*See comments below for updated app suggestions
I usually hesitate to acquire the latest technological gadgets. The reason for my delayed response is often financial, but I am also the type of person who avoids unnecessary “improvements”. Things that work don’t need replacements! I am still using Windows XP on most of my personal computers (except of course my Apple). On my website, I have limited audio recommendations to software items that support the XP operating system:
In 2011, a few of my family members gave me an iPad as a gift. At first I was very hesitant, as I like to have full control of the behavior of my computer systems. iOS has lots of limitations in that regard. I managed to put that personal requirement aside, and I embraced the iPad for it’s full potential. The iPad and it’s relatives provide musicians with incredible resources at an affordable price. Here is a list of music apps that I use regularly, and I highly recommend to students and other musicians who want to use their devices to enhance their learning experience.
A good tuner for both band instruments and guitar is Pano Tuner. It is FREE and it responds very well to the sound in the room. Many tuners respond to overtones and give false readings, but this one doesn’t have that problem.
Change Tempo and Pitch
Slowing down music and changing the pitch of what you are hearing is an essential learning tool for any instrumentalist. Slow Down Music Player (SDMP) is my favorite, but JamUp XT is a close second with extra features for guitarists such as recording capabilities, amp simulation, and sample loading. Both items are FREE, but the display for SDMP is only iPhone/iPod Touch compatible, so it lacks resolution. JamUp XT attempts to up-sell the consumer, but the nag screens and are limited and the free version is quite functional.
Slow Down Music Player
All musicians should regularly practice with a metronome. There are tons of excellent FREE apps in this department, but one of my favorites is Pro Metronome. It supports odd time signatures and you can change the sound of the click. It can be a hassle because it offers “hidden” up-sells for more wacky options like odd subdivisions, and visual enhancements, but once you figure out the limitations, it’s easy to avoid those features.
Metronomes can be a monotonous way to improve rhythm skills, so I highly recommend practicing with a drum beat/machine. I have not found a free app that provides a large variety of patterns where the user can control the speeds/tempos, but I have discovered a couple of FREE apps that provide a limited number of drum examples for a musician to play along with, albeit with caveats. Drum Beats has fifty patterns to choose from but it displays flashing advertisements if your device is connected to the outside world and its display has limited resolution in order to keep it compatible with the iPhone/iPod touch. The audioBase.com Sample Player has modern drum/instrumental loops, but no “simple” beats are available, thus making the tracks sound a bit cluttered. Groove Bank provides the musician with a good selection of beats and it offers a large variety of tempos, but the user must sort thru “locked” examples to avoid being up-sold. bleep!Box Player is designed like a traditional drum machine/sequencer (it’s not just a loop player). It gives you editable pre-programmed examples, but the free version does not allow you to save edits, so if you wanted to practice with a basic beat, you would have to do a quick edit every time you open the product.
audioBase.com Sample Player
Music Production/Recording Studio
All the apps listed above, in one form or another, are necessary tools for any musician who is aspiring for improvement. Notice they are all free. The one app whose value far outweighs its cost is Garageband. If anything, the recording studio app made by Apple has too many features. The interface is as intuitive as a piece of software this complicated can be. Excellent sounding tracks can be produced with this app, and for $5 it’s the deal of a lifetime. Unfortunately, Apple recently changed its pricing scheme on this product and made the app free with a $5 charge to unlock all of its features. In-App-Purchase requirements are always less desirable because they prevent the purchaser from installing the full featured version of the app on multiple devices.
There are many other recording and music production apps that are outstanding. A few that I have had positive experiences with are: Synthstation, Djay, Fruit Loops Studio, Thumbjam, Music Studio, Groove Maker, Studio Track, MultiTrack, Tabletop, AudioShare, Wavepad, Traktor DJ, and iSequence. One important app that makes it possible to run multiple production apps together in tandem/unison is Audiobus.
Keep in mind, the apps listed above are current products in good standing as of late 2013, but that can change quickly. App developers often make updates to their software….. for better or for worse. It is important to have the ability to revert to a previous version of an app in order to avoid bad updates. To do this, you must plan in advance. Backup your apps by copying the contents of your “Mobile Applications” folder to a separate location. This folder is usually located in the “My Music/iTunes…..iTunes Media” of a computer with a Windows based operating system. A process of deleting the new version of the app and then dragging a copy of the original version of the app into the iTunes library is required to complete the process. Look online for tutorials on the subject, as this is only a quick description of how it works.