If you were to ask a successful musician what tools (besides their instrument, music, and private teachers) helped them the most while they practiced, most would respond with a tuner, metronome, and recorder. More likely than not, the tuner would be near the top of their list. With the invention of the smartphone, every musician can now carry a tuner in their pocket in the form of a tuner app. We’re going to cover the best tuning apps you can get for both Android and iPhone.
Have you ever attended a concert and it sounded like there were multiple notes very close together being played at the same time? Unless the piece calls for semitones, which is not common in the majority of mainstream music, you are witnessing musicians that are not in tune. If the musicians individually worked on their pitch using several functions that most tuners have to offer, they would increase their ability to play in tune right away. Of course, playing with others is very different than playing by yourself, and the element of listening around you is vastly important when in a group. Working with a tuner in the conventional way helps this problem indirectly.
Each instrument has its own unique tendencies – notes that tend to be sharp or flat by design. Sometimes these specific notes are consistent with each instrument (e.g. all F’s above middle C on trombones tend to be sharp due to the physical properties of the instrument), but sometimes a note will be naturally in tune on one instrument but a little flat on another. Using a tuner, the player will be able to figure out the tendencies of his or her instrument so that they can make the necessary adjustment before even playing the note – both when playing by themselves and with other people. The drone function (the app holding a sustained pitch while you do your best to match it or play around it in the same key) will directly help one’s ability to play with a group. The drone function is available on most apps on this list.
In this day and age, it is very easy to own a tuner. If you have a smartphone, tablet, or practically any electronic device with a microphone, software exists to use it as a tuner. With musicians always on the go, phone apps that act as tuners are extremely convenient because it’s one less thing to carry around. Before phones and all of these apps, musicians would have to buy additional hardware that would act as a tuner. If you already have access to a smartphone, you can download an app for much cheaper than the most cost-effective tuners from before – some of the apps are even free!
As mentioned above, one of the other useful tools for musicians is a metronome. Not only are there apps for metronomes as well, but there are a variety of apps that include both – and more! Several of the apps on this list include both a tuner and a metronome, and some offer even more than that!
How to Use a Tuning App
To briefly explain how these apps work, tuning apps analyze the sound produced by your instrument or voice using the microphone on the phone. Then visually the app will show you how in tune the note is after analyzing the sound that it has picked up.
Each app is slightly different when it comes to how they visually represent intonation. Some apps use colors and circles – a full circle indicates in tune, and half circles indicate sharpness or flatness.
Some apps use dials. Most apps display being in-tune in the center but in terms of being out of tune, sometimes that is displayed vertically, other times it is displayed horizontally. The main outlier on this list is iStroboSoft (available for both Apple and Android products), which shows intonation through motion – the more still it gets, the more in tune the player is. Though each app is different, the visual representation makes sense and is easy to get used to.
Best Tuning Apps 2018
Here is a list of the best tuner apps that are available for both Apple and Android products:
Platforms: Apple and Android
As far as apps to aid ones practice, look no farther than TonalEnergy tuner. It serves as a metronome, recorder, and drone (no, not the kind that flies, but actually a sustained pitch – think of hitting keys on the piano with the pedal down). What’s more is that the user can combine any of these features at once – or just use one at a time. Perhaps the best combination that this app can offer is the ability to record something and then listen back with the tuner active – showing the player how their intonation was during a typical run-through.
The experienced player and teacher will tell you that this kind of feature is immeasurably more effective than going through a passage while staring at the tuner. Visually speaking, if a player is flat, there will be a colored half circle towards the bottom of the screen. The closer to playing in tune, the closer to the middle the half circle gets (if the player is sharp, the half circle is above the middle). When the player lands on the note in tune, rather than a half circle, there’s a full circle in the center of the screen and a smiley face appears in the middle. Some users may remember that this app was only available for Apple products (phones, iPads, etc.), but it is now available for Android users as well! Coming in at $3.99, this app is a real bargain, especially considering all of its features.
Platforms: Apple and Android
The iStroboSoft app comes in at $9.99. Before the price deters you, it is worth knowing that strobe tuners have often been regarded as the most accurate tuners on the market. The downside to many physical strobe tuners is the fact that they are big, bulky, and not easily portable – a problem that is solved with the software being available via an app. This app, which utilizes technology from those strobe tuners, is touted as the most accurate phone tuner on the market, and is available for both iPhone and Android.
Platform: Apple and Android
Tunable is another all-in-one package that comes with a tuner, drone (note and chord generator), and metronome, making it useful for musicians that do not want to download a bunch of different apps for each individual function. The tuner function is very accurate – down to 1/100th of a cent, and works across all the extreme registers of different instruments – from tuba to piccolo. It is most suited for voice, strings, and wind instruments.
Does your instrument not read in concert pitch? No problem! The notes can be transposed for any instrument, and there are a variety of different tuning temperaments to choose from – equal and just to name two. The metronome works from 10 beats per minute to 300, shows both downbeats and subdivisions, and is very user friendly and easy to adjust. For those wanting to conserve battery life, the metronome can continue functioning while the screen is locked or closed, using background audio.
Platforms: Apple and Android
The BOSS tuner was made both to look and function like the old physical BOSS tuners that dominated the tuner market back before smartphones and tuner apps. Available in virtually every music store, nearly every musician used these tuners, and now the software is being offered for free for both Apple and Android users. For the musicians that grew up with these physical tuners seeking a familiar setup and look, this is the tuner for you! For the musician looking for a free tuner put out by the same group that had one of the most tried-and-true affordable physical tuners (that are still sold to this day), look no farther than this app.
Platforms: Apple and Android
The Pano Tuner app, available for both Apple and Android users, boasts the review “There is nothing negative to say about this app”. Mechanically, it works like any standard tuning app, utilizing the microphone on the device to analyze the pitch being played. It takes the data from the sounds you play in and spits back the pitch that you are playing, and shows you how in tune you are playing. The dial function shows you whether the pitch is sharp, flat, or right in tune. This app is free to download on both devices, and ready to go as soon as it is installed.
I personally use TonalEnergy to aid my practice when I need to use a tuner, and I have found the drone function very helpful, and the recording capabilities are very beneficial as well. There is a different app that I use as a metronome, so that function of TonalEnergy is not very important to me. When all is said and done, any of these apps will serve any musician well, it just comes down to which you believe will be best for you. There are plenty more apps out there, so if your needs are more specialized and do not quite fit in to any of the apps listed, or you have a brand that you really believe in, it would be worth looking around for some other apps that are out there. While the free apps on this list are great and really take care of tuning needs, having an app that is all-inclusive really can make a difference.