In the old days, technology in the practice room consisted of a wind up metronome and a cassette recorder.
Today, we have a lot more options available.
In this lesson, I’m going to tell you about some of the best apps that will help you get more out of your practice time, all while having fun in the process.
1. Tonal Energy
First up is a metronome. This is going to be the most important tool apart from your instrument for every musician. There are hundreds of metronome apps out there so it doesn’t really matter which one you use.
My favorite is this one Tonal Energy, I’ve been using it for years. I love it because it has a ton of other functions and I can customize the metronome settings.
I always listen to the metronome using headphones or ear buds. Otherwise it just won’t be loud enough to hear over the sound of the saxophone. You could also have the metronome playing through external speakers.
Here’s a couple great ways to challenge yourself if you’re already practicing with a metronome.
One, set it to click on beats 2 and 4 only. This takes a bit of practice at first, but with the exception of classical music most of what we play on the saxophone is going to be styles where the drummer is accenting the weak beats 2 and 4 on the hi-hat.
Simulating this with the metronome on 2 and 4 can help us get into the habit of feeling the rhythm in a more relaxed way.
Another way to challenge yourself, is to set the metronome to randomly skip clicks a certain percentage of the time. This will require you to rely on your own inner time feel rather than always using the metronome as a crutch.
Try those out and let me know how it goes in the comments below!
The next essential thing all saxophone players should have is a good tuner. I use the same app for this as the metronome because Tonal Energy is a great tuner as well.
First I set it up to transpose for my instrument.
Then I select the sensitivity I want. I always have it set to ultra fine because why not.
I like to have the app play drone notes that match the note I’m playing while practicing long tones. For this to work you need to be using headphones though.
A more advanced way to use the tuner is to not look at the display, but use just use your ear to hear if you are in tune and make necessary adjustments.
With the drone playing in my headphones, I can try to match the exact frequency of the tone. When 2 notes are just slightly out of tune you’ll hear a pulse that gets slower the more in tune we are. If I can get the 2 frequencies to line up exactly the pulse disappears and the notes are in tune.
This is how we tune notes in real time so if you want to improve your intonation I suggest you practice with drone notes.
Now you may be someone who wants to jump right into the fun stuff so our next great app is also the sponsor of this video it’s called TomPlay.
TomPlay is an app that works on all mobile devices and desktop computers and provides accompaniment and sheet music arrangements for all instruments.
It’s kind of crazy what you can do with this thing. Let me give you a few examples.
Let’s say I want to play “Just the Way You Are” by Billy Joel.
I do a search for the title and the results give me a few options. Easy/intermediate for alto or tenor sax and another intermediate/advanced arrangement for alto or tenor sax.
I’m going to choose the more difficult version, but you have the option of an easier arrangement with less complex rhythms.
Now I’m going to have on the screen a fantastic arrangement of this tune that I can play along with as the sheet music scrolls by in real time.
I can have the app play the saxophone part for me which is super helpful if I want to hear how the arrangement goes and have a reference for pitch, rhythm and phrasing.
I can also turn off the saxophone play back so it’s just the accompaniment is behind me.
Another cool thing we could do with this tune is have the vocal track playing and just add some nice fills the way we might do if we were performing this song in a band with a singer.
I love that they put the chord changes in the sheet music as well so you could also use the app to practice improvising over the harmony while it helps you keep your place.
For those who are still beginners, you can even have the app display a real time fingering chart on screen as the notes go by.
You can even record your own performances right into the app and play them back to see how well you performed.
One thing I love about this arrangement is that when we get to the saxophone solo, it has one written out. It’s not Phil Woods’ solo from the original recording, but an easier written out solo that gives you something cool to play in that section of the song.
They’ve got 10s of thousands of scores you can work with in all different musical styles. Lots of classical, jazz and pop music to choose from.
You can write your own notes on the scores, print them out, change the tempos and loop sections for focused practice.
If you are someone who likes to play songs from sheet music, or likes to have backing track accompaniment you’re going to love this app. It is a really fun tool and certainly something that just wasn’t possible in the past.
Right now you can get a free 14-day trial so be sure to check it out!
I encourage everyone to go check out TomPlay and learn a new tune today, let me know how it works out for you in the comments!
Another fantastic app which is really essential for anyone who is studying jazz is iRealPro. This app provides just the chord progressions and computer generated accompaniment which is not suitable for performances since it sounds like a computer basically.
Musicians use this as a replacement for the “Real Books” when they need a reference for chord progressions, or want to practice playing over chord changes.
It allows you to change the tempo, style, key and even create your own chord progressions or edit existing ones, so you have a ton of flexibility.
However, it does not provide the melodies at all.
4. Drum Genius
If you find practicing with the metronome to be a bit dull, you may want to check out Drum Genius.
I’ve been using this app for years, it’s basically a collection of drum loops in a wide variety of styles. You pick a loop you want to practice with and hit play.
I use this when practicing technical stuff like scales, arpeggios and patterns. It’s a great way to get used to playing with a drummer and working on your time feel in various styles.
There are tons of loops to choose from and I love how they give you an example of a classic recording where a specific drummer is playing the beat.
Try practicing in styles you may be less familiar with for an extra challenge.
5. iPractice Pro
One of my all time favorite apps for practicing is called iPractice Pro.
This app is all about providing specific practice tools to help musicians get more out of their practice time.
You can use it to practice over drones along with the metronome and you can use it to practice over individual chord qualities.
I love using it to practice specific chord progressions.
For example, I can set it to play a ii-V-I chord progression on a loop and after let’s say 4 repeats, it moves up a half step.
This is a great way to take lines through all 12 keys, or just practice improvising through all the keys.
It’s packed with features and I strongly recommend this app to any student of jazz.
6. Genius Jam Tracks
Another more recent app I’ve been checking out lately is called Genius Jam Tracks. This app has built on what iReal Pro has done by adding some interesting features.
Overall, it does the same thing which is provide computer generated accompaniment for practicing tunes. However it definitely sounds better than iRealPro, but it’s still a band of computer musicians.
Other things that set this app apart, is that first of all it comes loaded with a huge catalog of standard songs and you’ve got these sliders for harmonic and rhythmic complexity.
So we can vary how rhythmically complex the playback is and we can do the same with the harmony
This app is definitely worth checking out as it’s packed with a ton of other features that more advanced musicians will find useful for sure.
7. Anytune Pro
Transcribing is probably the single best thing you can do to improve your musicianship and there are apps that make the process much easier.
My favorite app for transcribing is called Anytune Pro. It has a intuitive interface that allows me to loop sections of recordings, adjust the playback speed and even change the key.
For example if I want to learn how to play this line from xxx I will load the audio file into the app set it to loop just this phrase and then I’ll get to work.
The app allows me to set key points in the recording so that I can make all different kinds of loops.
Once I learn this phrase I’ll then change my loop to the next phrase.
Once I learn that one, I’ll loop them both together.
Now apps can be very helpful in the practice room, but if you want to know the 2 things that stop the vast majority of saxophone students improving you’re going to want to watch this lesson next.