In this post I’d like to share with you some, if not all, of the software and tools I use on a regular basis and which I have come to consider indispensable in my jazz studies in general and in my practice routine in particular.
This list is by no means exhaustive and will most likely be updated from time to time.
- Karajan (http://www.karajan-eartrainer.com/en/): This iPhone app (also available for iPad) is a neat tool for ear training on-the-go and especially useful for learning and practicing intervals and scales (from traditional Western modes to scales relevant in jazz like altered, whole-half diminished or lydian dominant, it’s got them all!). Check out the free demo
- EarMaster 5 (http://www.earmaster.com): This comprehensive ear training software (available for PC and Mac) features over 650 progressive lessons covering all levels from absolute beginner to advanced musician. The best part is that it comes with a set of lessons specifically designed for the jazz idiom. Great tool to practice identifying, transcribing and playing intervals, chords, harmonic progressions, scales, modes, rhythms and melodies! Supports MIDI and microphone input.
- Transcribe! (http://www.seventhstring.com): Slow down any tune (audio file) to a speed of your choice without changing the pitch and analyze any part of the sound spectrum for the specific notes that are played. Facilitates transcribing your favorite solos immensely!
- Sibelius First (http://www.sibelius.com/products/sibelius_first/): Sibelius First is a streamlined version of the best-selling music notation software Sibelius. I regularly use this software to capture musical ideas/licks by inputting the notes directly using the MIDI interface of my digital piano. Compared to other notation applications, Sibelius handles ternary rhythms, e.g. swinging eights notes, quite well, which is a prerequisite, of course, for a lot of jazz styles.
- Band-in-a-Box 2011.5 (http://www.pgmusic.com): Input a lead sheet, choose a style (MIDI or RealTracks, which are based on the recordings of actual studio musicians) and Band-in-a-Box will make your practice routine much more enjoyable, rendering complete, authentic-sounding and varied accompaniment tracks every time you press play! For jazz players, PG Music offers a variety of Jazz RealPAKs ranging from bossa over bebop and to gipsy swing. The software also comes with two iPhone Apps, “BB Remote” (does what the name implies) and “Band-in-a-Box” (for taking generated tracks on the road).
- iReal b (http://irealb.com/): This nifty little iPhone app (also available for Android) allows me to carry around my Real Book (or more like several volumes of them) at all times without actually having to haul a bag of books around, the only drawback being that the app doesn’t contain any melodies, but only the lead sheets with the changes. Originally, the app featured a song library of over 900 Real Book songs “off the shelf”, but due to potential copyright problems, the developer decided to offer the song package separately to be downloaded on the site’s forums. A recent updated the app with an automatic accompaniment feature, which naturally can’t hold a candle to the output of Band-in-a-Box’s (or conventional play-alongs), but still beats practicing with a metronome.
- Tempo Advance (http://frozenape.com/TempoAdvance/): Speaking of which, a metronome should be an integral part of every jazz musician’s toolbox. What sets this iPhone app apart from its spring-powered counterpart is the possibility to set different sounds for upbeats and downbeats, program more exotic time signatures like 5/4 or 7/8 and create and save playlists for your daily practice routine.
- Cubase Artist (http://www.steinberg.net/de/products/cubase/): Cubase Artist is a trimmed-down version of its powerful big brother used for recording, editing and playing back recorded digital audio and MIDI data, simple as that.
- Garritan Jazz & Big Band 3 (http://www.garritan.com/): Garritan’s “Jazz & Big Band 3” is a sample library of typical musical instruments in a jazz and big band that can also be used as a VST instrument in digital audio workstations such as Cubase. JABB3 comprises trumpets, trombones, saxophones, winds, keyboards, basses and the rhythm section.
Are you using another tool that you can do no longer without and that is missing from this list? If so, please let me know in the comments.