Technical Ear Training

Auricula is an ear training app that is geared towards recording and production engineers. I am neither of those but I like this app as it helps hone your listening skills in a completely different way from an ear training app in musical skills. I always feel that expanding beyond what is necessary is a great way to make your most needed skill set better. This app definitely does this for me.

auricle [aw´rĭ-k’l]
1. the projecting part of the ear lying outside the head; called also pinna. Auricle is an Anglicization of Latin auricula, from auris “ear” and -cula, a diminutive suffix.

Ear Training choices in Auricula.

Ear Training choices in Auricula.

The skills that Auricula can help you develop are:

    1. Recognizing filters & field (Core)
    1. Recognizing equalizer bands
    1. Recognizing gain amount
    1. Recognizing delay amount
  • These are pretty subtle skills in some cases but they way that the app is set up, you can hone in on any that you are having difficulty with and start getting better pretty quickly.

    Auricula lets you choose what to study in a section.

    Auricula lets you choose what to study.

    So for example, if you were having a hard time recognizing sum, you could choose only none and sum. You can see by the circle at the top right corner whether the filter is on and off and by using the app this way, you can slowly build up your recognition of all of the filters.

    Core ear training on just none and sum.

    Core ear training on just none and sum.

    One of the things that I really like about Auricula, is that you can import music from your library and use that instead of the pink noise.

    Choose your sound.

    Choose your sound.

    Each of the different exercises lets you customize the sound and the difficulty.

    Core settings page.

    Core settings page.

    Auricula is from a company named…Auricula. You can try the app for free and if you like it, and want to get rid of the annoying popups, it’s only $2.99. Or you could choose to unlock each section separately for 99¢ each. Auricula is a plus app though the iPad version is no different, just bigger. They also have AU plugins if you’d prefer to practice using your own DAW and the pieces that you are working on in those.

    If you are looking for something to help you get better as a producer or just a way to refine your listening skills, take a listen to Auricula.

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    Like a Swiss Army Knife for Audio – Audio Tool

    Audio Tool is another one of those not used all of the time but so great when you need to have it apps.

    It contains 7 tools:

    • Decibel Meter Pro 2
    • Microphone Pro
    • Tone Generator Pro 2
    • Scope Pro
    • Tempo Pro
    • Bit Calc Pro
    • Audio Atlas

    The app that I use the most of all of these is the first one, the Decibel Meter. Are you really playing that fortissimo as loudly as you think? Are the trumpets sitting behind you going to cause you hearing damage if you don’t wear earplugs? (Hint: The answer to this one is almost always yes…I have shotgun earplugs I use just for these occasions.) Find some loudness comparisons here. Also note that it only takes exposure at 90db to start causing hearing issues. There are some interesting reports that we may eventually be able to repair some hearing damage but as of now, if you lose it, it’s gone. Scary!

    Decibel Meter Pro 2 on the iPad

    Decibel Meter Pro 2 on the iPad

    Hopping off the scary soapbox now and back to the apps!

    Microphone Pro is not one that I use but if you have the right cord, it will allow you to use your device as a talk-back microphone by plugging into the headphone jack and then into powered speakers. It will amplify the input to line level, and then pass it out the headphone jack.

    Microphone Pro

    Microphone Pro

    Tone Generator Pro will give you different types of waves, pink or white noise, or sweeps. You could use these to tune an instrument if you wanted to but they are most often used to test equipment like speakers. Again, not one that I use much but it’s there if I have need of it. (Who really uses that toothpick on a Swiss Army Knife?)

    Tone Generator Pro Sawtooth wave on iPhone

    Tone Generator Pro: Sawtooth wave on iPhone

    Scope Pro looks really cool. Again, a tool that I don’t have much practical use for but it’s very pretty and you can gauge your loudness from looking at the wave form.

    Scope Pro on iPhone

    Scope Pro on iPhone

    Tempo Pro is a basic metronome. The interesting thing here is that it has tempo notations in Italian markings as well.

    Tempo Pro on iPad

    Tempo Pro on iPad

    The Bit Calc Pro is helpful if you are trying to figure out how much space you need to have to make a recording…Or what sample rate you need to use to fit on the space that you have. Very handy.

    Bit Calc Pro on iPhone. Changing the Bit Depth

    Bit Calc Pro on iPhone. Changing the Bit Depth

    The last application that is included as part of Audio Tool is an Audio Atlas that is a nice little audio encyclopedia.

    Audio Atlas on iPad

    Audio Atlas on iPad

    Audio Tool is from Performance Audio.
    You could buy any of the apps but the Audio Atlas individually for 99¢ but for $1.99, you can get all of the apps listed and any new apps that they add to the Audio Tool. The apps are well built and in specific instances, they will be exactly what you need. Audio Tool is a plus app so it will work on all of your iOS devices provided that you are running at least iOS 4.0.
    Get it here.

    Recording Your Practice Sessions with GarageBand

    There is nothing to improve your playing like recording and listening to yourself. (Sometimes, you may need chocolate after the fact but you have to do it if you want to get better! Or instead of the chocolate, see this post from The Bulletproof Musician: How to Listen to a Recording of Yourself Without Getting Depressed

    There are plenty of apps available to help you record yourself. Including the Voice Memos app that comes on your phone. However, I believe that GarageBand is one of the better tools for the job.

    First, you can easily record multiple lines in the same recording. It’s nice to see visually that one recording is a bit faster or louder or softer or whatever it is that you are fundamentally working towards on a particular piece.

    I'm faster on the latest recording. (The one above is muted currently)

    I’m faster on the latest recording.

    Second, it’s great fun and really helpful to record an accompaniment to play against. You could absolutely ask your accompanist if you could record them and use that for practicing but I like to pull the piece apart and record the piano part myself (I usually do this on bassoon, not piano. My piano playing is really great for Hot Cross Buns. Not so much for the Saint-Saëns Sonata. Though, if you are a piano player, you can attach a MIDI keyboard through the camera connection kit or use the on-screen keyboard.)
    Recording the accompaniment helps me learn the piece more thoroughly in terms of both chords and what is happening while I’m playing. I definitely listen to others playing the music if it’s available but that extra learning by doing is something that I really like.

    Liven up your scales with some Bebop drums.

    Liven up your scales with some Bebop drums.

    Other reasons to use GarageBand in your practice sessions are:

    • The ability to use drum loops to play scales or improvisations against.
    • iCloud syncing, record your piece on one iOS device but listen to it on another. (I tend to use the iPad to record but I like being able to review the recording anywhere.)
    • Recording composition ideas using live or software instruments.
    • Sharing your song to a variety of places including SoundCloud. (Your students could easily send a recording to you through the mail though it’s not possible to share to someone else’s device through iCloud or to DropBox.
    • Importing and playing against a song from iTunes as long as it is not protected.
    iCloud syncing on the iPad

    iCloud syncing on the iPad

    Limitations of GarageBand especially in the context of Classical Music include:

    • Only major or minor keys in loops.
    • Only 4/4, 3/4, or 6/8 time signatures.
    • Song Sections are only 8 bars by default.
    • These are not deal breakers for me because I turn the metronome off when recording since I’m usually trying to check how I’m doing on a piece and I wouldn’t have that metronome in a performance. When recording, GarageBand does give a lead-in of a measure which you can’t turn completely off but is easily ignored by waiting a silent measure. And for the song sections, you can manually change this but if you forget, it will most definitely stop recording. You could use the automatic setting for the song section as well but it will stop recording if you stop playing. I usually just set the section to a much larger measure number than I need so that I don’t have to worry about it.

      Increasing the bars in a Song Section

      Increasing the bars in a Song Section

      GarageBand is from Apple.
      It is $4.99 for the iOS version.
      This is a plus version so it will work on all of your iOS devices.
      Minimum requirements are iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, iPhone 4S, iPhone 5, iPod touch (3rd-current generation), and iPad. You’ll also need iOS 5.1 or later.

      GarageBand is also available for your Mac for $4.99.
      You can transfer a project from the Mac version to the iOS version through iTunes. However, most things don’t come through well and this is usually an exercise in frustration because the project from the computer is very likely not to open in the iOS version. There are however, some great things for guitar practice in the desktop version.