Okay, so a few days ago (ish?) I was chatting with Vish over at Ugly Bass Face about metronomes. I have a weird relationship with metronomes because I know they’re a useful, practical learning tool, but absolutely hate how they sound. That chirpy, clicky noise sets my teeth on edge. I’ve done a few runs in the past of the Google Play store, trying to find something more neutral, closer to the sound of a drum than a very small bird having a seizure, but I haven’t turned up anything I particularly like. (I recently found an app called Loopz which can be used to this end, though it’s actually intended as a drum loop app rather than a metronome app, I can use it as a metronome because, you know, I have ears and stuff.
Vish has been using an online metronome, which I admit is somewhere it never occurred to me to look into. You can check out his blog for the entire post on the subject, it was pretty recent so you shouldn’t have trouble finding it, but for the sake of this post I will say I rather like this one: http://www.gieson.com/Library/projects/utilities/metronome/ and would love to find an android app similar, if only because this one is not mobile friendly. I can only use it on my PC, which limits my practice options somewhat.
Anyway! The point of all that information is that the online drum metronome had me heading over to the Play Store again to look for something similar in app form. I hadn’t had success the last time I tried, and I didn’t turn up anything I liked for that purose this time either, but I did find an interesting app called Rhythm Trainer by Demax and decided to spend some time noodling with it.
It’s a pretty neat little app. It has one basic job: to get you tapping to the beat your ears hear. Pretty simple, right? And if that was all I found interesting about it, it probably wouldn’t have much longevity as a practice tool. I mean, sure, at the outset I had a bit of a habit of jumping the gun, where my eyes know what’s coming, so my finger would get there a split second before it was meant to, sort of like a kid learning to drive with a bad habit of rolling through stop signs when they can see no one is coming. (Yes, I was that kid.), but if that was the only thing I was seeing going on in the app, it wouldn’t really be worth posting about.
What I’m really liking about the Rhythm Trainer is that with each beat it shows you a picture of a note. So, while it doesn’t really teach you what a quarter note is, what a half note is, what a rest is, etc. It is showing you those notes along with the rhythm, so the app is actually engaging multiple senses at once. Your ears hear a beat, your hands touch the screen to tap it out, and your eyes are registering the data that tells you ‘this is what this shape in sheet music sounds like’, and that I really dig because I think it’s going to turn out to be a huge help with sight reading once I start learning music notation. You’re not looking at a whole set of notes. It’s just one line, with notes put upon that line, but it is teaching you the sound difference between “single note”, “two notes with a bar thing connecting them at the top”, weird little calligraphy lightning bolt thing” (like I said, it doesn’t teach you the names of things, just what they look like versus how they sound), which, I think might make the process of learning to read music less cumbersome in the long run, because by then, I should at least be familiar with the shapes and how they sound in relation to one another, which may be a good foundation to lay before looking at this hieroglyph of lines and dots and trying to make sense of it all at once.
The app suggests to practice for 15 minutes a day. I won’t pretend I’ve done this because so far I’ve mostly been noodling with it in bed while dozing off at an ungodly hour, or when I first wake up and am trying to will myself to move away from the comfy mattress and deal with Mr. McWhinesAlot (translation: my cat, Shadow, who likes to whine at deafening volumes early in the morning.), but you can run through a level in about 2-3 minutes, so it’s definitely something you fiddle with even when you have very limited time.
The app will take you through a level, and then take you through the same level again at a slightly faster tempo. I haven’t checked yet if there’s the ability to adjust the BPM for more of a challenge.
Overall, I think it’s pretty cool, because it has a very simple intention, and pulls it off seamlessly. It’s not meant to teach you the sound of different notes. It’s not meant to teach you to read music. It’s just meant to teach you to make your hands do what your ears hear, and it has the little added bonus of making you look at music notes while you do it.