Review: Notation Trainer Android App


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.  


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.

Notation Trainer os distributed via several channels including Google Play and Amazon


NorCal Jazz Presents the JazzDeck â„¢


After reading Brian Fox’s glowing editorial about the JazzDeck in the May issue of Bass Player Magazine, I decided to order a set and check it out for myself.  Visually, the JazzDeck is a thing of beauty.  The cards are well laid out and easy to read and include a couple of instructional cards to hep you get up to speed quickly.  Music theory is an area I am constantly trying to improve in, so for me the JazzDeck seems like the perfect tool to help me start incorporating theory concepts into my playing.  Once I’ve spent some quality time with the deck I will post a full review, but for now here is the official press release:

NorCal Jazz Presents the JazzDeckâ„¢

Textbook in a Box: The FASTEST Way To Sound Great Playing Jazz
SAN FRANCISCO, CA (May 13, 2014) – NorCal Jazz is proud to introduce the JazzDeck, a musical “textbook in a box” that helps players of all levels build confidence and sharpen their chops as jazz soloists.

In the classroom, on the bandstand, or at home in the woodshed, the JazzDeck enables students, teachers, and professionals to explore melodic ideas crucial to any chord they might encounter, whether on a simmering ballad or a burning bebop standard. By breaking down the complex-and often overwhelming-lexicon of jazz into tangible tidbits of musical information, the JazzDeck arms players with the know-how they need to sound great.

Comprised of 54 high-grade playing cards color-coded by chord type, the JazzDeck systematically illustrates the ways to excel as a soloist. Each card presents players with the basic notes necessary to sound good over a given chord, followed by those they need to know to sound great. With its elegant presentation and multi-dimensional, non-notation platform, the JazzDeck is especially suited to players of any stage who might find traditional music notation and theory intimidating.

With inspiring quotations from landmark musicians and brilliant thinkers on each card, the JazzDeck is a classroom-ready textbook, meeting Common Core Standards by inviting interdisciplinary discussion.

A powerful tool for students, teachers, and professionals, the JazzDeck is poised to become the next big thing in jazz education.

Also offered in Japanese and German, the JazzDeck is available for $19.95 at


About NorCal Jazz

A seasoned professional on stage and in the classroom, NorCal Jazz founder and JazzDeck author Brian Switzer has an award-winning track record of teaching students privately and in public schools, and has toured as a featured trumpet player in such bands as Train, Muse, and O.A.R. For more information, visit

Review: Essential Music Theory for Electric Bass

It’s funny how sometimes you can hang on to something for a long time but never actually get around to using it until years later.  Such is the case for me with Robby Garner’s book “Essential Music Theory for Electric Bass“. Honestly, I bought this book back in the mid-nineties, before the World Wide Web was the phenomena it is today.  If I recall correctly I ordered it through a mail-order ad I found in the back of Bass Player Magazine.  At the time my knowledge of Music Theory was primitive at best. I had taken a couple of music classes at Community College, but never really understood the whole mechanics of it.  When I received the book I set to work on it, completed the first chapter, and as I did with most instructional books of this type back then, put it on a shelf, not looking at it again in earnest until very recently.  Back then I had no real comprehension of theory at all.  I was playing in a punk band and had hoped the book would make me a better player.  Unfortunately for me, I had at that point received no formal training on how to play the bass and was pretty much winging it.  As such, I just did not possess the discipline needed to sit down and work through these types of books.  The thing about me though is, I know when I find a good thing, and I hang on to it.  Fast forward 15+ years, and I still have a very usable book that I am just now truly utilizing.

Essential Music Theory for Electric Bass is a fantastic introduction to music theory concepts as applied to the electric bass.  Aimed at the complete beginner, this book covers intervals, triads, major/minor scales, and harmonization of the major and minor scales.   Well written and easy to understand, the book is so well laid out that it almost seems effortless to follow along. Filled with clear explanations and diagrams, it immediately switched a light on in my head, finally I started to get it.

essential-music-theory-for-electric-bass-robert-garner-paperback-cover-artEach chapter finishes up with a set of review questions allowing you to test your knowledge before moving on.  Once you’ve mastered all 6 chapters, there is Final Review at the end.  The review questions can really be a challenge if you are new to theory, but at the same time, they help you to absorb the material in a meaningful way. It can take a while to work through some of them but it is worth it.

While mainly aimed at the beginner, even an old dog can learn a thing or two from this book. If you are a bass player of any level and want to gain a better understanding or solidify your knowledge of Music Theory, this is definitely a good place to start.



Where the Twain Shall Meet: Returning to Teach Me Bass Guitar

Funny thing happened to me while studying music theory, after a certain point things stopped making sense to me. I was fine with Intervals, Triads, Seventh Chords, and have even improved my music reading ability, but when I started studying modes I began to feel lost. After reviewing modes a few times, and still not really getting it, I decided to crack open my Teach Me Bass Guitar book to remind myself what Lesson 13 had in store for me. You may recall that upon completion of Lesson 12 I had decided to take a break from TMBG to go back and shore up my music theory knowledge via the International Institute of Bassists Music Theory course as well as a couple of other books that I have picked up along the way. Well, low and behold, what you know, Lesson 13 of TMBG is all about the Diatonic Modes!

Putting it All Together

Seems I truly have been shoring up the concepts I have learned from Roy in the past 12 lessons and now that I am facing the unknown, it’s not clicking for me. This really brought it full circle for me and made me realize that it is time to return to TMBG. It seems that I am better able to grasp the concepts as presented by Roy, perhaps I’ve grown use to his style over the past 12 lessons, or maybe his style of teaching just appeals to me more, whatever the reason I know it is time to get to work on Lesson 13.


On a related note, for the past month or so I have been mainly focusing on materials other than Teach Me Bass Guitar, and now that I am returning to it I have realized a couple of things. First, I can truly appreciate how well the course is laid out and how clear and organized the book is. Additionally, it is nice to see everything in a decent sized font! Some of the text in other materials that I have been studying have been so small that I had to wear my reading glasses while playing, something I have never felt the need to do with Teach Me Bass Guitar. And finally, Roy’s guidance through the course has been invaluable, having him walk you through the lessons via the DVD’s, providing insight and humor along the way is what really makes this course special. Anyway, I’m glad to be back at it, good times are ahead I am sure!

Anyone else have similar experience? Drop me note or leave a comment, I’d love to hear about it!

New Practice Routine for 2012

In an attempt to get myself to hunker down and get a handle on music theory, and to break myself from some bad habits that I have developed, I decided to revamp my practice routine.  As you see my primary focus will be on learning and practicing the foundations, while continuing to work on Teach Me Bass Guitar.  As always, this will be a work in progress, allowing me to tweak things as needed.  I’ve already gone through this routine a couple of times now and am realizing that I know more than I gave myself credit for.  My hope is that this more rounded routine will keep me on track and allow me to advance in TMBG while continuing to work on the basics.


  1. Theory – Mainly working out of “Essential Music Theory for Bass”
  2. Warmup – Working out of “Bass Fitness” Book
  3. Scales – Mainly working out of the “Bass Guitar Scale Manual”
  4. Bass Aerobics – Working out of Jon Liebman’s book
  5. Teach Me Bass Guitar Lessons
  6. Sight Reading/Ear Training – Various sites & iPad Apps
  7. Free Jam – Playing along to my iTunes library

Weekly Ramble 11/11/11

12 Major ScalesLooking at today’s date I feel like I should be writing about Lesson 11 of Teach Me Bass Guitar instead of Lesson 12.  I am glad to say, however, that I have spent the last week working on Lesson 12, working through the video as much as I could as well as reviewing the material in the book.  I did run into a little difficulty with the material but cannot say for sure if it is an error in the book or if I somehow missed something.  I have posted a question for Roy on the Thunder Row forum and plan to review the video again more thoroughly.

This week I ended up devoting more time to studying music theory, specifically the Cycle of 5th’s, than I did playing.  I figured now was the time to buckle down and figure this out before trying to move on with only a vague understanding of the underlying theory involved here.  The Cycle of 5th’s is not a new concept to me, but I honestly never quite understood what it was or how it applied.  After much studying on the subject, using both the TMBG materials as well as a few other books I have, Wednesday night I finally had a “Light Bulb” moment and things started to make sense to me.  Now I’m not claiming to fully understand it all yet, but I do see how the Cycle of 5th’s works and how I can use it when practicing.  Once I grasped the concept I felt like all of the bits and pieces of music theory that I have learned all came together.  Things are really starting to make sense to me, which is a very cool feeling.  I can’t wait to grab my bass and start working through scales using the Cycle of 5th’s.  I’m actually excited to practice, which is awesome.  Once I work out a few more things I should be ready to post my full review on Lesson 12 so keep an eye out for it in the next week or so.  For now, thanks for reading and keeping it low.


IIB: Music Theory for the Bass – Lesson’s 3 & 4

Sorry for the delay on my reviews of the IIB Music Theory for the Bass Course.  It seems my life has gotten very busy as of late, guess it’s just that time of year.  Even with the delay in the course I am finding that it is too much for me to keep up with on a weekly basis.  I have decided not to rush things as that this is something I truly want to learn and get the most out of.  As such, it is going to take me more than one week to work through each lesson.  My plan now is to continue working at my own pace, while posting a quick review of each lesson as it comes.  In this way I can give you readers an idea of what each lesson holds, even though I may not yet be on that lesson.  If time permits I may post quick updates as to my status in the course as well as my insights.

Lesson 3 of Music Theory for the Bass is centered around Seventh Chords and how to use them to construct bass lines and solos over specific chord types.  Next we look at Chord Sequences and how they are used in music composition and improvisation.  There are only a limited number of Seventh Chords and Chord Sequences which we are instructed to break down and work on one a day until we have them all down.  From here we look at how seventh chords can be arranged into a variety of 4-note cells which are referred to as Chord Cells.  We then look at the different Chord Symbols to learn how to recognize the various ways Chords are written in music notation.  This leads us to a discussion on notation that is used specifically for bassists, such as the marking and symbols for slapping, tapping, bowing, etc.  Next we continue our note studies looking at the notes from the open strings to the 5th frets working through several choruses of the 12-bar blues to help us with note recognition.  Lesson 3’s Rhythm Studies have us working with Half, Quarter & Eight Notes, initially without our bass as that we are mainly focusing on the rhythmic recognition as opposed to note recognition.  We wrap things up with some Ear Training applying our 3-step exercise to seventh chords.  Lesson 3 also includes a set of MP3’s of Seventh Chord which we can use to play over and practice the seventh chords across the entire span of the fretboard.

Lesson 4 introduces us to the Modes in the Major Scale with a reminder that scales are the fundamental building blocks of music.  We are then presented with a collection of Scalar Exercises to help us internalize the sounds of scales as well as expand our fretboard familiarity.  Next we look at Scale Cells and how to utilize scale fragments.  On the notation side of things we talk about different Key Signatures and how to identify them.  For note studies we are presented with a collection of basic rock lines to aid us in recognizing notes on the fingerboard and staff.  Eighth Note Triplets are what is on tap for our Rhythmic Study exercises in this lesson, once again starting out without our bass to truly focus on just the rhythm.  As always, we finish up with a bit ear training focusing on the Modes of the Major scale by applying our 3-step process we learned in Lesson 1.  Lesson 4 almost seems a little shorter in content than the previous lessons, but believe me, there is a lot of information to absorb here.

Some of this stuff is still a bit over my head, but as I continue to work through the lesson’s it is beginning to make more and more sense to me.  This 12 week course may take me much longer than the 12 weeks to get through, but I am confident that once I do, my musical knowledge, and my bass playing, will be at a whole new level.

IIB: Music Theory for the Bass – Lesson 2

You ever feel like there just aren’t enough hours in the day to do what you want to do?  I’ve been feeling that way a lot lately.  First let me say that I am really enjoying the International Institute of Bassists Music Theory Course, but I was totally unprepared for the amount of time, and work, that I would need to put into it.  Cliff Engel provides a wealth of information, in an easy to understand format.  I look forward to each new lesson and go to bed at night with theory concepts running through my head.  My main area of difficulty is finding the time to read through it all, work through the exercises on my bass, and keep up with my lessons in Teach Me Bass Guitar.  Okay, enough of my whining, on to Lesson 2.

Lesson 2 of Music Theory for the Bass introduces us to Triads.  What they are, how they’re used, triad sequences, and triad cells.  Coming into this I was familiar with the term, Triads, and had a basic understanding of what they were, but wow!  I had no idea what sequences or cells were, or how important triad are in music.  Definitely an eye opener for me.  I’m still trying to wrap my mind around the entire concept, but I’m getting there.  Additionally,  Signs and Terms are covered in lesson 2, which turn out to be very important when sight reading.  Next up is note studies on the fretboard between the open and 3rd frets.  Here we start to break down the task of learning the notes on the fretboard a little at a time.  This is followed by working through a series of rhythm studies and ends with a bit of ear training with triads.  A lot of information for one lesson to say the least.  I’m starting to get how the flow of this course is working, but need to devote more time to it if I want to succeed.

On a sad note, tonight I received an email from Cliff informing us students that he would have to delay Lesson 3 for a week or two as that his Father has past away.  Having lost my Dad this past August, I know, first hand, the emotional impact this causes.  My heart goes out to Cliff and his family in this very difficult time.

IIB: Music Theory for the Bass – Lesson 1

This past week I started the Music Theory Course on the International Institute of Bassists website.  At some point on Sunday evening I received an email letting me know that I could log-in to the course and download this weeks material.  After navigating to the site and clicking on the link to Lesson 1, I found a number of PDF’s to download.  I quickly downloaded all there was and then opened the first one, which was an introduction to the course letting me know how things are going to work and what to expect.  Also included was “A Guide To Practicing”, which gives tips on, you guessed it, how to get the most out of your practice sessions.  Some very useful information here to say the least.  Lesson 1 covers the basics such as, Notes on the Fretboard, Notation, Note & Rest Values, as well as Intervals, and Relative Pitch Ear Training.

When I first started reading through the material I must admit, I felt a bit overwhelmed.  There is a lot of information here, and this is just the first lesson!  Once I had a chance to read through the material and absorb it a little more I realized that I know most of this stuff already.  I have attempted to read music several times, so I know the basics, which is what lesson 1 presents.  I quickly discovered that intervals are probably my weakest spot here so I will need to spend a little extra time on this area.  Finding the time to work on my theory lessons as well as continue working on Teach Me Bass Guitar is going to be a challenge.  Most of my time this past week was eaten up with this theory course.  I tried to fool myself into thinking that as this is the first week of the course it is necessary, but I now realize that this course is only going to get more difficult for me.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m up for the challenge, plus the course is only 12 weeks, so there is a light at the end of the tunnel.  Who needs sleep anyway!

As always, I’ll keep you posted as to my progress, so you can expect weekly posts from me on this subject going forward.  Thanks for reading.