Recording your lesson
I recommend that my students record their lesson, at least the songs we're working on. The world of handheld recorders is something that changes very rapidly and I have to update my recommendations regularly.
Smart Phones: These are the best options for recording lessons if you already have one. Surprisingly good quality on most of them. iPhones come with a voice recorder app, Android phones owners need to download one - many are free. And since we're talking smart phones, a good metronome app is essential. I use Tempo on my iPhone and it works great. Of course stand alone metronomes are available too.
Flash MP3 Players: Often called voice recorders, these have been around for a while now and are quite popular for those who don't have smart phones. You will need to use your computer for off-loading the files when it fills up. Models and prices change quickly, so I can't recommend specific models. The sound is fine for lessons, but you wouldn't want to use it for concerts.
If you'd like a higher end recorder, the Zoom H2 ($180) is my recommendation. This recorder makes great sounding recordings. It comes with a 512 mb SD card, amd the files can be uploaded to your computer. It makes .wav or mp3 files. It's also a great recorder for concerts or band practices. It has no built in speaker, so you need to plug it into your stereo or upload the files to your computer for playback.
Other Software for Students
Metronomes: Steady timing
is probably the hardest thing to achieve in music. Metronomes
have been used for over a hundred years to this end. Once again, if you have a smart phone, you're in luck - I use an app called Tempo on my iPhone and it works great. Of course, stand alone metronomes are available too - just make sure it's loud enough!
iReal b: This program is mainly for iPhones or Android phones, and it's cheap ($7 - $10). It provides chords for practicing along with. You can enter your own songs or dowload from other users at the iReal b forum. Much like the early version of Band-In-A-Box (see below) it lets you change keys and tempos. With piano bass and drums, it's not exactly a string band, but unlike my accompanists, it
never gets tired AND never gets drunk. It does also come in PC and Mac versions, though it's more like $30 for that.
Band-In-A-Box: This is the original computer program for the Mac or PC that plays chords
along with you as you practice your songs. It's about $80 and has been so overloaded with features through the years, it's more than you really need. I've uploaded about 150
fiddle tunes to save you the typing.
Slow Down software: For
learning from recordings, many students like to slow down
the music. You can do this from the Windows Media Player 9
or higher. There is a menu item called "enhancements"
and a selection "play speed setting" that, when
checked, allows slower speeds (up to half speed) to be selected
without changing pitch. There is a dedicated program called
that will also slow down music with much more control than
the Windows Media Player. It also allows you to change the
pitch so you can fine tune old recordings for play along,
and it has a Karaoke feature that mostly removes the vocals
so you can hear backup instruments better. It works on both
Windows and Macs and you can save the files with all the changes.
$50. Also popular, with the same features is The Amazing C
Listening: Spotify is a streaming music service that legally allows users to play specific songs and has an amazing collection of bluegrass and old-time (and anything else!) It's free with commercials and $10/month for premium features. If you're just looking up and listening to specific songs you'll probably never hear a commercial. One of the first amazing streaming music sites was Pandora. This service basically designs a personal radio station (via your computer or smart phone) just for you, based on what artists and songs you like. They call it the Music Genome Project and it's a bit complex what the staff there does, but suffice it to say, if you put in Ralph Stanley as the parameter for your own station, it'll play music all day long (for free!) that sounds like Ralph's kind of bluegrass. Pretty incredible, especially if you're somewhat new to all this and want to hone in on what you do and don't like.