Composing electronic music
Korg Gadget is quite expensive for a music making app, but it is really good quality if you want to make electronic music. What is really great about the app is that you can get really far with your track just using the included sounds as they cover beats, bass, synths and melodic samples.
We have found that it is not really good at being a performance tool, but it is very good at getting musical ideas down quickly. Gadget is so full of drum machines and synthesizers that it can be a bit overwhelming. In a recent SoundLab session we realised that it is a lot of work in Gadget to try out new sounds. We would like to see a much easier way to try out new sounds as it is too fiddly and time consuming at the moment, which means that the composer will often end up using the standard sounds rather than exploring more deeply.
Gadget uses a really good way of working with scales that makes it easy to compose and have different melody and bass lines work well together.
Composing and performing
ThumbJam is a very friendly and great sounding music making app.
One of the really powerful things about the app is that you can control the scale you play in, this can be really useful when creating a band where all the music needs to work in a particular key.
You can also very easily control the size of the notes on the screen which means it can work for many different kinds of player.
We have found that the range of sounds that app can make means that it is really good at making music that isn’t dance or electronic in style. We have used the app in lots of different ways, from using it as a synthesiser as part of a digital band to a flute in a duet with a member of the London Symphony Orchestra! It has very good sounding wind, brass, stringed and keyboard settings, which has meant that when we have used this app in our public SoundLabs, we have found that people who are not into electronic music are not put off and experiment with a smile.
Easy beat making and composition
We have enjoyed using Loopseque for quite a while now. It is an easy entry point to creating simple beats. Lilly tried this after she told us she was wanted to create a proper beat. She gave this app a big thumbs up and told us it was much better than some of the other options she tried.
Other great features that can sometimes be missed in Loopseque are - you can create lots of different patterns and move through them easily with a swipe of the finger. You can use different effects and control which sounds will be changed. This makes loopseque not just a beat making app but a DJ performing tool too.
Simple and fun synthesizer
Bebot pretty much arrived when the iPad first came out! It is such a simple way to make some lovely sounds, but also has hidden depths.
You can go deeper and select different preset sounds, change the key you are locked to, change the way it sounds and alter the effects. The developer has been improving the app consistently since it came out and it really is a classic!
We often use Bebot as part of a live pop-up band with the iPad in a stand so anyone can get playing. We often set the key beforehand so that it fits with the rest of the instruments and then we lock the screen using Guided Assistance.
We have chosen to talk about these two apps together as we use them in a very similar way.
They both work really well for people who want to explore sound in a simple way. In both apps the player simply touches the screen and moves their finger around to produce lovely music. These are not really the apps to use for someone who wants to create their own music, they are almost like playing someone else’s music tracks.
Bloom is simpler than Aeolian Harp and has been made through the collaboration of Brian Eno and X. We often use this app with people that are new to making music on iPads. People will try lots of different methods to play it, some play it carefully like a piano with notes higher on the screen being higher in pitch, others cover the screen in notes using all ten fingers. What is great is that the app can deal with nearly anyway of playing it and create a rewarding experience. When the player touches the screen a circle ‘blooms’ from their finger and this helps to connect the player to the music making in a really direct way.
Easy to use composer
iKaossilator from Korg is a lot of fun. It is an app based on Korg’s very successful handheld music making machine, but in some ways is better. The app is full of great sounds for making electronic dance music.
If you combine this app with Guided Access [see below link] you can use iKaossilator as more of a performance instrument - this is useful as it has really good sounds and some of them are tied to the BPM so they can work really well with other rhythmic instruments.
Mini music studio
This app has been very important to Heart n Soul. We used it as the main music making app for the Dean Rodney Singers project which had 72 musicians using it across the world in a giant collaboration.
The app combines performance and composition in a really clear way. We have found that our artists are very comfortable using the screen in different ways to play the guitar, drums, pianos, strings and so on to build up their composition. The editing process can be a bit fiddly but we have found that is true of all apps. You can export music out of Garageband, but it can be difficult to use it with other software like Ableton Live without good technical knowledge.
Simple rhythm creator
We have tried a lot of drum machine apps on the iPad and there are some very good ones like DM-1 and Loopseque, but Keezy Drummer is the simplest and fastest app for making good sounding beats.
What the player can’t do, that is a very big problem for us, is save their patterns. We try to avoid apps where the musician can’t save their work so that they can build on it later. The only reason we have carried on with using this app is that everyone that uses it loves it and the results are really musical. We hope for an upgrade soon!
Electronic music performance
This one is a bit naughty as it isn’t available yet, but will be soon. We got to know the Studio Amplify team that are making this app and we agreed that we should test it as part of our SoundLab.
As you can see from the screenshots Noize is a very simple and attractive way to play music. The player simply touches the different on-screen shapes to make the different sounds.
Noize is simple to use for the player, but also has lots of depth. The player can select different sounds and position the buttons where they like to make the instrument they want. The player can set up multiple iPads to create a band and make sure all the different instruments all sound good with each other.
We are really looking forward to the official release of this one.
Clever way to store and move files
Not a musical app this one but a very useful app that can help your music making.
Dropbox is a way to save files so that you can access them on any machine. We have found that it is great way to store music files for our workshop sessions so that we always know we have the latest version.
But what is really useful is that some apps are now building dropbox in. This means you can save your files from your iPad and have access to them on other iPads or on a desktop machine. One of our favourite apps is Korg’s Gadget and they have now included dropbox. We used this recently with Wayne, he was making a track in Gadget and then decided he wanted to carry on developing the track in Ableton Live - all we needed to do was export the file and save it in dropbox and instantly the files appeared ready to use in Live.
We think this approach to sharing files and moving between apps and other software is going to get better and better and we’d like to see more music apps using it.
Great way to remove buttons from apps
A very useful piece of functionality on the iPad is Apple’s own Guided Access. We have used this a lot over the last few years.
We have found this really useful for apps like Thumb Jam and iKaossilator that have a lot of buttons that can confuse or take you away from the music making experience very easily.
Guided Access has allowed us to use really good sounding apps that are too fiddly to use normally. We would recommend all app developers to consider creating a ‘play’ mode that gets rid of all unnecessary functionality and makes use of as much of the screen as possible.