Better Ears (US$24.99) is a new Mac app that teaches you music theory while enhancing your hearing through training exercises.
Do you know your intervals? Your minor second, fifth or major seventh from a given root note? Or a major harmonic scale from a mixolydian chordal mode? Not only can you read it and play it, but can you hear it?
With 10 different exercise modes, Better Ears will train you to hear, play and read music in a simple and intuitive way. The app provides training ranging from interval and scale recognition to key signature recognition and chord music reading.
The app comes with two modes: learning and training. There are four levels of difficulty, from beginner to professional. Choose your level and start with an area to learn. For example, choose beginner and scale recognition. You're be presented with ionian and pentatonic major scales and aeolian and pentatonic minor scales. Click on one, and the scale is played and displayed on the virtual keyboard (or guitar fretboard), written on the music score, and an explanation of what the scale is and what it means is displayed from Wikipedia.
When you feel confident that you can recognize, play and read the scales, switch to training mode and hit the play button. The scale is played and you have to listen and identify what kind of scale it is. If you get it wrong, Better Ears tells you what the right answer is and then moves on to the next question. Better Ears gives you stats and feedback on how well you're doing and whether you're improving or not.
Better Ears has many different virtual sounds, so if you're learning an instrument other than piano, you're sure to find something that suits your instrument. For keyboard / piano players, you can hook up a MIDI keyboard and play using that instead of the virtual one. It's a brilliant way to practice your scales and become familiar with the instrument.
I really like Better Ears. It bundles theory and application into one easy-to-use package. There are no rules as to how you practice, you just go for it. It also looks good and performs well. However, I would love to see an easier way to practice the exercises in a given key. At present, Better Ears moves all around the keys as it cycles through the exercises. You can limit to one key from a control menu, but it would be nice to have an upfront way of controlling such parameters, so you can focus on practicing in one key.
Better Ears is available from the Mac App Store now for $24.99 or the beginner-only version is free.