Hate learning theory? There’s an app for that

Attention students and teachers! Understand & improve your music theory knowledge with this handy app

A colleague of mine, Tashi, introduced a very clever music app to our teaching staff the other day. Tashi, a vocal teacher (and all-around musician – she also plays piano, guitar and violin!), mentioned that she not only recommends this app to each and every one of her growing list of students, but encourages other teachers to take a peek as well.

Called ‘Music Theory Pro’, and available for download off the iTunes App Store, it was developed by Dr. Joel Clifft, a professor of music at Azusa Pacific University and the University of Southern California. It’s used by teachers and students alike on many university and college campuses throughout the US.

So what can you do with it?

The reason why this app is so awesome probably lies in the fact that it is a toolbox full of music theory exercises, games and quizzes, and useful for beginners, intermediate and advance students.

For example, you can:

  • Practice naming notes on the piano and on the staff;
  • Learn key signatures;
  • Get better at intervals, including major, minor, diminished and augmented;
  • Look up chords and inversions;
  • Do ear training, from easy to challenging for the more advanced student;
  • Identify anything from seventh chords and to modal scales;
  • Take quizzes to identify tempos and beats per minute;
  • Complete various exercises in all of the above to sharpen your overall theory skills.

This app is handy because any student can benefit from it; if you are training to be a classical pianist or contemporary singer, or just want to understand the basic rudiments, Music Theory Pro is chock-full of goodies to help anyone desiring to become a better musician.

And, I think most teachers will agree, learning the theory side of things should be a component in all music training! Having an app of this nature right in your pocket is a great way to motivate students by having an easy-to-understand structure and entertaining learning platform…much more entertaining than scribbling notes in a theory book.

Download it here for $0.99: http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/music-theory-pro/id390788573?mt=8

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The importance of rhythm – and why all students should master it!

What is Rhythm?

The word ‘rhythm’ stems from the Greek word rhythmos, meaning “any regular recurring motion, or symmetry”. In music, rhythm is about when notes, chords, and other musical sounds begin and end. As a result, rhythm is the essential ingredient in all music.

No matter what instrument a student is learning, everyone needs good rhythmic foundation. Melodies, scales and chord patterns are all dependent on a piece’s rhythm. The importance of developing a strong sense of pulse or rhythm is a crucial element when learning to play – and being taught the basics of rhythm starts in the very first lesson.

And, as students’ progress, it will become easier for them to understand why something doesn’t sound exactly as it should – more often than not, it is rhythm which needs work or changing. By developing a good sense of rhythm students will be able to better identify when the pulse or beat is off.

Mastering rhythm is essential for many “rhythm section” instruments:  bass, drums, and rhythm guitar and piano. Even melodic parts, like vocals or lead guitar, need to understand the rhythm in order to play fluidly with accompaniment.

Learning Rhythm

Rhythm exercises should be a part of a student’s daily practice regimen.  Mix rhythm exercises together with scales, arpeggios, songs, and various techniques.

Here are some tips to develop rhythm:

1.    Use a metronome

While playing with metronomes will no doubt make everything tougher, it is a great way to get used to playing with an outside beat. Sometimes, when students tap the beat themselves, or count aloud, they unknowingly slow down in the harder spots, or speed up towards the end of a piece. Using a metronome will allow practicing with a steady, constant beat.

2.     Practice rhythmic exercises

Start out simple and work your way through more complex patterns. Clapping and counting rhythms out loud is a great way to become more comfortable with rhythms, especially for students who learn best through auditory methods. For visual learning, write in the rhythm (1 + 2 + 3 + 4+…) in before playing or clapping.

3.     Understand the time signature

Rhythm is expressed, stated, and describe with a time signature, which defines the note duration and time relationship. A rhythm in 4/4 time will be different than one in 6/8 time, so make sure you understand these values first, before counting or playing.

4.     Watch out for rests, ties and dotted notes

More complex rhythms will have these components which will increase difficulty.  Make sure to spot these tricky parts and work on them separately at first!

5.     Start slow

Any new rhythm should be practiced slowly, giving full value to all notes, rests and any other markings in between. Start as slow as needed so there are no unwanted pauses between sections or phrases – and challenge yourself to go faster once you have mastered a lower speed.

6.     Listen and play along

Listening to the piece before attempting to count, clap or play it will help your ear identify if you are doing it correctly or not. For another challenge, try playing along with the recording and see if you can match the rhythm, once you have a good grasp on it!

Not sure where to begin with your rhythm practice? Download the exercises below!

Exercise 1: Rhythms – Beginner

Exercise 2: Rhythms – Intermediate

Exercise 3: Sixteenth Notes

Exercise 4: Triplets

Exercise 5: Dotted Rhythms

Exercise 6: Syncopation