December 5, 2012 at 11:28 am

Can Apps Teach You To Improvise Jazz?

iImprov jazz ios apps

These apps won't help you if you lack any music knowledge, but if you already have the basic vocabulary, they can in fact help you improvise.

Trolling through the app stores, a musician sees plenty of options for learning new tricks, and all sort of tuners and other utilities. But truly useful musicians’ tools designed for players who know what they are doing are decidedly rarer. Basic guides to music theory and the like are common enough, but we haven’t seen many apps set their sights higher.

However, we found some, in the form of  Jazz Apps Mobile’s iImprov series, which provide a refreshing example of what mobile technology can provide for both beginning and expert musicians.

As someone who has dabbled in jazz, improvisation, and the like, the mere existence of these apps is exciting, because jazz still deserves some of the spotlight it enjoyed in the past.

That being said, the actual usefulness of these apps required scrutiny — especially because each app in the series costs $4 with the exception of the $1 Chord/Scale Compendium, a comprehensive guide for beginning musicians looking to play right off the bat. You’ll need at least some music-reading ability, but the app provides audio of both a chord and scale, along with written notation, so you could actually use it to learn to read music, in a sense. An easy-to-use scrollbar lets you choose the key in which you wish to improvise.

The others, while pricier, are decidedly more advanced in their knowledge requirements. Though they are essentially a guide, they expect that the reader has some basic understanding of music notation and perhaps even theory in order to comprehend the material.

The “Fundamentals” volume is the best place to start, provided you are prepared to do some reading. Once you get through that, this app and the others provide all the necessary information for playing not only basic solos, but for more advanced improvisation over complex charts.

Essentially, these are iOS ports of a standard jazz instruction manual, and those typically cost much more, and you can’t put them in your pocket. So even though these apps might seem expensive, they make up for their relative expense with genuine usefulness. If you know what you’re doing, to an extent, but want to extend your jazz-improvisational abilities, I have verified that these will in fact do the trick.

(Ed. note: In case anyone has wondered whether you can add an “i” prefix to a word that already begins with “I,” the answer is… sort of.)

  • Rosano Coutinho

    If you already know how to play your instrument, you can teach yourself to improvise by playing along with recordings of musicians you like. My app iLift makes it simple to hear stuff over again so that you can easily learn what another musician is playing – do that for a long time and you will be surprised with the sounds you’ll make. The app can be found at

    From personal experience, I would say that learning to improvise by working your ears to hear more on recordings will teach more than you can learn from any app.