Two decades ago, my drumming teacher Marty told me how jealous he was of the millennial generation. When he was sweating, teenager Marty learned to play, spending 10-second steps on his vinyl records as he struggled to master various rolls, cymbal splashes and fillets. My generation could easily mess up heavy parts on our favorite System of a Down fillings with our iPods or brick-like CD drives.
I’m starting to feel a similar envy of people starting to learn instruments today. After two decades of formal teaching and four years of conservation studies, I am convinced that a good portion of my dilapidated education could have been replaced by caffeine, decent iPadand YouTube. It’s easier than ever to learn to play music.
I asked friends, colleagues, and fellow music fools for some of their favorite apps, websites, and videos. The best part? Most of these materials cost nothing. If you are interested in depositing money, see our second guide at The best musical equipment for learning an instrument. Otherwise, dust off the old ax, because now is the time to destroy it.
Updated July 2021: We’ve updated links and pricing and added a few new favorite apps.
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The following apps are great tools to help you hone the skills needed to play the instrument better.
Fender’s app-based learning platform is the best we’ve found for beginners, and after a free trial, it’s only $ 10 a month. You choose your instrument (acoustic guitar, electric guitar, bass or ukulele) and then choose the style of music you are trying to learn. Fender experts then provide a series of well-produced video lessons to continually improve your playing. There are different levels you can climb to and it all builds on something that was before. If you can’t fly for private lessons, Fender Play is the next best thing.
Yousician uses the built-in microphone on your smartphone, tablet or laptop to give you instant feedback as you play. This is closest to the version with real instruments Guitar Hero. There are specific lessons for guitar, piano, bass, ukelele or voice, all of which have a bright and easily traceable interface that looks like a video game. I especially love the weekly challenges that reward you for constantly learning new music. There is a seven-day free trial, but Yousician has a subscription to the premium service.
Soundbrenner, Metronome app
Every musician should practice with a metronome – a crunchy thing that helps you keep your rhythm in perfect time. Your grandmother probably had a boring one, which actually swayed back and forth, but these days I’m using this free Soundbrenner app. You can easily program a variety of accents, sounds and time signatures, and if you ever get a Soundbrenner Core – great vibration a smartwatch paired with the app“You’ll already know the interface.” You don’t like this one? Just search the appropriate app store; there are plenty of great free options.
Good application setup
Like metronome apps, you can easily find a good tuner to make your instruments sound right. My favorite Tuna guitar, which integrates with Yousician. It has a simple interface and works for all string instruments. If you play the horn or other non-stringed instrument, try this chromatic tuner from Piascore. However, you might want a mechanical tuner for better accuracy.
Learn to read scary notes!
Take that from a drummer who was forced to spend years teaching piano at a conservatory: Reading music can be intimidating. That’s why I love Coach notes, which uses a built-in piano interface to teach you where each note is on the keyboard. It even creates exercise exercises based on specific scales or sounds you’re trying to get under your fingers.
Not using iOS? Try it Sight reading coach. He can actually listen to your piano to make sure you play the right notes.
Multimer for effective practice
One of the most useful apps I’ve recently discovered is Multitimer. I often have to do a lot of different exercises or types of workouts in one session, and to manage my time, it’s helpful to have multiple countdowns for easy on-screen switching. My 15 minutes for the scales never bleed in my 10-minute chord exercises, and so on. By setting up Multitimer before my sessions, I never forget to set a new timer on my phone or lose sight of my overall exercise schedule. It seems simple, but this little tool has really made my music education more efficient.
An amazing slow down downer
The Amazing Slow Downer website it still looks straight from 1998, but the software itself works great on the desktop, iOS or Android. Enter a melody, then adjust how fast it plays, without affecting the pitch. It’s perfect for anyone trying to slowly learn one of their favorite musicians on their own, and that’s why it’s a very popular app among jazz musicians.
How to find music online
The best way to learn how to play music is to find your own music to want play. If you hear a tune you don’t recognize on the radio, or you’re sitting in a coffee shop and the tune you like turns on, Shazam it will help you figure out what it is, so you can try playing it later.
Soundslice is a great website that contains both notation software and great notations from professionals around the world. You have to pay for most of the music, but that cash mostly goes to the musicians who created the lessons at all. For something free take a look Musescore, which has tons of free sheet music for various instruments, and can also be used to notate and print your own music. In jazz and blues classics? Try it iReal Pro, which allows you to replace a printed “fake book” (jazz books with lots of music) with a digital version. You can even quickly change the song keys, making learning songs around the instrument even easier.