Note Training Utility for Mac OS X and MIDI Keyboard

Last Updated 1/16/2007

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What is It?

Note-a-Drill is a utility for learning to recognize notes and play them on a MIDI keyboard. It operates by randomly selecting target notes that you then have to play on your keyboard to advance to the next note.

This is not intended to replace lessons or other teaching software and materials, but to supplement them in helping a student learn one particular skill. The software I have been using to learn piano is very weak on that, mostly leaving it up to the student. I searched for a while trying to find something free or paid that would do what I wanted the way I wanted but found nothing for a Mac, so I decided to make my own. It's relatively simple, but does what it needs to do.


Mount the disk image and drag the Note-a-Drill application to your Applications folder or anywhere else you want. Follow the instructions to install any necessary drivers for your keyboard and/or MIDI interface. All you should have to do then is plug it in and start the drill. If you plug in a keyboard while the drill is running, it probably won't work. Stopping and starting the drill again should fix it. You shouldn't have to quit the program.


The program operates by randomly selecting target notes that you have to play on your keyboard to advance to the next note. The target note is drawn in black on a grand staff. Any incorrect notes you play are drawn in red. When you play the correct note, it turns green. In order to advance to the next note you need to play the correct note alone and then release it. The next randomly selected note will appear. There is no time limit or penalty for playing incorrect notes. It does keep a running average of the time it takes you to play each note and the longer it takes the greater the chance of that note appearing again. The idea is that it will work you the most on the notes you are having the most trouble with.

Below is a sample screenshot of the program in operation, along with explanations for all the controls.

Sample Screen

Start and Stop

The start button resets the note statistics (notes played and notes/minute average rate), connects all current MIDI sources and starts the drill. The stop button stops the drill. If you connect a MIDI instrument while the drill is running, you will need to stop and start again in order to use the new instrument with the drill. Quitting the program should not be necessary.

Note Statistics

The Note Total and Notes/Min fields display running totals of the number of (correct) notes played and the average rate of correct notes since the start of the drill. They are updated every time a new target note is selected.

Select Key

This pop-up menu allows you to select any standard major/minor key for the drill. The menu selections above C major/A minor have sharps in the key signatures and selections below have flats. One sharp is added to the key signature for every position in the menu above C major and one flat for every position below.


If this box is left unchecked, you will only be drilled on target notes consistent with the key signature, and target notes will not appear with explicit accidentals. Accidentals will will still appear for incorrect notes as necessary. Checking this box allows all keys into the drill.

Some notes have two possible representations (not including double sharps/flats or explicit accidentals consistent with the key signature which will never appear) and the program will randomly select between the two. All notes played while trying to find a single target note will be consistent. For example: in C major, either all black keys will be displayed as sharps or all as flats. Every time the target note changes the selection of which representation to use may change as well.

If the key signature uses sharps, notes will only be drawn using sharps and naturals. If the key signature uses flats, notes will only be drawn using flats and naturals. Notes in C major will be drawn with sharps or flats but not naturals.

Select Cleff

This pop-up menu allows you to select whether you want to drill in the bass cleff, treble cleff or both. There may be overlap with some of the same notes selected in the ranges for both cleffs. The student's response time is tracked separately for each even though they will be the same keys.

Treble and Bass Range

These four pop-up menus allow you to select the ranges of keys to be included for drilling in the bass and treble cleffs. On an 88 key keyboard, the leftmost key is A1 and the rightmost key is C8. Think of A1 as the first A key and C8 the eighth C key. Middle C is C4. The highest key selectable for drilling in the bass cleff is G5 and the lowest in the treble cleff is F2.


1: At first, start out with a small range of notes and drill the cleffs separately. Expand the ranges, drill both together and add accidentals or key signatures as you gain proficiency. If you try to do too much at once you won't really be learning anything and it will be quite frustrating.
2: Go slow. Use the Notes/Min to track you progress but don't go for speed just to get a good score. I found that I made more progress holding each note momentarily to 'burn it in' rather than going to the next as quickly as possible. Even though I didn't end up playing as many notes that way it was less frustrating and I seemed to gain skill more quickly.
3: Try listening to music while you are drilling. While it is probably good to listen to the notes you are playing (for ear training), it doesn't sound very pleasant and can be really boring by itself. Having music playing in the background helps me go for much longer than I could without it. It should also help you learn to concentrate while dealing with distractions, as long as you don't play it so loud you can't concentrate at all.


Download Note-a-Drill here (current version 0.5): Note_a_Drill_0_5.dmg

All releases and a version history can be found here: Note-a-Drill Releases


This is freeware. No registration necessary.


Please send me questions or feedback by email:

Known Issues

  1. The application window cannot be resized or closed: I'm planning on making the window resizable at some point with better quality symbols. As for closing it, just quit the application from the menu or the standard keyboard shortcut.

Note-a-Drill, copyright 2006-2007, Jeff DuMonthier, all rights reserved

Apple and Mac OS X are trademarks of Apple Inc. (formerly known as Apple Computer Inc.)