Fresh Ways to Use Your iPhone as a Musical Instrument


Mobile phones nowadays are not just regular calls and text gadgets. In the last ten years, the mobile phone has evolved into an all-around device for taking high-quality photos, social media, creating documents and worksheets, music listening, and even music playing and recording.

To use your iPhone as a musical instrument, you need to download instrument apps. We will show you these cool free and paid apps you can download to play music instantly. There are several gadgets you can buy to make your iPhone the ultimate instrument, and we will show you how.

PHONE SPECS

The phones that you can use as capable instruments are iPhone 6 and up. Although you can probably use the iPhone 5s, but will probably glitch out due to the outdated firmware and operating systems.

iOS should preferably be the latest, which is iOS 12. If you are currently on iOS 10 and higher, it will work fine.

The iPhone runs on powerful Fusion Chip engines which make them capable of handling lots of data. The iPhone is super-fast, and this makes it the ideal phone for live playing and live recording. With little to no latency, you can use the iPhone for your live gigs without worrying if it will glitch.

Of course, it is still ideal for maintaining enough memory on your iPhone and closing all unnecessary apps to prevent it from glitching. I have been using the iPhone for live gigs for about three years now, and it never let me down. I use it as a synth module and sampler. When playing live, I have at least four apps open simultaneously and connect two midi controllers. My iPhone 6 plus never crashed.

THE IDEAL PHONE

The iPhone 6s plus for me is one of the ideal phones to use as a live instrument. It is the last iPhone to have the headphone jack and the first to introduce 3D touch.

WHAT KIND OF INSTRUMENTS

The list of instruments tour the iPhone can emulate are endless. The app Garageband alone has a ton of different tools like keyboards, violins, drums, and even world instruments like the Koto and Guzheng from china.

HOW TO PLAY

There are different and unique ways you can play the instruments depending on the app. App makers have developed different ways to play virtual instruments by moving, tapping, and sliding your fingers. It is either a virtual keyboard or a guitar. Some keyboards like Alchemy and Animoog use 3d touch to modulate sounds.

MIDI DEVICES

If you want to take it seriously and use the iPhone for live gigs, consider buying a midi controller. A midi keyboard will make the fresh sounds you get from the apps more natural to play. If you are a keyboard player, using the iPhone is perfect for expanding your arsenal of sounds.

On the other hand, if you are a guitar or bass player, you can use your iPhone as a guitar effect processor. There are a lot of apps that have amp simulation and effect simulation.

You will need a mobile audio interface to connect your guitar to your phone and have an output jack to go to the amplifier.

APPS FOR KEYBOARD and DRUMS

APPS FEATURES DESCRIPTION HOW TO PLAY
GARAGEBAND (FREE) Full-Blown DAW

Over 40 instruments

Amp Collection

Vocal EffectsLoaded with HQ samples

Inter-app audio

Midi CompatibleInter-app audio

Midi Compatible
This app is a full-blown DAW better than most paid or free apps in the app store. This app is capable of doing what your computer software can do and more. The midi instruments of this app sound just like the real thing. To play the instruments on Garageband, you can connect a midi controller, or you can use the touch screen keyboard. For the guitars and violins, you can play by keyboard or slide and tap fingers.
IMPC PRO 2 (Price: $8.99) MPC style workflow

IMPC UniversityFREE sample packs

Use as a live launchpad

Midi compatible

Fully assignable pads and knobs
This app is an MPC style DAW.  You load up the pads with samples and record by sections. It has a and futuristic user interface that is very pleasing to the eye. Using this app with the iPhone, you get minimal to zero latency. You can use this app with a midi controller that has pads. You can fully assign all your trigger pads and knobs to manipulate the whole app as any keyboard player would do with a laptop.
KORG GADGET 2 (Price: $19.99) Easy to use DAW

Multi-tasking

Midi Compatible

Advanced midi options

Over 40 iconic virtual instruments including Synths

Drum machines

External effects

Guitar effects  
KORG is well-known for its keyboard and synth products. Now, they’re conquering the virtual instrument market by releasing this fantastic app. It features over 40 of KORG’s most iconic sounds in one app. The user interface on this app looks gorgeous. Like GARAGEBAND, this app can be a full-blown stand-alone DAW or an excellent live instrument. Just like Garageband, you can play the KORG gadget with a midi keyboard. You can use the screen keyboard, but it would be too tiny on your phone. Some devices have X/Y pads for real-time effect modulation.
AUDIOBUS 3 (Price: $9.99)   Send live audio from one app to another

Stack up sounds and effects

Midi connectivity

Midi learn
This app can chain all your music apps, so you don’t have to switch between windows if you use them simultaneously. You can stack the sounds and use effect plugins as you would do on a laptop. This app is not actually an instrument, but you can assign the controls on your midi device to adjust levels of each track.
ANIMOOG FOR iPhone (Price: $4.99) Anisotropic Synth Engine

X/Y PADMidi-learn

Visually appealing user interface

A diverse library of presets and sounds

Polyphonic pitch shiftingMoog filter

Record module                 
Animoog is a $10,000 instrument put in one $5 app. MOOG modular synths are well-known in the synth world and have brought this fantastic app to life. This app has a built-in looper where you can create ominous sounds and layer them. It combines vintage and modern tones. This app works very well live. To play this, you can connect a midi device. I prefer using the screen keyboard for this app because of the sliding features. If you slide your fingers on the virtual keyboard, you can modulate the sounds. There is also a fully functional X/Y pad with endless possibilities.
MOOG FILTATRON (Price: $4.99) Real-time effects

Filtering effectsReverb

Stutter

SynthSampler

X/Y Pad
The Filtatron works like a KORG KAOSSILATOR. It produces synth sounds with the pad rather than a conventional keyboard. You can connect this app through AUDIOBUS and modulate other apps in real-time. You can play this instrument and effect by simply sliding your fingers through the X/Y pad.

GUITAR AND VOCAL EFFECTS APPS

APP FEATURES DESCRIPTION
AMPLITUBE 3 (Price: $19.99)   Recording

Tuner

Metronome

Different amps

Different cabsStompbox effects

Microphone recording simulation
This app contains a wide selection of real amp and cab simulations developed by the best amp companies themselves. You can even adjust the microphone as if you are recording a real amplifier. You can download the free version of this software to try the app.
JAMUP PRO XT (Price: $9.99) 90 guitar and bass effects

Recording function

Tuner

A wide selection of guitar and bass amps

Midi support
The midi support of this app makes it unique. If you assign the knobs of virtual effects to a midi controller, you can adjust the parameters of the effects in real-time. It has an attractive user interface.
BIAS PEDAL BY POSITIVE GRID (FREE with in-app purchases) Seamless integration

Create custom pedals

Noise gate

Amp simulation

Tone cloud  
Same as the other effect apps, the difference that Bias brings is the ability to create your custom effect pedals. You can even change the name of the pedal itself. You can also access thousands of custom effects shared by other users.  
MUCKCRACKER (FREE) Distortion pedal

Modulation control

Depth control

Midi learn
This effect plugin is a distortion with a lot of fun knobs to play with and adjust. You can assign knobs to a midi controller for precise control.
NEBULIZER (FREE) Boost delay

Increase feedback

Filter effects

Midi learn
The nebulizer is not an ordinary delay effect. It misbehaves as the developer would describe it. The glitchy functions are great for experimenting. The effect is significant for playing live and for recording.
FROBULATOR (FREE) Level control

Feedback control

Time control

Midi learn
This good-sounding reverb effect plugin is perfect for spacey and ambient tones. It sounds remarkable, considering it is a free app.

Garageband also has a collection of amps and effects that are free to use. You can explore the presets they have in store for you. It also has vocal effects that you can use live like auto-tune, reverb, chorus, and harmonizer.

GADGETS

To maximize the use of your music apps, here are a couple of gadgets that would help:

GADGET FEATURES DESCRIPTION USEFUL FOR
AKAI MPK MINI MK II (PRICE: $89) 25 velocity-sensitive keys

Eight fully assignable trigger pads with two banks

16 fully assignable knobsFour user programs

Octave switch

Modulation and pitch joystick

Free software included
The Akai MPK MINI has incredible features like most analog synthesizers. Most beginner and intermediate producers use this product for creating music or recording live music. To edit the pads, you still need to connect to a computer. This device is useful for apps like Garageband. Midi keyboard controllers are useful for apps with keyboard and synth sounds.
APOGEE JAM (Price: $159) Connect guitars and bass to iOS devices, Mac, and PCA clear signal for better quality recording

USB inputHeadphone jackLED indicators for precise level adjustment

Works with most iOS audio apps

Little to zero latency for monitoring and recording
Apogee Jam is one of the best mobile interfaces right now. It is small and compact so you can record live audio wherever you are. This device is seamless and will work well with iOS devices. I suggest iOS 10 or higher for better results. Mobile audio interfaces like the Apogee Jam are used for connecting guitars and bass to your iPhone so you can use the effect apps. With devices like this, you can line the sound out to speakers or a guitar amplifier.
IRIG STOMP (Price: $299) Four stomp switches

Expression pedal24-bit audio interface

iPhone ready

Includes $800 worth of free software
If you are planning to use your iPhone as a guitar effects library, this is the app for you. You can assign effects to the stompboxes and attach modulation to the pedal. All of your favorite guitar effects on your iPhone can be interchanged quickly with this device. This device is useful for apps like Garageband, Amplitube, and Bias. This device comes with a wide selection of effects. If you plan on buying this device, do not buy apps yet, because you won’t need to
IRIG BLUEBOARD (Price: $99.99) Bluetooth connectivity

4 Backlit assignable footswitches

Compatible with most apps

Excellent battery life
The Blueboard is a wireless pedal device that can be connected to your iPhone. It is a convenient pedalboard to bring to gigs instead of bringing your colossal pedalboard. This app is compatible with most guitar effect processing apps. Without the extra knobs and expression pedal, this device is very compact and light.
NUMARK PARTY MIX DJ CONTROLLER (Price: $99) Portable 2-Channel DJ Mixer

LED lights synced to music

Four different pad modes

Free software included
This controller is an example of a midi device that is not usually compatible with iPhones, but with the workaround, it will perfectly with the Edjing app and Djay app. If you are a DJ, this is the device for you. You can connect it to your iPhone and even use Spotify for your tracks. SET THE PARTY ON FIRE!
KORG MICROKEY AIR 25 (Price: $99) 25 velocity-sensitive keys

Pitch and modulation joystick

Bluetooth connectivity

USB compatible

Free software included
The KORG Microkey Air 25 is a more compact midi keyboard controller than the previous ones mentioned. Its Bluetooth features make it easier to use remotely. The device can connect to an iPhone effortlessly.  Like the Akai MPK Mini MK II, this device useful for synth and keyboard collection apps. The only difference is this device is much more compact and has Bluetooth connectivity.
NOVATION LAUNCHPAD (Price: $150) Ableton Live connectivity

64 RGB pads with LEDSamples pre-loadedAssignable pads

Loop machine

Volume and pan knobs
This device is a party machine. Great for EDM, Dubstep and trap music. Play live with this thing by triggering samples that match tempo so you would never miss a beat. This device can be used with apps like Ableton live iOS, iMPC PRO 2, and the launchpad app. You can easily interchange and assign your samples on the pads. The LED lights look great and it keeps the party alive.

Most of these devices are not just for the iPhone but the iPad as well. These devices are also compatible with MAC and PC music software.

OTHER COOL INSTRUMENT APPS

APP DESCRIPTION
BONGOS APP (FREE) The Bongos app emulates the sound of bongos just by tapping your fingers on your iOS device. A cool app to use when you’re just chilling and jamming with your friends.
POCKET SHAKER (FREE) Another good app to jam along with, the pocket shaker is literally like a shaker. You shake your phone to activate the sounds.
HARMONICA (FREE) You can play the Harmonica by just using your fingers. This music app allows you to own all the harmonica keys and fit it inside your pocket.

RELATED QUESTIONS

WILL IT WORK FOR ANDROID DEVICES?

Android devices can also be used as instruments. Although nothing compares to how seamless the apps are on iPhones. I don’t want to sound like an Apple fanboy, but for smooth instrument playing, Apple takes the crown.

JAMMING

The iPhone is a cool device for just jamming along with your friends. I would suggest buying a small Bluetooth speaker, so whenever and wherever you are, you can bust out an instrument and be ready to JAM!

RECORDING

Not only can you use your iPhone as an instrument for playing live. An iPhone can record good quality music too. To read all about it, click here.

LIVE PLAYING

Make sure you get the right speakers to use it live. I suggest you connect directly to the house sound system. If you have a mixer and volume control of your own, you can adjust your sound and balance your levels if you have other band members.

CONCLUSION

Hone your device. The iPhone might sound like the real thing, but the execution is different. Using your iPhone as a musical instrument is a different ball game. Think of your iPhone as the musical instrument itself and practice playing like you would on a guitar or piano.

To learn how to connect a midi controller to your iPhone or iPad, click here.

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