Must Have Phone Apps For Musicians
By Justin Boden
Technology has always had a unique relationship with musicians. Some of our previous articles (here and here) have touched on the fickle relationship that maintains between advancing technology and instruments that oft rely on classic design ideals, some of which haven’t changed much, if at all, in a century.
Despite the awkward feelings that exist, technology has leached into the music world far more than musicians would care to admit. Sure, they hate it automatically tuning their guitar via RoboTuners but hand them a tuning fork instead of a Snark digital tuner and watch a laugh crossed smile turn into utter bewilderment in the blink of an eye.
From pickups that can be split at the push of a button, digital modeling amps, and recording interfaces to software like Bias FX, Ableton and Logic, the positive impact can be seen. There are so many tools available that it’s simply never been easier to create and record music at professional quality levels than it is today.
Those tools even extend to that small little computer you keep in your pocket as well. As most consumers have upgraded to smartphones, the smartphone benefits have extended to music on the go as a plethora of companies have spent effort, time and money to develop applications that can turn your cell phone into a digital music workstation no matter where you are. With thousands of options, it can be a challenge finding the best apps though, so let Arizona Music Pro do the dirty work. These are hands down, the best apps for musicians.
Available on: iOS & Android Cost: FREE w/ in-app purchases
A tuner is an essential tool no matter where you are, and while you may forget your snark, or not be near your pedal tuner at that crucial moment, it’s likely that you do have your phone with you. While there are a lot of free app tuners, Guitar Tuna remains the #1 tuner app in the world with over 10 Million downloads for a reason. It works, and it works well while allowing for 15 instruments to be accurately tuned from the standard 6-string guitar to the violin, cello and good ole cavaquinho you’ve got around. It can store custom tunings, snap to many common tunings and includes a metronome, chord library and several games complete with challenges to help you hone skills like chord placement and ear training. It is a must own for nearly every string musician and stands as the big man on campus when it comes to tuning apps.
Available on: iOS & Android Cost: FREE
Your phone may already have this installed simply as a utility tool, but if not, snagging a voice recording app is essential. Ever had a melody pop into your head while you at the grocery store? Need to remember a nice sounding chord progression but don’t have a pen or paper handy? Even lyrics, can all be recorded on the fly using a voice recorder app. It stands as one of the most underused tools, isn’t flashy, and doesn’t do much else, but it serves its purpose well as anyone who has come up with something fantastic only to forget it because it wasn't recorded can attest. A utility like this cements those moments and ensures you’re not missing out on otherwise lost opportunities.
Available on: iOS Cost: FREE
In 2004 Apple launched GarageBand, a simple no fuss multi-track audio recording tool meant as the ultimate introduction to studio recording. It was monumental and served as a turning point where tape and digital Tascam 4-track and 8-track recorders were being replaced by the non-professional consumer with a computer that could do it all. Fast forward to 2011 and GarageBand is introduced to iOS, Apple’s phone operating system, making an on-the-go option that outright stomps. It’s intuitive, it’s simple and with an iRig or any direct interface, you can be plugging in real instruments and recording away using many of the very passable digital effects and modeling sounds. Think it surely couldn’t be powerful enough to give you solid sound? Just ask Kendrick Lamar’s producer, Steve Lacy. He recorded “Damn” using only his iPhone, GarageBand and an iRig to create beats that would become part of a Pulitzer Prize-winning album.
Not an Applehead? We’ve got you too! There’s plenty of amazing options for Android too, we specifically recommend these two:
BandLab - FREE w/ in-app purchases
The official unofficial GarageBand for Android, it too is simple to use, has many of the same options and a nice aesthetic that makes it easy to work on whether using a tablet or phone. They’ve even expanded to sell small interfaces that make it easier than ever to record while traveling.
FL Studio Mobile - $13.99 + in-app purchases
Fruity Loops Studio has been a perennial champion in the hip-hop domain when it comes to creating beats quickly and easily. Insert the mobile era and you’d better believe that FL is in the game with a serious contender. If you’ve used FL on any PC, this will be a breeze as often what comes down to preferred recording apps these days is ease of workflow via familiarity.
Available on: iOS & Android Cost: Subscription - $9.99/mo
Beginning musicians and experts alike can find something to revel in with Yousician. It takes your playing to the next level by essentially installing an instructor in your pocket at all times. Step by step tutorials, exercises that keep you actively learning and instant feedback that is trackable from the beginning so that you see your progress in real time are all standard. This app isn’t the cheapest, and we’ll always believe that real, in-person lessons serve ultimate value in learning. But when comparing pricing, Yousician is a great steal when it comes to investing in learning your instrument and serves as a great tool to keeping you invested in something you’re just beginning to learn or making sure that you’re bringing your best to the band as you continue to progress towards expert levels.
Available on: iOS & Android Cost: FREE
Imagine having a book that had nearly every single song and how to play it all tucked away into something that could fit into your pocket. Songsterr delivers exactly this with a proficient and well-designed app that can have you playing everything from Johnny B. Goode to Cliffs of Dover within seconds. Well, maybe not ripping through Cliffs, but it informs you on the notes you need to hit to pull it off without the guesswork. There are in-app purchases, but for the most part, the app is free and the marketing is manageable unlike that which comes in Ultimate Guitar Tab's popular tab app which, in our opinion should just be avoided.
Available on: iOS Cost: $9.99 w/ in-app purchases
Do you have a binder or folder full of sheet music? The overstuffed one sitting on the piano is perhaps just the tip when you think about what the piano bench holds. If you’re tired of unkempt sheet music, losing pages, and the general annoyance of having to make paper sheet music copies over and over then forScore will change your life. Teamed up with musicnotes.com, forScore offers 300,000 arrangements all available at the touch of a button within the app. It does come at a cost but when calculated against costly copies, losing music and just plain ease of use it’s obvious that this one deserves a spot on your roster.
For tablets running Android we recommend:
Mobile Sheets Pro - $12.99
Available on: iOS & Android Cost: FREE
Soundcloud is the old demo tape you gave to the coffeehouse manager. It’s the CD you dropped by the local venue in ‘94. What good is being able to professionally record all of your music using your phone if you aren’t going to share it? Countless musicians have been “discovered” via Soundcloud from Lorde to Post Malone and it’s become the defacto music uploader for nearly every genre of music. Even when you aren’t uploading your own tracks, there are plenty of ways to discover other artists chasing their dreams and performing out via trending and discover features that only assist in making Soundcloud a truly social experience. The truth is though, no matter what your level, if you aren’t putting your music out there, you’re preventing your own growth as a musician.
Metronome Beats Pro (Android)
Available on: iOS or Android Cost: $2.49 - $3.49
You can manage to traverse the trickiest scales and have some truly unique playstyle but if you can’t keep time then it’s likely that you’re never going to fulfill your dreams as a thriving musician. The best drummers play to click tracks, and no matter how good you think your timing it, a metronome will keep you sharper and more in the groove than you ever thought possible. Tempo for iOs and Metronome Beats Pro for Android offer the best metronomes for your device. Feature rich, both with the ability to select from beat tempos between 1 to 300, tap tempo, an array of time signatures including complex meters and a selection of different sounds to get sick of. The point of a metronome is to make you a better, tighter musician and no matter how painstaking it may sometimes seem, firing up a metronome is a must.