I was recently invited to road test a new iPhone and iPad (sorry, Android and Windows users!) that aims to help musicians fine tune their ear and, of course, play in tune.
We guitarists have a distinct advantage over our bowed string cousins in that we have frets guiding us to the correct placement of our fingers to play the correct tone and play in tune. We can, however, fall foul of accidentally bending strings whilst playing, particularly with three or four note chords that may be in slightly awkward positions or requiring fiddly movements. We can also, most definitely, fall foul of playing out of tune from the get go with sloppy tuning! Many is the time that I’ve stopped a student after playing the first couple of bars because their tuning has been less than pleasing to the ear! Hah hah!
And they may not have noticed at all, because their ear is not yet attuned, so to speak, to finer degrees of intonation. Having played for years, playing day in, day out and listening to all manner of students most days ones ear can becomes attuned to the finest of changes in intonation. This takes time, obviously.
This neat little app (which is actually version 2.0 of a previous model) aims to assist music students develop their finer and more detailed ear for intonation
The concept for the app began as a simple game to test the ability to hear two pitches that are very close in frequency. But then in a psychology study at Wittenberg, cellist and professor of music Daniel Kazez discovered that students’ listening improved the more often they played — at triple the rate of those who did not.
“Playing in tune is of critical importance to musicians, but students are often a bit hazy on how to work on it,” said Kazez, who has spent decades researching intonation and perception. “InTune creates a fun, concrete path for musicians to test and improve their listening, and now the app enables them to compete with their friends.”
Wittenberg’s first app, Composer of the Day, was named one of the Top Five Classical Music iPhone Apps by WQXR, America’s most-listened-to classical music station. With InTune, Wittenberg’s Music Department expanded into the field of mobile music education. InTune has been a top 25 music app in more than 40 countries, including the US, Canada, UK, and Finland.
InTune has been featured by AppAdvice and evolver.fm wrote,” Anyone with an interest in sound will enjoy this…. Whip out your phone and challenge the intonation of your friends.”
The app has four playing modes adapted for different instruments (i.e. different pitches), and integration with Game Center, Apple’s social gaming network, enabling users to challenge their friends.
So what did I think?
This app is a really neat little idea, and I can really see the benefits for helping music students develop their ear, in a fun, game-like way. The interface is really simple and easy to use and you can mix things up with high, medium or low pitches or a mixture of all three. Playing the game, you get given a tone at a set pitch followed by a second tone at a different pitch – the game is to say whether the second tone is higher or lower than the first. The game starts out pretty easy with the difference between the two being very easy to discern. The more you get right the more difficult the game becomes, with smaller and smaller differences in pitch between the first and second tones. Like all good games you get three strikes and then you’re out, and they tip things back slightly easier when you get one wrong (nice touch).
With each set of tones the app tells you what percentage of a semitone (or half steps as the app calls it) there is between the two tones – the game starts out at 100% of a semitone (I told you it started out easy) and gradually gets less and less. I got to 2% of a semitone on my first bash at it, so I was pretty pleased with that!
I think an interesting addition to the app, particularly as the game becomes more and more challenging, would be an additional option to say whether the second tone is the same pitch as the first tone. I think this addition would make this more like a “real world” situation – for example, if you’re tuning to a note played on the piano or tuning to yourself on the guitar you have the option, as it were, to think it’s exactly the same tone, not just a degree higher or lower. Could be an interesting little addition to make it more challenging still, guys?
Other than this, I think it’s a great little app and could be used by teachers in the studio as well as students at home on their own. And at $0.99 it’s a bargain too.
Overall, I give it four rubber chickens out of five.
Check it out here: http://www5.wittenberg.edu/academics/music/app-intune.html