Technology Spotlight: InTune for iPhone

When students of mine are struggling to consistently play the right notes, they usually don’t want to believe that a little intonation practice can work wonders. Personally, I believe that every musician, regardless of their instrument or experience level, should learn about intonation early on in their studies. In the case of trombone, you can’t expect a budding trombonist to progress very far without breaching this subject.

Think about it this way: Guitar frets, piano keys, and trumpet valves are all similar in that they quickly and easily allow a beginner to produce a desired pitch. Please note that I’m not saying this pitch will be perfectly in tune or played with a good sound – just a good starting point. Unfortunately (and fortunately, depending on how you look at it), the approximately 25 inch slide on a trombone allows almost complete flexibility of pitch, which makes picking out one of seven slide positions a daunting task as a young student. While you can approximate positions with distances or relationships to the bell, the only true way to play the “correct” position is to LISTEN.

I’m constantly looking for new ways to approach topics like this with my youngest students and was very excited when I came across a great new iPhone application called InTune. The premise is simple: InTune plays two similar pitches and then asks whether the second tone was higher or lower than the first. As you answer correctly, the two pitches become closer together, making it slightly more difficult to identify the difference. Each time you make a mistake, you take a step backwards and the next exercise gets a little easier. This process continues until you have made 3 mistakes, after which you get your final score.

This app is great in that it gives students a fun way, completely void of their instrument, to see just how powerful and sensitive their hearing is. Since incorporating it in my teaching, I’ve had great success getting students of various levels to quickly understand and, most importantly, pay attention to their intonation while playing. Most of my beginning students were getting scores around 5-10% of a half-step on their first try… That means that they are able to hear that they are within 5-10 cents of being “in tune” while playing! If every beginning musician had this realization and played that close to in tune, the music world would be a much happier place!

Here are a few screenshots of the app in action:

InTune, which was created by Daniel Kazez, a Professor of Music at Wittenberg University, is sold through Apple’s iOS App Store for $0.99 and works on iPhones, iPod Touches, and the iPad.

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