An aspiring jazz trumpet player's blog about jazz improvisation and ear training.

February 20, 2017 Ear Training 0 Comments

Ear training with recordings, part 2

Seven years ago, I wrote a blog post about the benefits of practicing ear training with jazz recordings. In that article, I included an example of myself doing call and response, as well as improvisation, with Curtis Fuller's recording of "Moonlight Becomes You." For the sake of convenience, you can hear that audio recording right here: iwasdoingallright - audio clip

As one might hope, my ability to play by ear has improved since I made that recording in 2010. Thanks to those improved skills, I've been working on a couple of new ear training exercises which I'd like to share with you in this cleverly titled "part 2" article.

Disclaimer (aka, Rick making excuses once again): These exercises are fairly new to me, so the audio clips aren't particularly good. For example, you'll hear very uneven rhythms and hesitation. Someday I hope to be able to play these with a metronome, but I'm just not good enough yet.


This exercise combines call and response ear training, improvisation, and compositional development into a single exercise.


  • 1. Start by playing a recording that you haven't heard before.
  • 2. As the recording plays, listen for any melody that jumps out as being both interesting and potentially playable (i.e. not overly complicated/hard).
  • 3. As soon as you hear a melody that you want to use, stop the recording.
  • 4. To make sure that you've heard the recording properly, sing the melody.
  • 5. Next, play the melody by ear on your instrument.
  • 6. Once you've played the melody correctly, improvise a theoretical continuation to the melody.

Step #6 is important, so I'll go into a bit more detail. Rather than just improvise anything I want, I'm trying to imagine what might come next if I were the composer. This forces me to play something that makes musical sense, as I build on what I've just heard. In time, I'm hoping this will add more cohesion to my improvised solos, so I can build from one phrase to another without it sounding like a bunch of random ideas.

Here's an example of this exercise: iwasdoingallright - audio clip

The source excerpt is from Howard McGhee and Benny Bailey's recording of "Nostalgia" from their "Home Run" album. After the excerpt plays, you'll hear me repeat the melody followed by my improvised version of how the rest of the tune might go. At this point I haven't listened to the rest of the tune, so I truly don't know how it should sound. I'll admit that I didn't do a great job with this attempt, but I did at least mirror the piano a bit with my descending phrase and I did manage to play the melody accurately by ear.


I don't have a particularly good musical memory. I have trouble remembering tunes, and it's especially difficult for me to learn intricate bebop tunes like "Donna Lee." In fact, even though I've heard "Donna Lee" hundreds of times, I probably couldn't even sing the first measure accurately.

This ear training exercise is an attempt for me to improve my musical memory while building my repertoire of jazz sounds and ideas.


  • 1. Pick an interesting, yet playable jazz solo. You certainly don't need to learn the entire solo. A chorus or two is fine.
  • 2. Memorize the solo by ear and be able to sing it accurately. Do not use any written music and don't write anything down. When memorizing, work on small sections at a time, listening over and over again until you are able to remember it all. This can take several days/weeks.
  • 3. Once you can sing the solo, try playing it by ear on your instrument.
  • 4. Once you can play it by ear, start on different notes, testing your ability to play it by ear in various keys.

Here's an example of this exercise: iwasdoingallright - audio clip

The solo is from Chet Baker's recording of "Tangerine." In the recording, I play a section of the solo in one key and then I play it again in another key. Neither key is the original key from the recording.

Obviously, you need to be able to play fairly well by ear already in order to succeed with this exercise. If you're having trouble, you could limit yourself to short phrases, or you could try a dedicated ear training tool like my free online ear trainer.

February 28, 2015 Ear Training 12 Comments

Ear training tool - version 3.0

Today I launched version 3.0 of my free online ear trainer!

online ear trainer - v3

This new version of my ear trainer runs natively in modern web browsers, without the need for Java or any other type of plugin. It's a nice change of pace from the security warnings and Java installation headaches. Unfortunately, it isn't without it's problems. The main issue is that the performance varies depending upon your web browser. It runs best in Chrome, Opera, and Safari (as of my May 2nd update). Firefox is pretty good too, but the notes sometimes drop out, as if some of the audio files haven't loaded. Unfortunately, it's so bad in Internet Explorer that I've decided not to support IE. With the availability of the Java version, my free iphone ear training app, and the ease of acquiring a Chrome or Opera web browser, I hope that won't be too much of an inconvenience.

Anyway, enough about boring old web browsers. Fire up your Chrome, Opera, or Safari web browser and give my new ear trainer a try!

UPDATE 2/1/21 - The staff has been updated to support retina displays. The Custom feature now supports repeats and modulation control. Lastly, the bass clef has been improved to show notes in a friendlier octave when possible.

UPDATE 12/16/20 - The Intervals tab now supports longer sequences, so you could specify a few intervals and each subsequent note of the sequence will be within that interval. For this feature, I recommend "Random" for "Note Direction" in order to avoid octave shifts that will occur if it gets out of range. The Custom feature can now support words, allowing you to add note names and other words to your Custom scripts (for a complete list, see example #9 of the scratchpad instructions). The Progressions tab now includes Dom7sus4 and Dim7 chord types. Finally, the ABC notation processing engine has been improved to support more complex rhythms. If any of your scripts no longer sound as you expected, please let me know.

UPDATE 8/31/20 - In addition to a starting cadence, there's now an option for short drone.

UPDATE 8/8/20 - I switched to new mp3 piano sound files which should improve the audio quality for browsers (e.g. Safari) and operating systems that use mp3s (e.g. iOS). I also added an option to repeat an exercise without adding a delay (under Play Mode) and I increased the maximum repeat count to 36. This could be helpful if you want to repeat a chord/note over and over again as a drone.

UPDATE 6/13/20 - Added a version checker so the ear trainer will let you know when a new version is available. Also, Custom sequences now display the proper notes when transposed into different keys.

UPDATE 6/4/20 - Here's the largest update since 3.0 went online. I fixed a bug which logged you out after a few days, forcing you to reload the page to login. I added the ability to be logged on from multiple devices. I improved the audio for iOS devices. I added support for Major 6 chords in the Custom scratchpad. I improved the responsiveness of the ear trainer, so it resizes better on smaller screens. The initial load no longer produces no audio for the first exercise on iOS. There is now an option to have the note names read back to you. This is handy if you want to have it running in the background while doing other tasks. I was going to use SpeechSynthesis to read back the interval and chord names, but due to an issue with iOS, I had to resort to audio files. As a result, it's only going to read the note names. You can also have the results delay until you click in the staff area. That works best with Manual mode. With all that's going on in the world today, I hope you'll get some use out of this update.

UPDATE 1/4/20 - Added Major 7 b5 chord to the Chords tab. Also, in random custom scripts, accidentals are now cleared after each random sequence. Previously, accidentals would accumulate and carry over to subsequent randomizations.

UPDATE 5/10/18 - Due to a recent change in Chrome's autoplay restrictions, the ear trainer may have stopped producing audio. I put in a quick fix which may need to be altered a bit to improve performance on mobile devices.

UPDATE 5/15/17 - I added a hi-hat and ride cymbal to the rhythm sections used by the Progressions and Custom features. The Progressions section also includes the ability to choose between a single key center and a random mixing of keys when it creates a chord progression. This could be used, for example, to practice a ii-V7-I progression in random keys without pausing in between each key change.

UPDATE 10/4/16 - The custom feature now supports melodies with even (i.e. non-swing) rhythms. To enable this feature, add "R:even" to the top of your custom script. Note that this only applies to stand-alone melodies. Rhythmic accompaniments will still use swing rhythms regardless of this setting.

UPDATE 9/6/16 - This update introduces the concept of custom exercises, where an "exercise" saves the current ear trainer settings. For example, if you like to practice random melodies with a tempo of 120bpm, in auto-play mode, with 3 repeats, and random modulation, you can save that configuration as an exercise. Another ear training exercise might be random ii-V7-I chord progressions with a tempo of 90bpm. Once you save these as separate exercises, you can return to them at any time without having to manually change the tempos, repeat options, etc. You just click on the exercise names and stored configuration is loaded automatically! To use this feature, simply login and then use the "Your Exercises" link at the upper right to create a new exercise.

UPDATE 7/30/16 - Thanks to a visitor's request, I have added Sus2 and Sus4 triads to the Chords feature.

UPDATE 5/12/16 - This update adds randomization to the ear trainer's Custom tab, with a syntax like the following: { randomSequence1 ; randomSequence2 ; randomSequence3 }. As an example, if you want to play a C and then a random note that's either a G, A, or B, you'd put the following into the Custom tab: C { G ; A ; B }

UPDATE 3/6/16 - The melodies feature now includes the ability to play a cluster of notes simultaneously via the "Sequence Type=Harmonic" option. A suggested exercise for this would be to play a C major cadence followed by the note cluster. Begin with a couple of notes, and increase to as many as you can identify. Over time, this should improve your relative pitch. I also added a few new 9th chords to the chords feature. Both of these new features are the result of your feature requests, so thank you for your suggestions!

UPDATE 10/31/15 - I improved the layout of chord progressions for this update, so they should be easier to read. Also, I fixed a problem single-note melodies and and the "Restrict to Single Octave" option.

UPDATE 10/20/15 - This update fixes a few bugs, including an issue where modulation could force the jazz progressions to be played in extreme upper and lower registers. Additionally, the Custom tab's scripts will now respect the specified double bar repeat settings. To round things out, you'll find a few more examples for the Custom tab's scratchpad feature, including a listing of all currently supported chord types.

UPDATE 8/29/15 - With this update, you can click on the notes in the ear trainer's staff in order to hear a specific note. I also added a sight singing "Play Mode" where the ear trainer will show notes without playing audio. Once the notes appear, you can click on individual notes to hear their pitches or you can click the repeat button to hear the entire sequence.

UPDATE 7/31/15 - This update focuses primarily on the Custom tab. New options have been added for modulation within sequences via double bar lines ( || ). This is handy if you want to do ear training over an entire song. By adding double bar lines periodically within the song, you can repeat and modulate a series of measures.

UPDATE 5/2/15 - I added a new soundfont which greatly improves the piano sound for Safari and other browsers that don't support Ogg files. With this change, I think my new ear training application runs almost as well on Safari as it does on Chrome and Opera.

UPDATE 5/1/15 - This update fixes several bugs, adds keyboard support for controlling playback (left arrow=repeat, right arrow=next, space=play/stop), and it includes a few new chord progressions (jazz blues, minor blues, etc). The biggest change is the addition of accounts. Once you register for your free account, you can save your custom melodies and chord progressions. I still need to improve the documentation and examples for the custom markup, but hopefully the existing samples will give you enough to start customizing your ear training exercises.

March 23, 2014 Ear Training 8 Comments

Ear training breakthrough

In 2002, when I started playing the trumpet again, I couldn't play anything accurately by ear. If I wanted to play something simple, like "Happy Birthday," I'd either need to have written music in front of me, or I'd have to work my way through the tune, picking out each note through trial and error. Mostly error.

During the next year or two, as I continued to rebuild my trumpet chops, I read several jazz interviews and jazz biographies, hoping to gain some insight that would help me to become a better jazz improviser. I learned a lot during that period, most of which you'll find distilled into my learning to improvise series. The most important lesson, however, was the importance of being able to play by ear. To help improve my ability to play by ear, I eventually built some ear training tools and I added at least a few minutes of ear training to my daily practice routine, which I've stuck to for the past nine years.

Over the past nine years, I've made noticeable progress in my ability to play by ear, but until recently that progress wasn't especially evident in my playing. That's because I couldn't do much with the earlier stages of my development. For example, the first time I could play "Happy Birthday" by ear in any key, I could only do so very slowly and with an unsteady rhythm (i.e. hesitating between notes). That was a major accomplishment for me, but it wasn't something I could really use in a jazz setting where I have to play at faster tempos and in time with a band.

Within the past few months, however, I feel like I've made a huge leap in my ability to play by ear. I can now listen to a jazz recording, and more often than not, I'll pick up my horn and accurately play the tune's melody or a phrase that I heard during somebody's solo. I can also listen to the rhythm section and enough notes will jump out (either from the bass or piano) that I can land on a chord tone or play something else that sounds good over the chords. I still need to improve my consistency and overall accuracy, especially at fast tempos, but I'm finally at a point where I can hear something in my head and confidently play it by ear while improvising.


I recently traveled to Chile, where I spent five weeks, culminating with seven days at Torres del Paine National Park in Patagonia. Traveling is still relatively new to me, but so far Patagonia is the most mind-blowing place that I've visited. It's so beautiful and remote that I felt like I was on a different planet.


Adding to the beauty of the region, we met several other travelers and guides who made us feel like we were at a home away from home. One day, while hiking to the base of the towers (torres), I told one such guide that I play the trumpet. He asked if I had my trumpet with me, and when I told him it was at the hotel, he said, "We should have a jam session! One of the other guides plays the guitar!"

Normally, I might have panicked or made excuses to get out of the jam session. After all, I'm not that good, I didn't know what kind of music they were going to play, and I hadn't been practicing that much during the preceding weeks in Chile. Any one of those excuses would have gotten me out of the jam session, but at that point so I was inspired by Patagonia that I said, "OK, let's do it!"


I don't know about you, but I'm a view guy. I'm captivated by beautiful views, and I can gaze at them for hours without a care in the world. With my pocket trumpet in one hand and a glass of wine in the other, I emerged onto the hotel's outdoor patio, took one look at the mountains you see in the above photo, and any fears I might have had about the jam session instantly vanished.

As we settled into our places, I introduced myself to the guitar-playing guide and another hotel guest who had brought his ukulele. I was still looking at the mountains when the guitarist asked us what we wanted to play. Transfixed by the view, I replied, "Whatever you want," to which the guitarist replied, "How about a blues?" I didn't pay attention when he mentioned the key, but once they started playing, I relied on my ears and played a passable solo over concert E blues. The ukulele player had a tougher time with his solo, but he hung in there and made it through the tune.

After the blues, the guitarist started to play a Chilean song that neither the ukulele player nor I had ever heard before. The ukulele player asked the guitarist for the chord changes and they spent a few minutes going over them. Once we started playing, though, the ukulele player was having difficulty remembering the chord changes and we had to stop once or twice. When we did finally get going again, I just closed my eyes and played another decent solo by ear.

By the start of the third tune, I was feeling confident about my ears and had decided to just play everything by ear that night. Unfortunately, the ukulele player wasn't faring as well. He struggled with the changes again on the third tune and I could tell he was getting a little frustrated. It didn't help that by this time we had a small audience of hotel guests and staff watching us! After three or four tunes, the ukulele player decided to call it quits and he took a seat next to his wife in the audience.

What began as a trio had now become a duo. The guitarist and I continued playing for the next hour or two, never discussing keys or chord changes. He'd start playing, I'd listen for a few measures, and then I'd accompany him, playing everything by ear. I don't know if I actually sounded good that night, but our audience clapped after every tune and everyone seemed to enjoy a wonderful evening in paradise.

The next morning while strolling along the shore of a nearby lake, I saw the ukulele player and his wife. After exchanging pleasantries, the ukulele player mentioned how he was struggling to keep up with us at the jam session. His wife then chimed in, telling me that her husband was feeling discouraged about his playing. After three years of playing the ukulele, he thought he was getting pretty good, but he was totally unprepared for the jam session. And then he said, "Yeah, I can't play by ear..."

I smiled and said, "Please allow me to introduce myself." Ok, so I didn't say that. I did, however, tell him that I too couldn't play by ear at one point. I've worked on it over the years, and I've developed the skills over time. I then told him all about my site and my ear training tools. He was so excited that he downloaded my Play By Ear iPhone ear training app as soon as we got back to the hotel.

I have to say, it was amazing enough to experience the culmination of so many years of ear training practice at a jam session in Patagonia. To then have the opportunity to get somebody else started on their ear training journey -- wow, how cool is that?!

January 15, 2012 Ear Training 4 Comments

Willie Thomas on ear training

willie thomas - MJT+3Below you'll find the first and only guest post to my jazz blog. I wouldn't normally accept guest posts, but this one is special. The author, Willie Thomas, is a jazz trumpeter and educator with over forty-five years of experience playing and teaching jazz. Over the years, he has performed and recorded with a wide variety of jazz greats, including the Woody Herman Orchestra, the Slide Hampton Octet with Freddie Hubbard and George Coleman, and the MJT+3 which also included Frank Strozier, Bob Cranshaw, Harold Mabern, and Walter Perkins. And in 1994, he was inducted into the International Association of Jazz Educators Hall of Fame thanks to his contributions in the field of jazz education.

On a more personal level, Willie Thomas, is indirectly responsible for my introduction to jazz. When I was learning to play the trumpet, my trumpet teacher was a jazz musician named Bruce Staelens. Bruce introduced me to jazz improvisation and before long I was hooked. Well, guess who introduced Bruce Staelens to jazz when he was a kid? That's right, Willie Thomas was Bruce's first trumpet teacher! He even gave Bruce his first trumpet; the same trumpet that I always admired and finally got to play when I reunited with Bruce in 2009.

Willie Thomas found my website a couple of years ago and sent me some encouraging emails about my playing. I didn't even know who he was at the time (he didn't sign the email with his full name), and I know he didn't know about my connection with Bruce Staelens. Small world, eh? Most recently, Willie and I have traded a few emails regarding his Jazz Everyone website. The site includes dozens of jazz lessons in the form of online tutorials, audio files, and videos. Use this link and you'll get a free ten-day trial: www.jazzeveryone.com/i-was-doing-alright. As you might imagine, when Willie offered to write a guest post on my site, I gladly accepted.

Without further ado, here's Willie Thomas' guest post about ear training.

HEAR IT, FIND IT, PLAY IT - by Willie Thomas

As a young trumpeter in 1945 with a penchant for playing jazz, my ear was glued to every Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie or any other record I could beg, borrow or steal. At 14, I was a respectable player for my age, with four strong years of private lessons and band under my belt. I had plenty of written music for my lessons and band, but back then there wasn't anything written that could help a young or old jazz wannabe. Jamey Aebersold was only 6 years old! So for jazz, it was get it off those records, hope you could find some cats that would let you try it out at a jam session and then head back to that turntable for more listening, imitating and memorizing.

That process still plays an essential role today in the process of learning to play or improvise jazz music. Jazz is a language that has been aurally acquired since its early disciples began searching for the right notes to play with the chords they heard in church. However, a vast amount of material has been researched, developed and published to help the young and older jazz players build their jazz chops. "Ear-training" at some point along the way, became a pedestrian term for the process of learning to play what you hear. As I've experienced in my some 40 plus years as a jazz educator and author of the modestly successful Jazz Anyone Classroom series, it's not so much about training your ear as it is about training your fingers to find the notes to play. (Rick's note: in other words, the goal of ear training is to be able to play what you hear on your instrument. It isn't enough to be able to hear an interval and say it's a perfect fourth, fifth, etc. This is why my ear training tools focus on call-and-response with your instrument.)

For most students at various ages and ability levels, the trouble is not about hearing the music, it's all about finding those notes on your instruments and controlling them at various tempos. For sure, if you can't find it, you ain't gonna play it, dude! So, at the tender age of 80, after a lifetime of playing jazz with some of the best players in the world, i.e. Slide Hampton, Freddy Hubbard, George Coleman, Frank Strozier, Bobby Cranshaw, Harold Mabern, Wynton Kelly and the list goes on, I have discovered that you can listen all day long and not get a lot better as a player until you can quickly and automatically find all of the notes on your ax and play them with good time in every key.

Through continued research, I've discovered that constant repetition with small groups of notes around various tonalities starts building the kinetic responses that make it easier to find and connect notes, ultimately leading to better replication of patterns. It's the fingers that have to be trained to quickly find the notes you're hearing. One of the incredible qualities of Charlie Parker, Dizz, Bud Powell, Fats Navarro and the rest of those early pioneers was their ability to initiate and craft new ideas with a new language (be-bop) as it was being created. This was a result of having certain patterns down so cold that when a new idea came to mind their fingers were trained to automatically find those notes and play them. The neural response that controlled their fingers were so well conditioned they were able to play almost anything they heard. This came through constant playing and experimentation. They lived the music.

This provided the surety of pitch relationships that enabled them to manipulate this basic vocabulary into an endless variety of ever fresh ideas every time they played. This was their genius. I have recently tapped into a system of practicing what I hear or have heard and building it gradually with a practice routine that is continuously varied. I randomly pick difficult things I hear, repeat them over and over until I get each little fragment of a that jazz lick under my fingers once and for all. I practice everything with an Aebersold Play along rhythm section, playing with a metronome is like learning to dance with a broom. Part of the eternal quest is finding and playing everything with impeccable time. My daily routine starts with Cherokee in all keys, Volume 61, then there is a variety of things I do with each tune in every key on Volume 68. I'm very close to putting a series of these hear it, find it, play it exercise on my JazzEveryone.com web site. So, if you're intrigued by any of this, stay tuned. And by the way, the only time you own those fingers is when they get slammed in a car door! Ouch!

October 16, 2011 Ear Training 3 Comments

Android Application - Play By Ear

UPDATE: The Android application is no longer available. For more information, you may want to read my 12-year anniversary blog entry.

I created my Play By Ear iPhone ear training application in 2010. Ever since then, I've received a steady stream of requests for an Android version of the ear trainer. Well, I'm pleased to announce that as of this morning Play By Ear is available for download in the Android Market.

Available in Android Market

play by ear

Like my iPhone version, the Android application also includes call-and-response exercises for intervals, chords, and melodies. From an exercise standpoint, they are pretty much identical. There is one major feature difference, though. The Android application does not have pitch detection. I spent a few hours one day trying to get pitch detection to work, but I couldn't get much beyond basic decibel readings. Knowing that there are hundreds of different Android devices (yes, there really are!) that I might need to support, I figured it probably wouldn't be worth the time and effort required to get accurate pitch detection working. But like I said, the Android application does have all of the other features.


Unlike my previous ear training tools, the Android ear trainer is not available for free. Instead, it's currently for sale at $1.99 (I think we can all agree, $2 would have been a total rip-off). There are a few reasons behind my decision to charge for the Android application but here are the two big ones. First, until a week ago, I didn't own a single Android-compatible device. And the only reason I own an Android device now is so I could do a final round of testing with some confidence that it would actually run on something other than the software emulator. In other words, this is an application written for a device that I don't use. As such, I've viewed it more as a contracting gig. One that, I fear, will not pay very well.

The second big reason for charging for the Android application is that the iPhone version probably won't be free for much longer. While I enjoy building and sharing my ear training tools with everyone, the mobile apps have taken much longer than their online counterparts to write and maintain. It would be nice to receive some payment for all of that work, even if it's just enough to cover the AppStore fees (Apple charges $100/yr).

It's weird, though. I don't know what it is about the AppStore/Market pricing, but I actually feel bad charging you $1.99. What if it's really only worth $1.92, or $1.87?!


You'll find a list of the basic features and some tips at the Play By Ear Android page. This is my first attempt at writing an Android application. I've tested it quite a bit, but since I only have one Android device (a used HTC Eris phone), I don't really know how it will run on newer devices and tablets. If you do end up trying the application, please let me know if you run into any problems. And if you enjoy the application, please rate it accordingly. Thanks!

January 6, 2011 Ear Training 1 Comment

Play By Ear v1.05 - jazz licks

The recent holiday breaks gave me time to add another update to my Play By Ear ear training application. Version 1.05, which you can download for free at the iTunes App Store, includes higher-resolution images for the iPhone4 retina display, lower overall memory consumption, and jazz licks for the melody feature -- the jazz licks are so killing, man.

play by ear - jazz licks


In my previous version (1.04), I spent a lot of time trying to improve stability so the app would stop crashing. Several people reported that it was running better, but it crashed on me a couple of times when I was running a lot of background apps on my iPhone 4. After doing some research, I learned that iPhone apps should try to stay under 8MB of memory consumption in order to avoid shutdown/crashing by the operating system. Unfortunately, Play By Ear was using about 16MB just to load up all of the piano sounds and it would use even more memory when the application was running. Whoops! This latest version of Play By Ear addresses that problem by unloading sounds as needed to keep the memory under 7MB. This might affect performance a little, although it seems to do pretty well even on my old iPhone 3G.


I was pleasantly surprised to discover how easy it is to add high-resolution images for the iPhone4's retina display. All I had to do was create new images that were twice as large and save them with "@2x" in the filename. For example, if a low resolution image is named "btnPlay.png" then the high resolution name would be "btnPlay@2x.png." The iPhone4 automatically loads up the "@2x" images while the older devices continue to display the original images. I think that's pretty clever. Anyway, all of the images have been updated, but for some reason the application's icon is still using the old version. I'm not sure what happened since it always used the new high resolution version when I tested. Oh well, I guess we'll have to wait for the next update for that to get fixed.


I continue to get requests for an Android version of my ear training tools. I haven't done any Android development before, so I recently set aside some time to tinker with a prototype Android application. I managed to get some basic frequency analysis code running and I even got the Android emulator to do midi playback of random melodies. That part was actually pretty cool, although there are challenges since I can't change the tempo while it's running. I'm far from having a finished Android application, and I'll probably do another iPhone app first, but at least I now have a good idea of what is and isn't possible on the Android. I've also decided, for the time being at least, that the Android version of my app will not do pitch detection. I might change my mind once I get further into the development, but I'm concerned that it won't work consistently on all of the different brands and models of Android phones. And I definitely don't want to buy a bunch of Android phones that I'll never use for anything aside from testing.


I began making ear training tools in 2004, and since that time all of my ear training tools have been available for free. My online ear training tools will always continue to be free, but lately I've been thinking that it's time to start charging for my iPhone ear training application. I base that decision mostly on the fact that I've spent way more time on the app than I ever imagined. For example, last weekend I spent about 16 hours working on the new features, testing, and fixing bugs. And while I enjoy the thought of helping people improve their aural skills, the simple fact is that the iPhone app isn't essential. My online ear training tool already does all the stuff that the iPhone app does (except for pitch recognition) and the online ear trainer does a bunch of extra stuff too. In other words, if I charge for the iPhone app and you decide you don't want to pay, you can still use my online ear trainer for free and you'll end up using an even better, more feature-rich application. See, you're better off NOT buying my iPhone application! Ok, so maybe I should come up with a better sales pitch.

I haven't completely made up my mind to charge for Play By Ear, but I'm definitely leaning in that direction. I'll probably just charge $1.99, though. It's funny, as little money as that is, it somehow feels like a major purchase when you're in the App Store. I won't start charging for my iPhone ear training app until later this month or February, so be sure to get it now, while it's still free. And please remember to rate it!

December 20, 2010 Ear Training 2 Comments

Play By Ear v1.04 - calibration

Version 1.04 of my Play By Ear ear training application is now available for free download at the iTunes App Store. This version contains several improvements, including microphone calibration, improved stability, the addition of "D" as a key center, and the ability to reset the score after the app has already started.

play by ear - calibration


The biggest new feature for v1.04 of Play By Ear is microphone calibration. Microphone calibration samples the ambient room level (the sound of you NOT playing) as well as the sound of you playing some notes on your instrument. These levels are then used to set a custom threshold that should improve the accuracy of your iPhone/iPod/iPad's pitch detection.

While I'm confident that microphone calibration will improve the pitch detection in the long run, it's still somewhat experimental. After all, I didn't have any clear guidelines to work with, so I just made it all up. For those interested in the process, I take the 20 loudest samples from both the room and instrument. I then throw away the 5 loudest to eliminate spikes. From there, I arrive at your custom microphone threshold with the following formula: customThreshold = roomAverage + ((instrumentAverage - roomAverage) / 2). This formula may change over time, but for now it seems to be pretty good.


If you use Play By Ear regularly, you're familiar with its frequent crashing. You might think it's easy to eliminate crashing from an iPhone application, but sadly it isn't. Some applications crash more than others, but I can honestly say that I've seen most apps crash on my iPhone at one point or another. And that includes Apple's own Mail app, which used to crash all the time on my iPhone. While I might take comfort knowing that Play By Ear isn't the only crashing iPhone app, it still bothers me to know that something I worked so hard on, is so unstable.

For this latest update, I spent weeks trying to find the crash points in Play By Ear. I'm positive that I fixed a few of them, but I still probably didn't find every problem. That's because these specific crashes never occur in the software simulator that Apple provides for development. Instead, the crashes only occur on the actual devices. Unfortunately, it's a lot harder to figure out what went wrong on an unconnected device. I can at least say that after a few days of solid testing on my iPhone 4, iPhone 3GS, iPhone 3G, and iPad... I didn't see a single crash. Having said this, I fully expect several of you to write and tell me that it now crashes more than ever! (facepalm)


This version was released on iTunes last night, around 8pm (EST). According to the iTunes download report, the update was then installed about 250 times within the first 6 hours (update 12/21/2010: over 1,100 in the first 24 hours!). I think it's pretty cool that so many people have continued to use Play By Ear, even in its (formerly?) buggy state.

Oh, and if Play By Ear is working well for you and you enjoy the app, please take a minute to rate the application and/or write a review in the the iTunes App Store. Thanks!

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