This is the first in a series of regular tech features by Scott Wilson, and focuses on apps for Apple iOS that help you compose and arrange tracks with minimum effort or musical knowledge, on a budget. We’ve deliberately ignored soft-synths for iOS, as we’ll be focusing on them in a forthcoming feature.
Both the iPhone and iPad are becoming serious devices for those wanting to make music, but learning the more professional sequencers and synth apps can be time-consuming and daunting.
Thankfully there’s a whole category of music-making apps out there that are both fun to use and require very little time to get to grips with.
Making the most of the unique possibilities that touchscreens offer, these apps use bright, innovative graphic visualisations that allow the creation of interesting sounds without years of technical training, as well as keeping everything in key for those with no knowledge of musical theory.
Many of the best programs are hidden away on the App Store, so this list plucks out some of the most enjoyable and most useful examples. If you’ve ever fancied making music with an interface that feels like playing a video game, or making an acid house track in three minutes, read on.
Compared to tools like Ableton Live, Reason and Logic, Apple’s GarageBand is seen as a bit of a poor imitator. You can’t control external MIDI instruments with GarageBand for a start, which makes it fairly useless for those wanting something to control studio hardware. Like every other piece of Apple software that appeared in its iLife suite introduced in 2002 however, GarageBand isn’t meant to be deep: it’s meant to be simple. While you can record pretty high-quality tracks with it provided you’re happy with the limited set of instruments and effects it offers, GarageBand’s real strength lies in its power as a learning tool.
“Smart” versions of strings, drums, bass and keyboard mean playing chords is as simple as tapping one button and creating beats just means moving icons onto a grid and choosing between loud and quiet and simple and complex. If that’s too much, there are a number of loops you can select to jam along to. It’s not all grand pianos and string sections though – you can pick from house and hip-hop drum machines, 303-esque synth bass, and vintage synth leads too, and there’s also a sampler that can use the device’s built-in microphone to record sounds. The best bit? GarageBand’s recent Inter-App Audio feature lets you record compatible apps straight into the sequencer. For those wanting to make use of those apps that have been collecting on your iPhone, there’s nothing better.