iPad as a Musical Study Tool

iPad Music Apps

Q: I recently bought an iPad. Do you have any suggestions for apps that you find useful for music study and practicing?

A: Hello, my name is Damian, and I’m an app junkie.

Addiction aside, there are some wonderful apps that can help you to either practice more efficiently or just inspire you in new ways. Here’s a little list of what I use the most.

iReal Book: This is a must. Not only does it have every real book tune (chord charts only, because the written melodies are copyrighted), it also now has a band-in-the-box style midi player that will play any of the charts – including charts you input yourself – as a play-along. It’s pretty complete with various styles, tempo slider, mixer (so you can mix the bass line down, for example). Pretty great study tool and wonderful on gigs.

forScore: This is my favorite sheet music reader app right now (Gigbook comes in second). I have hundreds of charts in this app, organized by group or composer. I have a few complete Real Books in there as well, and they are pretty easy to navigate thanks to a page preview that appears when you run a slider through the page numbers. It can handle large PDF files with ease.

Capo: This is the best “slow-downer” app I’ve found for iPad and iPhone, and they have a Mac app as well. It’s very stable, sounds good and allows you to adjust both the speed and the pitch of a track. Great for learning fast passages and practicing tunes at a slower pace, or lowering/raising the pitch of a tune of you have an MP3 in the wrong key. However, the “Transcribe” feature on the Mac app beats them all, hands down.

DrBetotte TC: The best metronome in the App Store. It includes compound meters, subdivisions and everything you can think of. It is not iPad native, so it only runs as a low res iPhone app. If you want a real iPad specific app, I use “Subdivide”. It isn’t as feature rich or pretty, but it does the job and is very user friendly.

iTable Pro: I love this app, and I use it to improvise to for fun. It is loaded with table ragas (they sound good, too!) as well as traditional Tanpurla’s (if you’ve ever looked into getting a Tanpura machine, you know how expensive they are). This app was a dream come true for me and has too many features to list. It is expensive as apps go, but far cheaper than the hardware versions, and it does far more than any hardware version I’ve seen.

Garageband: This app has replaced a few of my old apps. It is the best multitrack recorder I’ve found, and can also be used as a practice amp. It is great for recording demos, or playing with loops while traveling. I’m astounded by this app. You can record via the built in mic, but I recommend getting an interface. The Apogee Jam is highly recommended but there are cheaper alternatives out there.

PocketGK: The only thing Garageband does not allow you to do is jam along with tunes in your iTunes library. For this, I prefer PocketGK. I’ve had three or four different amp modeler practice amps for my iPad, and this one is the easiest to use and sounds the best, to my ears. Very handy on the road. Again, you will need an interface so you can both play into the app and listen out through your headphones.

Recorder Pro: This is another iPhone-only app, so it won’t look as good on the iPad. But I think this one is the best recorder app on the market. Sharing your recordings is also very easy, as you can email directly or, if it’s too big, you can have it upload to their server and send a link to download. Sounds great, and I dig the interface.

DrumTrackHD: This is a cool drum machine that I’m just scratching the surface on. It’s a little confusing to figure out, but seems very powerful and flexible.

Protune: There are a ton of tuners out there and they all do the same thing. I’ve found ProTune to be more accurate than many, and it works with the built-in mic or headphone jack interface, which is sold separately.

GuitarToolkit: I’ve found this app to be packed full of information and handy for teaching. It has chord shapes, all inversions, metronome, tuner and can be set up for any stringed instrument. This is another iPhone-only app that doesn’t look as pretty on an iPad.

There you go. I’m sure this list will be outdated within a week or two, but I’ve found each of these apps indispensable for one thing or another and have used them all quite a bit.

Have fun and don’t forget to save some of that money for the electric bill!

Have a question for Damian Erskine? Send it to [email protected]. Check out Damian’s instructional books, Right Hand Drive and The Improviser’s Path.

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Share your thoughts

  1. Have you found a sheet music app yet that allows for modifying the charts on the fly?

  2. Tim

    Thanks so much for this, Damian! I’m considering getting an ipad2 in the near future and I was also wondering which apps would be best to use for practicing. Is there any way you (or another staff member) could have a section on Notreble made specifically for music-related apps? I think as we all are pushing into the tech age ever faster, keeping up to date on which apps are the best (and which work) as well as why would be amazing. Thanks again for everything! :)

  3. michael


    What audio interface do you use?

    For example, for the iReal book, are you playing along with the songs like you would with a laptop and an audio interface?

  4. Jake

    I enjoy using Symphony Pro rather than GarageBand. To me, the set up is both easier and beneficial within a specific time frame you may be given to propose a composition

  5. jose

    Any apps that are useful for Android ?

  6. Mike

    I don’t see any mention of iGigBook an app I find indespensible for gigging because it can locate tunes very quickly no matter which book or collection of charts it is located in. I guess it hasn’t been discussed because it’s primarly for gigging musicians?

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