Web, iOS, Android
Yousician uses the built-in mic on your smartphone, tablet, or laptop to give you instant feedback while you play. It’s the closest you’ll get to a real-instrument version of Guitar Hero. There are specific lessons for guitar, piano, bass, ukelele, or voice, all of which have a bright and easy-to-follow interface that feels like a videogame. I particularly like the weekly challenges, which reward you for constantly learning new music. It’s worth noting that there is a seven-day free trial, but Yousician does have a subscription cost for premium service.
MacOS/Windows, iOS, Android
Soundbrenner, a Metronome App
Every musician should practice with a metronome—the clacky thing that helps you keep a beat perfectly in time. Your grandma probably had an annoying one that actually swung back and forth, but these days I use this free app from Soundbrenner. You can easily program various accents, sounds, and time signatures, and if you ever get the Soundbrenner Core—a nifty vibrating smartwatch that pairs to the app—you’ll already know the interface. Don’t like this one? Just search your respective app store; there are tons of great free options.
Good Tuning Apps
Like metronome apps, you can easily find a good tuner. My favorite is Guitar Tuna (iOS, Android), which integrates with Yousician. It has a simple interface, and it works for all stringed instruments. If you play a horn or other non-stringed instrument, try this chromatic tuner from Piascore (iOS, Android). It’s worth noting you still might want a mechanical tuner for better accuracy.
Learn to Read Scary Notes!
Take it from a drummer who was forced through years of conservatory piano lessons: Reading music can be intimidating. That’s why I love Notes Trainer (iOS), which uses a built-in piano interface to teach you where every note is on the keyboard. It even creates exercises to practice, based on the specific scales or sounds you’re trying to get under your fingers.
Don’t use iOS? Try Sight Reading Trainer (Android). It can actually listen to your piano to make sure you’re playing the right notes.
Find Music Online
Soundslice is a great website that features both music notation software and awesome notated lessons from pros around the globe. You do have to pay for much of the music, but that cash largely goes to the musicians who created the lessons in the first place. For something free, check out Musescore, which has tons of free sheet music for various instruments and can even be used to notate and print your own music. Into jazz and blues classics? Try iReal Pro, which allows you to replace your printed “fake book” (jazz books with tons of music) with a digital version. You can even change the keys of songs quickly, making learning songs around the instrument even easier.
As far as guitar-specific tabs and chord charts go, we like the premium app-based version of Ultimate Guitar, but the ad-soaked interface on the website (and the free app version) is annoying. Still, you’ll find everything there—though some user-submitted tabs are more accurate than others.
Use Shazam to Find New Music
The best way to find the music you want to learn is to use your ears. If you hear a tune you don’t recognize on the radio, or you find yourself somewhere public (rarer these days, but it still happens), and a tune you like comes on, Shazam will help you figure out what it is, so you can try to play it later.