Review: Notation Trainer Android App

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Concept and Features

Notation Trainer is an incredible Android app created to help musicians improve their sight-reading skills.  Designed by London-based music tutor Stuart Bahn, Notation Trainer generates original sight-reading exercises to musicians’ exact requirements.  

“To be able to perform music from written notation takes hundreds of hours of practice”, Stuart says. “The problem for many musicians is finding fresh scores that perfectly match their current level of ability. Once a score becomes familiar, it is performed at least partly from memory. Consequently the performer is not putting their reading skills to the test as effectively as they would with a previously unseen score. I developed this app to provide musicians with a solution to this problem. Instead of buying lots of expensive exercise books, now they can buy a single low-cost app”.

Notation Trainer allows musicians, of any instrument, to choose the clef, set the key signature, the range of notes and the maximum size of intervals between them.  A 100 note exercise is then created for the musician to perform as they scroll across the screen of their Android phone or tablet.  

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Hands On

I tested Notation Trainer on a Kindle Fire 7″ Tablet and found the app super simple to use, with an easy to navigate interface.  After launching the app you simply click the settings button which allows you to choose from Treble, Bass, or C Clef (alto or tenor), set the minimum and maximum range of the notes presented, as well as the maximum interval between notes, and the key signature.  Once all your settings are in line you click “Apply and launch new session” and you are ready to go. Finally, before starting your exercise session, you can choose the speed at which the notes scroll by with a simple 1 to 10 slider.  Clicking the “Start Session” button gives you a 3 count and away you go with a fresh set of 100 notes.  A pause/unpause button is provided in case you need to stop along the way.  Another great feature is that the screen stays on as long as the app is running so you don’t have to worry about your screen timing out half-way through your session.    

Sight-reading is one of those skills that musicians need to work on constantly to keep up their chops up and Notation Trainer is just the tool to do that.  I love that you can start dead simple with a limited range of notes and intervals at a very slow pace and increase your range and speed as you progress.  My reading skills are mediocre at best, but I was able to jump right in and start using the app without any issues.  After working with Notation Trainer for a week I feel I am already making great progress.  

It is a very simple app with few bells and whistles but it does a good job at training you to read notation in a fun dynamic way.

 

https://youtu.be/uD3n5dQgx14


Notation Trainer os distributed via several channels including Google Play http://goo.gl/nq7zsc and Amazon http://goo.gl/oQWPNF

 

10 iPad Music Apps Worth Checking Out

More and more I find myself using my iPad for music related activities.  Whether it is reading articles, studying theory, plugging my bass into it to practice, learning new songs, or recording and sharing music, as they say, “There’s and App for that”.  Below are 10 apps that I currently use on a regular basis, with the omission of GarageBand as that it seems that it is such an essential music app that it has already been covered ad-nausea.

 

Tenuto is a great Music Theory learning app from the folks at MusicTheory.net.  Tenuto features a set of 12 customizable exercises created to help you master key theory concepts, including Note, Key Signature & Chord identification, Keyboard-based exercises, Fretboard-based exercises, Ear Training exercises as well as specialized Calculators.

Music Theory Lessons, also from MusicTheory.net, is a collection of 39 music theory lessons from the musictheory.net site.  The lessons start with the very basics of music theory and then build up to more complex topics.  Along with Tenuto, this app has added a whole new dimension to my musical studies.

Songsterr Plus is a tab player, song learning app which features midi and notation as well as tab.  Connected to the huge (80,000 song) catalog at Songsterr.com, the app provides support for a variety of instruments and features a “Realistic Guitar Engine”, which sounds better than your typical midi fare.

Guitar Pro is a song learning tool, similar to Songster, which allows you to add your own files.  A Guitar or Bass Fretboard or Virtual Keyboard are also included at the bottom of the screen to further enhance the experience.  Guitar Pro additionally allows you to transpose songs by Half-Tones and adjust the Tempo on the fly.

iReal b – Formally called “The iReal Book” this is app is just that, iReal B is the standard book of chord charts for a large variety of music.  Features included a midi player, a tempo slider, and a basic mixer so you can bring your instrument up or down in the mix.

Ampkit is a free Amp Simulator featuring the Peavey ValveKing as its main amp.  As with most amp simulator apps it is geared mostly towards guitarists but I was pleasantly surprised at the tone I could get out of the ValveKing when I ran my bass through it.  As that my bass sounded good through the guitar amp I decided to buy the “American Bass King” bass amp sim via in-app purchase.  The app includes a tuner, recording capabilities, a backing track to jam along to, as well as the ability to play along with songs in your music library.

PocketGK is essentially a GK amp on your iPad.  I really want to love this app, especially since is it currently the only bass specific Amp Simulator out there, but it just doesn’t do it for me.  I upgraded to the paid version hoping to find what I was looking for as that it gives you a bit more EQ control than the free version, but sadly I am not impressed.  To me the sound is too aggressive, like playing through a guitar amp sim.  My active basses sound overdriven, and there does not seem to be any way to attenuate this.  Passive basses do better, but again, for my tastes the tone is a bit too aggressive.  I keep going back to it, hoping to hit on tone nirvana, but I haven’t found it yet.

SoundCloud is a social media type sharing app that allows you to record yourself and share it with others on the SoundCloud.com site as well as Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and Foursquare.  The app also allows you to discover music others have posted and comment on their music, just as they are free to comment on yours.  Soundcloud seems like a pretty cool app especially when you discover that some of your favorite artists use it to post snippets of their up coming albums or just share tracks that they otherwise would not distribute.

Band of the Day is a cool new app I recently discovered that features a new artist or band every day.  Artist Bio’s and reviews are provided along with a sampling of tracks plus videos.  Most of the bands are ones I have not heard of, but that’s what makes it cool!

NPR Music has a newly released iPad app that brings together all of the great musical goodness that we have come to expect from NPR.  All Songs Considered, World Cafe, First Listen and Song of the Day are all showcased here as well as access to live music streams from more than 100 public radio stations.

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