One App At a Time: tempoTeacher
Do you have some bench warmers who simply cannot carry a steady beat? Why do some struggle to play evenly with (and without) a metronome, while others--even within the same family-- can do so with ease? When will research reveal the "cure" for those who struggle to overcome this tempo-keeping challenge? I don't know the answer, all I know is that it is my job to develop that inner pulse with any means possible. You gotta admire app developers who spot this deficit of many budding musicians. The makers of tempoTeacher have been hard at work to build an app that aims to aid those in need of a balanced beat. I was asked by the developers of tempoTeacher to try the app with my students. Once I got a handle on the app, I was eager to use it with those in need of finding that elusive pulse.
Here's a run down of what I experienced with tempoTeacher:
-It took me a while to work my way around the it. Once I figured out how to use the red help button, things became much more clear. Hint: I highly recommend watching the videos (www.birdSoundMusic.com/videos) supplied at the developers' site. Don't follow my lead--read/listen to the directions first. This will save you time!
-Although it can function as a typical metronome, the unique feature of tempoTeacher is the Teacher Mode. Unlike any other metronome, once in Teacher Mode, this app records a live performance and monitors how closely the performer follows a steady beat. How? Once a tempo is set and the metronome started, a series of lights travels back and forth from one side to the other. The performer is aware of steadiness by watching lights moving from right to left. The light turns green when a sound is made on (or close to) the beat. The goal is to play when the light is lit green furthest to the right or left. After playing for one minute or more, the app analyzes, and scores the playing for rhythmic accuracy.
-A record of scores is kept and includes a date to help users keep track of progress.
-For guitar lovers , the tempoTeacher metronome app controls the sound of your guitar when plugged in, and allows you to change settings. It seems like a unique feature but since I don't play guitar....
-I asked a high school student of mine who has studied for less than a year with me but has taken off with her latent skills from lessons years ago, to experiment with the app at home. She downloaded the app on her iPhone (operating system iOS 6 is recommended). After reviewing and using it with her at the lesson she took it home.
Note: Travis, one of the developers provided this advice: "When my students practice with it at home, I recommend that they use their iPad or iPhone headphones, so that tempoTeacher's "listening" feature can hear the student's playing with perfect clarity. When we use it in a lesson (and using headphones isn't practical), I reduce the "mic sensitivity" setting to prevent tempoTeacher from "hearing" its own metronome click."
-My student did have some difficulties using this at home. Using the headphones did not work for her and it seemed to overwhelm her trying to watch and listen for the steady beat. She felt the volume level of the tick was quite hard to hear over her playing. I purposely tried the app with other students who I know suffer from "rhythmic deficiency" syndrome. What I noticed? They all had trouble watching and listening to the app WHILE playing along. There's seems to be a coordination issue when so many senses are activated? For most, I believe the app would work best when mastering technique and scales, etc; items that do not require reading from the page so that the eyes can focus on the app's lights. Although it is not a necessity to watch the lights, I purposely encouraged students to do so as this is the unique feature of the app and to see if this might aid a steadier pulse.
-A student who is accustomed to playing steadily with a metronome was asked to play along with tempoTeacher. She found the series of 8 lights distracting and liked the 2 LED option better. She also felt the volume of the ticks was hard to hear over her playing. In addition, she mentioned this would work well for scales practice but not necessarily on repertoire as her eyes would need to stay on the metronome to check for accuracy.
What I've determined thus far?
1) The makers of this tempoTeacher have an admirable philosophy:
"At birdSound, we aid in the advancement in creativity and personal fulfillment through music. We aim to leverage advances in consumer products, particularly powerful mobile devices, to create radically innovative software products that make learning, understanding, and creating music more accessible."
2) In every lesson, I try one or more of the following tools to develop an inner steady pulse with students:
- a metronome,
- a rhythmic style on my Clavinova,
- improvised duets to play along with the student
- tapping a drum, tapping or clapping along
- and of course counting aloud...
It's not easy to know which one will work with a student but more often than not, things are improved eventually because I carry a well-stocked arsenal of time-keeping tools AND stay persistent. It's good to have tempoTeacher in the toolbox.
3) The visuals/lights of tempoTeacher seemed to overwhelm those struggling to build steadiness. This combined with the the volume issues prevented some from enjoying a successful experience. The feedback and scores featured on this app may be more beneficial for those who already feel comfortable playing with a metronome or a style accompaniment who aim to build more accuracy.
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Leila's Opinion of tempoTeacher: $2.99
Application Potential: 4/5
There is no doubt that the developers understand the need for building a steady inner pulse and I admire their efforts to help budding musicians increase this skill. This universal app for iOS has all of the features of a traditional metronome with the addition of real-time feedback to help facilitate a steady pulse.
What you may miss:
- Even if headphones are used, the volume of the tics is difficult to hear when playing an instrument.
- The feedback provided for accuracy seems vague and may be distorted because of mic sensitivity.
Ability to Use with Ease: 3/5
I struggled to figure out the help button but finally figured it out. Hint: after tapping the red button, a window pops up. Even though the window remains, you can double tap on the screen to learn about each feature. Tap the red button again and the help mode will be disabled. One other thing that took some adjusting: instead of tapping the screen to stop the metronome it must be swiped off.
Assessment of Investment: 4/5
The reasonable price tag and its unique capability of measuring a steady pulse make this app a suitable choice for your metronome app collection.
Total Score: 11/15
PS: In light of my last blog "Am I Human?", I am partial to this quote found on their website:
Technology is good. It defines who we are as humans. So let us use it as a tool to our advantage as we have in the past, not to our detriment.
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