iPad apps for the professional musician

I’ve never really considered myself a techie but somehow in the last year or so I became not only that person that colleagues come to for computer advice, but someone who has created and maintains 3 websites, 3 Twitter accounts, spends more time on her iPad that the computer (and not just playing games), and is completely enthralled with the potential and power of technology.


However, I hold the belief that technology cannot replace actual learning, especially when it comes to music. You need the foundations. Just like playing Rock Band doesn’t make you an actual rock star, pressing buttons down on a fake piano pad programed to only play the notes with a certain scale doesn’t mean you understand anything more than a 2 year old who could create the same sequence of notes. It’s not the same as learning how to play the piano.


This is why I titled this post as “iPad apps for the professional musician”. There are plenty of blog posts and articles out there about apps for music education or learning tools (and you can decide their helpfulness for yourself) but they can’t take the place of actually learning the material, spending hours shedding, etc. Maybe I’m old-fashion but as awesome as technology is, it’s not going to make you into a musician. Only you can do that. But maybe some of these tools will help you get there and maybe have some fun along the way.


iRealBook – this is a huge “duh” and so I’ll put it first. If you’re a jazz musician you need to own this app. It looks great on the iPad (and chords are large enough to read, which for someone who has bad eyes like myself is a necessity.) Some of the perks are the ability to put any tune in any key, background tracks that cover a wide range of tempos and styles, ability to adjust the number of choruses, sliders to adjust levels on bass, drums, and piano (so for example, if you’re a piano player you can play with just bass and drums) and let’s not forget you can compose your own tune.


How do I use it? In all your typical play-a-long ways, but one of my favorite things to do is plug it into speakers, put a tune I’m wanting to learn at quarter = 60 and play longtones. I start with the roots, then arpeggios, scales, guide tone lines, and end by improvising. It’s a great warm-up for my fingers and my ears. I also compose my own tunes in keys or progressions that I need to work on. 10 choruses of 32 bars of F# here I come! 😀


I also make edit copies of standard tunes so that I can focus on certain sections or progressions. Being able to transpose into all 12 keys is fantastic.


Truly, the possibilities are endless. And for a price less than a paper Real Book, it’s one of the greatest tools for the professional musician. I use this app daily.


TimeTag – I have been searching and searching for the best way to keep track of my practicing and I finally found one I like. As a doubler it’s not like I can just clock my time or even keep a log. Even just keeping a list actually meant keeping 5 lists. I’ve just got too many different things to keep track of and different goals on each instrument. TimeTag is a simple program – you press start when you start practicing and stop when you’re done. It organizes the time into categories that you set up, and tallies different sessions of the same category. So, if you practice flute for 30 minutes in the morning, afternoon and evening, TimeTag will show you that you practiced for 1 1/2 hours that day. You can also export and filter. It’s a great way to keep track of how your spending your practice time or any other time you’d like to track.


MomentDiary – This is the second half of my practicing tracker. I use it simply to list what I’ve practiced. There is a built in recorder which is very cool for recording practice sessions or ideas and it has a export function as well. The format is really easy to read and use and it is the best thing I’ve found so far. Being free just makes it that much more awesome.


PianistPro – There are a bunch of useful free piano apps out there, but if you want something more than just a piano then go for PianistPro. It’s got a bunch of different instrument sounds, pedals and effects, including drums, and recorder. It’s really fun to create music, record composition ideas from piano, and test out some sounds. You can assign the number of piano keys you have as well. But the BEST thing about this app is the ability to use it with Finale thru MIDI. Here’s a link with more info. It’s very nice having a MIDI keyboard right on the iPad!


iHearit – this is actually an iPhone app. Now, I have to say upfront that I’m a huge fan of the Amazing Slow Downer on the computer, but the app is $15. I may end up getting it at some point, but iHearit is a pretty awesome substitute for about 1/3 of the price. It has an easy to use interface, upload can be done via wifi or from your library, and I’ve found it to work great for transcribing on the go.


Karajan Pro – This is a music and ear training program. You can work on intervals, chords, scales, pitches, tempos, and key signatures. There’s different levels of difficulty, which is nice because the hardest level can be really challenging. There’s a piano or a fretboard to play your answers. There’s lots of ways to work on ear training, but 15 minutes a day with this app will do wonders. I’ve found it quite motivating and frustrating at the same time. 🙂


UnRealBook – there are a lot of PDF readers out there, but I like this one the best. It’s the most user friendly, has the ability to annotate (mark right on the score just like a pencil on paper!) and you can even write text in the margins. Here is a nice review of the app if you’d like more info. I use it to keep all my music in one place – beats carrying a bunch of folders. If someone sends me music via e-mail I can download it directly to the app too.


iHarmony – this is a handy little reference tool. Granted most of the information the average professional musician will already know, but it’s nice to have it all in one place. It organizes information by scale, chord, harmonizations (which are 3 and 4 note arpeggio modes), and by note. The note category is pretty cool – builds all the possible scales with the same starting pitch. The other nice thing about this app is that it will play all the scales and chords for you so you can hear what they sound like.


GarageBand – I just bought this app based off a twitter recommendation and am still playing with it, but at first glance it’s exactly what you would expect. Awesome. If you’re a fan of Garage Band on the computer, spend the money and get the app. I have a feeling the possibilities are endless with this one too.


Prezi – if you haven’t checked out this online presentation tool go take a look. It sure beats your boring old Power Point. The Prezi app is only for viewing, but it’s pretty awesome to have your presentations at your fingertips and they look really good on the iPad. It’s one way to help get information out about you and/or your music in a new creative and interesting way. Great education possibilities too, in my opinion.


My final bit of advice is to get a metronome and a tuner. Even though I’m sure you have a bunch laying around, I find the convenience of having everything all in one place well worth the few bucks they cost. I use Tempo (and Tempo 2) for my metronome and Cleartune and eTuner for the tuners. They each have their strengths and you have to find what works for you.


And lastly, do you have a favorite iPad app for the professional musician? Please share in the comments below.

6 thoughts on “iPad apps for the professional musician

  1. Wow. I ended up getting a bunch of these – particularly looking forward to the Amazing Slow Downer. Thank so much for the recommendations!

    My favorites, beyond those you mention:
    – SightRead for sight reading practice (beginner)
    – RelativePitch for ear training

  2. I’m looking for an app that can show me what a chord like c#m7b5 looks like on a piano, hopefully with suggested fingering and possibly inversions. Do any of these apps have that capability?

  3. You need to be able to do the inverting yourself – and learn how to build the chord. Use your head, not a machine.

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