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Musicians' Corner August 2015

Technology in Tempo: How Your Smartphone Can Make You a Better Musician

August 11, 2015

Smartphone App

Thanks to the marvels of modern technology, communication and procuring information have never been easier. The smartphone's ubiquitous presence in our culture enables us to do everything from paying bills to playing games...all with the simple tap of a finger. But, did you know your smartphone can actually help you become a better musician? While there's no substitute for good old-fashioned practice, your smartphone is a powerful tool that can help you achieve rhythmic stability, improve intonation, and - believe it or not -serve as an impartial critic who points out flaws in your playing! So, if your music teacher told you to turn off your smartphone and put it away when you enter the practice room, here are some reasons why you should keep it nearby and turned on...

As everyone with a smartphone knows, there are apps for nearly everything. The term "app" is an abbreviation for "application software" - computer programs designed to run on mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets. There are email apps, gaming apps, banking and finance apps, shopping apps, social media apps, and productivity apps specifically developed to help one work more efficiently. Included among the thousands of available productivity apps are a number of music tools, such as metronomes and tuners. Many of these apps are free and each is designed to perform a specific function. For example, some chromatic tuners utilize a "note wheel" interface (designed to read like a compass with a needle that indicates the sharpness or flatness of a pitch); strobe tuners, considered the most accurate type of tuner, gauge not only the intonation of a fundamental pitch, but each partial within the overtone series; guitar tuners use equal-temperament tuning (each pitch separated by the same interval) within the specific range of the guitar.

Metronome apps are no less complex in their variety of options. The simplest metronome apps offer a beat-range from 30 to 250 clicks per minute. More complex apps offer subdivisions (eighth notes, triplets, sixteenth notes, etc.), accents, tapping features to gauge tempo, and meter customizations. Many of these tuner and metronome apps incorporate the same features as their traditional counterparts - at a fraction of the price or at no cost at all! So, which tuner and metronome apps should you choose? The answer depends on your ability level and needs. A beginner requires far fewer "bells and whistles" than an advanced player or professional musician. Each app offers a description of features that enable you to download the appropriate app for your needs.

Aside from the wide variety of apps available to improve intonation and rhythmic accuracy, your smartphone is equipped with an important but often overlooked tool: a recorder. Recording your practice sessions reap a wealth  of benefits; as any professional musician can tell you, it's nearly impossible to critique your own performance while in the midst of it. During a performance, a musician's concentration is divided in many directions: rhythm, intonation, balance, and dynamics are just a few of the tasks musicians accomplish simultaneously. By recording your practice sessions, you will be able to listen attentively and correct issues unnoticed at the time of the recording. Your smartphone's video camera is equally useful and enables you to see and correct physical issues (embouchure, posture, hand position, etc.) that may be impeding your progress.

Does this render your desktop metronome and tuner obsolete? Certainly not. Every musician should own a high-quality tuner and metronome for extensive practice. But, for accuracy, portability, and ease of use, your smartphone is a valuable tool that can help you become a better musician. So, what are you waiting for? Grab your smartphone, turn on that recorder, and start practicing!

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