Help me improve my dismal musical ability!
November 23, 2013 3:41 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for a piece of music training software, designed for use with a MIDI keyboard, that will help develop my dexterity and general competence with melody, harmony, and chords.

I'm getting back into making electronic music, after a long hiatus. I've always been much more of a button-pusher and knob-twiddler than a conventional musician who can, you know, actually play an instrument.

I always find myself falling back on the same, very limited set of familiar keys, and I have practically no ability to find chords and key changes that work together, except through tedious trial-and-error.

I have no ambitions to become a virtuoso, and I don't necessarily want to learn sight-reading or a bunch of theory (any more than I have to), but I'd like to find a piece of software that will drill me on playing, and (most importantly) help me break out of this rut and expand my musical vocabulary. I want the electronic version of the piano teacher that makes you play scales and chords over and over, maybe with some composed pieces of music thrown in, gradually building in complexity. Or something like that.

I don't expect that it'll matter much, but I'll be using a Novation Ultranova and an M-Audio FastTrack Pro interface. My computer is of the Windows persuasion.

posted by escape from the potato planet to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (7 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
As far as making chord changes that sound good, it's all about The Circle Of Fifths (a quick search on google will pull it up).

As long as you know your I, vi, IV and V chords in a key (the 1, minor 6, 4 and 5 chords, respectively), you'll be able to make some decent songs, and play a ton of already made ones.

Try that out, as far as software I don't really have any recommendations, though. Something with basic backing tracks so you can play along, is probably what you're looking for.

Good luck :)
posted by readygo at 4:26 PM on November 23, 2013

Back in college we had to use MacGamut for ear training. It covered chords and inversions, intervals harmonic and melodic, and possibly melodies too. It played the whatever in question (only a certain number of times, at the later advanced levels) and you could either notate with the mouse or use a (musical, electronic) keyboard hooked up to the computer. We might have had to notate modulations too, but I don't remember clearly.

All this to say that it's not exactly what you're looking for, but it might help. The software we used was for Mac, but there might be a Windows version. Google around and maybe you can find it! (and let me know if you do...miss those long, long hours at the music lab getting them stupid chords right)
posted by ditto75 at 5:44 PM on November 23, 2013

This might be way below your level, but worth a shot: ear training games called Theta Music Trainer
posted by winterportage at 5:55 PM on November 23, 2013

There seems a bunch of commercial piano teaching software. And Synthesia was recently mentioned on the blue. But these are more about playing pieces. GarageBand also has built in lessons like that.

PracticaMusica is seriously deep theory and ear training software
Open source and free - PianoBooster and LenMusic

PurelyPiano probably comes closest to what you're looking for.
posted by yoHighness at 6:16 PM on November 23, 2013 [4 favorites]

Btw the PurelyPiano site lets you download PDFs and listen to all of its exercise content for free online, as long as it's for personal use. Just click on the Content List links at the bottom.
posted by yoHighness at 6:21 PM on November 23, 2013

I actually wrote a piece of commercial software for practicing against other people's music - it's called Slow Gold. I'm not sure that it's really what you're looking for - to be honest, I believe 90% of our customers are people practicing Pink Floyd licks and the like - but check it out and if you like it I'll cut you a monster deal on it (memail me).

Honestly, the way I do it is to go back to the fundamentals. When I pick up my instrument after a long delay, I tend to do major, minor, harmonic, and whole tone scales - and major, minor, major 7th and minor 7th and diminished arpeggios - in all 12 keys. I can't do them all perfectly, but I can do them all, and that alone makes my fingers more happy.

I also take well-known pieces and transpose them to "difficult" keys (SlowGold is good for that too). When I find something that's particularly hard, I might write something in that key, scale, or whatever, just for me to practice against.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 11:57 AM on November 24, 2013

If you've got an XBox or PS3, it might be worth getting Rock Band 3 and the keyboard peripheral. It's only $40 on Amazon, and the keyboard is a surprisingly solid two-octave MIDI keyboard. It won't teach you much beyond how to play the keyboard parts for the songs on disc, but there's a wide selection, it's fun, and it's cheap.
posted by spielzebub at 6:01 AM on November 26, 2013

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