What is it?

Random Roots is a new app that trains musicians to execute musical ideas in multiple keys… and in the process it forces them to internalize music at a deep level. It is the gateway to that skill that all creative musicians seek: the ability to play ideas that come to your mind.

How does it work?

A musical idea.

You start with a musical idea: maybe a simple phrase you’re working on. Or one your teacher assigns you. Or a single chord voicing on piano. Or just a couple of notes – say, the NBC chimes. Something that’s easy for you to hear and that you can play without too much difficulty.

In different keys.

Random Roots walks you through performing it in different keys. It throws a key at you… and another… and each time you execute your idea in that key.

Presented specifically to match your needs.
  • You choose which keys you’re ready for. And which ones you have trouble with. Random Roots feeds you the keys in unpredictable order, weighted toward the keys where you need more work.
  • You choose whether to have the app guide the pace, or whether to do it yourself.
  • When the app guides the pace, it presents each new key on the screen in time with a customizable metronome.
  • If you prefer to set the pace, you can advance the keys with a finger tap… or a foot pedal tap.
  • Random Roots lets you hear each new key you’re in, so your ears can assimilate the sounds you make into their proper harmonic context. Plus, that way you’ll know if you make a mistake.
  • Random Roots keeps track of your keys, your tempo, your progress… separately for each musical idea you’re working on.

What’s the big deal about practicing in every key?

First some things you might expect…

Technique

As musicians we want our instruments to be transparent to us. Anything we can execute in one key we ought to be able to do equally well in any other.

Playing By Ear

Musical improvisation consists of having a musical idea in our head and executing it on the fly on our instrument. Whether it’s a simple pentatonic melody or a long, harmonically complex line, we want to be able to execute anything we can hear clearly in our heads. And who’s to say what key that might be in? We need to be able to execute them in all keys.

Efficiency

In our longterm quest to increase our abilities, there is a particular kind of “low hanging fruit”: things we can play in some keys but not others. If we naturally play this lick in Bb and that other one in D, we’ll double our ability if we can play them both in both keys… without having to find any new material, nor having to learn its sound in our ears.
 (They’re like half-squeezed oranges. Why find and slice another orange before you’ve used up the current one?)

Psychology

Why live in fear of the “hard keys”? The more we round out our skills, the less there exist hard keys at all, and the more we can live free of dread. Mastery of all the keys instills confidence.

The magical payoff: Abstraction

The task of learning phrases in multiple keys, if you do it right, is invaluable far beyond the actual phrases you’re learning. The secret is to do it without reading. Rather than memorizing a phrase separately in twelve different keys, you memorize the phrase once, in such a way as to be able to execute it in twelve different keys.

  • This process automatically forces you to come to know the essential features of musical ideas that transcend particular keys. Their deep structure. At the same time, it forces you to understand how those structures are manifest in each of the twelve keys.
  • From the point of view of an improviser, this is hugely important because phrases learned this way are much easier to generalize, so as to create variations. The landscape of musical ideas one wants to be able to express is vast, and we can see an idea as a particular spot in the landscape. When you learn an idea deeply, you’re able to play the nearby ideas as well, whereas abilities learned verbatim, as muscle memory, are inherently specific. They are isolated tricks you can pull out of a bag rather than general tools of expression.

Here’s a metaphor

Imagine your task is to describe a painting in twelve different languages.

One approach is to memorize twelve different descriptions by rote.

Alternatively, you can simply learn to picture the painting in your head and set about describing what you see in each of 12 languages.

The first way is much quicker in the short run. But the second way gives you practice looking meaningfully at paintings, at visualizing what you’ve seen, and at articulating in each of the twelve languages what you picture. As a result, it has you building skills you can use to describe any painting. And the description you give can be different each time, to suit the audience, the time allotted, the day’s news, whatnot. In the long run, the second approach is the only reasonable one.

Random Roots teaches you the second way of describing paintings.

Features

Simple to Get Started

Use it right away. For free.
It has a guided tour and help built in.

Build Your Ears

By playing each key for you that you’re about to tackle, the app lets you imagine the sound of what you’re about to play. That not only trains your ability to hear, but builds connections in your mind between the sound of the music, the fingerings you’re executing, and the music theory they represent.

Automatic & Manual Modes

Have keys advance automatically in tempo… or whenever you’re ready, upon a tap of the screen… or a tap of your foot.

Customize Each Exercise

The app remembers the custom settings (keys, meter, tempo, form…) separately for each exercise you’re working on and recalls them automatically.

Focus on your Weak Points

Tell the app which keys you have more (and less) trouble with for a given exercise, and whenever you play that exercise the app will tailor the keys it shows you, to let you progress as efficiently as possible.

Use your Feet

Control the app with a bluetooth foot pedal to free up your hands. Works with foot pedals right out of the box.

Learn Uncommon Key Names

Musicians reading transposed chord charts often have to deal with chords like D#m7 and CbMaj7. Random Roots helps you get familiar with uncommon root names if you like.

Custom Sequences

Practice phrases over any chord sequence you like… ii-V-I’s, tritone substitutions, backdoor turnarounds, Coltrane changes… or enter your own.

Cloud Support

All your personalized exercises and settings are automatically stored in iCloud so that if you change devices you won’t miss a beat.

TEACHERS & STUDENTS

Teachers can create custom exercises for their students and share them, singly or in packages, by email or AirDrop.

Play Along

The app plays the root of each key, using your choice of instrument sound.

Choose your keys

Practice every exercise in exactly the keys you’re ready for.

Based on Science

Random Roots is designed from the ground up based on the science of efficient skill acquisition—principles such as varied practice, the spacing effect, the testing effect, context dependency, illusions of mastery and the generation effect. The author has extensive experience not only as an active musician and music educator, but as a former research scientist in skill acquisition.

All keys efficiently

Musicians traditionally practice all keys in the circle of fifths or chromatically. But those ways of ordering the keys have serious drawbacks that impede learning. Random Roots gives you a more diverse & efficient workout.

Organize Your Practice

Efficient learning requires working on lots of separate tasks and revisiting them often. Random Roots lets you organize all your tasks in nested folders and gives you instant access to the ones you’re currently working on.

Try it for free

Get the full experience for free, for as long as you want—you’ll have access to half the available keys. If you like it, upgrade to all the keys for a few bucks.

Transpose for your Instrument

Saxophones, trumpets, clarinet… the app can play along with you in your key.

A SOURCE FOR IDEAS

The app comes with a number of sample exercises built in. You can download more online for free or create your own.

RANDOMPLUS™

A proprietary algorithm ensures that you aren’t presented too many or too few of any key in any given time frame (unlike truly random presentation), while still preserving all the valuable properties of random ordering.