Whether you want to pursue a career in music or just enjoy making sweet sounds that only you will hear, learning to play an instrument is one of the most popular ways to share your melodies with the world. It may seem like a daunting and frustrating task, but technology can ease the learning curve.
I’m a musician with four years of experience as a music tutor, and I’ve never forgotten how crucial the ability to record and repeatedly review my practice sessions was when I decided to learn to play guitar and piano when I was a teenager. Repetitive and deliberate practice helps you learn faster and more effectively, and without recordings I don’t think I could have improved my skills the way I did.
Whatever your ultimate goal, playing music offers vast cognitive benefits for children and adults alike, and you should consider using the following tools as you embark on your musical journey.
Use apps to learn instrumental techniques
Mastering instrumental techniques is the most tedious part of the learning process. Instrument technique apps can help you practice while keeping you engaged.
When I started learning the piano around the age of 17, The One Smart Piano app (free for Android and iOS) helped me master fingerings and learn to play with two hands. Built by a music-focused company, this app combines both software and hardware. You install the program on your phone, computer, or tablet, then use a cable to connect your device to one of the company’s electronic pianos (sold separately). These instruments have lights built into their keys that light up to indicate which ones you should play when you choose a song in the app. Thousands of songs are available for free and the rest can be purchased. You can also use the app with a normal piano, if you have one. It helped me start playing music without the stress of reading sheet music and hitting the right keys at the same time, which I learned later.
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You can find many similar apps like Yousician (free for Android and iOS, with additional subscription features starting at $20) or online platforms like OnlinePianist (which starts at $5 per month but also has Android apps and free iOS limited). There’s also the kid-focused Hoffman Academy (which offers free videos on YouTube, but more features require a subscription). All of these programs will help you learn instrumental techniques. You just need to find the one that suits your preferences.
Ear training helps you develop an ear for music, the ability to connect musical elements in your mind. With a good ear, you can connect chords, scales, pitches, intervals, etc. on the fly. It will also be easier to play musical instruments without relying on additional tools such as reading sheet music. Ear preparation is what helps you develop a musical “instinct” that allows you to play naturally by ear, improvise amazing solos, and compose your songs.
I did a lot of ear training exercises when I first started learning with a tutor, but the ear training apps helped me perfect my skills. Tools like IWasDoingAllRight (free for iOS or web) generate the different musical elements in a way that helps learners hear each line better. First I sang the notes, then I played them on my piano or my guitar. Singing helped me internalize the sound of each note and ensured that I heard the pitches correctly since I was able to sing the correct notes.
Of course, there are various apps you might find more convenient, such as Teoria (free), TrainYourEars ($58), and My Ear Trainer (free for web, Android, and iOS, with in-app purchases).
Get music creation software
Learning to play a musical instrument takes a lot of practice. When I was taking lessons to learn how to play different instruments, including the guitar, music production software helped me hone my skills at home. After recording myself practicing, I edited and evaluated them in the software while exploring various virtual instruments and editing tools. Suddenly, I saw my creativity expressed and my skills strengthened.
Music production software offers sampled instruments, effects, synthesizers and more in one platform. You can use them with arrange tools and sequencers to help create finished tracks from scratch. Without a doubt, the tools you choose will depend on the music you make. You can choose from different companies, but the best music production software can work on your digital audio workstation (DAW) or standalone.
Many companies offer music production software, such as PreSonus Studio One, Native, and Bitwig Studio. You can also find free music creation software if you can’t afford the upfront costs, including Audacity, Komplete Start, and LMMS. These are just as good, but they lack some of the more expensive features. Personally, Komplete Start has been a great help to me.
Watch YouTube videos
You can learn just about anything on YouTube, and its musical instrument tutorials were helpful when I was learning to play. I watched the Hoffman Academy videos to learn how to play the piano and learned how to hold a guitar from channels like JustinGuitar by Justin Sandercoe.
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Even better: to access the thousands of instructional videos on YouTube, all you need is a good Internet connection. These lessons are easy to watch and affordable (they’re free, of course) for those who can’t afford a music teacher. But remember, despite its wealth of information, YouTube can only take you so far. If you find you’ve hit a plateau in your training, you might want to consider hiring a tutor.
Make videos of yourself
Having a mentor guide you through your musical journey is a great way to stay on track and learn tips that will support you as you grow. A mentor will also help you improve your skills faster, develop a network if you want to build a music career, keep you motivated, encourage you and build your confidence. But before creating an easily shareable video, you had to live relatively close to the chosen mentor. These days, that is no longer the case. The videos helped my mentors see me perform when I practiced at home, no matter where we were in the world. They would then rate my session and provide feedback on areas where I could improve. I used to share large files with my friends and family members using File Transfers and sometimes asked them what they liked most about my music performance.
You can also try making videos for your own use while playing your instrument. When filming yourself working out, the most important thing is to get high quality sound. You can use any type of device, as long as the sound is good. You can also try recording the audio separately and then add the audio on a video of your choice if you want to show it to your friends or mentor. For best results, use a dynamic microphone designed for recording music so you don’t pick up background noise. The one I recommend for guitar recording is the Shure SM-57. After making the videos, you can take them to your music teacher or private tutor. Even if you’re working alone, watching yourself play can be helpful.
And while technology certainly makes it easier, try not to rely entirely on an app or a series of videos to make you the musician you want to be. Music is at its best when it’s unique and carries a bit of your soul with it.