Nota – iPhone App for Music Education
Recently, a new iPhone/iPod Touch App has been getting some interest in the category of music: an application named Nota. Nota has been available since October 19, 2009, but it has received some attention in the App Store, and I’ve come across the app in some other locations as well. The current version (at the time of writing of this review) is 1.21, and the program sells for $4.99. Wanting to examine the review for the purpose of this blog, I e-mailed the author of the application, and he was gracious enough to extend a promotional code to allow me to review the program.
The program is beautifully designed; it is a pleasure to look at, while still maintaining Apple’s typical user interface design. In its primary view mode, you are presented with a row of options at the bottom of the screen. The first option offers you the choice of playing the piano (and seeing the note played in musical notation), seeing chords as you play the root position, or seeing scales as you play the tonic note of the scale. Every chord or scale I can think of are represented in the program.
These different functions (piano, chords, scales) are of unlimited value to the student learning advanced theory for the first time–at the high school or even collegiate level. There are two things to be aware of: first, the program doesn’t delineate the difference between enharmonic pitches, therefore, you are likely to get a scale with A and an A-sharp instead of a B-flat. The same is true with chord spellings. The application author is aware of this issue, and is working to fix this in future releases. Furthermore, you can set the notes to show solfège (fixed do) instead of note names; however, be aware that the American use of “ti” for the seventh step of the scale is actually “si” in Nota (which is used by other countries). The program plays the chords and scales as they are corrected. I did find that the melodic major played correctly (raised 6th and 7th steps on the way up, natural on the way down), but did not reflect the change in pitch on the descending part of the scale in the written notes (letter names) of the scale.
In any setting (notes, chords, or scales), if you turn your iPhone/iPod Touch to landscape view, you are given a full keyboard, which rivals many of the other keyboards I’ve seen on the App Store. The keyboard’s sound is quite nice, but there is quite a bit of reverb on each note. Changing octaves is quite easy, and you can see your current octave with the iPhone/iPod Touch-like page indicators on the bottom of the screen (a nice touch of iPhone OS UI).
The second major function of the program is quizzing on note names, in both the treble and bass clef, as seen below (You will notice that I had switched to solfège note names before taking this part of the quiz):
The quiz is fantastic; and as a person who has taught beginning high school theory for over ten years, there are some students who seem to struggle with things as basic as note names, and perhaps this program could help them jump that hurdle. After all, if they don’t know note names, they aren’t learning intervals, scales, chords, progressions, and the like. There is an advanced quiz which seemed to be twice as long but did not have any additional content. I would suggest that the quiz could be modified to allow for the alto clef as well, and to give the user the choice of which clefs they wished to be quizzed on. I’d also like to see quizzes for naming basic chords (major, minor, augmented, diminished) and scales (major, natural minor, harmonic minor, and melodic minor).
The third major section of the application is a reference library for many things, including accents, accidentals, breaks, chords, clefs, dynamics, key signatures, lines, notes, note relationships, note and rest durations, repetition and codas, and time signatures. When you choose a category, you are given a list of options, and then a beautifully designed screen that shows the item and offers a definition. There is also a “cover album” view of each category, if you turn your iPhone/iPod Touch on its side.
I think the reference library is extremely helpful, and could only be improved in two ways. First of all, it might be nice to have an alphabetical index of all the terms listed in the entire reference library, as there are times when a person might not know what “category” an item falls into. Second, I am sure the library can be expanded. For example, standard tempo markings with suggested beats per minute might be a good addition.
The final option at the bottom of the screen is settings, which only (at this point) offers two choices: to use an extended quiz instead of a short quiz; and the ability to turn on solfège notation.
That’s pretty much all there is to say about Nota at this time, other than the fact that the App’s author was happy to share a promo code, was honest about the program’s current shortfalls, and asked for feedback. He wants Nota to be the best program out there, and from my experience, it is already one of the best applications available. If you are a music teacher, or if you are a music student, this $4.99 application is worth the price–support the application and the app’s author–this program is worth it.
One final note: even with seemingly unlimited applications in the App Store, please don’t hesitate to ever send an e-mail to an app developer. Many apps are still the creation of a single person with programming skills, who hopes to offer a product that is useful and earns some money on the side. Most of them want your feedback and are grateful for it…don’t forget to let a developer know when you like their program, either–it’s always nice to hear good things, too!