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The 12 Best Apps to Teach Your Kids to Read Music 

 November 23, 2020

By  Kale Good

Are you wondering how you can use music apps to increase your child's engagement and enhance their lesson experience? In this article, I will share different app genres, give you the best app in each genre (with reviews), and give you a suggested "Lesson Plan" using these apps.

To teach your child to read notes using apps, you'll need to use flashcard-style note-reading apps, sightreading apps, rhythm apps, aural skills apps, and composition apps. Generally speaking, you can use aural skills apps, rhythm apps, and flashcard-style note-reading apps concurrently. Later on, your child will be able to use sight reading apps and composition apps after they've developed their knowledge more thoroughly. 

Note: This article covers which apps can be used to help your child learn to read notes. However, none of these apps do a good job of introducing the concepts essential to note reading. To find out how I teach my music students to read notes, read this article.

Unfortunately, I will be talking exclusively about iOS devices. I take a fundamental issue with Apple's entire business model and prefer no Apple devices in my household. That being said, Android doesn't have 1/10th of the music apps that iOS does. This shortcoming is due to some very low-level programing parts of the Andriod operating system and will not be fixed anytime soon. We're stuck with iOS, whether we like it or not.
 
Additionally, you should know that most educational music apps are somewhat niche. Because of this, these apps tend to be developed by individuals or very, very small companies. It's difficult or impossible to recoup costs through ads with a small user-base. Most of these apps are not free. Some are on the expensive side for an app. On the bright side, these smaller companies are more responsive to feedback on bug reports and feature requests.

None of these links are affiliate links; I make no money if you buy these apps.

Note Reading Apps

Both of the apps reviewed below can listen to your child's notes and tell them if they played the right note or not (although both are sometimes picky). They also have custom-level creators that teachers can use to create individualized lesson plans. If you like these music apps, you might want to ask your teacher to create customized levels for you to use at home.

Anki

Anki is hands-down the fastest way I've found to get kids to read notes. Before introducing Anki, it would take students 2-6 months to learn all the first-position notes. When I first introduced Anki, I had multiple students learn all the notes in 2-3 weeks!

How did Anki make this possible? With Anki, I can use the App to teach kids notes rather than have them review notes we've learned in a lesson. As a result, they learn new notes every day they use the App. With every other App on this list, I can only have it review notes I've already taught the students. As a result, students can progress seven times faster by learning new notes every day instead of only at our weekly lesson! 

The challenging thing in note reading is not remembering a single individual note but remembering all the notes. Therefore, Anki keeps kids challenged and engaged by constantly offering them new notes to learn.

Anki also does a better job of keeping kids engaged with note reviews. By keeping track of your child's ability with each note, Anki knows how difficult each note is for your child. Easy notes are shown less often, and difficult notes are shown more often. When your child gets good at a note, they might not see that note again for months\

There are multiple severe caveats to Anki; the biggest one is that the App isn't designed specifically for music, specifically for kids, or even specifically for teachers! It takes a lot of effort on a teacher's part to set up Anki to be used as a Note Learning App (and, even then, I recommend using the AnkiWeb website for my students instead of the App).

If you are a teacher interested in using Anki in your studio or a guitar player who would like to use my custom Anki deck to learn notes on the neck of the guitar, please get in touch with me.

Note Rush

Note Rush has a pleasing and modern interface that will engage your child. It has various themes, comprised of background images and thematic noteheads, that you can use to increase your child's engagement. For example, the "Outerspace" theme has a picture of outer space in the background. Note Rush replaces standard black-dot noteheads with planets and asteroids. Note Rush has five pre-built levels for treble clef, bass clef, and the clefs combined, for a total of 15 pre-built levels.

Where Note Rush shines is its custom-level designer. The teacher can select any note, including any sharps and flats, and the number of repetitions. Note Rush saves the levels as screen-shots with an embedded QR code that can easily be shared with and scanned by your child. When your child wants to play a level, they access your photo gallery via the app and select the image. The level is automatically loaded. For the teacher and parent, this saving method is fantastic because you can see what notes are in a level without having to open the level in the app.  

Note Rush has two problematic constraints in its level designer: First, the range of single-staff levels is limited. For example, guitarists would be frustrated by this app's inability to display the lowest E, F, and F# (and drop D) on the treble clef, as these notes are essential reading for them. Second, while it has MIDI input, it can not handle transposing instruments in MIDI. I've explained these shortcomings to the developer, who has added it to his "to-do" list. Hopefully, we'll see these issues resolved in future versions.

Gameplay consists of notes popping onto the music staff; once your child correctly plays the notes, the next note shows up. Skill is measured using a timer; on completion, Note Rush will show your child their time and how many stars they earned (faster = more stars). This feature is great for kids who like to compete with themselves and get a faster time.

Flashnote Derby

Flashnote Derby and Note Rush offer the same basic functionality (using the mic to detect what notes your child is playing) and have complementary strengths and weaknesses. Flashnote Derby's graphics and interface are quite good but a touch dated compared to Note Rush. Like Note Rush, Flashnote Derby also has different themes to help engage your child. Flashnote Derby also can build custom levels; however, its saving and sharing mechanism isn't as elegant as Note Rush's. Flashnote Derby gives you a link. That's it. You don't have any ability to see what notes are in a level, so you'll need to name each link carefully or keep track of it in a different document.

Flashnote Derby shines in its customizability (with two exceptions).  Flashnote Derby supports a much more extensive range of notes on each staff; it covers all the notes on the guitar and plenty more. It also supports a much broader range of staves; users looking to learn alto clef will be glad to see it's inclusion here.

Flashnote Derby's level designer also supports note name identification. Rather than playing the correct pitch, Flashnote Derby can ask your child to identify the note's name by touching the correct answer on-screen ("A B C D E F and G, or "Do Re Mi, etc." if you use that system).

Flashnote Derby's primary shortcomings are in its level designer. You can only select sharps and flats by choosing a key; there is no ability to select individual accidentals.

One nice feature is the option to display the sharps and flats next to the note or as a key signature.

The second shortcoming is determining the length of the level. Note Rush lets you select how many repetitions you want (say, three repetitions of all the notes before your child completes the level). Flashnote Derby merely lets you select how many questions the level has: 10, 20, 30, or "All Selected." These options may lead Flashnote Derby to leave out some notes.

Flashnote Derby uses a  competition-based game mechanism ( as opposed to Note Rush's).  The game gets its name from its original theme, which was a horse race. When your child correctly plays the note, their horse moves ahead in the race. When your child inaccurately plays a note, their horse falls behind.

It's nice to have both gaming mechanisms in my app stable (pun intended, and the only reason I left this sentence in the final draft).

These apps are both great. I use Flashnote Derby and Note Rush in an online course, along with video and visual content, to teach my students notes. This frees up time in each lesson for other fun activities!

Sight reading Apps

It would be best if you recognized the difference between playing an individual note, as your child would do with flashcards, and being able to read multiple notes strung together, as your child would do with written music. The skills difference is akin to that between recognizing a word and reading a sentence.

Like Flashnote Derby and Note Rush, these apps use the microphone to listen to your child's playing and assess their accuracy. While these apps offer some customization, neither has a "level designer" or the ability to share custom settings.

Note that these music apps are more appropriate (with one specific exception) after your child has comfortably completed a few levels of the recommended Rhythm and Pulse apps.

Monster Musician

I love this app. It works with a vast range of instruments. It has a series of 8 progressive "Books." Each book covers a few fundamental rhythms. Each book has ten lessons. Each lesson introduces a new note or rhythm.

The graphics are charming. Clam and engaging music plays in the background and accompanies the notes your child will be playing. The music staff scrolls leftwards under a vertical line; your child's goal is to play that note as it passes under the line. If they play accurately, the notes fly to the upper-righthand part of the screen, where an Octopus-inspired monster gobbles them up. The app gives your child an accuracy rating for notes and rhythm and a final score at each level's end.

Some downsides are the limited range of the exercises; even the final book's final lesson only covers five of the eight notes in an octave. It's clear that the focus here was on integrating the ability to play rhythm with pitch; developers avoided exercises with a full scale to make this goal more obtainable. In the end, it may be a plus!

Another downside is the lack of compound meters like 6/8 or even triplet rhythms. These meters are no more challenging to play than more common ones, but teachers typically wait to teach them; then, they end up feeling difficult.

See Music

See Music is the only app on this list geared towards adults (I left off the more complex Ear Trainer App, which is excellent but complicated). It's also, unfortunately,  one of the buggier apps on my iPad.

However, it has two cool and unique features that warrant listing it anyway. Its basic gameplay is the same as Monster Musician's (play the notes on time!), but with a lot more customization available (and without the kid-oriented graphics and silliness).

The first fantastic feature is that this app automatically generates the exercises. Each time you start a level, it creates a new exercise. This variety will help ensure that your child is always reading new music (otherwise, they may memorize your sightreading exercise; that's not sightreading!).

The other marvelous feature is the ability to practice sight reading without any rhythm. Rather than trying to read a single note in a stream of many notes and determine the exact instant to play it, your child can ease-into the sightreading experience by seeing many notes next to one another and taking their time to figure out each one. I think this is an excellent transition step between to use after flashcard-type apps like Note Rush and FlashNote Derby and reading music while keeping tempo (like in Monster Musician or the other levels of this app).

There's a lot of options on this one, and, as such, the level designer is relatively complex. I can always get the settings I want, but sometimes it takes me a couple of taps to find the setting I'm looking for. There is no ability to save or share levels, which is a huge downside. 

Some other cool features are the ability to adjust how lax or strict the scoring is. You can edit the range of notes used when generating the exercises. You can also use the "isolate" option to have the app repeat the same bar of music four times in an exercise. This feature can allow your child to fine-tune their timing and note reading. Settings here cover 4/4, ¾, and 6/8, as well as the far less-familiar 5/4 and 7/4. Rhythmic options are complex enough to keep even a professional on their toes.

Rhythm and Pulse Apps

The Most Amazing Sheep Game (TMASG)

The Most Amazing Sheep Game is a fun, side-scrolling platformer that teaches kids how to tap to the beat without them even realizing it.  This game's protagonist is, unsurprisingly, an adorable little sheep that has to hop its way to success. Each level starts with a fun song, and the Sheep moves automatically from right to left. Along the way, your child will need to tap the screen to jump the sheep jump across gaps, both large and small; they'll also swipe the screen to knock down rival sheep.

This game is simple and effective, and your child will love it. With 30 levels, three levels of difficulty, the ability to select different themes, this game provides plenty of variety to keep your child engaged.  

Your child will benefit from this game the most by playing it before moving on to games that teach them how to sightread. It also helps prepare your child for the more complicated rhythm games listed below.

Rhythm Swing

By the developer of Flashnote Derby, this app is a gentle introduction to reading fundamental rhythms and rests in the three most common time signatures. The gameplay is again a platform side-scroller. A rhythm is displayed, and the beat starts playing. If your child successfully taps the rhythm,  a monkey will swing cross vines in the jungle above a hungry alligator. However, if they miss-tap, their monkey will fall to the jungle floor be chased off-screen by the hungry alligator.

This game has explanatory videos (although they were buggy; I couldn't consistently get them to load) that are well-paced for younger kids.
 
Another aspect that is either a pro or a con depends on the situation; it sticks to only the most rudimentary rhythms. That being said, this simplicity makes it easier to navigate and a lot less likely that your child will run into insurmountable hurdles.

Rhythmic Village

This game is a much more robust rhythm learning game with a few neat additions and customization options.

Much like Monster Musician, this app has nine levels, called totems, each subdivided into 6 to 10 mini-levels. The first mini-level in each totem is a visual puzzle showing the new note value. I find this unnecessary (some kids love it). Much like Rhythm Swing, Rhythmic Village shows the rhythm on-screen, and your child needs to tap accurately once the beat starts. However, in Rhythmic Village, the rhythm is played for your child first. This method is how I teach rhythms to children in face-to-face lessons, and I think it is a superior method.

One shortcoming of teaching rhythms in this manner way is that you cannot be sure if the student is actually reading the rhythm or merely mimicking what they have heard. Rhythmic Village gets around this by having some additional gameplay modes in some mini-levels of each totem. Some of these require your child to perform a rhythm on-sight (without hearing it); others require your child to recognize and select the correct rhythmic values after hearing a rhythm performed.

This music app has more than twice the rhythms of Rhythm Swing (but skips some other rhythms included in Rhythm Swing). Combined with the multiple gameplay modes, this may be a little bit complicated if your child is on the younger side (6 and below, at a guess).

One of my favorite features of this app is its microphone capabilities. Like Note Rush and Flashnote Derby, your child can play along by clapping or playing a percussion instrument (like a kitchen pot with a wooden spoon).

Another neat aspect of this app is the way it uses graphics to engage your child. The premise of this game is that your child has landed on an island inhabited by note-like creatures who like to dance and teach your child how to read rhythms. The note heads are all stylized with smiling faces and have silly voices that children enjoy.

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Aural Skills Apps

Blob Chorus

This game is a super-simple way for your child to learn to match pitches. Several green jello-like blobs with googly eyes and wonky smiles sing a note each. Then, the purple King Blob sings a note.  Your child's job is to tap the green blob that sang the same note as King Blob. If they succeed, they get the point, and the gameplay continues. If they miss, that blob melts into a puddle on the floor, and your child tries again. 

Stick People

Stick People is also a straightforward game. It teaches children to recognize melodic shape (which ways a melodic passage is moving). The first of the five levels starts with the basic directions of up and down. Your child will tap the play button to hear the melody and then select one of the buttons showing a Stick-Person walking uphill or downhill. The goal is to get as many correct answers as possible in a given amount of time.

Ear Cat

Ear Cat is a great app to use after your child is comfortable with Blob Chorus and Stick People. Square buttons representing the notes of the major scale are shown on-screen. The game plays a note, and your child tries to find the button that recreates that sound. The speakers emit a pleasant purr if your child gets the correct answer.

Composition and Creativity apps


Cornelius Composer

This app is a simplified version of professional composition software like desktop-based Sibelius and Finale or mobile options like Symphony 5.   Your child can select from several preset note options and drag them onto a music staff, creating a unique composition. They can then play their composition back, selecting from dozens of instruments, changing the tempo, time signature, or even having the program sing back their song with Solfege (do re mi)!

Your child can use this music app to create their own music and apply the skills they have learned. You can use it to reinforced rhythm and note reading skills by having your child create a tune and play that tune on their instrument.

Music notation software is notoriously complex, and this music app boils it down to a level that's accessible for kids.

Lesson Plan

Below is a rough outline of how I use these music apps in my studio to progressively get students with no note-reading skills to sightreading and writing down what they hear ("dictation").

If you like the idea of using music apps to supplement your lessons, you can talk to your teacher about what is appropriate for your child.

Within a single block, proceed through the apps in order. However, you can simultaneously use multiple apps in different categories, as long as they're in the same row. For example, make sure your child is comfortable with Note Rush before using See Music. However, your child can work on Note Rush while they also play Rhythm Swing and King Blob. 

Finish all the apps in one row before moving to the second row.

Note Reading

Rhythm Reading

Aural Skills

  1. Note Rush/Flashnote Derby
  2. See Music (No Rhythm Mode)
  1. Rhythm Swing
  2. Rhythmic Village
  1. King Blob
  2. Stick People
  1. Monster Musician
  2. See Music (Normal Mode)
  3. Ear Master (not reviewed here)

See Note Reading Column; those apps will also cover rhythm.

  1. Monster Musician
  2. Ear Cat
  3. See Music

Conclusion

These apps can help your child develop their musicality. And you can help me develop this website into an incredible resource for you by taking the short quiz below.


Kale Good


Educator and Founder of Good Music Academy.

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