Two decades ago my drum teacher Marty told me how jealous he was of the millennial generation. As teenager Marty learned to play, sweating, he used 10-second intervals on his vinyl records, trying to master various kicks, cymbal splashes and fillings. My generation could easily loop tricky sections of our favorite System of a Down weaves with our brick iPod or CD players.
I am beginning to feel the same envy of people who are just starting to learn tools today. After two decades of formal lessons and four years at the conservatory, I am convinced that much of my wasteful education could be replaced by caffeine, a decent iPad and YouTube. Learning to play music is easier than ever.
I asked friends, colleagues, and other music nerds to share their favorite apps, sites, and videos. The best part? Most of these materials are worthless. If you’re interested in shelling out some money, check out our other guide to the best musical equipment for learning the instrument. Otherwise, dust off that old ax, because now is the time to grind it up.
Updated July 2021: We’ve updated links and prices, and we’ve added a few new favorites.
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The following apps are great tools to help you hone the skills you need to perfect your musical instrument.
Fender’s app-based learning platform is the best we’ve found for beginners and after a free trial it’s only $ 10 a month. You choose your instrument (acoustic guitar, electric guitar, bass, or ukulele) and then choose the style of music you are trying to learn. Fender experts will then provide a series of well-prepared video tutorials to steadily improve your game. There are different levels to climb, and everything builds on what came before. If you can’t go to private lessons, Fender Play is your best bet.
Yousician uses the built-in microphone on your smartphone, tablet or laptop to get instant feedback while you play. This is the closest version of playing real instruments to you. Guitar Hero… There are dedicated lessons on guitar, piano, bass, ukelele or vocals, and they all have a bright and easy-to-use video game-like interface. I especially love the weekly challenges that reward you for constantly learning new music. There is a seven-day free trial, but Yousician has a premium subscription price.
Soundbrenner, metronome app
Every musician needs to practice with the metronome – a cool thing that helps keep the beat exactly in time. Your grandma probably had an annoying grandma who actually swayed back and forth, but these days I use this free app from Soundbrenner. You can easily program a variety of accents, sounds and time signatures, and if you ever have a Soundbrenner Core – a great vibrating smart watch that connects to the app– you already know the interface. Don’t like this one? Just search the appropriate app store; there are tons of great free options out there.
Good customization apps
As with metronome apps, you can easily find a good tuner to make your instruments sound the way they want. My favorite Guitar tunawhich integrates with Yousician. It has a simple interface and works with all stringed instruments. If you play the French horn or other non-stringed instrument, try this chromatic tuner from Piascore… You may still need a mechanical tuner for greater accuracy.
Learn to read scary notes!
Take this from a drummer who spent years studying piano at a conservatory: reading sheet music can be intimidating. That’s why i love Notes Trainerwhich uses the built-in piano interface to teach you where each note is on the keyboard. It even creates practice exercises based on specific scales or sounds you are trying to convey with your fingers.
Not using iOS? Try Sight-reading coach… He can actually listen to your piano to make sure you are playing the correct notes.
Multi-timer for effective practice
One of the most useful apps I’ve recently discovered is Multitimer… I often have many different exercises or practices that need to be done in one session, and it is very helpful to have multiple countdown timers to manage my time so that I can easily switch between them on the screen. My 15 minutes for scales never spills over into my 10 minutes for chords and so on. When I set up Multitimer before training, I never forget to set a new timer on my phone and keep in mind my overall training schedule. It sounds simple, but this little tool really made my musical education more effective.
IN Amazing Slow Downer website still looks straight from 1998, but the software itself works great on desktops, iOS, or Android. You enter a melody and then adjust the playback speed without affecting the pitch. It is ideal for those trying to slowly learn a solo from one of their favorite musicians, and for this reason this application is very popular among jazz musicians.
How to find music on the Internet
The best way to learn how to play music is to find the music that you to want play. If you hear an unfamiliar melody on the radio or are sitting in a cafe and the melody you like sounds, Shazam helps you figure out what it is so you can try playing it later.
Soundslice is a great website that has both a music notation program and cool music lessons from professionals around the world. You do have to pay for most of the music, but that money mostly goes to the musicians who created the lessons. For something free, check Musical corewhich contains many free sheet music for various instruments and can even be used to score and print your own music. Are you fond of jazz and blues classics? Try iReal Prowhich allows you to replace your printed “fake book” (jazz books with tons of music) with a digital version. You can even quickly change the key of songs, making it even easier to learn songs on the instrument.