February 12, 2013

Tenuto: An App That's Worth Real Money

When I entered graduate school I had to take a test that checked my ear-training and theory proficiency. I aced the theory test, and failed the ear-training thus forcing me into a remedial class with undergraduates. I ended up really enjoying the class, partly because my other graduate student classmates were just as good humored about being in the class, partly because I liked the TA who taught the class, and partly because I was good at it. The remedial class was far easier than the test that I had failed, and because I was comfortable singing in front of a group the class wasn't too hard. Well, except for that fact that I still stunk at ear-training. Our TA recommended the website musictheory.net to us and I used it religiously. The website isn't pretty, but it's extremely useful and easily customizable. I actually use it for my own piano studio and send kids to it weekly for exercises on note learning.

I recently acquired an iPad and downloaded the app made by the people at this website. It's a program called Tenuto and it's been great to use in the studio. I realize that this post all sounds like a big advertisement, but I assure you I'm not getting any money out of this. I had been using a device called the Wright-Way Note Finder for all my note-naming practice. It's a great little gadget that makes note testing easy for both the teacher and student but it has its limitations. It doesn't go above or below a C in either clef, and it's impossible to practice sharps and flats, so it's only useful up to a certain level.

Tenuto has a number of different exercises that you can use to practice note names, intervals, keyboard identification, and a bunch of ear-training programs among many other things. The program I use the most is the note identification. You can customize the clef (including alto clef, tenor clef, etc.), the range of notes displayed, key signatures, whether to use note names or solfege (or pitch-class integers), and of course whether to use accidentals.

You can also bookmark exercises so that you don't have to sort through a bunch of options each time you have a new student come in. As you can see above, it's also possible to keep track of your score (I missed one) and there's also a timer feature if you want to put students (or yourself) under some pressure.

This kind of technology is intuitive. You can plop the tablet down on the music rack and kids will automatically know what to do. I've been using it in my studio for a week now and every kid who uses it tells me they like it. Even if we're just doing the same thing that we would have done with the Note Finder, they like this more because it feels more interactive. Also, just by having the exercise be on a screen it acts as a good reward and can get kids excited.

Another feature I've been using a lot lately is the Guitar Fretboard Identification. I've been trying for years to memorize the names of the notes on the neck of the guitar and this is another tool to do that with. In this mode you can specify which strings to use, what kind of instrument to use (it has 6-string and 7-string guitar, as well as basses, mandolin, banjo, and ukulele), the tuning of each string, and how many frets to be tested on.

One of the features I haven't been able to use as well are the keyboard modes. Because I have a keyboard right in front of me it's hard to justify using the display keyboard. Additionally I find that the method of highlighting keys can be a bit confusing. It's obvious which keys are highlighted, but in the example below, it doesn't looks very natural and the colors sort of blend it together. Especially because the highlight color is red, and so is the wood of the piano.

The ear-training exercises are what would have really gotten me through college classes. They use the same type of interface as the other programs but have an audio component. This is probably the best of any ear-training exercises I've used but it's still not perfect. The sounds are all midi based (at least they sound that way) and can all blend in with each other in a way that makes the listeners ear dull to the sound. Additionally, when doing chord identification it's really difficult to pick out the individual notes of the structure because the tone of the piano blends in with itself so completely. Now, you can pick out different instruments, but they are all midi based. The examples can also be too short, without enough decay time to make them sound like real notes. Despite these complaints though, the interface is still rock-solid and any exercise with these is time well spent.

Some other cool features are the calculators which you can use to check chords for your analysis, build chords to see what they look like and sound like, and my favorite, the Matrix Calculator. If I had gone to college just a couple of years later, this puppy would have saved me so much time. Of course, they probably would have still made us to these by hand, and let's admit it, matrices are super fun to build.

Overall, it's an app worth purchasing if you're in school, or if you're teaching in a private studio. Not all of the exercises will be useful to you, but you'll find ways to integrate it easily into teaching.

Product: Tenuto
Publisher: MusicTheory.net
Cost: $3.99
Platforms: Only on iOS, sorry rest of the world. Also, I had it on an ipod which was alright for personal use, but I would never use it in the studio unless it's on a tablet.
Upside: The build is solid, the interface is intuitive (kids won't need any instruction on how to use it), the exercises are useful, every thing can be customized to suit all skill levels (even advanced)
Downside: It's only useful for teaching on the iPad and there's no Android version, the ear training tones and note lengths are difficult to get used to, the random generation of notes can get stuck on a particular clef for a long period of time.
Is it worth it? Absolutely. If you're a teacher trying to incorporate more technology into your studio, this is a great investment. If you're a student struggling in your ear-training class, buy it. Although we've grown used to getting applications for free, this is absolutely worth the small price. It's easy to use, takes very little time to set up, and kids instantly understand it and latch on to it. Grab it for your students, and you'll end up using it a lot yourself as well.

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