The rise of Apple started with the iPod. The portable music player brought music back into people's lives, but then something even more important happened: Apple launched the iPhone, the famous 3-in-1 device that combined features of an iPod, an internet communicator and a regular telephone.
The combination of a touch interface with all of your music on board changed not only the way people listen to music, but also the way people interact with music, the way people create music.
"I was very lucky to grow up in a time when music really mattered. It wasn’t just something in the background; it really mattered to a generation of kids growing up. It really changed the world"
Whether it was Apple's or Steve Jobs' (the quote above is his) personal passion for music, or whether it was the creatives that worked to make Mac and iOS devices what they are, Apple won itself a name as the company for creatives. First with iTunes and then with GarageBand, Apple provided some great tools for musicians and those who love music, but to make the most of the iPhone and iPad experience, it was developers who really gave that big push. That's why we are rounding the best music apps for iPhone and iPad: the ones for those who want to learn to play the piano or the guitar, for those who want to listen to music at home and in their car, for those who want to stream, for those who want to edit, for the djays and for the fans.
Made by Apple: The Essentials
Of course, every talk about Apple music apps has to start with the obvious: the free and excellent GarageBand. Available for iOS and Mac, GarageBand is a great first step and a great simple tool for even more advanced musicians to create some tunes. The app is versatile, supports a wide-ranging selection of instruments, all recorded with an outstanding quality, and it's one of the reasons why Apple is the go-to platform for creatives.
A simple, but extremely cool idea brought to life, Apple Music Memo stores your musical ideas on the fly and embellishes them with a useful waveform.
Use this when you wake up in the middle of the night with a sudden spark of genius, use this at work humming a melody, or wherever you want, it's fun and excellent.
Apple Music App Replacements for Offline Playback
Ecoute is a pretty, well-designed music app that makes album art come to life and has a full Last.fm support. The Now Playing screen greets you with impactful, large album art, while the current song played is displayed in a translucent display looking native to iOS. Ecoute also has a very handy Shuffle button right at the top of every tab, so you can just start shuffling from where you are and enjoy music immediately.
Cesium supports convenient swipe gestures
Cesium is a simpler alternative to the stock Apple Music application: the app is an easy way to find your music and start listening to it. It has a simple navigation menu with separate views divided for artists, albums and songs. And if you have just one album of an artist, the app will know and automatically take you to that album. Cesium also supports a few useful gestures: a swipe right on an artist, album or playlist allows you to start playing right away, while a swipe left adds the item to the queue. You can also use 3D Touch to peek and pop into albums and artists, and the always-visible search button on the top right allows you to quickly find what you are looking for.
Stezza is a music player made to be used in the car.
With large buttons that you can easily hit and a straightforward interface, it allows you to start playing songs and skip them for a minimum amount of time.
It also features custom color themes that make your music pop.
Spotify is the world's most popular music streaming app and is our streaming service of choice. It has a gigantic, 30 million+ song catalog, 100 million users of which 40 million on its premium tier. The nice thing is that Spotify is also available completely free to those who don't want to pay a monthly bill for music streaming: those users will have to listen to ads and can't play a particular song on mobile (just shuffle an artist or an album), plus, they cannot download songs or albums for offline listening. Spotify works fast, it's reliable and has a convenient family share plan that you can use to save a few bucks off that $10 monthly bill. And yes, it works on both Android and iPhone, as well as Windows computers.
$10 a month | Already on your device
The Apple-exclusive Apple Music streaming service is the world's fastest-growing streaming service with 20 million paying users. Unlike Spotify, you don't have free, ad-supported music with this service, it's a paid-only option.
Apple Music is known to sign exclusive deals with top talent and while its music catalog is on par with Spotify, U.S. listeners will often see Drake, Kanye or Taylor Swift dropping their first album here, months before they release it on Spotify (if they do).
$10 a month for regular quality, $20 a month for high quality | Download here
The Jay-Z-owned Tidal is the only popular music service that offers a high-quality streaming option for serious music enthusiasts and pros at $20 a month. It's also scored some important exclusives and while it has a more limited song catalog, it is the place to go for quality seekers.
The service also promises more fair payment to artists and just recently a third of it was acquired by Sprint, so an interesting future lies ahead for it.
DJ Turn It Up: Best Apps to Mix It Up
There is no shortage of apps for DJs on the iPhone, and while on Android you often see popular DJ apps crashing and not being very reliable, the situation is different on iOS. Pacemaker is our current favorite: what started as a curious DJ experience that syncs in with your Spotify collection, has now become an AI-driven smart mixing app that will help you mix (and even choose suitable transition song) for you. It also features a very convenient, well-tailored to the mobile experience interface. For $5 you can unlock a turbopack of effects including things like Whitenoise, Hi-Lo, Chop Chop, 8-Bit and Reverb.
Created by acclaimed music company Serato, Pyro is a simple tool that allows you to create your playlist with support for iTunes, Spotify and the iCloud Music Library, but then it will also smartly transition between songs and when the playlist is over it will continue playing by automatically picking suitable music. You can also quickly jump to a part in the song without interrupting your track in any way. You can also drag and drop songs, move songs easily and all of your previous playlists are conveniently stored in the history section of the app.
djay 2 | djay Pro
With its 2-deck layout and neat Spotify integration, djay 2 and djay Pro are one of the older and best supported mixing apps for iPhone and iPad.
You can speed up and slow down songs, mix them up, add effects, view a detailed waveform and mix on it.
Unfortunately in the djay 2 version it's impossible to create a long playlist of songs and you have to mix them up by the pair.
Traktor is a respected name among djays and the mobile app is also very good. It sports a familiar mixer layout, a cool waveform display, a browser that intelligently recommends tracks based on their tempo and key, as well as a BPM detector. It also sports 8 built-in DJ effects including Reverb and Delay, and you can unlock the pro-grade SuperSlicer feature for an additional $1 in-app purchase.
How To Trim A Song On Your iPhone: Basic Editors
Hokusai Audio Editor
If you want a basic app that allows you to trim your songs, add a fade-in or out effect and easily share the result, Hokusai Audio Editor is our current favorite. It's a free app that gets the job done without any nasty in-app ads. It features a sleek, simple and best of all useful interface with accurate pointers that allow you to properly trim a song. You can pay the $10 the company asks for some advanced effects, but we're just as happy trimming out songs with the free version of the app.
Drop That Beat: Music-making Apps
Figure by Alihoopa
Figure is the creation of one of the best regarded music technology companies Propellerhead Software. While it's not a serious music-making tool, it's an extremely fun app that is made for the realities of an iPhone and makes the best out of the screen space. Use Figure to create your own dope beat even if you have no knowledge about how this works whatsoever. The app is so intuitive it does not need much of an introduction: just play around with the controls, add drums, a bass line and lead melodies, as well as change the key, and easily share this to Facebook or YouTube. The app is a little gem, it's free and it's really addictive, be warned.
If you want to get started in electronic music or just want to try something new that both beginners and more advanced users will have fun with, you should definitely give Ninja Jamm a shot. With its detailed and accessible tutorial, Ninja Jamm walks you through the process of remixing and introduces simple tools that will have you jumping on a beat in no time. The app is brilliant: it features tracks from artists like Bonobo, Amon Tobin and others, which combined with the very high quality effects and audio samples make it easy to create high quality tunes in no time.
Beatwave has a different vibe: first of all, let's make it clear that this is positively the easiest beat maker of them all. We were able to craft a tune in under 5 minutes and it sounded amazing with no effort. It's all due to the high quality of the instruments included (you have 20 to choose from), and the clever layering system that allows you to create a complex track easily. You have the instruments pitch and duration displayed as a legible square grid with the last two rows as the drum line. Tap anywhere to add a sound, tap once again to delete it, and play on. You can lay up to four tracks on top of each other, and you can unlock additional instruments for $2 a pack, while the full $10 version of the app that allows you to export your creations as ringtones or regular tunes.
Music Maker Jam
Music Maker Jam gives you access to thousands of studio-quality loops, beats and melodies to start mixing your new track. You can start by selecting your style pack, picking from trap, hip hop, dubstep, rock, pop, and others, and you can also combine samples from different genres. You also get easy controls to adjust tempo and harmonies, as well as edit song parts.
ThumbJam is a cool app that keeps improving with every update and most recently added support for creating melodies and harmonies. It will help you not only create, but also learn about music theory along the way. Some users even suggest that you can create a beat in another app like the popular Figure and try to spice it up in various scales and intervals with ThumbJam. The app has three main facets: it's an instrument collection based on samples, an environment for creating loops, and a MIDI controller. It's got a bunch of five star reviews, a devoted fan-base and is a fun way to create music on your iPhone.
Nanoloop combines sequencer, synthesizer and sampler in one package, and it's a very minimal yet beautifully done tool to create electronic music.
You lay out patterns on a compact, 4x4 grid and you can easily export WAV files to listen to and share.
The app features 8 channels, of which each can be the synth or the sampler.
Yellofier is an app that takes everyday sounds, voice or a musical instrument and uses software magic to turn this into music.
You can also use a selection of sounds and songs from electronic music artists and add custom effects. All of this comes together in a novel step sequencer where you combine sound and effects.
Learn To Sing and Learn to Play an Instrument
Oh my god! You can sing! No, really! I never though I would say it, but it's true. And no, I am not speaking to you, my reader, I am in fact speaking to myself, as in this app convinced me that I can sing. Not great, not perfect, but not terrible either. I can hit notes and I can even recognize them. Unbelievable for a person to shy to ask somebody and for a person who is always laughed at even when singing in the shower! And if you are like me (I am convinced there's millions of us, most likely billions), this app is a true revelation. It will tell you what is your range, how to sing the highs and the lows, and it will do so in an easy and stress-free manner. It's never too late to learn to sing and this app proves it. You start your singing journey for free, then you pay an extra dollar or two for individual exercises, or you unlock them all with a single $8 purchase.
Simply Piano by JoyTunes
Whether you are a beginner or a pro, if piano is your passion, this app is a great tool to have in your arsenal. The app features a bunch of popular songs including pop tracks like Counting Stars, Timber, as well as classics from composers like Johann Sebastian Bach. You will get to learn basics in a step-by-step progression: you will learn to read sheet music and later upgrade your skills so that you are able to play with both hands. Cool and personalized 5-minute workouts will keep you on track to having steady progress.
A step by step guide to the piano for the very beginners under the careful supervision of 'The Piano Guy' Scott Houston.
You get to select the song that you want to learn and start by going through the left hand sequence, then the right hand, and the uniting them all together.
Originally created as a desktop music instrument, but later brilliantly ported to iOS, Sensual Sax is priced at a sweet $5 junction (not too expensive, but not cheap), and it offers some very high quality samples to show you how a sensual saxophone can sound like. If you like brass instruments, you can also check out the very well made iFretless Brass, iFretless Sax, as well as Heavy Brass by Crudebyte.
An app for the musicians and music students, Ear Trainer will help you improve your ear with something for the beginners and something for the very advanced.
It features a ton (and we mean a ton) of exercises including interval comparison and identification, chord training, scales, pitch and melody exercises.
Advanced Apps: For Music Students and Musicians
So by now you've probably realized that Caustic 3 is a music creation platform. It lets you build your own beats, patterns, even entire songs using the variety of built-in synthesizers, samples that you have loaded, or a combination of both. Having a master's degree in music composition isn't needed in order to use the app effectively. In fact, after a little knob tweaking and experimenting with the stock instrument presets, we managed to put together some sweet tunes in a matter of minutes. Past experience with similar software or real synthesizers, however, helps a lot.
Created by keyboard guru Jordan Rudess
A masterful creation by Wizdom Music, the company that has keyboard genius Jordan Rudess working hard to craft a software that musicians will enjoy using, GeoShred is just that. The app is a musical instrument that features a selection of crisp, clear sounds, it has high quality effects, and comes equipped with a set of nice pre-sets. Basically, the app doubles as a synthesizer and an iPad-based MIDI controller. It has a multi-touch surface and an advanced physical model of a guitar. Reviews of this app are glowing and here is one from none other than Joe Satriani: "That’s just nuts. You [Jordan] are the best-guitarist-without-a-guitar of all time."
The iKaossilator is a novel musical instrument with a different and unique, well-tailored for touch interfaces controlling dock.
It uses an intuitive X-Y pad to provide expressive musical control: you create sound by stroking, tapping, or rubbing the screen.
DM1 is an advanced vintage Drum Machine, and it is often compared to mobile versions of powerful apps like Superior Drummer 2 or BFD2. It turns your iPad into a fun and creative beat making machine, and while there are some alternatives like the FunkBox Drum Machine, this one seems a little more polished and refined. The DM1 features 108 electronic drum kits, and defaults to a 16-step pattern progress in the main Steps page. And while we are no drummers, we can tell this one is the choice of many enthusiasts, an easy recommendation.