Learn to Play Piano on Your iPad

Believe it or not, your iPad is a great piano teacher

The iPhone and iPad are wonderful teaching tools, but they really shine when it comes to learning how to play the piano. Dozens of apps are designed for this purpose, and most listen to what you play and detect whether you're pressing the right keys. Here are our picks for the seven best apps to get you started on your way to piano virtuosity.

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Use Your iPad as a Piano: GarageBand

GarageBand Piano instructions


What We Like
  • Download free instruments from the Sound Library.

  • Connect a MIDI keyboard for the full piano teacher experience.

  • Piano lessons are built in.

What We Don't Like
  • App customization options are limited.

  • Lacks many options for woodwind instruments.

The number-one requirement to learn how to play the piano is access to a keyboard, and that's where GarageBand shines. This free download from Apple turns an iPhone or iPad into a digital audio workstation. In other words, it turns your device into a piano (or a guitar, drums, or another touch instrument). This trick works better with the larger screen of the iPad, but you'll be surprised by just how handy it can be on the iPhone.

If you're just starting out and using the on-screen keyboard, you'll learn only the basics. A big part of learning an instrument is building up muscle memory so that your fingers know what to do, and that takes a real instrument. The good news is that GarageBand can connect a MIDI keyboard to your iOS device.

A MIDI keyboard is an electronic keyboard that has MIDI IN and MIDI OUT ports. MIDI, which stands for musical instrument digital interface, communicates what is played on the instrument to a device such as an iPhone or iPad. This means you can connect a MIDI keyboard to your iPad and use GarageBand to produce the sounds.

A lot of great MIDI keyboards are available, including keyboards with only 29 keys. These smaller keyboards can be great for practicing while away from home.

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The Best Music App for Teaching Kids: Piano Maestro

Piano Maestro app on an iPad above a piano
What We Like
  • Organize exercises by level or genre.

  • Great for young and adult learners.

  • Progress reports let you know how you're doing.

  • Hide songs or save favorite songs.

What We Don't Like
  • Can't search for songs.

  • The app is free, but to get the most from it, you need a subscription.

  • Can't print sheet music.

Piano Maestro is an awesome way for adults to learn piano on the iPad or iPhone, but it is specifically awesome for kids. This piano-teaching app features video lessons that emphasize good technique through a Rock Band-like process for learning how to play the piano and how to read music. Kids will emerge able to sight-read music, which will help with any instrument they choose to learn in the future.

The app is broken into a series of chapters that focus on a specific skill. These chapters start with playing middle C, slowly bring in new notes, and eventually add the left hand into the mix. The piano lessons are scored on a one- to three-star basis, so your child can go over a lesson multiple times to improve their score. Because the lessons flow into each other, Piano Maestro can become addictive, even for someone who already knows the basics.

Piano Maestro uses the iOS device microphone to listen in on your playing, but it also supports a MIDI keyboard you connect to an iPad or iPhone. Go through the first lessons at no cost to get a feel for the app before you purchase a subscription, which starts at $9.99 per month.

This app is also great for music educators, with many teacher-management features and a Facebook community where you can share ideas.

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The Best Music App for Adults: Yousician

Yousician Piano app
What We Like
  • Makes learning the piano a game.

  • Progress trackers give real-time feedback.

  • Videos provide visual examples of notes and chords.

What We Don't Like
  • The app doesn't always "hear" you play correctly.

  • Subscriptions are pricey.

  • Can get a bit crowded on smaller screens.

Yousician is a fantastic way to learn piano, guitar, bass, or even ukulele. It follows a Rock Band-like process of gamifying learning. For piano, choose the more game-like feel of colored notes flowing across the screen, or the app can scroll sheet music, which helps you learn to sight read as you learn to play.

If you're serious about learning music, the sheet music option may sound daunting, but you'll be better for it in the long run. If you just want to sit down at the piano and play songs, the more game-like colored notes are a good shortcut.

One area where Yousician shines is determining your current skill level through a quick test. It may not pinpoint your skills perfectly, but it can find out where you're weakest and take you to the point in the lesson plan where you should begin.

Beyond being geared more toward adults, one big difference between Yousician and Piano Maestro is the multiple paths you can take in Yousician. Instead of linear chapters, you can go down three paths:

  • A classical path where you learn more about reading music and playing in the classical style.
  • A knowledge path that focuses on music theory.
  • A pop path that focuses on rock, blues, funk, and other styles of music.

Download and try out Yousician for free, then after the free trial period, you'll be charged for a premium subscription.

If you have no interest in guitar, bass, or any other instrument included in Yousician, try the Piano by Yousician standalone app.

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Best App for Learning Songs: Synthesia

Synthesia piano app showing keyboard

What We Like
  • Choose from more than 100 instrument sounds.

  • Supports digital keyboards.

  • Notes fall down from the top, or you can view traditional sheet music.

What We Don't Like
  • Comes with 20 songs; you need a subscription to get more.

  • Sounds aren't realistic.

Beginning development at the same time the Guitar Hero craze was ramping up, Synthesia was the piano equivalent of the popular music rhythm game. Unlike Piano Maestro and Yousician, which use a scrolling, game-like method from right to left, mimicking traditional sheet music, Synthesia scrolls the music down from the top, with each colored line eventually landing on the on-screen keyboard.

There's a lot to be said about this method. Similar to reading sheet music, you learn to see the relationship between the notes and predict where they'll land based on the relation to the previous note. Synthesia can also slow down the music, so you can learn at a more relaxed pace.

The Synthesia app comes with more than 20 free songs that you can try out with the app. After you unlock the app with the in-app purchase, you gain access to more than 130 additional songs, mostly classical and traditional. Add new songs by importing MIDI files.

Synthesia is a great way to get started; you don't need to import MIDI files or purchase the expanded library to learn songs using the Synthesia method. Thousands of videos on YouTube are simply Synthesia versions of songs. This means you can set your iPad or iPhone on a music stand, launch the YouTube app, and search for the song you want to learn by adding "Synthesia" to the search string.

The YouTube videos don't have the same controls to slow down the lesson, although some videos are uploaded at a slower rate, specifically for people who want to learn the song. YouTube won't let you hook in a MIDI keyboard and keep track of how well you performed the song, but access to so many songs more than makes up for this limitation.

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Best App for Sheet Music: Musicnotes

Musicnotes app on an iPad set on a table next to a microphone
What We Like
  • An awesome way to organize and take sheet music anywhere.

  • Music is saved as PDF files that can be transferred to and from Dropbox via iTunes.

  • Automatic transpositions save time.

What We Don't Like
  • Licensing means that each song can be printed only once.

  • Doesn't support file uploads from iCloud.

If you know how to read music or want to be better prepared after learning to sight-read through Piano Maestro or Yousician, Musicnotes is essentially Apple Books for sheet music. Not only can you buy sheet music through the Musicnotes website and keep it organized on your iPhone or iPad, but the MusicNotes app offers a playback feature to help you learn the song, even allowing you to slow down the song.

Musicnotes supports traditional piano sheet music as well as C-instrument music, which generally includes the melody in traditional form, with the chords noted above the melody. If you play guitar, Musicnotes also supports guitar tablature.

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The Best System for Learning Piano: The ONE Smart Piano Light Keyboard

ONE Smart Piano Light Keyboard
The ONE Smart Piano
What We Like
  • Light-up keys make you feel like a pro in minutes.

  • Choose from 128 instrument sounds.

  • Free app has tons of sheet music and more than 100 videos.

What We Don't Like
  • It's pricey.

  • Additional songs require in-app purchases.

  • The keys aren't weighted.

Are you looking for an all-in-one package to learn piano? The ONE Smart Piano Light Keyboard is a smart keyboard with 61 keys that light up to show you what to play and the ability to produce sounds from more than 128 instruments. When you download the free The ONE Smart Piano app, it communicates with the keyboard and displays the sheet music on the iPad screen while lighting up the keys on The ONE Smart Piano Light Keyboard.

The app comes with more than 4,000 sheet music options, 100 videos, and games; you can also download many popular songs for around $4. Want the real thing but still need an iPad backup? Buy The ONE Smart Piano or The ONE Smart Piano Pro, which at $1,500 and $2,000, respectively, have a much nicer presentation but don't offer much more than the $300 Light Keyboard other than the feel of weighted keys under your fingers.

The best part about these keyboards is their support for MIDI. Use them with the other apps on this list, including using the keyboard in conjunction with GarageBand. Connect the keyboard to a PC and use software such as Native Instruments Komplete, which is a popular package among studio musicians.

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The Best Metronome: Pro Metronome

Metronome iPad app
What We Like
  • Programmable playlists.

  • Choose from three pitch options.

  • Automatic speed-up is a huge bonus for musicians.

What We Don't Like
  • Infrequent updates.

  • May take beginners a while to figure out the interface and options.

  • Some useful options require in-app purchases.

A metronome is a perfect companion to practice. Whether you're playing scales or sheet music for a favorite tune, a metronome keeps you in time and develops your natural sense of rhythm. Several great metronome apps are available on the App Store, and most of them are free, with in-app purchases that unlock more advanced features.

If you'd rather download and go, Pro Metronome offers all the basic features you need to get started at no extra charge, including changing tempo and time signatures.

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