By the start of the 21st century, the globe had already been gripped by the digital revolution, and now computer technology is part of our everyday lives. In comparison to some hobbies, learning to play an instrument or sing can seem remarkably lo-tech. However, there’s a huge range of ways in which using technology can enhance your practice time, and help your musical studies.
When I first started taking singing lessons, my teacher gave me a cassette tape with backing tracks recorded by her accompanist and carefully copied over so I could practice with them. Aside from being awkward, this was probably borderline illegal! Now, with the wonders of iTunes and the internet, singers can gain access to an ever-increasing range of legally recorded backing tracks at modest prices. I keep all my backing tracks that I’m currently using in a special playlist on iTunes too, and now it’s all there, ready and waiting for me to plug-in some quality speakers and go for it. Click here to see my list of online shops for backing tracks.
Audio manipulation software
There are now some great little bits of software which can really enhance your music practice. Speedshifter is software produced by ABRSM which can slow down that backing track you bought without it changing the key. This comes in downloads for computer and Apple touch screen. Changing the key isn’t yet something you can do easily for free, although I’m making use of Song Surgeon’s free trial download, and they do offer an online service (although it seems to be quite glitchy so you do need to be patient).
For more complex needs, you can also get hold of Audacity which is free industry-leading open source software and allows you to do all kinds of sound production on any computer platform.
Another problem faced by singers, and other instrumentalists, is that pianos are expensive but really useful. I was lucky to have a second-hand digital piano, but for others, it was difficult to practice without any way of checking even a start note.
Now, the internet has brought the piano app! My mobile phone has an app called Musical Lite on it which has a scrolling piano for checking the pitch of musical phrases, and a metronome to help with keeping a steady rhythm. It’s not a replacement for a cheap keyboard, or a piano, but it’s definitely portable, flexible and great for beginners. Tablet piano apps are even better than the ones available on mobiles. If you don’t have a touchscreen device, you can also try this online piano and this online metronome.
Sheet music editing software
My favourite kind of technology which really helps with my practice time is music editing software. This is, essentially, a word processor equivalent for sheet music. You can enter the music into the programme and then print it out. This is great, but what it’s useful for in practice is the playback function. I regularly use my programme to type in tricky phrases so I can hear them back and concentrate on singing them rather than playing them on the piano and dividing my concentration. Sometimes, if I can’t find a backing track, I’ll type the whole accompaniment in so the computer can play it for me. You can download MuseScore for free on any platform, or use Noteflight online. There’s also Maestro (on Android), which is a good tablet app, but probably more useful for short phrases than whole accompaniments.
I hope you find all of these tips helpful, and can try some of them out in your daily practice. I’ve deliberately not looked at technology to help with exam preparation, but do follow this blog as I hope to address this in a future post.
What technology do you use to help with your music practice? Add your ideas in the comments below.