The iPad is a great music player, of course, but it can also be an almost endlessly wonderful tool for both advanced musicians and those who just enjoy experimenting and making their own tunes for fun. There’s an interactive music app for everyone, whether you’d like to learn guitar, improve your singing voice, hone your piano skills, compose the next great movie soundtrack, or act as DJ for your friends.
Glee Karaoke (Free)
Whether or not you’re an excellent singer, and whether or not you’re a fan of the TV show, Glee Karaoke is a fun and potentially useful app. It’s set up sort of like a party game.
After a short tutorial that involves singing “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star,” the app learns your voice well enough to harmonize and to add an automatic pitch control that makes you sound better than you really are (although you’ll have to plug in headphones or external speakers to hear the improvement).
After that, the app sets you loose to sing your own songs. You can use music that’s already on your iPad or purchase additional Glee songs with karaoke-style lyrics and a helpful pitch meter. You can then record your performances and broadcast them to the world (or not). Other app users can comment on them. You can also “level up” by earning starbursts on your performances; each level unlocks new rewards and bonuses.
Learn Guitar ($1.99)
For the countless folks curious about learning to play the guitar, this app provides a solid introduction. It covers everything from how to hold and pick the guitar to the best methods of finding chords and strumming. The instructional videos are very clear and extremely easy to follow.
There aren’t a lot of extras here, beyond the ability to mark particular lessons as favorites so that you can get back to them quickly. Yet, this app is a terrific starter for anyone who wants to know more about the guitar before deciding whether to get more serious.
Considering the substantially higher cost of many of the other guitar learning apps in the Apple App Store, and the even higher cost of taking lessons “in person” from a human instructor, this app could be a wise investment for you.
This app is designed specifically for piano players, from novice to advanced. It is meant to be used at an actual piano keyboard, and it shows you exactly which keys to press by note or by measure. You can also speed up or slow down the tempo and can choose to practice just one hand at a time.
Etude comes with the music for three works: Beethoven’s “Fur Elise,” Pachelbel’s “Canon in D,” and Scott Joplin’s “The Entertainer.” However, its integrated store offers a dizzying array of music to purchase, including popular standards; Broadway show tunes; songs from Glee and movie soundtracks; and top hits from the Beatles and Queen to Coldplay.
Most songs cost $2.99. There’s also a “request song button” in the lower right corner of the screen that allows you to ask for your particular favorites to be added to the catalog. While Etude isn’t an app for creating new tunes, it does help musicians to sharpen their skills. Even beginning pianists can get in on the act by learning new songs for their repertoires. Some of the songs in the store are simplified arrangements.
Garage Band ($4.99, Universal)
If you’d like to begin composing your own music but you need some help, Garage Band offers absolutely everything required. Its smart guitar, bass, drums, and keyboard will get you on your way with just a couple of taps. If you want to do something more advanced, where you control every single note, you can use the real world versions of those same instruments by inputting your own recorded samples.
Through this app’s built-in recorder, you can also add in vocals, barking dogs, giggling children, and any other sounds imagineable. You can move around any of your music clips, loop them, and split them however you’d like. A metronome is included, too.
This fully featured iPad app works exactly like the Mac version. So if you’re already familiar with Garage Band on the Mac, you’ll be able to pick it up immediately.
Have you ever wanted to be a DJ and create your own mixes? This app lets anyone — even a neophyte — do exactly that. Just press the glowing musical note next to each of the turntables to pick two songs from your library. Then get to work. You can adjust and/or sync the beats per minute for each track, and adjust the volume and balance. When you get everything just right, you can record your custom mix.
There aren’t any confusing menus in this app. There aren’t lots of fancy options to choose from, either, although you do get features such as the ability to set specific cue points in each song, and to add scratch effects to your recording by simply sliding your finger on the turntable. Still, real DJ types might find djay to be somewhat underpowered compared to professional setups.
Drum Meister Grand ($1.99)
Let’s say that you’ve always hankered for a drum set. Now here’s your chance to live out your dream, without taking a chance on disturbing the neighbors. When you open up the app, it will take you just a few seconds to feel like a kid again. Playing couldn’t be simpler. Just tap on the drumset with your fingers and you’ll be jamming.
What if you’ve already gotten the hang of playing the drums in real life? The app also includes more advanced options, such as creating custom arrangements for the drums, recording your own jams, or loading any of 40 pre-recorded jams that come with the app. To access these options, you simply tap on the small “i” icon in the top left corner of the screen.
Falling Stars (Free, Universal)
Believe it or not, this is actually a promotional app sponsored by Trident Vitality gum. However, after the splash screen. you’d be hard pressed to remember that fact. So don’t let it stop you from from downloading one very cool piece of software. There are no ads in this engaging app, which invites you to create music by drawing vines on the screen of your iPad. Stars then fall and hit the vines, sounding a note every time they touch or bounce off of a vine.
If you’re familiar with Electroplankton for the Nintendo DS, the concept behind Falling Stars should be one you already know. If not, no worries. Thirty seconds with the tutorial will explain everything. You can save your compositions and also share them with friends via Facebook, Twitter or email. Sharing unlocks three new vines to try out.
This app is highly recommended, especially for those who like the idea of creating their own tunes but are put off by the complexities of Garage Band and some of the other music creation apps in Apple’s App Store.
Pianist Pro ($4.99)
This app isn’t quite accurately named. It actually includes several different pianos — from standard to honkey tonk — plus organs, a harpsichord, an acoustic guitar, and a couple of different synthesizers. No matter what sound you’re looking for, it’s probably here. A control at the top of the screen instantly takes you to the octave you’re looking for, and the pedals are in the top left corner of the app.
Pianist Pro will record your performances, and it will even accompany you with drums as well. Three different keyboard layouts are included, along with 11 demos of piano classics from “Fur Elise” and Joplin’s “Maple Leaf Rag” to Bach’s “Toccata and Fugue in D Minor.” You can even play those demos on different instruments. The songs can sound a lot different on a guitar, for example.
Pianist Pro is the best piano app we’ve seen so far for the iPad, and we tried just about all of them. One relatively minor drawback is that it’s not so easy to navigate to the particular instrument you want to play. You must choose the instrument by scrolling through a list with left and right arrows. There’s no drop down box for quick navigation. Aside from that one small flaw, Pianist Pro is an all around excellent app: fun for beginners, but with enough advanced features to satisfy the pros.
SoundPrism Pro ($15.99)
If you’re a serious musician and/or composer, then you probably need something like SoundPrism Pro. It’s a wireless MIDI controller that connects via Wi-Fi or USB, allowing you to control multiple instruments at once. You can also compose visually through a unique graphical user interface (GUI). Additionally, there’s an app store which you can use to purchase more sound packs and skins at reasonable prices.
While this app is extremely powerful, it can also be rather intimidating. Its extensive instruction manual is filled with screenshots and videos, If you’re willing to put in the work to learn how to use it, however, you might find SoundPrism Pro to be right up your alley.