Version Reviewed: 1.0.1
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I've been playing the flute for eight years now, and while I'm no master flautist, I love music and I'm always looking for new pieces. When I saw Etude, I figured that I would give it a try. The app allows you to download public-domain sheet music and plays the music back to you. The idea is that you can learn to play with the app, and eventually master the songs on your own. Being able to carry a few hundred free songs in my pocket sounded very enticing. While Etude is piano music only, simply using the top line works well enough for the flute. I was also curious as to whether I could actual play the piano with it—we've got a keyboard in my house, and I know which keys are which but not much more. Unfortunately, though Etude is great in theory, the results were a little disappointing.
Etude's main interface shows your library "shelf," much like some eBook apps do. Each song has its own book, and tapping on the book opens the song. The sheet music is written in a crisp, clear font against a beige background. Below the music is an optional keyboard. When you hit play, the app starts playing the music, and the notes light up on the on-screen keyboard as well. You can customize the tempo using a slider. It's a very elegant presentation, though the "shelf" feature doesn't scale to accommodate hundred-song libraries very well. The playback is what you'd expect—these are MIDI files, not actual music, so the app plays in a very strict, mathematical manner. It's still nice to listen to and good if you need to learn how the music sounds, but I'd prefer real recordings for listening purposes.
Though Etude doesn't ship with many songs, you can grab over a hundred new ones from the in-app music "store." Currently, all the songs are free and public-domain. They range from titles like The Itsy Bitsy Spider and Twinkle Twinkle Little Star to works by Bach and Beethoven. Downloading songs requires a simple tap; they are automatically appended to your library for future playback.
Unfortunately, the app isn't very practical. First and foremost is the inability to zoom out of the score. You can only view two measures at a time, which makes extended practice difficult. There's no way to zoom out or to obtain PDF copies of the songs, which is really disappointing. You can preview the songs on the app's website, and theoretically I could rip the MIDI files, import them into Finale, and then print the resulting sheet music...but isn't that a little complicated? Also, the app's playback is far from perfect. When it comes to the display of the sheet music, you can chose from page "flipping" or continuous scrolling. Continuous scrolling is impractical, as most musicians are used to moving their eyes, not the other way around. Page-flipping means that the screen jerks every two measures. It would work better if Etude didn't lag so much—it's impossible to play a song at full speed when a sixteenth note run is interrupted by the app's delay.
There are also interface issues: you can't save tempo settings for a specific song, you can't delete a song without actually opening it, and there's no way to reorganize your ever-expanding music shelf. Though Etude looks pretty at first, it doesn't handle heavy use very well.
These drawbacks greatly disappointed me, because Etude does have a deep library of many excellent songs. But between a few quirks like laggy scrolling and problems like the iPhone's small screen, Etude is a bit difficult to use. Yes, you can still teach yourself songs with it; the music is solid and legible, and being able to adjust the tempo is a crucial ability. But it's just not a natural feel. The screen is too small, and the app is too laggy. Additionally, you can't practice a song phrase-by-phrase, as no bar numbers are included. For a serious musician looking for longer practice sessions, Etude just doesn't make sense.
I get the feeling that this would work better on the iPad. For now, Etude is better suited to casual use. It won't teach you to play an instrument, but at least its music library can serve as a refresher for old players and a source of entertainment for novices. Personally? I'll stick with my bulky, old-school, tattered music folder. It might be big, but it works.