to delete it and start over again. Also, the iPad version is just the same as the phone version. This means that you are holding your iPad in portrait and this puts the speaker on the bottom. I’m usually leaning the iPad on something to use it and it tends to muffle the sound. I’d also like to see syncing so that you can see any custom levels that you’ve made on any of your devices without having to make them fresh for each device.

Go get this app! It’s one of the only ones that has this in-context practice.
I look forward to seeing where he is going to go with it in the future.

Ear Sharpener is a plus app from Justin Francos get it for $1.99 from the app store.

iReal Pro for Jazz and Improvisation

iReal Pro is a great app. It’s from the same people who made Drum School and has the same quality and attention to detail that really helps a practicing musician become better. Despite the fact that I play bassoon, I listen to a lot of jazz and have always wanted to get better at playing it. Maybe even composing in it at some point. I use a couple of apps to try and broaden my jazz horizons. I’ve already covered one, Anytune Pro+. iReal Pro is the other side of that coin for me. I usually choose the same tune to practice in both apps so that I am thinking about the same piece but in different ways. Anytune lets me slow down and play along with a recording. iReal Pro shows me the chord changes and with an extra purchase, the standard chords and scales that go along with those. I can also input the Jamey Aebersold exercises that I work on in iRealPro to enhance practicing those as well.

When you first open up iRealPro, it will have a few exercises in it. To add new charts, you’ll either need to go to the in-app Forum and find some to download or input some yourself. The forum has user-made charts that others have shared. These are usually very good. Occasionally there will be a chord or two that may not sound right to you but that is easily remedied as once you have downloaded a piece, you can duplicate it and edit it as well.

Editing screen of iReal Pro on the iPad

Editing screen of iReal Pro on the iPad

You can make playlists for the pieces that you are working on. (Here is the one nitty-picky gripe that I have about this app. It doesn’t open up to the last thing that you worked on. If it did that, it would be perfect.) Once you have the piece that you want to work on opened, you can change the tempo, the number of times through and the key. You can also change the accompaniment style. There used to be just a few styles given to you but in the last update to iReal Pro, they made everything free except for some new jazz styles. Alas, I really like the Blue Note style especially, so I will probably be buying this pack.

Currently the only extra to buy. They've made everything else free.

Currently the only extra to buy. They’ve made everything else free.

One of my favorite things is the Chord Scales. This used to be an in-app purchase but is now standard. It allows you to see the chord and scale for each chord in the sheet as you play. If you tap and hold on a measure, it will show you a chord and scale that is musically viable in that spot. If you tap on that, it will show you other chords and scales that would also fit and allow you to choose a different one for playback. These then show up from measure to measure while the piece is playing. A big Thank You to the developers for also making these available in bass clef. Some developers seem to forget that there are also bass instrumentalists using their apps. One thing that isn’t there but that I’d love to see is an option to show all of the different chords in a chart at once since I usually start my practice by going one by one individually through all of the chords and scales that the piece might use before I ever start playback.

Chord and scales pack showing on iPad.

Chord and scales pack showing on iPad. Bass clef is available too.

You can also use this screen to make a loop if you just want to practice a small section of your piece.

iReal Pro iOS – Chord Scales for iPhone and iPad from iReal Pro on Vimeo.

Another really handy practice aid is the ability to change the key and the tempo automatically from one repeat to another.

Make practicing more of a challenge by changing the tempo and/or the key

Make practicing more of a challenge by changing the tempo and/or the key

In iReal Pro, there is an option to play the piece from your library while you are looking at the chart. It’s a very nice touch. If the piece isn’t in your library, the app will show you if it’s available in iTunes.

Play along with iReal Pro.

Play along with iReal Pro.

There are quite a few things in this app that can help you as an educator or a collaborator. You can quickly put in the changes to a chart for your own practice or to share with your students. I put some Aebersold studies in because I can change the tempo and change the key that it starts in so I’m not always memorizing the same chord change order from the Aebersold recordings. You can share these charts with your students and others either through the forums or by emailing the charts. The developers have made it so that these can be sent as something that someone else can use regardless of whether or not they have the app. The sheet music or the audio can both be sent. And for the audio, you can send it in an audio format or in MIDI which means that you can pull it into another program on your computer or device. You can also use AudioBus or Inter-App Audio Apps to send the accompaniment to another program. Though you need to be aware if you’ve updated to iOS 8 that there are some audio issues that need to be fixed and this may not work well for you at the moment.(September 2014)

iReal Pro is from Technimo. There is a direct website for iReal Pro and you can also find them on Twitter.

iReal Pro is a plus app for $12.99 in the iTunes Store.
There are in-app purchases available for additional accompaniment styles. The app used to be a little cheaper BUT since they have made most of the old in-app purchases part of the app, the price is quite fair and less than buying the old app and all of the purchases.

It is also available through the Mac App Store for $19.99. This could make life easier if you are making a lot of charts but I find it easy enough to make them on my iPad.

They also have an Android app.

This is one of those apps that I think every musician with an iOS device should have. It’s fun and it’s very helpful for improving your musical capabilities.

Suggester Chord Progressions

This is an update to a previous post on the Suggester app.

Suggester is a chord progression tool. It is helpful if you are composing and want to generate some ideas. The app does one thing very well. That is to help you find chords that are in a scale…or a scale that goes with chords that you have chosen.
You can choose to hear your chord progression in one of three instruments: vibraphone, piano, or guitar. Originally there were nine scales to choose a from to make your chord progression. There are now fourteen different scales to choose from including Prometheus Scales from the mystic chord.*****

If you just want to hear the scale that you’ve chosen, you just tap the top bar. Once you have your chosen progression, you can listen to it, choose a tempo for it and also export it. Happily, looping has been added to this version of Suggester. I tend to play against a chord set to help generate ideas and this is very helpful to me.

Suggester - F Jazz Progression - iPad

However, exporting is still not very great. The text export isn’t very useful. You can send someone a list of your chord choices and that’s it. They are going to have to input those into whatever they are using, even if they also have Suggester. I really wish that you could send them in the “suggester format” so that the person you were collaborating with could open them directly in the suggester App. Also helpful would be the ability to sync your progressions through iCloud or Dropbox. As it is now, if you want the progression on both devices, you’ll be inputting that manually on both. It would also be really great if you could pull the MIDI export into another program on your iDevice but that is not currently possible that I have found. The MIDI export is good for pulling the chord progression into your DAW or notation software and I do use this but it’s more of a basic reminder of my original idea than something that I actually use in the piece.

Here is a sample of a G Lydian Chord progression MIDI export pulled into Logic Pro.


You can save only one of your progressions unless you upgrade from the free version. You’ll also need to do that to be able to export. Other features that are not yet available, choosing the chord voicing, the inversion of the chord and being able to alter the notes of the chord. The alter button that you see next to the chords in the progression will only let you alter the whole chord. Say you picked Am, you could select alter and then choose a different A chord instead. This doesn’t bother me too much as the UI could probably get pretty cluttered and you can always adjust this later in the program that you are using to compose with.

Suggester - Choosing an altered chord - iPad

It is now possible to choose a different bass note for your chord.

Suggester - Choosing an alternate bass - iPad

And also possible to edit your progression without deleting anything. You can drag and drop the chords into a different order in edit mode. One thing to note, you have to unlock “sharp” scales if you want to work with double sharps & double flats. Even when you unlock this, the chords can have strange spellings. Like an A major chord spelled a, d-flat, e.

One of the interesting and fun things about this app is the ability to start with the chords first and then have the app match those to a scale.

Matching a scale to your chord choices

Matching a scale to your chord choices

You are given an idea of how good the match is by percentages listed. Pretty cool. You can also transpose and rematch something that you’ve done. This is when it gets a little weird. It keeps the same exact chord and just respells them for the new key except they are sometimes spelled awkwardly and not labeled correctly. The f# chord from G Lydian to G major is still going to be a vii chord. In G lydian, it is correctly listed as a vii chord but in G major, it is only listed as an f# chord. It is still a vii chord but altered, minor rather than diminished as it would be in G major.

G Lydian Chord Progression on iPhone

G Lydian Chord Progression on iPhone

G Lydian Progression rematched to G Major

G Lydian Progression rematched to G Major





If I choose to transpose, I would expect that I would get the exact same chord progression numerals but in the new key. This however, is not the case. Instead of a I chord being a D Major chord if we move to D, It’s still a G major chord but listed as a IV instead of a I. This type of transposition could be helpful but I would prefer to have both options.

G Lydian transposed to D Major

G Lydian transposed to D Major

Despite some of the shortcomings of the Suggester app. I do like the app and would recommend it. It is quite helpful and it can be interesting to listen to the chord possibilities that you may not have considered before. There have been improvements since the last version that I reviewed and the developer seems responsive to requests.

The current version of Suggester is 1.9.9. It is a plus app and is available for free on iTunes. You will need to pay $4.99 to unlock the export and multiple progressions. The developer for Suggester is Mathieu Routier.

****Mystic chord: What a great name for what turns out to be a hexatonic scale that has a leading tone to the fifth but no fifth. This is now on my list of things to learn more about. Guess I’ll be listening to more Scriabin soon. If you want to listen to something based on that chord and scale, this is some music to go with a collection of essays titled Alexander Scriabin’s Mystic Chord as a Puppet of Heinrich von Kleist.