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iPhone and iPad are game changers in the world of music production and education. Forget expensive guitar lessons, upright pianos, and recording studios. These days, there’s an app for that. Hundreds, in fact.
There’s so much you can do with an app or two – sometimes all you need is a little inspiration. So let’s take a look at a few different ways your device can power up your musical life, no matter what your experience level.
Lay down beats with no talent
GarageBand is a legendary stepping-on point for anyone with a smidgen of musical curiosity. But even if you don’t have any musical talent or inclination to speak of, that doesn’t mean you can’t make the most of Apple’s fabulous music software.
Want to make like cut and paste maestros Daft Punk or The Avalanches without putting in the hard graft? Use GarageBand’s Live Loops feature to piece together colorful sound collages. Once you get the hang of it, you can even start making your own ringtones!
Turn sheet music into a backing band
PlayScore 2 can feel downright magical to use. Utilizing powerful Optical Music Recognition software, users can snap a picture of a piece of sheet music and have it played back almost instantly using a range of musical voices. It’s a great app for anyone learning an instrument, or singers who are in need of virtual accompaniment.
You can transpose the piece to make it easier to sing along to, or slow the tempo to help you practice while learning to play it for real. It’s a genuinely impressive, thoughtful, and useful tool that any musician should consider downloading.
Control your apps with a MIDI keyboard
Synthesizers and pianos used to be prohibitively expensive for the casual hobbyist, but these days you can pick up a small MIDI keyboard for around $50 and simulate both on your Apple device. Not only does this make playing music a lot easier – chords especially – but many of these MIDI devices also include drum pads so you can tap out a backing beat too.
We like the AKAI LPK25 (around $50/£40) for beginner/intermediate players due to its compact form factor and pressure-sensitive keys, but any MIDI keyboard should work. Spend a bit more and you can get more octaves, bigger keys, and drum pads.
Discover the joys of the Omnichord
The omnichord is an electronic instrument from the 1980s that’s kind of like a mix between an accordion, a keyboard, a guitar, and a harp. They generally feature a series of buttons that you can press to auto-play major, minor and 7th chords, while a “strumplate” imitates the strumming of a stringed instrument.
You can arpeggiate through scales without actually learning them, or bash out chords with a single button press. Imagine a retro-futuristic harp you can play with no training. Unfortunately they’re not the cheapest thing to pick up on a whim. Luckily, you can download C.ARP and get a pretty similar experience in the palm of your hand.
Connect your music apps together
As you’ve hopefully figured out by now, there are thousands of virtual instruments and sound toys on the App Store. The question is: how do you get all these apps to effectively talk to each other? The answer is Audiobus. The best analogy is to see it as the set of cables you might use in an analog world to connect an array of doodads to a recorder or amp.
Audiobus allows you to layer virtual effects, pedals, synthesizers, compressors – you name it – all within the confines of your iPhone and iPad. It then allows you to record anything you’ve processed through these multiple layers via a digital audio workstation (DAW) like Garageband. Finally, all your favorite music apps can play nice together.
Mix your music library like a DJ
Maybe making your own songs from scratch still feels like too much effort. How about mixing up your fave tracks as a virtual disc jockey?
DJ apps are for the committed party throwers out there who want to add a seamless mix to their next shindig, but who don’t have the time, inclination or skills to get good on the decks.
Bonus: read our other roundups!
Music has been at Apple’s heart ever since it launched the first iPod all those years ago – and that shows in the number of articles we’ve written on the subject.
Over 100 of our long-form features and apps roundups are available to Tips Premium subscribers, so if you want to dig even deeper into the App Store’s music scene, check out the following pieces.