SingTrue for Vocal Ear Training

SingTrue is an ear training and singing app from Easy Ear Training. It bills itself as an app that can help anyone sing in tune. It seems to be marketed to people who think that they might be tone deaf, which is unfortunate. (This company does have an app to test for that though.) Makes me remember those poor people in sight-singing sessions who couldn’t match the note that they were given. I always felt so bad for them. Once they missed the first one and got nervous, it was all downhill.

The ear training in SingTrue starts off very simply in the “Ears” section with questions about whether a note is lower or higher than another, whether a pitch is the same or different, and whether a sweep tone is going up or down. The “Voice” section starts off by asking you to sing anything so that you are starting in a comfortable range that you have chosen. After that, you practice keeping the note steady. You do need to complete certain trials before other exercises open up for you. If you make too many mistakes, you lose a heart. If you lose too many hearts, you either have to pay for more, or come back later. This is true even if you pay to unlock all of the Modules. For me, the most interesting thing about this app is that it is a really great ear training tool. It may teach you to sing in tune but it won’t make you a good singer by itself. I had to remind myself to hold the device out in front of me so that I wasn’t trying to sing hunched over while trying to see the screen. But I love that instead of just randomly testing intervals, the training is in context of a scale and builds up to exercises that ask you to randomly sing any of the scale tones after only giving you the tonic.

Relative Pitch

Ears – Voice – Mind

The best ear training in this app is the exercises that ask that you to sing pitches. If you can’t read music, it won’t matter because the exercises are in solfège. I like that the notes are not all in a line across but situated vertically. I think that it helps to remind a student which are the higher notes. You get a visual helper as well as an aural reminder of the scale that you are working on.

Pentatonic Scale

Pentatonic Scale Practice

Every once in a while during an exercise, the app will replay the notes or scale that you are working on in a different key and then asks you to identify the notes again. In the beginning voice exercises, you have a “tuner” with the circle that you are supposed to hit and you’ll see if you are too high or low. You do get a chance to correct yourself but only if you do it quickly. I think that’s great. Either you know the note to sing or you don’t. No fishing around for it.

IMG_2620

Practicing with tuner target.

When you first start working on a section, SingTrue will play you the whole scale before asking you to identify notes. From there, you’ll be asked to sing “blindfolded” and you won’t have the target tuner anymore. The last exercise from each section, called “From the root” will only give the tonic and ask that you sing or audiate (hear in your mind) the notes yourself. I really appreciate how they build up to that. Practicing picking the notes off from just the tonic is so good for increasing your ear’s abilities. I love it. Right now, the only exercises are do-re-mi, major pentatonic, and minor pentatonic.

Vocal Practice

Vocal Ear Training Section – iPhone

For me, having to sing the notes of the scales is the best thing about this app. The “instrumental” sections under “Ears” where you are supposed to select the notes being played are good because they are also in the context of a scale. However, having to sing forces you to actively participate in the learning. For me, this will always be a better learning experience and you and your students will get more out of that section.

I really like this app but there are a few things about it that I think could be better. First off, the user interface is a bit strange. Once you go through the first section and sing your pitch and get tested, you probably won’t want to see that again. Why not have the “Relative Pitch” section be the first thing that you see after having finished the “Pitch” section? That is where you are going to want to spend most of your time. I’d also like to see syncing through iCloud. If you have this app on more than one device, you’ll have to start from the beginning again the first time that you use it. Those are minor issues though. The one thing that I find the most fault with is that when the keys change in the exercises, your singing range doesn’t seem to be taken into account. By all means, help me stretch my range but the app doesn’t accept octave displacement as a correct answer. Therefore, if you are struggling to get up to a pitch, the app should give you a lower key much sooner than it seems to currently or change it so that I can choose to have it accept octave displacement as well.

Here’s a video from SingTrue if you want to see it in action:

SingTrue is a plus app from Easy Ear Training and is free to try. There are in-app purchases if you want to add the vocal exercises. You can buy them individually or pay a one-time fee to get them. This is what I did but keep in mind that the last app update was in January of 2015 so I am not sure when or if more updates will be coming. I really hope they do because I’d love to see vocal training on chord inversions as well as more scale types to train on. If you want to contact them, they are on Twitter.

My Top Apps Added in 2015

Trying to do something a bit different at the end of 2015. I wanted to give a shout out to the ten apps that are new to me this year that I really liked. They aren’t necessarily music apps but ones that I think are great, that I really like, or that I use a lot. The list is in no particular order. I hope that you have lovely holidays and that the new year will bring great opportunities. Cheers!

1. Omnifocus 2 from Omnigroup

Omnifocus 2 on iPad

I use this all day everyday. It’s the only way that I stay organized on projects and to-do’s. I have it on all of my devices and am including this app because they released a new version this year.
Omnifocus is what I use to follow (or try to…) the GTD ideas of David Allen. If you haven’t read that book, and you are a musician with lots of rehearsals, concerts, reedmaking, teaching, etc. to do, you might want to give it a look. Getting Things Done – David Allen

The great thing about Omnifocus is the same reason that some folks have a hard time using it, you can adjust it to what works best for you and you may have to tweak things depending on your area of focus. As a musician, there are certain things that I have to do every day and this is a great way to track that as well as more ambitious projects. Highly recommend. And yes, it’s more expensive than your average app and yes, it’s completely worth it.

The basic version of Omnifocus is a plus app for $39.99 on iOS and the basic Omnifocus for Mac is also $39.99. Also note that they have a free trial download available for the Mac version.

2. Reps & Sets
Reps & Sets on iPhone

I really like this app because it tracks both what weight you are using for an exercise and timing between reps. I used to have to use a couple of apps for tracking workouts like this but with Reps & Sets I only have to use one app. It also has some nice feedback for you in terms of charts and history. I’m not saying that you’ll go to the gym more often but you’ll be able to see how you are doing and more easily track what you are doing while you’re there.

Reps & Sets is an iPhone app available for $1.99 on the app store.

3. Steve Reich’s Clapping Music

iPhone showing main rhythm notation

I wrote a post on this app in 2015. It’s free and really fun. A great example of connecting with your audience in a fun way while teaching and testing them at the same time.

Clapping Music is a free plus app in the iTunes store

4. Pixelmator

Pixelmator brush picker on iPad

This is another app that I have both on iOS and Mac. Edit your photos, Paint digital pictures. Easy to use and amazingly inexpensive for all that it can do. You can work with vector art on the Mac version. Pixelmator continues to get better with every update.

Pixelmator is a plus app for $4.99 on iOS and is also available for Mac for $29.99

5. Star Walk 2 from Vito Technology

Star Walk 2 iPad

If you enjoy looking at the stars or you ever wonder what planet or constellation that you see in the sky or wonder where the space station is currently located, this is the app. It is so cool to move the device around and see the constellation overlay move with you. This app makes you remember why you think today’s technology is so amazing.
Star Walk 2 is available for $2.99 and is a plus app.

6. Tempo Advance from Frozen Ape

iPhone 32nd, dotted-16th rhythm in portrait.

I reviewed this one this year not long after I got it. I use this metronome almost every day. Being able to program rhythms in is so helpful to practicing. I really appreciate being able to save practice playlists as well. There’s a lot of depth to this app and it’s well worth exploring.

It is a plus app for $3.99 from the iTunes store

7. Fiddlewax from Adam Kumpf

E-Major in Analog mode on iPhone...notice the Eb diminished chord

This one was also reviewed this year. It’s got a lot to offer and I use it quite often when I’m working on transcribing or composing.

A free download on iTunes

8. Paprika Recipe Manager from Hindsights Lab

Paprika iPad

If you like to cook, this will be a great app for you . This is another one that ended up on all of my devices. It’s so easy to save recipes from websites and it will easily make a grocery list from the recipes that you choose. It has timers to use while cooking and the sync between devices is great. It’s very well made. I highly recommend.

It is a plus app for $4.99 on iOS but you can get it for many other devices, Mac, Windows, Android, Kindle, etc.

9.  Monument Valley from UsTwo

Monument Valley on iPad

This game is so pretty and it so cool to see the way things move and how your brain gets tripped out by the Escher qualities of the paths. They wisely make it really easy to take screenshots that you can use as wallpaper on your device. I plan on buying the second installment of this game. My overused word for this year is lovely but I’m going to use it one more time about this app. I highly recommend this lovely app.

Monument Valley is a plus app priced at $3.99.

10. Workflow from DeskConnect

Workflow iPad

I still haven’t learned all of the ins and outs of this app yet but I love the possibilities for making workflows using multiple apps. Also being able to get to the workflows on the Notifications screen is great. Often, only a tap or two will get you what you need even if the workflow is using multiple apps. Plus many of my favorite apps are starting to take advantage of Workflow and making it easier to automate their app.

Workflow is a plus app available for $2.99.

See you next year!

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.

Beginner:
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.

Intermediate:
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.

Advanced:
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

Extra:
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.

Orphion iOS Synth

Orphion is one of those cool little apps that are a lot of fun to play with and generate ideas with. I love the way that different touches will bring out different sounds. One of which has a very Shamisen sound to it.

The user guide only shows three gestures but I find that you can get a fourth more thunky percussion sound if you are in the right spot.

Orphion Touches

Though you can hear in the recording below that it is hard to get that sound consistently.

There are both iPhone and iPad versions of Orphion, the iPhone version is called Orphinio. I prefer the iPad version because you can buy in-app a way to make your own pad layouts and use whatever notes or scale that you want to experiment with. Including how they are tuned. This is helpful as a way to arrange the chords and scales into a setup that makes sense to you, your hand size and the piece you are trying to play. You can share these layouts or download other people’s. I do like the fact that in your own layouts, you can change the tuning of a note. The sample below is showing you a Hungarian minor scale which is basically a minor scale with a sharp four and sharp seven. I didn’t like the way the C chord was sounding so I lowered the e-natural tuning a little.

iPad Orphion Build your own

There are some pre-loaded layouts available that include a piano-style layout and a blues scale layout. On the iPhone, the piano layout is helpful to working out or generating ideas. I think it is much more accommodating to a person’s hand than a really teeny-keyed piano app.

iPhone Orphion Piano Layout

There is an option only on the iPhone to select notes and have them play by shaking the phone. The sound that you can get with that is interesting but not something that I use often. The iPhone comes with 9 layouts. You cannot add any others.

One of the nice touches in Orphion is that in transposition, the layout holds it’s place so if you change the key, the pad that was the tonic will remain the tonic…just in the new key. One little gripe here is that the key name changes might give you some odd note names. For example if you are in c minor, the e-flat could be called a d-sharp. You can change the labels in your own layouts though.

One very cool use of Orphion is as a MIDI device and another app as the sound source. This is especially great with the Animoog app. The small keys there can sometimes be an issue but with the different gestures and glide available, you can set yourself up nicely to use Animoog’s great sounds with Orphion’s great gestures. However, be aware that this is not the easiest thing to record on the iPad itself. You can record within the Orphion app and export it but these are rudimentary controls at best. Once you start involving another app as a sound source, it might work and it might not. GarageBand for example, would not take more than 3 simultaneous notes while trying to record even through inter-app audio. Best to try and record directly into the computer if you truly want to record Orphion using the Animoog sound.  You will lose the easy editing of MIDI if you do it this way but keep the Animoog sound. You may also have to adjust some of your settings. I found that I really had to bump up the levels while recording the Orphion app straight into Logic. In terms of using the Orphion sound, you can record that directly into something like GarageBand on the iPad and it is compatible with the Audiobus app as well. It is quite easy to setup a network session with your desktop DAW and record Orphion directly into that either as audio to keep the Orphion sound or MIDI to keep all of the gestures intact. This works best with a software instrument that uses all of the MIDI information available. Otherwise, I would just use a regular MIDI keyboard and not go to the trouble of hooking up Orphion.

Recorded MIDI from Orphion into Logic. I did tweak it a bit but that is the great reason to use MIDI. The sound is from the Sculpture Synth, a very fun sound generator.

I like the Orphion app. It’s a lot of fun to play with and with the right equipment, can be used as an interesting sound source.

Orphinio is available for iPhone for $0.99 from the App store. Orphion for iPad for $3.99 plus $0.99 in-app purchase for the layout editor which I highly recommend.

Orphion is from Bastus Trump and you can connect with him on the Orphion website.

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.