As anyone who has browsed the App Store will know, musical instrument apps don’t have their own category, but are in fact spread out across “Music” and “Entertainment,” alongside what seems like an unholy number of fart- and burp-themed efforts.
To separate the proper musical apps from some less desirable offerings, we’ve highlighted 10 great iPhone apps that provide a darn good musical experience on your handset.
Whether you’re looking to strum, blow, shake, tap or hum, here are the apps that’ll do it for you, and all of them offer more than just a novelty experience. With this many musical instruments available for $2 or less, why not get a few friends together and start a band?
iBone quite simply offers a masterclass in musical instrument design for the iPhone. It works on so many different levels. You can pick it up and have fun playing, but if you know your way around a real trombone, you’ll actually get a virtual instrument. As well as blowing into the iPhone’s mic (or an iPod touch’s mic via an add-on, such as headphones), you can move the slide with your finger, or just hit the notes on the app’s background screen. In addition to playing along to a tune from the iBone songbook, you can also select a tune from your iPhone’s music collection to add some ‘bone too. Death metal works particularly well in our experience.
There are a plethora of piano apps available for the iPhone, but we like this super simple version, and not just because of its zero price tag. With a really nice sound emulating a concert grand piano, download this and you’ll be tickling the virtual ivories in no time at all. You can chose to have the keys labeled with the notes or not, and there’s the ability to “roll” the keys for a quick thrill. The app displays eight keys on the iPhone’s screen, and you can use the slider bar above to scroll higher and lower through the six available octaves. You’re not going to be able to play Stravinsky, but we managed to bash out a fairly tuneful rendition of Chopsticks.
Don’t let the retro robot fool you into thinking Bebot is a just a gimmicky app — it actually offers a fully-fledged real-time synthesizer. While our electro-music skills only managed to glean a bit of robot fun, the longer and more in-depth video demo above from synth superstar Jordan Rudess will show you just what the app is capable of — and it’s pretty impressive stuff. The app boasts four independent “voices,” including a wicked theremin effect that provides some great spooky music. An option to record your warblings would be very welcome in a future update.
We’re going to come right out and say that the idea of holding this to your mouth is a bit dumb, as your breath just fogs up the screen, and dangerously so depending on how long you play. But as a music app, it works great with just touch. The looks are clean and simple and the interface is fab. There are 12 keys to chose from, and in “free play” mode, the touch of a large button turns a blown note into a drawn one. There’s another button to play a chord, and you can change the strength of a note by how closely to the edge of the screen you press.
That’s not all, however; there’s also the option to learn one of the many pre-loaded songs with a wicked Guitar Hero-style game. Playing notes as they come down the screen makes for a mega-fun mini-game in its own right.
If you can get your fingers around the average fret board, you’ll likely find this app easy to pick up, once you get the hang of touching rather than picking. With six guitar sounds to chose from (including the ukelele for any George Formby fans out there… anyone?) you can customize the sound to go acoustic or electric, as well as adjust the distortion and the accelerometer effects, shown off nicely in the video above. There’s also a setting for southpaws (lefties), and best of all, calloused fingertips are a thing of the past.
Despite a rash of bad reviews in the App Store, we love the Pocket Shaker app for fulfilling the percussion-in-your-pocket needs we didn’t even know we had, and all for free. As well as the requisite cowbell, there are maracas (which you shake the phone to activate), bongos (or conga and tabla drums if you’re being pedantic), and many more presented in a photo-realistic interface with a scrolly bit beneath that’s really easy to navigate. If you ever wanted to play the agogo on the go-go, then look no further.
7. Jug Band
Jug Band has you well covered on the folky or alternative music side of things with an app that offers a washboard, kazoo, the spoons, and of course, a jug effect. As you will see from the video above, the washboard works via the touchscreen, the spoons just as in real life, and the kazoo and the jug by humming into the mic (or external mic in the case of the iPod touch). If you can get past the irony of playing a 99 cent app on an expensive gadget in order to emulate the sound of home-made instruments, then it’s great fun.
Smule’s Ocarina has a well-deserved place in the iPhone app hall of fame with its rank as an all-time top paid offering. In addition to wowing on launch with its then innovative use of the mic and touchscreen, and addictively simple musical style (that has spawned a user generated online song book), the app incorporates social elements, such as the ability to hear Ocarina performances from around the world within the app via a great globe interface. Although its gentle, flute-like sound may not suit fans of say, punk rock, it’s a must for those with a penchant for ethereal wind instruments — and of course, Legend of Zelda fans.
9. Drum Meister
It’s no secret that drummers are always the coolest member of the band, and not just because they can sit down for the duration of any concert. Give the drummer inside you an outlet with this app that lets you create your own sweet set of skins, customize their placement and size, and set the type of sound you want to create. Similar to Drum Kit but better looking, and with the ability to record even in the free version, it’s another example of an instrument done very, very well. The free “Lite” version gives you a super-cool, super-simple interface for banging away on a custom kit from the get-go.
As a new musical instrument created for the iPhone, Bloom is hard to describe. In the words of co-creator and famed musician Brian Eno, “Bloom is an endless music machine, a music box for the 21st century. You can play it, and you can watch it play itself.”
If that’s clear as mud, then the basic idea is that you tap the screen to generate a pattern of sound (shown via colored bubbles). Left alone, Bloom will then continue to repeat and “evolve” the tune, while you can jump back in at any point to expand the pattern or shake the phone to clear it. If plinky ambient music isn’t your thing, then back away now. Otherwise, dive in for an addictive experience that will chill you right out on the morning commute.
10 Amazing Musical Instrument iPhone Apps