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Five Fabulous Music-Making Apps

iGrand Piano for iPad - IK Multimedia (currrently on sale for $7.99)

This app is perfect for both the music teacher and the piano student.  For the music teacher, you no longer need to roll your piano to the gym for performances, just plug into any portable USB/Midi controller (using Apple’s camera connection kit), get wired into the school PA system, and you’re ready to play.

For the student (and cost-conscious parents), iGrand offers an affordable and space-saving solution. For those late-night practice sessions, the app offers up a play for headphones, which is great.

As far as playability is concerned, we were impressed by the sound quality of iGrand. Whereas other apps have a toy-like piano sound, iGrand is professional grade throughout – producing stunning piano emulations.  The full version offers 18 different pianos ranging from baby grands, uprights, jazz and octave pianos.

One feature we really liked is the ability to record your performances and share them easily via e-mail so you can send files to your piano teacher, friends and family to show them how well you’ve been doing.

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We recommend a basic 88-key hammer grade, weighted piano action keyboard for serious students learning proper technique.  In the meantime, try out the free version, the sound alone will impress.

Music Tutor (Sight Reading Improver) - JSplash Apps ($0.99)

This is a straightforward, easy-to-use app to help sharpen your music sight-reading skills for both treble and bass notes.

The idea is very simple: The app displays a note on the scale and, much like a multiple-choice exam, you choose which note is correct.  To make things a bit more interesting, the test is timed (1, 5 or 10 minutes) so the faster you can answer correctly, the higher your score. Later, you can review your mistakes to help you hone your skills for the future.

However, we did find the requirement to log into Apple Game Center an annoyance and the program crashes if you don’t.  We understand that it might be fun to post your scores against others, but fear that this may deter some students from using the app if they receive a poor score that the world can see.  Luckily, there is a free version with ads so you can try it out before buying.

Piano Tutor for iPad - SmileyApps, LLC ($2.99)

Piano Tutor is a great app for teaching students sight-reading skills and piano technique all in one package.

The app is stress-free to operate, offers lots of useful features and will score your performance against the clock like Music Tutor.  Once you master all the songs included with the app, you can purchase additional packs for only $0.99.

Piano Tutor also offers up something for students who want to detect pitch by ear – it will play a note aloud and you have to play that note on the keyboard.  Get it wrong and you can press play to hear it again or receive hints with conventional notes or “Do, Re, Mi, Fa, Sol, La, Si” until you get it right.

Lastly, but not to be overlooked, it also allows you to hook up a USB/Midi keyboard controller so you can practice on a real keyboard if you desire, a feature missing from too many current app offerings in our opinion.

Piano Dust Buster 2 - Song Game - Play Classical, Pop songs, Movie Themes, Love Songs and more, on your Piano! - JoyTunes (Free)

This app is a fun way to get kids into learning how to read and play music in a game-type format. The app has several modes to start your learning:

Germ Attack drops notes down the screen (like Rock Band), so it will likely be an easily recognizable way for kids to start using it.

Staff Master Mode is great for teaching young kids how to read sheet music long before they might get a chance to do so in school.

Practice Mode allows you to play alone and records a score based on your performance.

Show-Time Mode puts you front and center in a band-like environment and you can receive praise for stellar performances.

Another feature we thought was very cool was the app’s ability to let you use your own instruments for your lessons (i.e. keyboard or piano) using the iPad’s built-in microphone to listen to what notes you’re playing.

The app does have a big drawback – although it does come with a starter song pack, it requires a $4.99 monthly subscription to get more lessons and songs.

At any rate, be sure to check out their website, JoyTunes, where they constantly are developing new apps with music teachers in mind for a similar purpose – learning.

NanoStudio - Blip Interactive Ltd ($13.99)

While this app is not for beginners, once you get over the learning curve, it is fantastic for the aspiring producer/songwriter student.  The app is very similar to expensive Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) software and will start them in the right direction.

NanoStudio offers you up to six instrument tracks to work with. It includes a nice Eden synthesizer with an inspiring sound library, including grand pianos, melodic synthesizer arpeggios, rock guitars and orchestral strings.  The drum machine is also fully programmable so you can create your own beats by tapping on the on-screen pads.

When you are ready to really dig in deep, NanoStudio does not disappoint with a slew of full mixing, effects, sampler, wave-form editing and mastering.

Another thing we really liked is that you can easily export your songs to SoundCloud – a web platform that will be very familiar to avid music creators nationwide.  We strongly suggest adding a USB/MIDI keyboard controller to get the full playing experience.

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