Technology and Music in Practice

Our phones can be so much more more than just phones. With the massive development and growth of the mobile and tablet markets, countless applications have surfaced over the last few years that can make our lives as musicians not only easier, but enhanced. We can do use the little gadget in our pockets as a tuner, metronome, drone, drum machine, recording device, practice log, and so more! I’ve even used my iPad for a couple of video lessons in a pinch.

With this extreme convenience, there does come a risk. I have been quite guilty of using my phone as a metronome at the beginning of a practice session and quickly becoming distracted by any of the plethora of things these devices can do. Avoiding this simply takes a little bit of discipline, and if that doesn’t prove to be enough, airplane mode is always an option.

Earlier, I mentioned that these devices can make our practice easier and enhanced. How are things made easier? I can carry just my phone or tablet and have access to all of my practice tools ready to go instead of having to carry a metronome, tuner, extra notebook for a practice log (though sometimes I do just like to write things down), and whatever else I may need that day. Chances are there’s an app for it.

That being said, the “easier” part is pretty simple. How are things enhanced? Some tuners are going to be more accurate than the ones you can download, and some of the metronomes out there are certainly going to be a bit easier to use and easier to hear over yourself playing. I have found that technology allows for new kinds of collaboration that would not have been so easy to find in practice.

For instance, I use Google Sheets (Google Drive’s version of Excel) as a collaborative practice log. My fellow Spectacle Brass trumpeter John Thomas Burson and I play together extensively, and we push each other to learn and do new and better things almost every day. In our time together, we have incessantly discussed with other how we approach our instrument, how we practice, and what we practice. So one day, I decided to create a log to see just how we are both practicing.

This log is a large spreadsheet containing many of the skills used in our daily routines. When one of us practices a particular skill, we mark its square in the spreadsheet with our initials, and if the other has already marked it, we mark the square with “both”. Through the magic of conditional formatting, we have the square change color depending on what it’s filled with. Blue for John, green for me, and purple for both. Below is a small sample of what this looks like for one particular skill.

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Click here forĀ a blank copy of this spreadsheet with a large number of skills filled in. In the document, I have included some conditional formatting already. Type “Musician 1” in a column for green, and “Musician 2” for blue. “Both” will still produce purple. You can modify these settings under the format toolbar by clicking “conditional formatting”. You can save a copy of this spreadsheet to your own Google Drive and access it with most smartphones, tablets, and computers.

This is just one way technology has helped us as musicians. There are countless other ideas out there using much more advanced ideas and technologies. I have also compiled a fairly large list of applications for Android and for iOS. These are the apps that I have found most useful in my practice.

Musicians are finding more and more ways to integrate technology into our lives, and the possibilities are becoming more and more vast with no signs of stopping! I challenge you to make great use of your phone as a tool to improve yourself and your life as a musician.


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