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

August 25, 2010 Jazz Blog 12 Comments

Play By Ear - six months later

About six months ago, I released my first iPhone application, a free ear training application called Play By Ear. Like my free online ear trainer, Play By Ear allows you to listen to intervals, chords, and random melodies as you attempt to play them back by ear. And while it lacks several of the features of my online ear trainer, Play By Ear does have one significant difference: it uses pitch detection to tell whether or not you played the correct note back on your instrument.

iphone appstore ratings

As I was creating Play By Ear, I thought pitch detection was a compelling feature that truly set the ear trainer apart from other AppStore ear training tools. But frankly, I wasn't sure anyone would care. After all, there were already a few iPhone ear trainers and none of them seemed to have a lot of reviews. Some didn't even have any.

In this blog entry, I'll share the AppStore totals for my iPhone application, I'll answer some frequently asked questions, and I'll also give you a preview of what's coming next.


Since it was released six months ago, Play By Ear has been installed a total of 5,041 times. In addition to that, the various updates have also been installed a total of 3,669 times.

Let's take a closer look at those numbers. The application is free, but had I charged for the application, I would have made 5,041 x SomePrice x 70%. The 70% is how much Apple pays developers. Apple keeps the rest. So, using real numbers, if I had charged $1.99, I would have made $7,022.13 over the past six months. Not bad, I guess, but it's pretty safe to assume that I wouldn't have sold 5,041 units if people actually had to pay for the application. You could use common sense to arrive at that conclusion, or you could just look at the 3,669 total updates statistic. At least 1,372 of the original users deleted the application and/or decided it wasn't worth updating. With such an obvious lack of interest, they probably wouldn't have paid for the application in the first place. Never mind the fact that the update total spans three versions. In actuality, there might be as few as 1,200 people who have continued to use the application.

iphone appstore ratings

Another interesting statistic is the overall rating for the application. Currently, there have been 63 ratings across all three versions of Play By Ear. The average rating is three stars, which I guess isn't too bad considering how common it is for people to use an application and instantly decide "this sucks!" Or maybe that's just common to me because I work with so many hypercritical tech people. To them, everything sucks unless A) they made it, or B) it's World Of Warcraft. Anyway, I think that probably explains why I have so many one-star reviews.

While I can live with all those one-star reviews, I do wish I knew more about those negative reviews. For example, the application is apparently crashing for some people. With each consecutive version, I've tried to improve the stability (it crashed a lot at first). I've never even seen it crash on my new iPhone 4.0. But apparently it's crashing for at least one person based on their AppStore review. Lots of iPhone apps crash, including Apple's own Mail application, so I don't expect my application to be flawless. But if there are problems, I'd like to reproduce and fix them. The only way that will happen is if people contact me and let me know exactly when and how things go wrong. To date, only one person has ever written me an email to say the application is crashing. That was soon after the initial release, and I'm pleased to say that I did fix that specific problem.

If you've used and enjoyed Play By Ear, please take a moment to rate and/or review the application. Positive ratings are greatly appreciated ;-)


I had intended to do at least some external promotion for my iPhone ear training application, but somehow I never found the time. To date, the only promotion I have done for the application is the original announcement and the redesign of this site, which now features all of my ear training applications more prominently on the right-hand side. I was, however, fortunate to have Dave Douglas mention my iPhone ear training application in his blog. I didn't even tell him about it, so it's especially cool that he found it and thought it was blog-worthy on his own. But even with Dave Douglas' help, I know my iPhone application's distribution numbers have suffered due to my lack of external promotion. Perhaps had I actually done any such promotion, I could have doubled or tripled the installation and update numbers.


When I first released Play By Ear, a surprising number of people asked me why I didn't charge any money for the application. As I've written previously, I believe that the importance of ear training is often ignored or marginalized in music education. My free ear training tools are an attempt to expose more people to ear training in a way that makes it easy for them to get started. So that's the main reason I released my iPhone application free of charge. Just to get it out there.

There's another reason for not charging, though, which isn't quite so altruistic. Having no real knowledge about the market for iPhone ear training applications, I wanted to use my first application to get some benchmarks. By offering it for free, I can see exactly how many people are even remotely interested in an iPhone ear training application. That gives me a basis from which to decide how much time I want to spend on new features and new iPhone ear training applications.


As of now, I probably won't add too many new features to Play By Ear. One feature that I will definitely add, though, is microphone calibration. Once completed, the microphone calibration feature will allow you to customize how sensitively the application should listen when determining your pitch. By accurately matching that value to your playing conditions (e.g. room noise, instrument volume, distance from microphone, etc) the pitch detection should be noticeably more accurate.


Yes. Time permitting, I will definitely build another iPhone application and once again it will focus on ear training. This time around, though, it will probably be geared toward sight singing. Rather than playing the notes for you to mimic on your instrument, the sight singing application will show you notes on the staff and you'll have to sing them back at the correct pitch. I'll probably charge for this application, but it won't be a lot of money. More than anything, I'm just curious to see how many people will actually pay for an iPhone ear training application. That, coupled with my free Play By Ear statistics, should give me a good representation of the overall iPhone ear training application market. However small it happens to be!


Several people have requested an Android version of my ear training application. It would probably be easier for me to build an Android application since I can use familiar tools like Eclipse and Java. The only hitch is that I don't actually own an Android phone! I might buy one just for development purposes, but I think I'll wait to see how my next fee-based iPhone application does first. It's bad enough that I already have to test my existing iPhone ear trainer on 4 devices all the time (iPhone 3G, iPhone 3GS w/ iOS4, iPhone 4G, iPad). I don't want to introduce another device until I know that a decent number of people will actually use it.

Comment by Mus14

Pitch detection is a genius idea you have there! It is a great addition to the intervals and other music components of this application. I hope that this application gets known to more people.

This makes me wish I could afford an iPhone. Ear training on the go?!?! Great idea!

Anyway, until I have the technology, I'll just keep using the plain old browser ear trainer. In any case, I love this site. It's been a real inspiration to me. Keep it up! And post more often!

Comment by Eric

"To them, everything sucks unless A) they made it, or B) it's World Of Warcraft."

Hilarious and pretty much right on point. Now if you'll excuse me I'm going back to playing WoW.

I had downloaded your app and promptly forgot about it. I've just used it for the first time now and think it's great (iTunes review posted). It works perfectly fine picking up my trombone and I enjoyed especially the challenge of picking out the random melodies.

I will recommend this to some of my theory students for some ear training practice. I love the web-based app you posted too, by the way.


Having developed apps for both the iPhone and Android, I can tell you that while my Andorid app didn't see nearly as many total downloads as the iPhone app did, the engagement (based on add click-through) seems to be much better on Android. I still ended up making more money off of my free ad supported iPhone app, but Android is not too far behind, and catching up quickly!

Not sure why this is, but I have a feeling there are more tech-saavy people using Android, therefore they use the device more that the average consumer using an iPhone.

Comment by Tim

I love the PBE program, but on your plans to build a sight singing app for the iphone, solfege.org would be a great model, but its free. Maybe add a recording feature for PBE? Your site is a real inspiration, thanks!!!!

Comment by janice

This interesting to me. My only instrument now is my voice. I have always wanted to play the piano.

Would this be something that I could use as I showcase myself as a songer/someday songwriter.

Comment by Pierre

Hi Rick,

I'm now using you online ear trainer on my mac for several years but i don't have the Iphone. I just want to tell you it's just great and i tell some people that i know to use it. Every body is happy with that. So keep going and thank's a lot. Sorry for my english.


Comment by Neil

After stumbling onto your online trainer I have been using it almost every day for just over a week. I think it's fantastic and would definately recommend it. Thank you for keeping it online and free. I am now getting the hang of decending intervals. A week ago I thought I had something wrong with my brain!

I have downloaded the play by ear. Almost perfect. As I feared, it doesn't include the octave down in the key centre selection. Major bummer as I don't want to be looking at the stave and hearing an octave up. (I blame whoever invented guitar notation rather than you) FYI I would definately consider buying the sight singing app.

Many thanks,


Comment by Mike

Really enjoy your enthusiasm for ear training it helps me with my resolve to improve my ear.

I have been working on intervals ascending and can identify about 500 random intervals from U,m2, P4, P5 before making an error if I concentrate.

I have just started doing them decending which at first seemed impossible but I'm getting the hang of it and am over 90%.

I like your iphone app and plan to use it with my guitar. I had hoped to use it with just my voice but I cant sing notes over the entire range that the app uses. an option to restrict the number of octaves might be helpful for beginners like me.

I have found that a lot of ear training programs and apps jump in to stuff I can't begin to do. but with simple starting exercises I have been able to reliably detect the qualities or color of my limited set of intervals. So I intend to plod along expanding my set of intervals until I have them all well in hand then what, I guess triads. I would like to find a good curriculum that prescribes the proper combinations of intervals and so on. Everything I have seen seems to advanced. For now I will use what I can and can't do to direct me.

Thanks for your site and apps.


Comment by Blackeye

Hi Mike

Thanks for all your hard work, it is really appreciated.

I use the online ear trainer virtually every day.

It has enabled me to improve my musicality considerably.

I am very interested in your plan for a sight singing iPhone app.

However, I cannot read music, so Im not sure I'd be able to understand the questions it would pose, let alone answer them correctly.

Do you have any plans to include an interface option that would present the questions in a pure, relative pitch style e.g. up M2, down m6, up 8ve, etc.

You are a five-star guy! I'm super impressed with your ear training app that I use every day on my iPod Touch. And that's coming from a retired software developer, who is generally critical of interface design. Your app has worked perfectly from day 1, and the interface is clear, neat, and intuitive. I gave it a five-star review.

Thanks for making it free. I almost always choose free apps, so I can confirm that I never would have tried your app had it not been free.

I'm looking forward to reading more of you blog.



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