Want to learn more about sound? Try these apps!

January 29, 2016

There are lots of apps that claim they can teach you something about sound, and I have downloaded quite a few of them. Some are great, some are good, and some are just awful.

Below, I will outline some of my favorites along with short lesson ideas. Teaching about sound can be tricky, but these cheap (or free) tools can make this major challenge something minor, and give you sound results!

The Voice Machine

Link: https://itunes.apple.com/ca/app/the-voice-machine/id337020736?mt=8


The Voice Machine works a lot like an old tape recorder, allowing you to record a sound and then play it back.

How do I use it?

The Voice Machine has a delightfully simple layout.

Voice Machine

First you click on the eye (button) that says “record.” Then you speak, sing, or record a sound and press the button again. At this point the other eye opens saying “play” and when you press it, it plays your recording in a loop. You can then adjust the speed/pitch by dragging the tongue back and forth. That’s it! Its biggest strength is that it’s incredibly simple.

Who is it for?

  • It is best suited for students from Kindergarten to Grade 6.
  • It is perfect for anyone teaching the fundamentals of sound science. Through experimentation, students can discover that the pitch of a sound is related to speed. Also, because the sound is looped, you will find that almost any repeated sound can make a rhythm.
  • I would also recommend it to any fans of goofy chipmunk and slow motion voices.

What’s stopping me?

  • You must own an iPod touch, iPhone, or iPad. There is a comparable app for Android called Voice Machine, but I haven’t tried it yet.
  • It is free, but there are ad banners. The full version without advertising is $1.99.


Mapping Tonal Harmony Pro

Link: https://itunes.apple.com/ca/app/mapping-tonal-harmony-pro/id566767002?mt=8


All “western” musical harmony can be thought about like a story. It’s about a journey, and is built on three chords. The first chord represents home, where we are at peace. The second chord is the beginning of our journey, it shares some notes with the first chord so it still reminds you of home. The third chord represents the furthest point from our home, and is filled with the yearning to return. Then we come back to the first chord, and it goes round and round and round. In the theory books these three chords are called the tonic, sub-dominant, and dominant. Blues musicians call them one, four and five. Mapping Tonal Harmony Pro lays out these chords so you hear this story play out with the tap of a finger.

Mapping tonal 1

This is the simplest layout, for when you are starting out.

How do I use it?

When you look at Mapping Tonal Harmony Pro, you will see the screen is divided into three sections. The one (or tonic) is at the bottom. The four (sub-dominant) is up to the left. The five (dominant) is over to the right. Every time you touch a letter, it plays a nice full piano chord. The general idea is that you click on chord in the tonic area, then the sub-dominant area, the dominant area and then return home to the tonic, letting you listen to the progression. A lot of music will hop around a bit, going back and fourth from four and one, or one and five, but the story usually ends with a return to the tonic from the far away dominant.

You may notice that there are a lot of chords missing, and you can choose how complicated you want the layout to be. If you are studying advanced theory, you can bring in many more chords (i.e. secondary dominants, augmented 6th chords, etc).

Mapping Tonal 2

This is the most complex layout, for advanced musical theorists. It also has a mode for jazz chords.

Who is it for?

  • Music theory students
  • Songwriters of any style
  • Music teachers
  • Musicians—you can set it up to play a looped chord progression, which you can practice along to on your instrument of choice.
  • Anyone interested in how music is composed.

What’s stopping me?

  • It will cost you $11.99 on iPad, which is good price for what it can do.
  • If you want to get the most out of this app, it has a bit of a learning curve, but there are a series of tutorials that do a pretty good job of laying out the functions.
  • You need to own an iPhone, iPad, Mac OSX, Android or Windows device.

If you are interested in learning about traditional western musical theory—or blues, jazz, or rock ‘n’ roll—I can’t think of a better tool to help you.


Link: https://itunes.apple.com/ca/app/keezy/id605855595?mt=8


Since DJs hit the music scene in the 70s, sampling has become a huge part of pop culture. It is a lot of fun to sample sounds or pre-recorded music and use that as a springboard for new musical expression, even if you don’t have a lot of musical training. Keezy turns your touch phone or tablet into a quick and easy sampling pad.

Keezy 1

How do I use it?

Simply press one of the eight coloured squares with a microphone in it and make a sound. The microphone disappears and when you push that button again, it plays back your sound. If you hold the button down, it loops the sound. This is not the only sampling pad out there, but it has the simplest interface and lets you do a lot.

If you have no idea what to even do with a sampling pad, then there is a list of preloaded pads commissioned from different artists to give you some inspiration. Or you can check out other sampling artists on the web:

Andrew Huang is a Canadian sampling artist who creates songs recording different objects.


Reggie Watts loops and samples his voice.


Who is it for?

This app is appropriate for a wide range of ages and abilities. I would feel comfortable handing this musical tool both to a high school or kindergarten group, and anyone inbetween (even my toddler son has fun playing with this app).

What’s stopping me?

As of this writing Keezy is only available on mobile Apple devices (iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch), but other than that, it is free.

I hope these apps will help you and/or your students engage with sound in a new way.

Check out nmc.ca/learning to find programs where we engage with these exciting new technologies.

About the Author

Evan Rothery

Evan was born in Ontario, but has lived in Calgary for more than three quarters of his life. The easiest way to make him happy is to stick him in a room with a musical instrument that he has never tried before.

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