Why Apps Motivate Students – A Guest Post by flowkey

“How can I motivate my students to practice piano at home?” This is a question parents and piano teachers have long reckoned with. Today, this challenge is even greater thanks to technological developments. Let’s face it – smartphones, tablets, and computer games are more exciting than the average practice book. But distracting devices needn’t be your enemy.

On the contrary, new digital tools can liven up your students’ practice routines in new and exciting ways. After all, electronic devices have revolutionized just about every aspect of our lives. We buy plane tickets on our smartphone, boost our fitness with the aid of an app, and carry enormous libraries of films, books, and music in our pocket everywhere we go. Why not explore the benefits of innovative technologies for teaching piano, too?

It’s hard to find a child who isn’t fascinated by smartphones and tablets these days. Having noticed this, some resourceful piano teachers have already begun to make use of this enthusiasm for technology. The simple inclusion of a tablet PC in piano lessons lends an inexplicable “coolness factor” that makes learning a little more thrilling. Ear training and other music theory exercises become fun games to play on the go in the form of an app.

If you’re keen to give your teaching a technological edge but aren’t sure where to start, check out Christopher Sutton’s great guest post on making the most of online resources. Online communities are a great way to learn from other teachers’ experiences, ask questions, and find inspiration. Research and start experimenting with a range of tools. Soon enough you’ll find the ones that suit your students’ needs.

The kids of today have grown up with a love of digital devices, and a few innovative tools are often enough to make even the most frustrating practice sessions fun again. This goes for older students, too. Most piano students who learn to play piano as an adult often have two things in common: they want to improve fast, and they don’t have much spare time on their hands. The solution? Make practice efficient and fun with the help of an app.

One such app even provides an entirely interactive learning environment. With flowkey students can engage with a friendly and intuitive app that gives them immediate feedback on their progress. Apps like these show that new technology isn’t just a distraction for piano students. Far from it! By making the most of devices, apps, and online resources, students are able to create a practice routine that truly suits them.


flowkey is our newest advertiser here on Music Matters Blog, and we are grateful for their support of the online music education community! If you are interested in finding out more about how you can promote your company, event, or product, just send us an e-mail and we will let you know about our advertising packages.

Music is in [and on!] the Air!

We’ve had another fun week in the studio polishing up some cool piano pieces…

[“Cool Walkin'” by Melody Bober from Grand Solos for Piano, Book 3]

…recording important information (in our Mini Music Manuals, of course!)…

[It’s exciting to see the new level of ownership students are taking to really know all of their musical terms and symbols!]

…trying out our new Nessie Recording Mic

[I love utilizing technology to enhance the students’ musical experience and inspire them to greater heights in their piano playing!]

… and creating cool percussion tracks to accompany favorite repertoire.


[“Sneaky Ape” by Wendy Lynn Stevens from Piano Safari, Level 2]

Notes from Making Sense Out of Digital Scores

As I mentioned, I just attended the live webinar presented by George Litterst in collaboration with MTNA: Making Sense Out of Digital Scores.

Early in his presentation, George reminds us that “The best way you learn something for yourself is by teaching it to others.” I also tend to focus and learn a lot when I write about it, so I thought I would jot down some notes from the presentation to share with those of you who are interested in learning more about the current state and future of digital scores.

Why Electronic Scores?

We’ve all suffered from the OPBS (Overflowing Piano Bench Syndrome), right? Even my carefully planned system of organization eventually overflowed the file cabinets and I finally had to take drastic measures to reduce my collection of printed music. All of this becomes a non-issue with the use of digital scores, which are all contained in the form of bits (binary integers) on a single mobile device. Along those same lines, an iPad – or similarly-sized device – is easy to transport, and you don’t have to worry about printed scores getting damaged, stained, or yellowed over time.

Mr. Litterst also spent some time discussing various wireless page turning devices and demonstrating how they work via foot pedals. Some move the score up one stave at a time; others flip the top half, then the bottom half of the page; others function more like a full page being manually turned.

He makes a point to let us know that the buttons that supply functionality in many electronic scores are often hidden from view. It’s often necessary to tap or hold your finger on the screen to display additional features and functions. Using the app ForScore Mr. Litterst demonstrates selecting and using an annotation feature to jot down notes directly onto the score.

Drawbacks teachers might experience include unfamiliarity, inability to place stickers on the page, absence of that new book scent, and a smaller size page.

Types and Availability of Electronic Scores

Mr. Litterst continued his webinar with an overview of the types and of electronic scores and where to find them. You can scan them in yourself, converting printed scores to PDF files. You can download them for free from the Internet (IMSLP.org is a fabulous repository of public domain music available for free download!). You can print to PDF from a notation software. You can also purchase and download electronic scores either in PDF or using a proprietary program. He briefly discusses the challenge of organizing electronic scores once downloaded and mentions the app NextPage which allows you to drag and drop files using a computer window (using either iTunes or iMazing for your interface). One of the webinar attendees also recommends the app iMazing for iPad organization.

What to Look for in Electronic Scores

After a discussion of important considerations when acquiring electronic scores, Mr. Litterst goes into the more technical side of things, discussing the advent of Music XML. Music XML is a code designed to be both human-readable and machine-readable. A quick glimpse of the code behind an electronic file reveals lots of familiar terms indicating placement of clefs, symbols, and more. For practical use, a teacher could export an XML file of a composition in Finale, then import it onto an iPad via an app designed to read XML files and allow interaction on the user end. He reminds us that there is no substitute for exploring the options on your own, building familiarity, and determining what works best for you.

It’s truly fascinating to hear about the technology being developed in the music world and consider the possibilities for the future! Thanks to George Litterst for all the time he has spent not only learning and developing these possibilities, but also sharing them with the rest of us!

Mr. Litterst will also be presenting at the 2016 MTNA Conference in San Antonio, TX, so be sure to catch his session there if you want to learn more about this technology!

Making Sense Out of Digital Scores


Even though I love technology and am always up for trying out new things, the iPad mini that I acquired earlier this year has spent much of its time relegated to the top drawer of my night stand. (Doesn’t it look sad and neglected?) I know some of th neglect has been so to my shifting educational philosophies, but some of it is also because I haven’t taken the time to educate myself on the best and most efficient ways to utilize the latest technology. So, I’m excited to be signed up for a live webinar in less than an hour with George Litterst, a pioneer in music education technology, on “Making Sense Out of Digital Scores.” I’ll try to report back on what I learn and let you know if my iPad will be receiving a little more attention in the days ahead!

Got Wolfie?

If you haven’t heard about the Wolfie App yet, you might be living under a piano bench… :-) This interactive app for both teachers and students is taking the piano teaching world by storm! If you have students preparing for a recital or competition, the next webinar they are offering is for you. Wolfie’s Digital Education Expert, Nathan Smith, will be walking attendees through the process of using the app to help students observe and fine tune performances. The webinar will be this Thursday, November 12, from 11:00-12:00 CST.

Even though I’ve become somewhat averse to emphasizing technological use in the studio (thanks to all that I’m learning as we shift to a Classical model of education as we homeschool our children), I am intrigued about the possibility of using apps that truly help students improve their piano playing skills. I have Wolfie downloaded on my iPad, and I’m hoping to take a closer look at it over our Thanksgiving break so I can see if and how I should best utilize it in our studio. I’m also excited that Nathan will be offering a regular Wolfie Hour each (non-holiday) week via the GoToWebinar platform so that teachers can drop in, ask questions, and discuss teaching-related issues with one another.

If you’re interested in checking it out or attending the live webinar, you can view all the event info here: https://www.facebook.com/events/957571657619477/. And if you’ve used Wolfie in your studio I’d love to know what you think of it and what aspects you have found most helpful for your students!

Free Wolfie iPad App Webinar this Wednesday

Have you heard of Wolfie? One of the teachers in our local association [of MTNA] first mentioned it at a meeting we held last year to discuss studio technology and apps. I was fascinated by it, but didn’t yet have an iPad, so I couldn’t check into it much. Thanks to a couple of generous gifts, I was able to purchase an iPad mini earlier this summer, so I’m in the process of figuring out the best ways to utilize it in the studio. Wolfie seems pretty incredible with its database of musical scores, ability to track where you are playing and turn the page for you, handle annotations you want to make on the score, and keep track of the progress of students in your studio that are using the app for their own piano practicing!

Wolfie iPad App

These things sound fabulous, but I’ve only caught a glimpse of them in action, so I was excited to learn that the creators of Wolfie will be conducting a free webinar this Wednesday (11:00 a.m. CST) for teachers who want to find out more. I’m looking forward to learning more and seeing how I can implement this in my studio this year!

(If you’re interested in attending, just visit the Facebook Event for the Free Wolfie iPad Webinar and click the link to register.)

InTune App Review

I do believe that InTune is one of the simplest apps I have ever reviewed, but the effectiveness of this simple ear training app has apparently earned it an almost 5 star rating on iTunes. In addition to its iTunes rating, it has been ranked among the top 25 music apps in more than 50 countries, and in the USA it stands at #11.

So what’s this app all about? Well, there’s honestly not much to it. Using the concept of pitch discrimination (differentiating pitches that are close together), award-winning and highly acclaimed app developer, Ben Kazez, has gone to task with basically just this concept and a gaming element to create InTune.

Screen Shot 2015-09-03 at 8.24.18 PM-You open up InTune.

-You select New Game or compete with your friends in Apple’s Game Center. (The Game Center icon pops up in the top left corner)

-You can select what mode you want to play.

-Once the game has started, you hear two pitches, distinguish if the second was higher or lower than the first, and then slide the second dot accordingly (up-higher; down-lower).

-If you get three strikes the game is over.

-If you slide correctly, you continue on and the pitches get closer together/harder to distinguish-testing to see just how good you are at pitch discrimination! :) Once you’ve completed Level 5 (the highest level you can attain) you can either Play Again, Share Score, or Change Mode.

Screen Shot 2015-09-03 at 8.24.30 PMIMG_0238

It’s just that simple.

I don’t know if the sound they chose for the game has significance or not, but it definitely reminds me of the sound you would hear when getting your ears checked at the doctor, which to me, is unlike any other sound I typically hear. Just a side note!

Dr. Dan Kazez, producer of InTune, is a cellist and professor at Wittenberg University, who discovered through studies that students who played InTune (regularly practicing pitch discrimination) improved their listening at 3 times the rate of those who did not.

I haven’t played InTune very regularly to know if it’s been improving my ear or not, but it has caused me to be more conscientious of pitch and it’s apparent world success is quite intriguing to me!

InTune Info Page on the Wittenberg Website

iTunes – keep in mind this app is only available for iPhone or iPod Touch

InTune on Youtube (the version on the video is a little older but still very similar)

Free Music Fonts!

In working on curriculum for the Carnival of the Animals music camp in our studio next week, I realized that the Bach musicological font I used to use all the time on my PC was not rendering correctly on my Mac. With a little digging, I discovered a great new Rhythms font that works even better! Thanks to Matthew Hindson for doing the hard work and compiling a helpful list of free music fonts for both Windows and Mac!

Review & Giveaway of Sonoptic

Screen Shot 2014-12-12 at 10.48.29 PM

The metronome gets an encore” is a very fitting tagline for the app, Sonoptic. I never cease to be amazed by the innovative and ingenious apps produced by developers-and Sonoptic is definitely among that lot of ingenuity.

After trying this app myself, here is how I would describe it:
It’s as if Sonoptic’s developers started with the idea of digitalizing Hanon exercises/a metronome app and then went to a whole new level by not only creating digital Hanon-like exercises, but ones that would cater toward whatever needs you might have! So these exercises include anything from basic scales to Blues & Jazz figures, and then from whatever one of these you select (or one of the other 5 options that I didn’t mention), you can choose subcategories to help you target a specific area in your practice. Sonoptic offers nearly 400 exercises which helps make the $6.99 price tag a little more understandable.

Screen Shot 2014-12-12 at 10.48.52 PM

It also includes customizable features like changing the tempo or key, selecting a specific note value to have the exercise favor, choosing one of the many instruments it has available, selecting a specific cycle for the exercise (repeat, randomly vary the keys) etc…

Screen Shot 2014-12-12 at 11.06.39 PM

However, the feature I like best by far is the real-time visual critique. With this feature, you can see what you played correctly/incorrectly, what you played too late/right on, and what your dynamics/articulation looked like. And then, if you desire to hear how you did, you can listen to yourself by pushing the playback button at the bottom. I can see this being very helpful for the practicing student to see where they need to improve in their scales, chords, arpeggios, and other skill building exercises.

Screen Shot 2014-12-12 at 10.58.54 PM

Overall, I think this app is quite the sophisticated metronome! :) It has beautiful notation that is easy to read, and the developers did a good job with the layout and filling the app with lots of content. Something I do hope to see them update at some point is the ability to do exercises with the left/right hand together in the piano setting.

Sonoptic is available for the iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch and if you’d like to enter for a chance to win your own download, express your interest in the comments and you might just be the winner next week!

 To view the Sonoptic website and get more info click here

To purchase Sonoptic click here

To view a Sonoptic demo click here

To see more pictures of what Sonoptic looks like click here (As you’ll be able to tell, the app operates in portrait mode and the iPhone layout is slightly different than the iPad and vice versa.)