4 Apps for Learning How to Read Music

Students hoping to progress to playing an instrument first must conquer what some consider to be the most difficult challenge: learning how to read music. Utilizing these apps can help teachers find new ways to engage their students, test their knowledge, and ensure their skill development.


Clef tutor allows you to learn note names in all clefs: treble, alto, tenor and bass. Users can access tutorials to explain everything from note names to key signatures to the circle of fifths/fourths. The available quizzes display the note on the screen and, depending on the mode you are in, you select the correct note name on the keyboard, solfege syllable or scale degree. You also select the name of the key for the key signature section. Users can track progress and see stats or charts, and teachers can adapt the quizzes to include only certain elements, like minor key signatures or only notes on the treble clef that are below the staff, etc. The app seems quite comprehensive, but does not include instruction on rhythmic notation.

Rhythm Cat

Ryhthm Cat helps students who are learning to read rhythm. Users tap and hold the green button for the required amount of beats, provided by background music that varies each time, to learn to read rhythmic notation. The app instructs users before adding on a more complex rhythm, i.e. moving on to adding half notes from just quarter notes. Users receive a rating after each rhythm is complete, and no user can move on until the previous level is mastered, creating a good scaffolding structure for skill mastery.

Treble Cat and Bass Cat are games, by the makers of Rhythm Cat, that help users learn to read notes in treble and bass clef. Users are asked to identify scrolling notes of a certain name (i.e. all the c’s and e’s only). Instructors can set the game speed, from slow to fast, and each game has a three-star rating system like the popular game Angry Birds. No one can move to the next level until s/he passes, and these games offer five stages of ten levels each, plenty of practice for a budding musician.

Piano Dust Buster 2 

Piano Dust Buster 2 focuses on reading piano music specifically and has two modes, one for just learning the letter names of each piano key and one for reading the notes on the staff. It may feel familiar to students, as it resembles Guitar Hero—but with a cleaning grandma who picks up note-germs. If it sounds strange, it may actually be, but the uniqueness of the approach makes the game fun and engaging. The app comes with free music to learn, but also has more that can be unlocked through game play or purchases. Users can use the iPad touch screen to play the correct note or can place the iPad on the acoustic piano and play—and the app will recognize the correct and incorrect notes. While it does not help teach rhythmic notation directly, users learn to play the songs on the piano. The app includes more popular music than the typical classical selections in other apps. In short—this is a fun option for students who may be a bit tired of traditional piano instruction.


Notable works to help students learn to name notes on the treble and bass clefs. It also challenges students to read major and minor chords on both clefs. Users may choose a category to work on, only answering questions within that category, or answer questions from every category. The quizzes display a note or chord on a staff and offer multiple-choice answers. If users answer correctly, they get points; if not, they lose points but get to see the right answer. The included lessons on music theory are fast-paced and clear, but contain some information that may confuse students because they are not included in the quizzes or game.

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