Written by Ayana Webb
Everyone knows that I’m the piano app queen. Especially my private students. First, I regret to inform you that Piano Tiles does not count as a useful app to learn piano, but I promise you, by the end of this article, you’ll have a list of apps that will keep you busy and interested (and your students, if you have any). Let’s take a look at some really cool apps for learning piano, sight reading, rhythm, and theory:
1. Piano Maestro: This is a hidden gem for those who haven’t heard about it. Piano Maestro is an iPad-only app that walks you through sight reading, rhythm, hand positioning, etc, and they do it step by step. You would have to know the fundamentals of piano (staff notes and the keys on the piano) before using this app. The way it works is, it’ll give you one song at a time with the notes moving across the screen, and it will “listen” for you to play the right note and at the right rhythm and score you accordingly. Once you’ve done well enough, PM will unlock the next level of songs. PM has a TON of tools for you to walk through. For each song, you can choose to “Play” the whole thing, or if you’re struggling, the songs have a “Learn” button where it breaks the song down for you. Also, as you’re playing the song, you can access features called “assists”, where you can adjust the speed of the song, you can program PM to “wait” for you to play the right note before moving to the next one, you can choose to do separate hands, and you can have PM give you the names of the notes as you go through. You can also navigate through the song itself if you want to scroll backward or forward. When you first open the app, you’ll have three options: “Journey” is where you will be given a series of songs level by level, “Library” is where you can access the song bank, exercises such as scales and chords, and method books, then “Home Challenge” is where you can find any songs and exercises your teacher gives you, if you have one. If you are a piano teacher, this app will be especially helpful to you. You can create a teacher account and connect to student accounts, which will not only allow you to assign songs to each of your students, but will give you a “student report”, where you can track your students’ progress throughout the week. You can see what songs they’ve been working on, how long they’ve been practicing, how many sessions, and you can even send them rewards! As far as price, it varies. I believe if you are learning alone, after you reach a certain level, you’ll have to start paying for the songs. I personally have the top tier teacher subscription ($19.99/mo), which allows all of my connected students to access all the songs for free and grants me the “student report” feature.
2. Tenuto: This app was created by those who created www.musictheory.net. This app is simply an exercise app, but it’s extremely powerful. You can practice your staff notes, keyboard notes, intervals, chords, inversions, scales, etc. It also has ear training exercises (it’ll play a note/chord/interval and you have to identify it). What’s cool about this app, is you can customize each of your exercises. For example, if you’re working on your sheet music notes, you can customize which staff(s) you want to work on, what range of notes for each staff, whether you want to work on lines or spaces or both, whether you want to add accidentals, etc. There’s even a “Challenge Mode” where you can either time yourself to see how many notes you get, or you can set a question limit to see how fast you can complete them. This app currently runs for a one-time fee of $3.99.
3. Rhythm Taps: This is an exercise strictly for rhythm, and it has, I think, 13 levels. It starts easy, with just quarter notes and rests. It’ll give you two measures of rhythm notes at a time to “tap”, and as you move up, the notes get more and more complex. I think when I got to level 13, they had all combinations of 16th notes and triplet 8th notes with 8th rests intertwined. It was pretty thorough. This app is free.
4. Pro Metronome: A free metronome, with which you can customize time signatures, speed, and ticking tones. Enough said there.
5. Synthesia: This is another interactive piano learning app, which teaches you in a similar way that Piano Maestro does. Synthesia can be use on an iPad or a computer. Minus the extra features such as a teacher’s report and teacher-student accounts connecting, you have a lot of the same assists that PM does, as far as changing the speed of the song, programming it to “wait” or use one hand, etc. You also have a song bank that comes with it. Besides the lack of teacher-student connection, there are three other big differences between Synthesia and PM. First, Synthesia allows both a “bird’s eye view” of the piano keys and a sheet music version. For the bird’s eye view, there are “beams” that will appear on the screen and will approach each piano key on the screen that you need to play at that time and will light up when you play them. PM does not offer that kind of feature, although I believe their version of learning sheet music does suffice. Second, if you would rather use an actual piano to work with Synthesia instead of the piano in the app, you will need to connect the iPad/computer to an electronic keyboard, as Synthesia only interprets your performance via MIDI (”Musical Instrument Digital Interface”, which I’ll cover in another article). It’s not able to “hear” the notes you play like PM can. Third, if you arrange music via MIDI like I do, you’ll love the fact that Synthesia can process your music and turn your song into a lesson. All you have to do is record two MIDI tracks: one for the left hand/lower notes and another for the right hand/higher notes. You export it as a MIDI file and open it with Synthesia. Synthesia will automatically detect the lower notes as “left hand” and the higher notes as “right hand” and process your song accordingly. This works great for teaching your arrangement to someone else. Unfortunately, PM does not have this feature. Synthesia is free to download, but to unlock the entire app, as of this article’s publishing date, they have a winter sale for a one-time $29 fee.
I’ve tested out other apps, such as Yousician and Piano Dust Buster, but I wasn’t a really big fan of their curriculum, and they were a little confusing for my students. I’ll be exploring new apps as I go along, and when I run into more useful apps, I’ll be sure to share them with you guys! To learn more about my Online Piano Course for Beginners, Click Here.