I have recently been inspired by the Duolingo app. I am something of a Luddite when it comes to technology learning. It has always seemed like a great idea, but I still seem to process information best in physical form. I prefer newspaper to websites, books to ebooks, and sheet music to iPad scores. However, I have really come to enjoy practicing languages on Duolingo. The ease of learning with this smartphone app led me to investigate what kind of music theory, sight-singing, and aural skills apps there might be out there. As it turns out, there are a TON! Unfortunately, many of them have problems. Either they are unsupported, abandoned, cost a lot, or simply don’t challenge an aspiring music major. If someone can learn language in 10 minutes a day, for free, using the technology in their pocket, why can’t they sharpen their ears and music brains?
What I was looking for were apps that sharpened the skills a freshman music major would be expected to have in music theory and aural skills classes. I also wanted a program that was easy to navigate, had supported software updates, smooth operating, and affordable price point. Characteristics I looked for were:
- Melodic inteverals, ascending and descending AND harmonic intervals
- Chord progressions in major and minor, using Roman numerals I-vii or i-VII
- Sight-Singing with increasing difficulty
- Progress tracking
- $10 or less
I found several apps to choose from. After a couple of months of testing and experimenting, here are my four top picks for ear training and music theory apps.
1. Perfect Ear Pro – EDuckAppsSV, FREE with just under $10 worth of optional add-ons
This is a really great app for theory and ear training students of all levels, featuring exercises for ear training, theory, rhythm exercises, and free form drills for daily practice. Perfect Ear Pro has adjustable difficulty levels, tracks your progress, provides a visual running line through exercises, gives you clear feedback after each example, and displays a virtual piano keyboard and staff for training exercises, allowing you to make the connection between the two. The premium content can be unlocked $.99 at a time, providing you with extra examples, exercises, and difficulties in whichever areas you need to study. Software wise, I didn’t have any issues during the testing period (running Android 6.0), and exercises and the program loaded quickly without lag.
For the money, Perfect Ear Pro should be the top choice app for all high school and undergraduate music students (or aspiring students) looking to hone their theory and ear skills.
2. MyEar Trainer – myrApps s.r.o., FREE
Coming in just a smidge behind Perfect Ear Pro, I found myself using MyEar Trainer the most frequently of any of the apps I tested. While I acknowledge that it isn’t quite as comprehensive as its top competitor, MyEar Trainer has one feature that, as a musician who is past 100 level music courses, I really came to like as I was trying it out: Exercise of the Day. Exercise of the Day randomly selects one of its bevy of exercises to test your skills. It takes only a couple of minutes to complete, and I always find it to be an enjoyable morning brain wake-up. Think of it like a musical sudoku puzzle.
MyEar Trainer has exercises for intervals, chords, scales, chord inversions, chord progressions, and a random melody ID exercise, as well as single note and melodic solfege ID exercises. Your stats are tracked in two ways: by accuracy and by date of completion, so you know how long it’s been since the last time you attempted a given exercise or level. Haven’t worked on basic 7th chords for awhile? MyEar Trainer will tell you so you don’t have to remember. This is great if you’re trying to prep for a comprehensive final exam or a large unit test. Sometimes theory and aural skills class can fixate on whatever skill is being addressed in lecture that week, and the earlier concepts fade back into the deep recesses of your memory until you are sweating it out during a test. Well, this app solves that problem for you.
Like many other free apps, MyEar Trainer does have unlockable premium content (ad removal, unlimited custom exercises). You can also register and account to sign in and use the app on multiple platforms. MyEar Trainer can be connected to several different compatible devices: electric keyboard, computer keyboard, and microphone. You don’t have to try to mash at the small keyboard on your iPhone and get frustrated by hitting the wrong key. Simply hook it up to your electric keyboard, and you can play the answer.
3. Functional Ear Trainer – Kaizen9 Apps, FREE
Much more straight-forward than the previous two apps, Functional Ear Trainer has a “Alain Benbassat method” for teaching pitch identification in a variety of contexts. Students can choose to hear a major or minor chord progression to ground their ear in a given key, then a single note is played and the student must determine what scale degree that pitch belongs to in the given progression. Not trying to be more than it is, this app practices one skill and does it well. Smooth software.
Premium content: Listener Mode (practice without touching the screen), Melodic Dictations, and Sound Plugins.
4. Sight-Sing Now – Zhen Yu Ding, FREE
The reality is that there just aren’t that many accessible sight-singing apps out there yet. If you don’t want to pay for a SmartMusic subscription, no other developer has opened up the market for sight-singing exercises that show you what notes or rhythms you sang wrong in real time. Sight-Sing Now has a variety of exercises and difficulties to choose from. However, it doesn’t correct your mistakes as you go. You record yourself singing the example, then play the correct version of the example, followed by your recorded version. It’s up to you to self-correct mistakes, which can be troublesome for beginners. Still, it’s a great starting point for most students.
Honorable Mention: Perfect Ear Trainer – Dyabolykyl Studios, FREE
Not as comprehensive or smooth as Perfect Ear Pro, this training app is still everything you need in an ear training app. You can choose to test your ear on all ascending or descending intervals, both melodic and harmonic. You can choose between three midi instruments: piano, keyboard, and guitar. If you want to narrow intervals to just two, say fourths and fifths, just select those intervals on the main screen. Perfect Ear Trainer will also track your statistics by interval, showing you which intervals you correctly identify the most frequently.