Looking for some free software to use in your practicing? There are thousands of sites out there, including lots of freeware and trial packages. Tuners and metronomes are essential tools of our trade, and it really is worth spending the money on good ones. However, there are some great free applications available, and if you have a laptop with decent speakers and a microphone you can take these tools pretty much anywhere.
Chromatic Tuner/Decibel Meter: This website may not look like much, but the “Auto Tuner” (for Windows XP or Mac) is really very nice. It is a small download, but has lots of features.
You can customize it for several instruments, including horn, and it even displays the appropriate F horn fingerings for each pitch. Another feature which I really like is the decibel meter. With it you can show students (and yourself) whether those crescendos and diminuendos really are being executed correctly. Entry-level decibel meters I’ve priced start around $30-40. You will need some sort of microphone, external or internal. I recommend a good instrumental mic for the best results.
Free Metronome Online: A really cool website. Basically a programmable rhythm/drum machine, this site functions as a features-loaded metronome that even the most expensive pieces of equipment would be hard pressed to match. You can customize the meter and time signature, and program tempos using a tap feature. The metronome will play up to several thousand (!) beats a minute, more than enough to work out any 5/8, 7/8, or other asymmetrical meters with all the subdivisions. (Requires Java).
Audacity Free Audio Editor and Recorder: Not a tuner or metronome, but nevertheless an essential (and free!) piece of software for any serious musician. Don’t let its meager looks fool you – this is a powerful program with lots of additional plug-ins (also available for free). Check out Julia Rose’s post on a great use for Audacity here. There are also several help documents to accompany it, so even first-time users are encouraged to experiment with it. You can record and edit practice sessions, solo/ensemble performances, and export files in either .wav or .mp3 format (requires an additional free plug-in).
For even more free online tools, check out Dr. John Ericson’s post at Horn Matters.