5 of the best note naming apps
What to consider
There are lots of apps out there that will help students learn the notes of the staff, but I find myself coming back to the same ones over and over again. The best note reading apps have a range of options: you can choose levels, note ranges and the mode of answering. Each of the apps below has strengths in different areas and you may find that you need a couple of different apps to meet the needs of your students.
Features to look for when purchasing a note identification app:
- Clefs: which ones are available for testing? Treble and bass? The grand staff? Are the alto and tenor clefs included?
- Speed: can you control the speed of the notes appearing in the game?
- Note range: which notes will be tested? Can you choose specific notes or a range of notes?
- Mode of answering: will students identify notes by tapping the answer on the screen? Can they play their instrument so that the notes are identified through the microphone?
- Note naming options: are there a range of options like letter names, an on-screen keyboard and solfa?
- Number of levels: are there a decent number of levels in the game?
- Teaching: does the app allow students to view their incorrect answers and learn from them at the end of the game?
- Look and feel: is there a choice of themes? Is the style of the app appropriate for your students’ age group?
- Custom games or levels: is there an option for setting up and/or saving custom-made games/levels?
- Student scores: are you able to track individual student scores and save their progress?
Here are 5 engaging note reading apps that include a range of flexible options and area lots of fun. Your students will be begging to play again and again!
1. Flashnote Derby
- Link: Flashnote Derby website
- Available for: iOS and Android
Set up as a horse race (of course – what else?!). The more notes you identify correctly, the faster your horse goes. Can you win the race?
Flashnote Derby has multiple themes to choose from, including a Fresh Air (a traditional-style horse race), Pretty Pegasus (unicorns and rainbows), Space Force (planets and spaceships) and a seasonal Christmas Reindeer Race theme.
You can choose LOTS of parameters for testing your students, including the answer method – by using letter names on the screen, an on-screen keyboard (with or without letter names on the keys), by using solfa or by playing your instrument which is picked up via the microphone – the race speed, how many questions students are tested on, and whether key signatures and accidentals are included. There are also a number of video lessons accessible through the app which are useful if your students need some revision.
Clef options include treble, bass, alto, tenor and the grand staff which is great for piano students. One of the best thing about this app is that you can select specific notes that students will be tested on. The notes don’t need to be in an inclusive range – they can be individual notes – which means that if your student has only learnt two notes – B and G on the recorder, you could still use this app to reinforce their learning. You can then add more notes in as they learn them. Students are able to review incorrect answers at the end of a game.
This app excellent options when it comes to tracking scores. You can have usernames set up for each student so that they track their own individual progress. As a teacher you can also set up custom games and assign them to students.
2. Note Rush
- Link: Note Rush website
- Available for: iOS and Android
Note Rush is another attractive app with some great options. There are multiple themes to choose from, including soccer, ladybird, space and some seasonal themes (like St Patrick’s Day). This app listens through microphone and works with a range of instruments, including non-concert pitch instruments and voice. You calibrate the app at the beginning of a game to your instrument’s sounding middle C.
Note Rush assesses whether the note was correctly identified but also assesses the speed at which the answer was provided. This feature is great for a couple of reasons: it’s student-paced so it removes the “panic” factor that some games have (!) and it also means that students are motivated to go back a play a level for a second time to see if they can achieve a higher score by answering more quickly.
Currently the app only allows you to test treble, bass and grand staff and does not includes alto or tenor clef.
You can choose the notes from 15 pre-set levels and you can also design levels from scratch. The app is octave-sensitive so it’s great for piano students who need to learn their keyboard geography.
- Link: Ningenius website
- Available for: iOS only (coming soon for Android and Chromebooks)
Ningenius is the only app that I know of that tests fingering for notes on a given instrument so it’s the best option if you are a band or orchestra leader working with beginner and intermediate students. Instrument options include woodwind (including recorder), brass, strings, guitar, piano/keyboard and xylophone. Students can identify notes by tapping the fingering diagram in Fingering mode, or by tapping a note name on the screen in Note Names mode
There are four versions of the ninja-themed app which cater for individuals or for teachers working with multiple students in their class or studio. Each version gives you access to a specific number of instruments but you can add on instruments via the in-app purchases or opt for the Class Games version which gives you access to unlimited players and all of the available instruments.
Ningenius has a Study mode so students can learn notes before they head into the Test mode where their knowledge will be tested. In Test mode , students progress through the levels by earning karate belts and the app tracks their data such as speed, accuracy and highest score achieved.
You can set up your own custom tests and like Flashnote Derby, the custom tests can utilise specific individual notes of your choosing (not just a range of notes) so it’s perfect for complete beginners as well as more advanced players.
4. Staff Wars
- Link: The Music Interactive website
- Available for: iOS, Android and Macs/PCs
Staff Wars has been around for a long time (I think I started using it in 2009!) and it’s still a great option for learning notes of the staff. The Star Wars-style space theme suits students of all ages, especially those in middle school. You can identify notes by tapping a letter name on the screen and if you identify the note correctly, the spaceship shoots the note. The speed that the notes appear increases as you level up and the background music kicks up a notch! There are 4 clef options: treble, bass, alto and tenor. You can change the range of notes by cycling through the options on the “Range” setting: it includes a wide range, a smaller range, spaces only or lines only.
You lose a life if you answer a note incorrectly, or if you take too long and the flying note hits the clef. You can gain a life back if you answer enough notes correctly.
There are some limitations with this app – there’s no control over the increasing speed of the game as you progress through levels so it won’t suit very beginner or young students, however this can be an attractive feature to older students who like to get the heart racing when playing games!
There’s no option to associate a score with a specific player so it’s a good idea to take a screenshot of the score achieved. If you’d like to play Staff Wars with your class but have only one device, you might like these Staff Wars score cards for a different type of game.
5. Staff Wars Live
- Link: iTunes store link
- Available for: iOS only
This is a companion app to the original Staff Wars app which listens to your instrument in order to identify notes. When launching the app, you’ll select your instrument from a menu. If you don’t see your instrument listed, just choose something that has the same (or similar) range, clef and transposition.
Staff Wars Live has more flexibility than the original Staff Wars game in that you can set a precise note range, a key and also the speed at which the notes will appear on the screen. Speed 1 is SUPER slow and great for beginners. The speed selected at the beginning remains for the duration of the game.
I’ve used Staff Wars Live frequently in workshops with groups of teachers: I set up a game in G major with a one-octave note range (D-D’) and ask them to sing the note using solfa names, or a simple “la” sound. The app picks up their voices from around the room and there’s a lot of laughter as the spaceship “shoots” the notes.
Like the original Staff Wars app, there’s no option to associate a score with a specific player so it’s a good idea to take a screenshot of the score achieved.
Which app/s do you use?
Do you any of these apps with your students? Do you use another one? Let me know in the comments below.
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Hello! I’m Katie Wardrobe – an Australian music technology trainer and consultant with a passion for helping music teachers through my business Midnight Music.
I’m a qualified teacher but no, I don’t currently teach in a school. I help teachers through my online professional development space – the Midnight Music Community – where there are tutorial videos, courses, links and downloadable resources.
I like to focus on easy ways to incorporate technology into what you are already doing in your music curriculum through a range of creative projects. I also run live workshops and have presented at countless conferences and other music education events.
If you want simple, effective ideas for using technology in music education, I would LOVE to help you inside the Midnight Music Community.