The 12 Best iPad Apps for Musicians

Pros and amateurs alike benefit from iPad music apps

The iPad has been adopted readily in the music industry by people who are already musicians and by people who want to be musicians.

You can do all kinds of neat things with the iPad with the right app. Plug in a guitar with a guitar interface and use it as an effects processor. Record and tweak music using your iPad as a digital workstation. Turn the iPad itself into a musical instrument or learn an instrument using the iPad as your teacher. Read sheet music while you play. Where should you start on all of this musical goodness? Try some of the highest-rated iPad apps available for musicians. 

Father and son playing guitars together
John Fedele / Getty Images


What We Like
  • Turns learning to play an instrument into a game.

  • Load your own songs into the app.

  • Includes lessons for guitar, bass, ukulele, and piano.

What We Don't Like
  • Lacks variety and becomes repetitive after a while.

  • Subscriptions are pricey and noncancellable.

  • Appears crowded on small iPad screens.

If you are new to your music instrument, Yousician is the perfect app. It's free to download but requires a monthly or annual subscription after a trial period. Even if you have been playing a while, Yousician can be a handy tool. The app allows you to play along with it in a manner similar to music games like Rock Band. However, instead of notes coming straight at you, the notes appear on the right and scroll to the left. This is similar to reading music and almost the same as reading tablature, so if you are learning guitar, you learn to read tab at the same time. For piano, the music sheet flows similarly, but you get a cheat sheet of a piano's keys lighting up to help you out. 

Download Yousician


What We Like
  • A simple and stable app.

  • Excellent for organizing and cataloging music.

  • Includes extras for musicians.

What We Don't Like
  • Displays sheet music in PDF format.

  • Works with collections, but each song must be bookmarked.

Fans of the forScore app declare it is the best music reader anywhere. Its clean interface looks like the app was designed exclusively for iOS devices, and it was. Use it to download sheet music or load PDFs on the iPad and be playing in seconds. The forScore app partners with Musicnotes to give instant access to purchases. You can annotate, play along with an audio track, and create setlists.

The app supports split-view and slide-over multitasking on iPads with these features. Play hands-free with forScore's page-turning devices, and MIDI signals or use its built-in remote control. Serious collectors can add composers, genres, tags, and labels to each score's metadata in the library.

Best of all, you can take your entire sheet music library with you wherever you go.

Download ForScore


What We Like
  • Excellent app for tuning guitars.

  • Attractive, easy-to-use interface.

  • Clear instructions.

What We Don't Like
  • Chord libraries and metronomes aren't special.

  • Free version includes only standard six-string guitar tuning.

Is your ukulele out of tune? How about your mandolin, banjo, or bass guitar? You need GuitarTuna, the premiere tuning app for all stringed instruments. It's easy, fast and accurate — even for beginners. GuitarTuna offers more than 100 tunings, including standard, Drop-D, half-step down, and 12-string.

The app also includes a metronome, chord-learning games, a chord library, and four practice songs with guitar notation.

Download GuitarTuna


What We Like
  • Great job recreating analogue Moog sounds.

  • Dozens of presets to play with.

  • Interface feels like a tool and not just a display.

  • Cool sounds and effects.

What We Don't Like
  • Steep learning curve for anyone not familiar with Moog hardware.

  • Doesn't sound exactly like Moog hardware.

Synthesizer fans love Animoog, a polyphonic synthesizer designed for the iPad. Animoog includes waveforms from classic Moog oscillators and allows users to explore the space of those sounds fully. It's not cheap, but for those who want a true synth experience out of their iPad, Animoog is the way to go. Animoog supports MIDI in, so you can use your MIDI controller to create the sound or use the touch interface.

Download Animoog


What We Like
  • Jamming on this app delivers top-notch sounds.

  • Lots of instruments, scales, and keys to choose from.

  • Fun music creation app.

What We Don't Like
  • Steep learning curve for novices.

  • Complicated layout.

ThumbJam is a virtual instrument designed specifically for the iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch. Rather than provide an on-screen keyboard linked to instrument sounds, ThumbJam turns your device into an instrument. By picking out a key and scale, you can use your thumb to move up and down the notes and wave the device to provide different effects such as pitch bend. This makes it a unique and intuitive way to "play" your iPad.

Download ThumbJam


What We Like
  • Easy to record and mix music.

  • Large built-in sound and loop library.

  • Includes lessons for guitar and piano keyboard. Others are downloadable.

What We Don't Like
  • Lacks depth when editing parameters.

  • Doesn't support plug-ins.

  • No view of the mixing console.

Easily the most popular music app, GarageBand packs in plenty of functionality for a relatively low price. First and foremost, it is a recording studio. Not only can you record tracks, but you can also play with buddies remotely through virtual jam sessions. If you don't happen to have your instrument with you, GarageBand has virtual instruments. You can use these instruments with a MIDI controller, so if tapping on a touch device doesn't give you the right feel for making music, you can plug in a MIDI keyboard. Best of all, GarageBand is free to anyone who has purchased an iPad or iPhone within the last few years. 

Download GarageBand

Music Studio

What We Like
  • Realistic, configurable 85-key keyboard.

  • More than 100 free instruments.

  • Excellent MIDI support.

What We Don't Like
  • Needs clearer instructions for novice users.

  • Trash folder deletes files slowly.

  • No separate mixer.

Music Studio is for people who like the concept of GarageBand but feel constrained by its limitations. The basic concept is the same: provide virtual instruments in a studio setting that allows for the creation of music. Music Studio goes further and adds more sequence features, including the ability to edit tracks, add effects, and draw in additional notes with the digital pencil tool. Music Studio has a comprehensive range of downloadable instruments, so you can expand your sounds as needed.

Download Music Studio

DM1 - The Drum Machine

What We Like
  • It's fun and sounds great.

  • Lots of drumkit samples included.

  • Great selection of effects.

  • Easy for nondrummers to operate.

What We Don't Like
  • In-app purchases in a paid app.

  • Lacks swing control for individual beats.

One area where the iPad excels is as a drum machine. While playing a virtual piano or guitar on the touch screen can be a little awkward with the lack of tactile sensation leading to missed notes, the touch screen provides a good imitation of drum pads. You might not get the touch sensitivity or advanced features of actual drum pads, but for anyone who wants to tap out a beat, DM1 is the next best thing and far cheaper than a real drum machine. Along with drum pads, DM1 includes a step sequencer, a mixer, and a song composer.

Download DM1 - The Drum Machine

InsTuner Chromatic Tuner

What We Like
  • Six tuning modes.

  • Clean, modern-looking interface.

  • Works with almost any instrument: stringed, woodwinds, brass, timpani, and more.

What We Don't Like
  • Ads appear in the paid app.

  • Not useful when at noisy gigs.

  • Needs presets for standards tunings.

InsTuner is a chromatic tuner that works with any stringed instrument. The app features the standard frequency gauge as well as a fixed note wheel, which gives you a nice visual feel for the pitch being produced. InsTuner supports tuning through the microphone or through line-in modes, such as using a guitar interface to hook your guitar to your iPad. In addition to tuning, the app includes a tone generator for tuning by ear. 

Download InsTuner Chromatic Tuner

Pro Metronome

What We Like
  • Three options for pitches.

  • Buttons and wheel to alter the beats per minute.

  • Easy to change pitch on one or more notes in a measure.

What We Don't Like
  • Design looks outdated.

  • Navigation is confusing.

  • Subdivisions require in-app purchase.

The metronome is a staple in any musician's arsenal, and Pro Metronome provides a basic metronome that works fine for most musical needs. The app has an easy-to-use interface that allows you to set the time signature, use it in the background, and project a visual representation onto your TV using AirPlay.

Download Pro Metronome


What We Like
  • Great for learning new music.

  • Option to slow down tempo while learning new music.

  • Includes metronome and countdown.

What We Don't Like
  • Interface is not intuitive. Requires a trial and error approach.

  • Awkward file management system.

Guitarists who deal with tablature love TEFview. This tab library features MIDI playback with speed control, so you can slow it down while learning the song and speed it up once you have it perfected. You can also print out the tab from within the app and share files via Wi-Fi or email them as an attachment. TEFview supports TablEdit files in addition to ASCII, MIDI, and Music XML files.

Download TEFview

Hokusai Audio Editor

What We Like
  • Good for basic audio editing.

  • Easy to filter out background noice.

  • Lots of filters and special effects.

What We Don't Like
  • Interface not intuitive. New users need instructions.

  • App doesn't save when recording is paused.

Want to ditch the virtual instruments but keep the recording capability? No need to go with a more expensive option. Hokusai Audio Editor allows you to record multiple tracks, copy and paste sections of a track, and apply different filters and effects to your tracks. Best of all, the base package is free, with in-app purchases allowing you to expand the capabilities of the app with new tools like grain synthesis, time-stretching, reverb, and modulation.

Download Hokusai Audio Editor

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