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Piano apps to advance your learning: Practice tracking, notation and backing track software

Piano apps to advance your learning: Practice tracking, notation and backing tracks
(Image credit: Flowkey)

The best online piano lessons will help you stay on top of your practice, and keep you motivated to progress. Many also come with apps and features which let you download and learn popular songs. However, there are plenty of free piano apps which will boost your learning in addition to online piano lessons, such as piano practice tracking apps, audio recording apps and backing tracks. 

Software is a great and inexpensive way to learn how to play piano from the comfort of your own home, but foregoing one-to-one tuition can mean there's less holding you to account and motivating your practice sessions. Practice tracking apps will keep you on track for success, and audio recording apps let you listen back and improve on your playing skills. Many of our favorite piano apps are free and easy to use, and available to download on the best smartphones right now. We've got all the information you need to take your online lessons to the next level, right here.  

Practice tracking apps

One of the most important aspects of using software to learn an instrument is self-motivation. Because there isn’t a teacher sitting next to you, it is hard to keep track of how long you practice and what you practice outside the prescribed lesson plan. These apps have tools to track progress, record practice sessions and manage a practice routine.

Modacity

Modacity is a practice tracker, audio recorder, and note taking app with an organized and easy-to-use interface. It allows you to customize a practice plan and tracks your progress with statistical data and audio recordings which speed up or slow down to help you fine tune your lessons. There is a free version for iPads and iPhones, but the premium version includes a chat feature that allows you to send practice questions to professional musicians and get specialized feedback about how to overcome a troublesome topic.

Music Journal Pro

Music Journal Pro is available for Apple devices for less than $7. It has a practice timer for up to two hours, which continues to run even if you open a different app to text or make a phone call. Music Journal Pro creates bar graphs that show how many minutes you practice each song or scale. You export the graphs to email to your instructor or archive them in a different location. This app also has a metronome and tempo adjustment feature which allows you to slow a song down, and the app tracks the beats per minute (BPM), so you can set a goal and view your progress with the BPM chart.

Instrumentive - Music Practice Notes

Instrumentive is available on Google Play and lets you set practice targets and track whether or not you meet them. It also can record your playing, meaning you can listen back and check where you’re going wrong. The integrated metronome keeps you in time and you can even create playlists and for practice sessions. What’s more, the app is free and a popular choice for Android users, with reviews giving it 4.7/5 stars on the Play store. 

Many online piano lessons such as Flowkey come with apps to help users learn on the go 

Many online piano lessons such as Flowkey come with apps to help users learn on the go  (Image credit: Flowkey)

Backing tracks for piano 

Backing tracks are a fun and effective way to practice improvisation, ear training and scale theory. Most online services we tested don’t introduce improvisation and ear training techniques until the intermediate and advanced lessons. However, we recommend using backing tracks to improve rhythm while practicing scales you learn in beginner lessons.

MusiClock

MusiClock is available for iPhone and iPad for less than $9 and includes helpful tools for beginners and advanced players alike. The user interface is attractive and easy to use, and the app has a virtual keyboard for practicing scales on the go. The backing tracks sound great and include popular musical genres like pop, blues and jazz. There are eight different scales, including major, minor, blues and pentatonic, and the interface is a helpful aid for visualizing scale theory.

iReal Pro

The iReal Pro app is available for iOS, Android and Mac operating systems for less than $20. It comes with 50 accompaniment styles, but the 12 blues backing tracks are a $3 add-on for mobile devices. This app helps you create your own chord charts and upload them to the forum to share with other music students and professional players. iReal Pro doesn’t have many features for beginning piano students, but once you transition to intermediate and advanced lessons, improvisation practice is a crucial step to help improve your ear and give you the confidence to start playing with other musicians.

Wiki Loops

Wiki Loops is an online loop library which has an intuitive interface that allows you to filter a vast library of backing tracks by musical genre and choose which instruments are excluded and included in the track. Once you choose which instruments you want to play along with, you can further filter the results by tempo, meter and key. The website has a community board with tips about improvisation and ear training, and a forum with virtual open mic sessions that allow you to jam with other musicians.

Drum Loops by EUMLab

This app for iPad and iPhone has hundreds of drum loops that cover most musical genres. The user interface is easy to use and allows you to adjust the tempo and add your favorite grooves to a list for quick and easy access. You play the loops through the speaker on your mobile device or sync to a TV or speaker system via Bluetooth or Airplay. Drum Loops costs $1 and includes plenty of tracks for practicing improvisation and scales, or you can purchase expansion packs with additional drum loops in the genre of your preference for $1 each.

Virtual piano apps  

Many online piano platforms include a virtual piano, which allows you to take lessons without a keyboard or acoustic piano. The website virtualpiano.net will work perfectly if you're using a computer, but if you want to practice scales or melodies on the go, here are some virtual piano mobile apps. 

Virtuoso Piano Free 4

This virtual piano app is free and doesn’t display annoying ads like other free piano apps we reviewed. It is only available for iPhone and iPad, but it has eight different piano sounds sampled from actual instruments. Virtuoso Piano is compatible with piano learning programs, like Flowkey and Playground Sessions, that accept MIDI over Bluetooth and MIDI over Wi-Fi. The keyboard is velocity sensitive and has acoustic controls to change the sound of the instruments. This app also allows background playback, so you can play along to songs downloaded on your phone or tablet.

Perfect Piano

This virtual piano app is available for Android and iOS devices for free. It doesn’t sound as good as Virtuoso Piano, but it has an organ, synthesizer, Rhodes piano and string ensemble sounds. Perfect Piano supports multiplayer connections, so you can play piano with other players around the world and chat with them in the app. This app also has a recording function to export a MIDI or audio file. The waterfall display feature is helpful for improving rhythm and melody with accompanying visual info that simulates game-style learning. Perfect Piano shows how you can practice piano on the go in a fun video. Now we just need three iPhones...

Audio recording apps for piano

Many apps we tested have simple recording functions, but if you want to record your practice sessions on the go or layer multiple piano tracks, a multi-track recording app is the best option. These apps have a virtual piano and also record the sound coming from an acoustic piano or electronic keyboard using the microphone in your mobile device.

BandLab

This free app for Android and iOS devices lets you record an unlimited number of projects and save them on a secure cloud. There are more than 120 virtual instruments and more than 2,000 royalty-free loops to help improve your improvisation skills. There’s an easy-to-use collaboration feature that allows you to record a piano track and send it to other BandLab users who can then add other instruments like drums, guitar or other keyboard sounds.

GarageBand

GarageBand doesn’t have the unique collaboration features found in BandLab, but the virtual keyboard is much more responsive. This app is only available on Apple devices, but it allows you to record up to 32 tracks per session and has a great selection of virtual instruments, including acoustic pianos, synthesizers, organs and electric pianos. Once you record a piano track, you add the virtual session drummer to the recording and it analyzes the tempo and style of your piano part to create a customized drum track to accompany it.

Apps for sight reading & ear training  

Sight reading and ear training are important principles of music theory and a necessary part of any good piano learning curriculum. Many of the programs we tested incorporate both ear training and sight reading, but if you are looking for some supplementary resources, here are some good mobile apps.

Tenuto

Tenuto is a helpful ear training app from the developers of musictheory.net. It’s available for iPhone and iPad for less than $4 and has a user-friendly interface that includes a virtual keyboard to help you visualize chords. The exercises are available offline, so you can brush up on your ear training from a comfortable park bench or on the bus ride to work. The exercises are fully customizable to help you practice the key signatures and scales that are giving you the most trouble. Challenge Mode allows you to add a time limit to the lessons and motivates you to try to beat your previous high score.

Music tutor

Music Tutor is a free app for Android and iOS devices that improves your sight-reading skills with speed and accuracy drills. You can customize the range of notes you want to practice, and the app gives you instant feedback about accuracy and response time in one-, five- or 10-minute sessions. The exercises include notes up to four ledger lines above or below the staff for any of the clefs. You enter the notes by using the virtual keyboard or a connected MIDI controller, or by pressing the letter note values. Music Tutor also helps develop your ear training by playing the sound of the note, but you can turn that feature off if it becomes a distraction. 

Music notation apps

You can use apps anywhere to enhance your piano skills

You can use apps anywhere to enhance your piano skills (Image credit: Getty Images )

You don’t learn to notate or transcribe music until you get to intermediate and advanced curriculum. However, it is an important part of learning to play an instrument, and the sooner you learn it, the better. We tested and ranked the best music notation software for a home computer, but here are some easy-to-use mobile apps to help you get started writing and archiving your own piano sheet music.

Notion

Notion is our favorite music notation software for home computers, and it’s also available for iPhone and iPad for less than $15. The mobile app doesn’t have the same comprehensive selection of notation tools as the desktop version, but it is easy to use and perfectly suited for quickly jotting down ideas and short musical phrases. This app has the best-sounding playback engine of all the notation apps, so when you write a piano part, you can hear it played back on a Steinway grand piano. Notion has a virtual keyboard to help you input notes if you prefer that method to handwriting on a grand staff or using the drag-and-drop feature.

Notation pad

If you want a free notation app that works on Android devices, Notation Pad is the best option. It is also available free for iOS devices. The free version has all the tools to create simple compositions with the touch-friendly interface. The instrument packs cost extra, but you don’t need them for notating simple piano parts. This app also allows you to add lyrics to a piano composition, and it exports PDF or PNG files to share with your instructors and friends via email.