Software for Both Solos and Sing-Alongs
Mobile apps can help tremendously, with software that can train vocalists, provide backing vocals and instrumental tracks or record performances for others to hear.
In this realm, aspiring crooners who are armed with Apple devices will have an edge against their Android-toting counterparts (which is true with many music-related app categories).
Apps like Glee Karaoke (free), VocaLive ($20, with a limited free version), GarageBand ($5), VoiceJam ($7, with a limited “Lite” version for $1) and Sing Sports (free), are highly polished, but they appear only on Apple.
There’s something on that list for people of all abilities and ambitions, but on Android, it’s a thinner selection.
There, more serious vocalists may consider Vocal Ease ($2 on Android and Apple), Voice Tutor ($3 on Android and $5 on Apple), and Prima Vista Sight Singing ($1.49), while casual singers might consider free options like Android Karaoke — Sing-Along and Karaoke Anywhere (free on Android and $2 on Apple, with a limited free version).
Of all the apps I tried, Glee Karaoke and VoiceJam were the most fun. Glee, which has been in the app store since 2010, is a brilliantly executed karaoke assistant and global jam.
Roughly 150 songs are available in the app, but only a few are offered free. To sing along with the others, you must either earn tokens toward their purchase or spend $1 or $2 of real money on them.
You can also sing along to selections from your iTunes account, but if you go that route you sacrifice some of Glee’s best features, starting with the song-related graphics.
When you sing “Imagine,” for instance, the app provides a scrolling lyric sheet that highlights words at the proper time. At the bottom of the screen is a graphic representing the notes on an ascending and descending scale, along with the length you are supposed to hold the note.
If those great visual cues aren’t enough to get you to the pop star level, the tone-correction feature helps by steering your recorded voice to the proper notes. Depending on how out of tune you are, the effect can be subtle or jarring, but probably not as jarring as hearing your own voice destroy a song.
That’s important for Glee’s other big feature — namely, collaboration and sharing your songs with the world. (This feature, too, is available only for songs you obtain through the app.) If you tap on the “World” button, you see a globe with icons showing other Glee users who have sung a particular song, with audio from one of those performances.
You can comment, or, if you’d like to earn tokens, collaborate by laying your vocal atop those other singers.
If you’re feeling more competitive than collaborative, Sing Sports is an entertaining option. You use it with two or more people who take turns singing a song (without accompaniment), then compete to see who can best match the first singer, note for note.
The app is made by TC-Helicon, a specialist in software and hardware for vocalists. The company’s other app, VoiceJam, is more sophisticated, and is suited to hobbyists and more serious singers alike.
VoiceJam is simple to use, partly because it includes a great, step-by-step tutorial that is sorely lacking on many other sophisticated music apps, like VocaLive.
Think of it as an a capella studio that lets you record loops and build layers of beats and harmonies over the existing recording. For $4 you can add a vocal processor with note correction, and $2 buys you a “reverb” effect.
If you like your recording, you can export it to programs that follow the AudioCopyPaste standard, which is well known to audiophiles.
VocaLive is more fully featured than VoiceJam, but it’s also more complicated as a result. I opened the app on my iPhone and counted more than 25 buttons I could push. While a video tutorial explains all the things you can do with the app, it fails to show you how exactly to complete those tasks, step by step. The company’s text-based manual is helpful, but not nearly as efficient as video.
If you take the time to learn, though, you can create professional-sounding tracks with a wide range of vocal effects, and add instruments as well. The app also lets you record over iTunes selections, though it failed to fully mute the vocals of some songs in my collection.
If this sounds too ambitious, GarageBand has a limited selection of vocal effects in addition to its simulated instruments, but it is simpler to use than either VoiceJam or VocaLive.
More serious singers with Android phones have no options like VoiceJam or VocaLive, but Vocal Ease, a vocal training tool produced by the singer Arnold McCuller, is useful.
Mr. McCuller and Rosemary Butler, another vocalist, demonstrate warm-up exercises and interval training techniques, and a pitch pipe is also available.
Such exercises might come in handy for Android users who go the karaoke route. Android Karaoke — Sing-Along and Karaoke Anywhere are two of the more popular and highly rated apps of this kind on the Android platform.
Karaoke Anywhere offers scrolling lyrics and backing tracks for 50 barroom standards like “American Pie” and “Save a Horse (Ride a Cowboy),” and “Copacabana,” with another 13,000 available with a $10 monthly subscription.
Android Karaoke is more generous, with 800 free songs from popular musicians. But users must register, and the app shuttles you to YouTube for the songs and lyrics, which leads to some shoddy karaoke fare, including some tracks that stop in midsong.
Still, you can find songs more easily through the app’s index than you might by typing searches into the device’s YouTube app. That’s helpful — especially if your blood alcohol content is slightly elevated as you approach your next karaoke venture.
Pushing Weight ($3 on Apple) helps you track your workout routines with a simple, well-designed interface, and offers suggestions on new exercises.... Liftopia (free on Apple) offers the ability to book discounted lift tickets for more than 150 North American ski resorts, based on your location. ...Android tablet owners should consider Pinball Arcade (free), with replicas of popular pinball tables. Also available for Android phones.
A version of this article appeared in print on March 8, 2012, on page B6 of the New York edition with the headline: Software for Both Solos and Sing-Alongs.