Pros: Charming characters and great customization options work for beginners as well as more experienced recorder players. The range of available songs is impressive.
Cons: In-app purchases can add up fast. Feedback within lessons lacks detail that might help kids improve their playing.
Bottom Line: A fun way to reinforce concepts, but deeper insights about technique and musicianship are best gained in the real world.
Teachers can assign the games, songs, and exercises to supplement in-person recorder lessons and music classes. They might also encourage kids to use the lessons to count out rhythms and use solfège to read the notes to build sight-reading skills. Also, check out the song packs available for download. Grabbing a few of these can get pricey, but some -- such as the Major Scale Song Pack -- can offer good practice for core music theory skills.
Editor's Note: the AtPlayMusic Recorder is no longer available.
The AtPlayMusic Recorder app teaches kids how to play the recorder. Kids can create a custom avatar to be their guide as they study the recorder with the in-app teacher, Mr. Noteworthy. The intro lesson provides an effective example of the app's best features: Mr. Noteworthy explains the parts of the recorder, how to hold it, and how to cover the holes, and then the user's avatar sums up the instructions in even more kid-friendly language. Kids are then encouraged to try what they've learned on their own recorders, and they're invited to pause the video and move the screen to examine the on-screen recorder and the child's hand position on the instrument from every angle. Kids then can play a pinwheel game (blow into the recorder to keep the pinwheel moving) or try to play a song. Kids can proceed step by step through the lessons as Mr. Noteworthy presents them, or they can use the toolbar to navigate to specific songs, lessons, and games.
The $3.99 app comes with a wide range of built-in lessons and a small selection of songs, from classical music to standards to pop. Additional songs can be purchased for $0.99 each or in multisong packs for $2.99.
AtPlayMusic Recorder is no substitute for an in-person music teacher, but it's a nice resource for practice at home. The direct lessons with Mr. Noteworthy are well designed, and the mix of verbal description and animated images to illustrate the parts of the instrument, proper hand position, and breath technique are well thought out. The play-along lessons are also high quality: For each note in a song, kids see the note on a staff, the hand position, and the note name, helping them learn both how to read music and the fingerings for each note. Meanwhile, a red line tracks which note kids should play; it won't move forward until the microphone detects that the proper note has sounded. Kids can tap the note to hear it played or choose to skip the note if they're having trouble.
The audio-detection feature is at the heart of this app, and it works well -- after some trial and error. Unfortunately, it's not always clear what you're doing wrong. In the songs, for example, you can't tell if the red line won't move because the fingering is incorrect, breath support is inconsistent, or for some other reason. The only feedback you get is that you're doing something not quite right.