The iPad is a tool with many uses. One of my main uses for it is a performance and composition tool when I’m not near my beloved desktop/MacBook. The iPad is surprisingly powerful when it comes to handling some of the tasks I have it do with regards to music, things that are probably quite CPU intensive.
There are thousands of apps out there that allow you to compose music, but I’m going to show you 10 of the greatest ways. These apps have all been of use to me at some point, and whether you’re a current producer or simply a production enthusiast, you’ll be able to get some use out of them too.
Fl Studio mobile is a mini DAW complete with step sequencer, filters, a massive instrument bank and numerous other features, making it one of the best options for serious musical composition on the iPad. It’s a great way to begin composing music or to develop ideas. Being an Fl user myself, this app felt right at home to use.
It can help you develop anything from a simple idea to a fully-fledged song with surprising levels of complexity. Image-Line’s nifty app has a relatively steep learning curve, meaning you’ll have to sit with it for a little while while you familiarise yourself with the interface.
Requires: iOS 3.13 or later
Developer: Image Line
GarageBand, as you all probably know, is Apple’s own music composition software, the first to debut their “smart” instruments. These are incredibly easy to use and give you a pretty realistic result for the price you pay. The app is based in an arrangement view where you can sequence clips and automation to put together a great sounding track.
You can access a huge bank of loops too, which are accessible through the arrangement view. Little things such as chorus and echo on an electric guitar or tremolo and flange on a keyboard can be modified with ease, making this a diverse and easy to use your musical experience.
Requires: iOS 5.0 or later
I found this only recently, but have got quite a lot of value as a composition and a live performance tool. iMASCHINE is an intuitive beat sketch pad perfect for developing song ideas on the fly. The app features 16 pads, a keyboard and a built-in audio recorder.
One feature I enjoyed is that you can create your own unique sample banks from your own material. The app also has SoundCloud integration, allowing you to upload your grooves when you’re done. The app also has an onboard mixer, so you don’t have to be frustrated with the levels all the time.
Requires: iOS 4.3 or later
Developer: Native Instruments
Like the name suggests, this app offers a complete studio-style production environment. It contains tons of awesome features that I’m used to on desktop-based software such as Logic, including a 127-track sequencer, extensive note editing, reverb, real-time effects and lots more.
This app is really rich in terms of features and looks pretty good on the Retina display (well, doesn’t everything?). I actually started using this app a bit more once I sat down with it for this roundup; it’s definitely my first choice if I have at least an hour to play with an app and compose in depth. This one is a bit more pricy, though.
Requires: iOS 3.1 or later
I’m sure you’re aware of the music giant KORG and their quality of hardware. This app is based on the popular Kaossilator live performance tool which uses an XY pad to control the pitch and usually something like cutoff or velocity.
I actually own a Kaossilator, so I was intrigued as to where the two differed in terms of quality. The answer is, not that much. For a fifth of the price, this app delivers practically the same quality performance. Loops that are featured in the app are far easier to access, too.
Requires: iOS 4.1 or later.
This is a little more fun compared to the other apps, however that doesn’t mean you can’t make great sounding music with it. LaDiDa will autotune your voice and play it to your choice of genre and tempo of music. I had a great laugh with this for a while — some of the results are hilarious.
The app has a nice little studio touch with effects such as reverb, flange, chorus and delay which makes this side towards serious composition a little more. This can be a good way to express lyrics you haven’t put to a tune to yet, or a great way of tackling swift inspiration.
Requires: iOS 4.0 or later
Developer: Khush. ink
I came across this not too long ago while looking for inspiration and it impressed me immediately, especially with the price tag. If you have 20 or so minutes to spare, I seriously recommend sitting down with this app and getting to know it, because it has some pretty good potential for great realtime processing of musical loops.
I mainly use this as a live performance tool, but you can even use it to make whole compositions. The colours looked great, too; the main feature is a rainbow-coloured wheel that lies on the left of the screen. Amazing value.
Requires: iOS 4.3 or later.
This app is seriously good. If FL Studio Mobile HD or Music Studio haven’t done it for you yet, BeatMaker 2 is going to be the one for you. This is our third complete mini DAW of the roundup, and probably one of the best I’ve seen. It has a wealth of instruments accessible through their Drum Machine or Keyboard interfaces.
The app also has loads of cool effects such as Reverb, Compressor, Filter, Delay, EQ, Flanger, Chorus, AutoPan, BitCrusher and Overdrive, probably the most of any app so far. Each instrument also has ASDR control which I found great when tweaking my instruments to be performed. Highly recommended.
Requires: iOS 4.3 or later
The second KORG entry in the roundup, this is a complete virtual reconstruction of the MS-20 synth along with an analog sequencer, drum machine and dual Kaoss Pads. It also contains its own 7-channel mixer coupled with 14 effects. There’s also sound cloud integration, allowing you to share your compositions with the world.
This makes a good app for the experienced composer, as the recreation of the MS-20 is really well done and gives you full control over the sounds. You can modify the sound further with a built-in option to change the effects. This monophonic synthesiser and the other great features make this a must-have for any serious electronic musician.
Requires: iOS 4.2 or later
Last bu not least, iSequence HD is a very organised, structured way to compose fully-fledged tracks right there on your iPad. I was put off it at first because it doesn’t have the visuals of something like GarageBand, but after playing with it for a bit, the initially complex interface opened up a world of opportunity. This is an affordable way to sequence your music, good for the hard-willed.
Requires: iOS 3.0 or later
Developer: Beep Street
Did we miss anything important? Feel free to leave your suggestions in the comments. Make sure you remember that none of these apps are equivalent to industry standard software such as Ableton Live and Pro Tools, but they’re not off by much.