For Musicians Only: the Top 5 Apps for Jazz Musicians

February 2, 2019

The world of applications, especially in iOS, may seem overwhelming for many people, and jazz musicians may think that the world of technology offers nothing to them. That's completely inaccurate. Increasingly, there are excellent iOS-provided applications that jazz musicians can use to practice tunes and improvisation in ways that were impossible 10-20 years ago. These apps work on an iPad or an iPhone, because you can get them through iOS. Some of them are well-known to the general public, but others - not so much.


As a jazz musician, you may already know a lot about these apps and their functionalities, but this article tries to give you information about apps you perhaps overlooked, and provide additional information about them.



iOS is, simply, Apple's app store for Apple devices. It comes with an iPad or iPhone and is represented on Apple devices by a blue square with an "A" written in white on top of the square. When you open the app store, there's a menu on the bottom. Go to "search" and find the apps listed below, since they will truly help you in your practicing. They are listed roughly in importance to the jazz musician, but since each musician's needs are different, read through all the choices. Here they are.


#1: iReal Pro

This app is familiar to jazz musicians around the States, at least, probably around the world, but there may still be some musicians who don't know about it. iRealPro is mainly aimed at jazz musicians, and it works like a play-a-long by giving you accompaniment (by default, the instruments are piano, bass, and drums - volume is customizable) for an amazing 1,350 songs. What's more, you can adjust tempo, key, number of choruses, and even the chords themselves in each play-a-long - or even write your own chord charts for personal use! The accompaniment isn't exactly the Oscar Peterson Trio, and can be monotonous, but still, iRealPro is the dream come true for jazz musicians.


iRealPro costs $13 in a one-time purchase. Since you only have to make one payment, it's a very good deal.


#2-3: Voice Memos / Garageband

Voice Memos

While this recording application is perhaps better for pianists and guitarists than saxophone players and trumpeters, these musicians can use it as well. Voice Memos is one of many applications of its kind: it takes advantage of an iPad or iPhone's ability to record sound. However, while many jazz musicians are probably familiar with the app, they probably don't realize how useful it can be.


One thing musicians might not know is that the recording quality of Voice Memos is good; at least, if you use the app correctly, you can get recording comparable to that of studio quality. Of course, if you have more than one instrument, it's different, but if you're recording yourself solo, just put your iPhone or iPad reasonably close (but not too close) to your instrument and play whatever you want to play. Then, you can export the recording in an email, which will enable you to hear the music on a computer with better speakers (or you can burn the music onto a CD). To export your recording, after you record and click on the recording button you just made, there's a little box with an arrow pointing up out of it. Press this button and you should get the typical options you get with "AirDrop".


The usefulness of Voice Memos is this: you can record yourself playing a song, improvising, or whatever you want, and then listen to the recording later. Listen carefully so you can hear where you could have played better and perhaps what techniques you could use to help you play better in future. It's about teaching yourself.


*If you want to record yourself with iRealPro accompaniment, iRealPro has its own method for recording yourself with its accompaniment system. You just go to the main screen and press the share button, and it gives you an option to record. They recommend that you "use headphones when recording".



Garageband also has a system for recording yourself, and it includes plenty of options for adding backing tracks to your recording. It's like voice memos but with more features for making a professional recording. But adding backing tracks is more time-consuming, so if you have limited time, go with Voice Memos rather than Garageband.


#4: YouTube

YouTube is known around the world for its library of videos that are mostly, as it turns out, useless to musicians. However, YouTube has plenty of recordings by jazz musicians - as many as you'll ever need. You just need to know what to search for on their website. You can search for names, like Miles Davis or Benny Golson, or you can search for a particular recording, like All Blues Miles Davis or Along Came Betty by Benny Golson. If you have a bluetooth speaker and bluetooth enabled on your iPhone or iPad, you can play music from YouTube on a bluetooth speaker.


Once you know how to find recordings on YouTube, you've got the perfect opportunity to listen to music so you can educate yourself about how good musicians play. Also, if you have a good ear, you can pick up some phrases and ideas from recordings by various good musicians. Listening to recordings can be a great inspiration, and YouTube is the great, free way to hear lots of music.


Of course, you can go to for YouTube, but you can also get the YouTube app; it's fairly similar to the website.


*By the way, the recordings we review in our jazz reviews can be found on YouTube; so, mostly, recordings we mention in our jazz reviews can also be found on YouTube.


#5: Random Roots

In some ways, this is the outlier of the group. It's a recent creation that's relatively unknown. It's not an app that you're likely to use all the time; but it's a useful practice tool in a limited context. Here is how you use it: you learn a short phrase on your own. Then, you learn to play it in all twelve keys. And then, finally, the app's usefulness comes in. It will randomly change the key every few seconds, and your goal is to keep up with it and play your phrase in each key that's given to you. The app requires a little learning at first, but once you learn it, it will stop you from being lazy about practicing in all 12 keys.


The Random Roots app is free, but ... you only get 6 keys for free. To get Random Roots in all 12 keys, you have to pay about $6 a year, which means one year's pricing is less than that of iRealPro; however, after 10 years of using Random Roots in the premium version (with an annual subscription), you pay almost $60. If you pay by the month, you pay nearly $12 a year, which after 10 years is $120. Of course, though, that's not very much considering the costs that were likely involved in designing the app, and creating the website, Therefore, overall, it's good enough to be included in this post.



Each of these five apps, on their own, are not necessarily a powerful influence on a musician's playing ability, but each one improves a certain aspect of your playing, and when you combine them, you can imagine what a strong impact they would have on your practicing and, therefore, your learning.


Imagine beginning your practice session by playing a phrase in 6 or 12 keys, then recording yourself doing some tunes and then listening to yourself to find ways to improve your playing, then listening to a jazz tune you like on YouTube to get some inspiration, and finally improving your rhythmic and improvisational skills by playing this tune you like, with iReal Pro accompaniment. And then recording yourself using iRealPro (as explained above), finding your weak points, and then improving them, only to start the process all over again and learn some more! It makes an hour of playing scales sound old-fashioned, pointless, and boring.

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