Category Archives: Technology

My New Friends – Voice Memo & Spotify

Lately I’ve been finding myself using my iPhone more and more for lessons.  Well, to be accurate, I’ve been using my iPhone and my students’ iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch.

It’s incredible how popular these devices have become.  Nowadays, almost everyone has a smartphone.  In fact, it’s become harder and harder to find a good cellphone that’s just a phone.  And if someone doesn’t have a smartphone, they probably have a tablet like an iPad or an iPod Touch.

In fact, every one of my student (regardless of age), has one.. or two.. of these.  And I’m finding them more and more helpful for helping them learn.

The teaching method I’ve been using, which I believe many teachers are using now, is to allow the student to choose the songs they want to learn.  Of course, as the teacher, I analyze the song and determine if it’s helpful toward the student’s learning in terms of difficulty.  Maybe there’s no new skill to be learned.  Or maybe the skill level jump might be too overwhelming.


More often than not, the songs are new to me too.  So I have to learn them and I do the majority of my learning while driving.  For a while, I was buying songs on iTunes which worked out okay.  But I discovered that many of the songs I teach are not necessarily what I’d listen to for my own entertainment.  So I decided to give Spotify a try.

If you’re not familiar with Spotify, it’s a streaming service.  The desktop version is free and will allow you to build your own playlists from their catalog of songs.  But to stream your playlist on your mobile device, you have to subscribe to their service.

This has been working very well for me.  Sometimes a student might suggest a song and I can search for it on the spot and listen to some of it with them.


The other handy tool that I’m starting to use more and more is voice memo on the iPhone/iPod.  I’m sure other smartphones and tablets have something similar.  Anyone who’s learned an instrument knows that a lot of times you have to slow something down in the beginning to learn it.  Or if you’re trying to learn a specific part of a song (i.e. a riff/lick), it’s helpful to isolate just that part and instrument.  So when it looks like a student need a little more help with a little section of a song, we’ll open voice memo on their iPhone/iPod and I’ll record something they can practice with by themselves.  It’s like I’m there without being there.

Of course, this is not unlike following an instruction book that might come with a CD.  Often, each exercise in the book (commonly referred to as “figures”) will be on the CD that you can listen and play along with.

The great thing about being able to use something like voice memo is that I’m able to customize the exercises to the student’s need at that time starting with the particular part for the particular song.  The student might even be able to find the exact same lesson on youtube (there are so many guitar lessons on youtube!) but not necessarily by a teacher who’ll explain it the way they need to hear it or broken down in a way they can tackle it.

With voice memo, I’ve been able to provide progressive exercises.  Sometimes, each exercise might be as short as half a measure.  At then, of course, the final exercise will be the whole riff/lick/etc.

And not to mention other helpful tools that you can find in the app store like guitar tuners and metronomes.

It’s amazing how technology changes the way we do things.  I couldn’t have imagined doing these sort of things 10 years ago.  I haven’t tried using Skype for lessons yet which I know many teachers are using now.  I’m looking forward to giving that a try.