I’m trying to learn piano. Nathan is trying to learn guitar. Together, we’re absolutely hopeless. Both of us listen to the music we want to learn how to play.
iTunes makes it easy to listen, then back up the music, listen again, back up, repeat ad nauseam. Is there a better way? Yes. Try one of these three Mac apps to listen to the music you want, slow it down, play it backwards, and try again until you get it right.
iTunes Bad. Garageband Good
When Nathan and I started to play piano and guitar we used iTunes to find songs we’d like to play, then did the backwards and forwards routine until our ears hurt and the desire to play diminished into a distant memory.
Along came Apple’s Garageband and the Learn to Play option. Very cool. And cheap.
We progressed rapidly and mastered most of the music in the lessons. But it was all those songs in our iTunes collection that we really wanted to play, and it just wasn’t easy.
What we needed was some way to slow down certain songs so we could figure out how to play the same music.
Slow Down To Learn Fast
We found three Mac apps which can do exactly what we wanted. One is free, the other two push the $50 threshold of serious Mac apps.
The first Mac app to catch our eye, or, rather, ear, was Amazing Slow Downer. Yes, it does what you think it should do.
ASD takes whatever music you have and slows it down. MP3 files, AIFF from CDs, MP4/AAC files can all be slowed down or sped up without changing the pitch. That’s not a bad way to learn music.
The Amazing Slow Downer interface can be a bit confusing at first because there are many options, but if you stick with the standard slider controls you’ll see how easy it is to slow down or speed up a song.
Slow down. Speed up. That’s much better than trying to back up a song in iTunes over and over and over.
Even better than ASD is Capo, which also slows down music so you can hear individual notes and learn how they’re played. Capo brings in a bunch of additional features.
Adjusting pitch is easy and works similarly to ASD, but you can export songs in Capo so they show up in your iPhone or iPod to listen to when you’re on the road. Capo gives you effects, too, including a 10-band graphic EQ and an option to loop difficult sections so they repeat.
Both apps are similar, though Capo is easier on the eyes and gives you waveform editing so you can grab just those sections of music which require closer attention.
On the free list is Sonic Visualizer, which works on Macs, Windows and Linux PCs. SV is decidedly more geeky, despite the attractive price tag (zero). Audio files are limited to WAV, OGG and MP3, but you have an option to view an audio waveform.
Slow down and speed up of an audio file is supported.
So are audio annotations, and MIDI files, as well as spectrogram audio visualizations so you can compare music in a really geeky and aurally scientific way.
For our needs we found the more expensive Capo ($5 more than the Amazing Slow Downer) to be the most enjoyable app to use though it’s not as feature laden as the free and more complex Sonic Visualizer.
All three apps give you a different perspective on learning music by slowing down specific sections of songs (verses, choruses, bridges, riffs, etc.) so you can actually hear what’s going on and expose the nuances of music.