App Crackle Pop: The Best iPhone Music Apps for 2013

iPhone Thumber Wanted —

Band looking for iPhonium player. Must be between ages 18 and 25, have transportation, 3+ years experience, small nimble fingers, know how to play for the song, and know when to vibrate. If you still use the stock ringtones, forget it, you are lame. Drinking and drug problems are okay, just as long as you don’t lose your phone in a taxi. Please fax all resumes to (555) 555-5555. No butt dialers.

The dawn of the iPhone as a legitimate tool for musicians is already upon us, and as an instrument it is indeed fast surpassing its novelty phase, soon to be appearing in Craigslist ads like the one above. Beautiful, unique music is now being made thanks to a plethora of hi-fi apps, and additionally it can aid the musician in a multitude of non-music-making ways.

The abundance of these apps is of such great magnitude, however, that it’s more a burden than a blessing, as it can be a wretched pain trying to find a decent, professional-quality app amongst a sea of amateur wannabes. For instance, searching under the keyword “metronome” in the iTunes store brings up approximately 455 different apps, most of which are not worth their 30-second download times. Hence the purpose of this article. We’ve scoured the app store for only the finest so you don’t have to.

As a follow up to a 2009 article, here’s an updated breakdown of the best music apps for the iPhone to help shepherd all us thumb-skulls into a musically enriching and mobile 2013.

Instruments

iphone app

Tenori-On

$19.99 by Yamaha

Starting with what may be the single most musically innovative app on the market is Yamaha’s Tenori-On, a matrix-based composition tool. Modeled almost identically off its predecessor hardware version, this app is a fully functional platform for composing and performing. The compositional quirkiness is its hidden gem, and although it has some musical restrictions, these only instigate different ways of thinking about music making. It features loop making, song making, multiple layers of instruments, a somewhat diverse sound bank of 256 instruments, the ability to change tempos, time signatures, key signatures, and panning. Its only flaws are that MIDI files can’t be exported, there’s no sampling feature, and the platform is mildly confusing at first glance.

If you like electronic music, then it’s guaranteed to provide inspiration at some of the most dismal times (flight delays? Who cares! Let’s write some music!). It’s also a blast to play along to, and a great foundation for writing songs. Want to know what it sounds like? Check out “TENORI-ON Product Demo Performance” on YouTube and be amazed by its breathtaking beauty.

iphone app

Tonepad and Beatwave

Free, tonepadapp.com, collect3.com/au

Don’t want to drop the $20 for Tenori? Don’t blame you. How about a cheap and easy substitute like Tonepad or Beatwave, two additional matrix-based instruments that’ll kick-start you into the Chinese-checkers-composing spirit? They’re cheap and fun, so enjoy the narrowed creativity you can squeeze out of them before hitting their Garagebandesque limitations. Also note that there’s Beatwave PRO, which gives Tenori a run for its money but lacks a few basic fundamentals like time signature variations and more than four instruments playing simultaneously.

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iphone app

Beatmaker 2

$19.99 intua.net

Intua’s Beatmaker 2 is an incredibly powerful and extensive sequencer and multitracking tool that rivals today’s PC recording software. It comes bundled with slick drum tones, a hot mess of synthesizers, and even an audio-in recording function to track vocals, guitars, etc. To top that off, it has nine very malleable effects (my personal favorite being the bit crusher), and mp3s from the iTunes library can be uploaded, edited, stretched, pitch shifted, reversed, and sampled. Whether writing loops or songs, this is the app for all orthodox sequencing needs.

iphone app

iTabla Pandit

Free/$39.99 itabla.com

iTabla Pandit is an interactive dictionary of classic tabla rhythms mixed with rich harmonic beds, intended to be both teacher and accompanying musician. Weighing in as the priciest app to make the list, the hefty investment stands its ground with superb tabla tones, independent mixing of each drum, 33 different taals (most of which are odd time rhythms), complete control of tempo and pitch, and it also has an adjustable tanpura and shruti for that extra trippy drone tone. Note, however, that this is not a sequencer and all the rhythms are fixed.

iphone app

Animoog

$9.99 moogmusic.com

The folks over at Moog are all about tone and its tactile manipulations. Their app, Animoog, is no exception, as it’s a great sounding synth with a fantastic instrument library. Additionally, it comes bundled with impressively thorough effects parameters and a sleek futuristic mad-scientist look to it. The best part, however, is how it plays – hold down a note on the keyboard while moving your finger up and down to experience a new mod-wheel control feature. Words don’t really do it justice but basically one finger plays the note and controls the tone simultaneously. Now if only all hardware keyboards came with this feature.

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iphone app

Fourier Touch

Free, by Konakalab

Any music app that harnesses the power of the iPhone’s accelerometer deserves some attention, and the Fourier Touch, a bare-bones Theremin emulator, does exactly that by allowing users to control the pitch and volume of a sine wave by tilting the iPhone in various directions. Still more toy than instrument, this app is an elegant step in the direction of accelerometer-based instruments, which are poised to start making a permanent splash in the performing arts (check out the K-bow from Keith McMillen for the real deal). Gesticulating never sounded so good.

UTILITY

iphone app

Backbeater

Free ($29.99 sensor required), backbeater.com

Backbeater is a tempo-monitoring app that reflects the tempo being played on an acoustic kit. Simply attach a sensor to the snare, start playing a groove, and the app will gauge your speed in real time based on an adjustable window of every 2—16 beats. For now, the app is most reliable when used with basic grooves that have predominant backbeats. Thankfully there’s the included option to adjust the sensitivity of the sensor so that ghost notes don’t throw it off. Although a $29.99 sensor is required in order to use the free app, it’s still cheaper than products like Tempo Ref and Beat Bug.

If you haven’t already, every drummer will at some point feel the burn of a lead singer’s death glare because they think the song is too fast or too slow and it’s all your fault. Here’s your chance to prove lil’ miss Goldilocks wrong.

iphone app

Visual Metronome

$1.99. onemoremuse.com

Holding h3 for years as the frontrunner in the timekeeping business is Visual Metronome, which includes basic elements like tap tempo, odd time signatures, a library of tones, and the ability to save presets. Its presentation is stark and simple and it comes bundled with virtually every option possible. The only thing missing is a mute function that silences certain lengths of bars, this being more of a request from the world’s nerdiest wish list than a slighting.

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iphone app

Pro Metronome

Free/$0.99. EUMlab.com

For those who want a sleek looking bleepity-bloopity machine, check out Pro Metronome from EUM Labs. It runs with clean, crisp click samples that cut through a mix like a mother interrogating her delinquent son. It also has an excellent interface for selecting accent patterns and subdivisions and the paid version even has a function that can activate the camera flash for impromptu lo-fi mini raves. What’s missing: the odd time signature options are a bit limited for all you heavy prog rockers that need to rock out in 17/16 (Bill Bruford’s favorite time signature).

iphone app

PolyNome

$1.99 polynome.net

If you love the symbiosis of math and music, then you’ll love PolyNome, a metronome specifically designed to play polyrhythms. Created by drummers for drummers, PolyNome is basically two metronomes running simultaneously, allowing users to select different subdivisions, accent patterns, and volume levels to enable anybody to start learning how to play two over five, six over four, or ten over nineteen should one feel so inclined.

iphone app

Cleartune and iStrobosoft

$3.99 and $9.99 bitcount.com, strobosoft.com

No joke, guitar players consistently show up to gigs and recording sessions without a tuner. And while it never sits well that a drummer might be responsible for a guitarist’s tuning, it’s better to just assume said bandmate is a space cadet. Arrive over-prepared with a tuner app rather than have a session hindered by a run to the local music shop.

While there are more than 625 apps that come up in a tuner search, the two heavyweights are Cleartune and iStrobosoft. Both apps offer automatic and manual chromatic tuning settings, but Cleartune emits additional pitch pipe tones, which can be beneficial for tuning toms to fundamental frequencies. Although it lacks the pitch pipe, for only a few extra dollars iStrobosoft offers extreme strobe-tuner precision, and at $9.99 it’s still cheaper than a real tuner.

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EDUCATION

iphone app

Mimicopy

$4.99 by ART Teknika

Trying to learn a confusing Garibaldi riff by ear? Want to teach a student to really hear a hi-hat pattern? Mimicopy is a song-warping app that makes it easy to upload any mp3 and slow it down while still maintaining some semblance of original pitch. It also features an intuitive waveform-based looping function for those difficult passages that don’t make sense after the 100th listen through. Thanks to Mimicopy, the rest of us can now decipher what Thomas Pridgen is playing. This is truly an excellent educational tool and it belongs in every teacher’s toolbox.

iphone app

Drum School

$5.99 drumschoolapp.com

Drum School has taken music education to the next level of interactive technology. For an app, it’s incredibly broad in its media content and includes transcriptions of grooves, videos of how to play them (including the ol’ foot cam) and MIDI files with adjustable tempos. Although some of the audio examples sound stale and a few of the “world” rhythms are questionable in their authenticity, the overall scope and material is impressive enough that any beginning drummer will have a ball exploring the app.

iphone app

Karajan – Music & Ear Trainer

Free/$14.99 karajan-eartrainer.com

Drummers, are you interested in earning a degree in music? Want to understand what your guitarist is playing? Maybe contribute some melodic or chordal ideas to the band? If so, then ear training is a must, and the Karajan app is the perfect sidekick. Karajan quizzes musicians in much the same way that a college music theory class goes about it, complete with interval, chord, scale, and key signature identification. Although it might not make much sense without any prior training, it’s the perfect companion to any music theory course. Get this app, study anywhere, and become more than just a drummer.

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iphone app

Quiztones

$4.99 audiofile-engineering.com

Every musician who graces the stage or the studio should have some basic understanding of audio engineering and the physics of sound. Part of that knowledge is the training of the ear to identify certain frequency bandwidths. Familiarity with these frequency registers can greatly enhance the ability of eliminating feedback, softening those abrasive hi-hats, and adding the sweet spot EQ bump to the kick. At Audiofile Engineering, the team has developed Quiztones, a unique app that quizzes user’s knowledge of the frequency spectrum with two different multiple-choice tests: 1) identifying individual frequencies by ear, and 2) the more creative test of picking a song from the iTunes library, then having the app pump it through various EQ bumps and dips at different bandwidths. The added feature of being able to A/B the song with and without the EQ is a nice touch.

PHILISOPHY

iphone app

Oblique Strategies

Free, teetsi.com/obliquecards

What was once a deck of cards containing transcendentalist phrases created by Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt is now a must-have app for any freethinking musicians who find themselves hitting creative walls. Each e-card contains an open-ended solution to restarting the musical process from a new perspective. With fortune cookie style suggestions like “Slow preparation. Fast execution,” “Discover the recipes you are using and abandon them,” and my personal favorite, “Listen to the quiet voice,” it may just be that needed defibrillator to that dying, unfinished song.

VIDEO

iphone app

Splice Video Editor

Free/$3.99 spliceapp.com

Are you feeling pressured to still put out band-promo content while on the road but don’t want to bring the ol’ computer? Fret no more, for your prayers have been answered with Splice, a video editor that is as remarkably sophisticated as it is intuitive. Unlike other video apps, Splice’s number one selling point is the ability to add a soundtrack from the iTunes library, which means you can now make music videos from the phone. Additionally, users can combine multiple clips, add different transitions like cross fades and swipes, and even change the speed of clips to get that slo-mo shot of your bassist puking his guts out. And all that magic is within the realm of the free version.

Conclusion

There are so many music apps out there that it’s hard not to get overwhelmed by option-anxiety. Hopefully the medley of these breadwinners narrowed things down a bit and sparked a little creative excitement. Have fun with them, and don’t forget to look up once in a while.