Magazine article Gramophone

Discovering Music Digitally: Whether You're Young or Old, a Musical Novice or a Connoisseur, There Are a Growing Number of Apps to Enhance Your Learning and Appreciation of Music

Magazine article Gramophone

Discovering Music Digitally: Whether You're Young or Old, a Musical Novice or a Connoisseur, There Are a Growing Number of Apps to Enhance Your Learning and Appreciation of Music

Article excerpt

We now spend on average 11.3 hours a week at home on the internet, according to the 2013 Oxford Internet Survey. That's quite a lot of time to be glued to a screen. And if you're anything like me, an embarrassingly large proportion of that time is spent half-reading random articles, watching daft YouTube videos and reading social media feeds of people you don't even know.

What if we could actually learn something from the experience?

After all, those screens offer unique possibilities: instead of the linear, textual framework of a book, we can follow our curiosity in any direction. We can access videos, audio, pictures, cartoons, text, or engage with a community, all at the tap of a key and, even more easily for young ones, the swipe of a finger. The technology lends itself perfectly to the exploration of music in all its dimensions. So what is out there for those who want to discover something new about music? Well, it turns out there's something for everyone's educational needs, from children's first steps in classical music to online degree courses.


Naxos has virtually cornered the younger end of the market. Aimed at ages four and over, My First Orchestra App is a delightful introduction to the sections of the orchestra, as well as to composers and repertoire. The host is Tormod, a troll who escaped a Norwegian mountain where they only play Grieg --and so begins the journey through the instrument families, with an explanation of each instrument and short clips of it playing solo and in groups, with a surprisingly wide spread of composers. Tap on any of the pictures and you get more specific information. There's a quirky sense of humour, and the cartoons are easy for children to relate to and have plenty of personality. Explanatory text is simple and charming, but unpatronising, with clear subtexts about the value of music: 'It's a team--the biggest and most important team in music!' There are a couple of quizzes and a conducting game. The app makes use of the possibilities of audio J and interaction, and has a nicely oldfashioned feel to it, but is engaging and well set out.

My First Classical Music App, again from Naxos and also aimed at ages four and over, is slighdy less successful in tone, sometimes coming across as rather patronising ('John Adams chooses fun titles for his pieces') and focusing on a much narrower set of composers, even if in more detail. Beanie's Musical Instruments, also Naxos, uses more of a photo-cartoon style, with its protagonist, the eponymous bear, coming out from behind curtains to make a sound on all the instruments of the orchestra--that's about all it does. Rival apps Peekaboo and MyMusicalFriends provide similar, somewhat limited, introductions to the orchestra, although MyMusicalFriends offers some interaction as you can make each instrument play a few notes. Naxos's Little Classical Music and Little Mozart apps, aimed at ages four and over, both seem more primitive by comparison, with a book-like sensibility --passages of informative and stimulating text that can be read out, plus fairly low-res cartoons, but apart from being able to listen to music, not much interaction.


Moving more towards the adult end, there is a variety, if not a great quantity, of didactic possibilities, depending on how you want to learn. For low interaction, but high-level content, there are the Berlin Philharmonic and's offerings, both available online as well as through apps. Berlin's Concert Hall ( is just what it says it is: you can watch concerts live from the hall or download them. From an educational point of view it offers a remarkable free collection of interviews and conversations with today's top musicians, who go into the nitty-gritty of music-making --an invaluable schooling. You can also pay to watch seminal documentaries, including ones about Carlos Kleiber and Herbert von Karajan, although videos of the Berlin Phil's own educational concert series are free. …

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