App of the baton
Turn your smart phone into a brainy classicalphile.
Hot on the heels of the iPhone boom came thousands of applications aimed at tech-geek musos. We road tested games and resources designed specifically for classical musicians and buffs.
The L.A. Phil launched this app in 2009, inviting fans to step into the shoes of its hot new 29-year-old conductor, Gustavo Dudamel. (Pitch to the CSO: “Cosi fan Muti”?) This iPhone adaptation of a more enjoyable online game requires you to wave your cell around like a baton and keep time in two movements from Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique and excerpts from Mahler’s Symphony No. 1. Hit a good flow and tempo, and the piece plays on; screw it up, and silence. Pretty simple, but the program doesn’t capture the podium vibe, no matter how much you ham it up. Nor is it the most inconspicuous way to kill time on the train.
Available for iPhone; free.
As the names suggest, Decibel and deciBel are simple meters that allow volume geeks to monitor the average and peak sound levels of anything from a soaring soprano solo to the eardrum punch of the CSO. Like Tuna Pitch (see below), these sound gauges work best on newer 3G phones due to their superior microphones. They may not be as sensitive as their purpose-built cousins, but we like them as a snazzy tool for policing ear safety. Nobody wants to be the next Beethoven in all regards.
Decibel is available for iPhone; 99¢. deciBel is available for Android; free.
Oxford Dictionary of Music
Far pricier than your average app, this nifty resource is worth every cent. Authoritative, extensive and clearly written, the reference guide is a breeze to navigate and includes info on instruments and their histories, tech terms and short blurbs on musical works from Aida to Zauberflöte. You can also get the lowdown on a rich variety of composers and performers, with more than 150 contemporary tunesmiths added to the downloadable edition. An on-the-go gold mine.
Available for iPhone; $14.99.
iPhone app SightRead (the Android platform carries a clone program, Sight Read) helps users develop their natural sight-reading skills by playing a simple game: Pick any scale and match the notes that appear on the 20-note keyboard display to the correct key; rack up points based on speed and accuracy. The keyboard has realistic sampled piano sounds, but we found the tiny keys difficult to navigate at first, resulting in a high number of errant touches. Useful for anyone looking to learn or brush up on their treble-clef basics.
SightRead for iPhone; free.
Inspired by Rock Band and games of its ilk, Street Orchestra is the world’s first classical-music app to find, sync and unite phones, allowing you to create an interactive orchestra with your buddies. Each player picks an instrument and taps a series of flaming white balls as they fly down the screen. Better game skills result in a louder instrument. It can work with up to 200,000 iPhones, but we created a dramatic racket with just three. There’s also the option to give a solo recital, but the addictive multiplayer function makes this a must-download.
Available for iPhone; free.
A boon for musicians on the road and a great warm-up tool for vocalists, this impressively accurate chromatic tuner and pitch pipe offers tunings for 17 instruments, including cello, viola, guitar, banjo and ukulele. The interface is large, high-contrast and easy to read, and the software comes with a choice of five standard tunings, though any “string” setting can be customized to a desired note. Helpful, simple and good bang for your buck. Downside: An external microphone is required to detect the higher pitches of a violin or mandolin, and Tuna Pitch can’t really handle the complexities of piano tuning.
Available for iPhone; $2.99.