What to consider if you want to learn an instrument with an app

There are so many wonderful things about being able to play a musical instrument. Being able to bring joy and fun to those around you by playing to create background music at a party to full-on concert performances in public venues, to playing for a friend or family member’s wedding or playing in groups to make chamber music or sing in a choir.  The possibilities are endless and what it gives a community and you as the performer cannot be underestimated.

If you’ve wished all your life that you could play an instrument – perhaps you’ve always wished you could play the piano – or maybe you’ve imagined yourself playing an instrument as part of an orchestra if you haven’t taken the first step yet, rest assured it’s never too late to begin and technology has made it incredibly easy too.

Before apps

In the past, you would have had no choice but to search for a local teacher and take weekly lessons.  One of the main problems with this is that if you got stuck on something, you’d have to wait until your next lesson to ask the teacher to explain what you’re struggling with.

The other obvious downside is the cost.  Lessons can cost from $20 to $100 per lesson, depending on your level.  It’s great to have that personal guidance and attention if you can afford it and if you’re really serious about playing.  But the majority of people want to play an instrument for their own enjoyment and don’t want to put thousands of dollars into lessons.

Apps and online lessons

These days you have so many more choices.  You can of course still take weekly private lessons if you choose, but you can also have online lessons which means you can spend less time traveling to lessons and more time practicing.  Many private teachers now offer lessons over Zoom or Facetime, and it works very well.  But it’s still quite a big financial commitment.

So, you might choose to learn by using an app.

There are lots of positive things about learning to play an instrument with an app and there are also a few things that are less positive, but that can be easily addressed.

Some of the benefits of learning with an app:

  • Learn at your own pace
  • Take lessons any time of day, any day of the week.
  • Repeat lessons that you feel you didn’t fully understand the first time. Or if you’ve skipped a few days, you may want to go back to a few lessons.
  • Supplement your app lessons with another app – perhaps taking some extra note-reading lessons, fun quizzes to test your knowledge, or learn more about music theory.
  • Apps cost a lot less than private lessons.

Being able to go at your own pace is a real plus as long as you are self-disciplined about it.  It’s best to make a plan of action, write it down and keep it close so you can check off you practice sessions over the course of a week or a month.

If you leave an in-person lesson thinking you’ve grasped what your teacher has taught you and then find you’ve forgotten it by the time you get home, there’s nothing you can do until you have the next lesson and go over the same concept.  However, using an app, you can simply repeat that exact same lesson again – multiple times if you like.

You might want to delve deeper into a subject.  Let’s say the app mentions a key signature.  Maybe you’re curious to know more about key signatures so you google it, watch a video about it, take an online quiz to see if you’ve understood it correctly.  If you go to an in-person teacher, you’re much less likely to do this, instead, putting your education entirely into the teacher’s hands.

Some of the negatives of learning with an app:

  • You don’t have a human being watching you to pick you up on bad habits
  • There’s nobody holding you accountable.
  • If you don’t understand a concept from the app, there’s nobody to explain it to you
  • It can be a bit lonely learning from an app
  • You might lose your momentum

Overcome the negatives

These negatives can be addressed easily if you think creatively.  For instance, you might know someone who plays the instrument you’re learning and can get together with them once a week to get some feedback about your playing (and vice versa if they are also learning with an app).

Be held accountable

This can also be the person who holds you accountable.  You might find you don’t want to face them and say “I didn’t practice this week because I wanted to binge-watch a series on Netflix” while at the same time you see they’ve been practicing diligently and are rocketing ahead!

Research things you don’t understand

In the same way, if you don’t understand a concept from an app lesson, first of all, Google it.  There are so many useful YouTube videos explaining virtually all music theory concepts.  There are instrumental players giving great advice for common problems that crop up as well.

Posture when you’re learning an instrument

One thing that’s very important when you’re learning a musical instrument is posture.  Apps sometimes mention posture, but can’t give you feedback.

Every instrument has a proper way to sit and/or hold an instrument.  For instance, the guitar needs to be at the right level so that you’re not hunched over it; the clarinet needs to have its weight supported by the thumb at the back allowing you to sit or stand straight; the piano needs both feet on the floor, back straight but relaxed and a greater distance between torso and piano keyboard than between torso and a dinner table.

Apps don’t “look” to check out your posture, although some use AI to “listen” to what you’re playing and will give you feedback on whether or not you play the correct notes.

Call a friend

You could also ask a friend who knows music.  Musicians love to discuss anything to do with music, and most love to help aspiring musicians.  You also might find a private teacher who would be willing to give you ad hoc lessons as you need or want, rather than committing to regular lessons.

Have jam sessions

Playing with other people is where the real fun in music starts.  Playing piano duets or accompanying a friend who plays the trumpet, flute, guitar, etc. will bring a great sense of accomplishment and fun.

Stay on track!

The best way to keep progressing when you’re learning with an app is to have solid goals in place.  Perhaps you’re going to give a concert for friends and family.  Perhaps you’re going to take an exam.  Or, more simply, you just want to be ready for the next jam session.  Write down your goals.  Some apps will remind you to practice or take a lesson each day.  If the one you choose doesn’t, set an alarm on your phone or just have a set time each day when you practice your instrument.

Apps are fun!

Many apps provide backing tracks to play along with, or will play the left hand of a piano song while you play the right, and so on.  Learning a new song can be very engrossing and satisfying especially once you’ve mastered the basics.

Best apps to learn with?

Let’s start with the piano since that tends to be one of the most favorite instruments to either listen to or learn to play.  A quick browse of the best piano learning apps for adults is the place to start.

If you want to learn a wind instrument, such as flute, clarinet, saxophone, or brass such as trumpet, trombone, you’ll find plenty of help to get started.

If you want to develop your singing voice, there’s an app for that, too.

A great drum app can help you drive your neighbors completely crazy!

Conclusion

Learning with an app is a very valid way to learn to play a musical instrument.  The few negatives about learning with an app are easily overcome, as we’ve seen.  Now that we’re all so used to jumping onto Zoom or Skype, it’s easy to check in with a friend or teacher who can supplement your learning even if you live in a different town or country, so there are really no excuses!  Don’t waste any more time wondering if it’s going to work – get started!

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