June 2015

Product Review: Purely violin scales and arpeggio trainer

June 25, 2015 11:30

As an adult beginner who started playing violin with only elementary musical training, one of the biggest challenges I have faced is learning how to play in tune. At various stages of my journey I have used finger tapes and watching a tuner as I play, but I have come to recognize that I will only consistently play in tune when my ear recognizes the correct pitch. For me, this is best accomplished through repetition.

Enter the Purely Violin scales and arpeggio trainer by Music Future Ltd. This app started out as a desktop application for Mac and Windows but reaches its fullest potential on portable devices such as iPad and Android tablets.

The free iOS version comes with 8 basic arpeggios that give you enough of an experience to decide whether or not to shell out $13.99 for the full version. They also offer a $2.99 monthly rental.

The software comes with 70 scale and arpeggio lessons in various positions and degrees of difficulty and the ability to construct your own lessons from individual scales and arpeggios. I bought the full version immediately after trying the first lesson and have used it to practice scales for a few hours in the past few days.

Note that the visual display shows the note values, sheet music and fingering for this first position exercise. All of these reinforce important elements of training -- auditory, visual, tactile and memory.

In addition to the lessons provided, you can also create your own combinations from the individual scales and arpeggios. I was able to construct a C-major and A-minor lesson plan of 2 scales and 2 arpeggios in a few minutes and then looped through it several times for 30 minutes of practice with a mute.

Having instant visual and auditory feedback and forced repetition of eighth, quarter and half note scales and arpeggios made a clear and immediate improvement to my timing and intonation. It is easy to see that months of this would be a good supplement to instruction with a teacher for faster gains in terms of sight reading and intonation.

There are some features that could be improved upon or added. The individual scales and arpeggios could be individually numbered to make it easier to distinguish them. The process for simply selecting a single scale or arpeggio for practice could be a little easier. And the interface for selecting individual lessons, which is basically a big tree, would be better if it were a collapsible list.

Those very minor concerns aside, I can strongly recommend this product for facilitating violin training for the beginning or advancing student. It is pretty much exactly what I was looking for in this kind of software.

The desktop product is available at purelyviolin.com and Amazon. The iPhone and Droid versions are available at the app store and google play.

Violinists who like the scales and arpeggio software might want to also try the Purely Fiddle software for learning Irish folks songs.

(An earlier version of the story said that the software would be improved if they had accompanying sheet music that could be printed. A representative of the company sent me this link to pdf's of the sheet music that are available for free download on their web site)

Author's Note: I do not have any connection to the companies selling the products I review.

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Product Review: Forte 6 Music Composition Software

June 9, 2015 16:34

As an amateur violinist, I have often found myself wanting to jot down brief music compositions that I come across for later use. There is a large variety of music notation software available on the market.

A few years ago, I did a product review of one freeware offering that I found a bit clunky. Wanting to upgrade to a more fully functional software, I decided to give Forte 6 a try.

I am not an expert in music theory or composition by any stretch. I found Forte intuitive and very easy to use. It provides playback for a large number of instruments, including the violin and allows the composer to easily combine multiple instrument parts into a complete score.

The first time I used the software I was able to pick my way around well enough to compose this 1 octave c-major scale and play it back as a violin and output it back as a pdf and mp3 in about 10 minutes.

Although Forte does not come bundled with MP3 encoding software, it provides an easy interface to download and install the required codec which will allow you to export files as MP3.

Listen to the MP3 recording here.

In order to export to pdf, the composer needs to install a separate piece of software like Acrobat professional or the free Foxit reader, both of which allow you to output printed documents to pdf rather than to a printer.

Forte also includes hundreds of classical and instrumental scores by composers such as Beethoven, Brahms, Bach, Mendelssohn and Haydn. Most are titled in German.

Purchase price is a little spendy -- $239 for the full version – but if you are looking for good music notation software, this would make a fine choice for anyone from a beginning composer to a professional.

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