5 best apps for musicians (2022 update)

09.05.2022 Ben Maloney Music tech

Apps are just great, aren't they? We all love them. The plethora of digital services that's available nowadays is making musicians’ lives easier in an astonishing range of ways. 

But such a spread has its disadvantages, too. With new softwares and releases continually flooding the market, It can be tough not only to keep track of what’s out there but also to determine what’s worth your time, and maybe your money.

In other words, and more importantly, it’s harder to figure out which apps are going to appeal to your particular needs - which will streamline your practice, which will level up your musicianship.

So the nkoda blog’s pulled together a refreshed countdown of the best apps for musicians that are out there. They cover as many bases as is feasible in a selection of just five, so at least one should offer something that enhances your unique musical practice.

 

Five must-have apps for musicians

 

nkoda

Best app for digital sheet music

Is there anywhere else to start? The digital solution to all your sheet music needs, in one app. Well, two - but more on that soon. At any rate, this is a timely opportunity to give you the lowdown on exactly what nkoda can offer in 2022. Not least because it’s undergone some substantial changes of late. 

If you’re new to their service, here’s a brief summary.

nkoda’s North Star is its recognition that effort and determination underpin everybody’s musicianship and growth. It seeks to empower practice by providing access to a digitised library of content, and to a score-reader that optimises interaction with your materials. It sustains a global community of individuals and institutions bound by the shared love of music. 

nkoda’s been going for a few years now. Until recently, it was an all-in-one library and e-reader offering digital access to the publishing catalogues of its 140 partners. Those titles - and any external music files you wanted to upload - could be viewed and annotated through the reader, and organised and shared in a personal account space.

The package still essentially provides that service and those features, but it now does so across two apps that you’ll need to add to your home screen’s ‘music apps' folder: the nkoda music library and the nkoda music reader. The app’s mitosis-style rebirth has enabled it to refine its service on a whole new level, by developing two specialised interfaces, optimised to fulfil their respective functions. 

 

Features

 

First, a quick summative outline of the features that the nkoda apps offer. You’ll find similar bullet-point lists for the four other apps listed so you can quickly glean the unique selling points of each one.

  • Instant access to 140 publishers’ sales and hire catalogues, comprising 100,000+ editions and parts
  • Material available for players of all instruments, skill levels and styles
  • Cutting-edge score-reading facilities suitable for practice and performance, including annotation toolkits and widgets
  • Manage and share personal materials through playlists, offline storage and unlimited uploads
  • Access to a thriving worldwide community of musicians, including publishers, educational institutions and performing institutions

 

nkoda library

 

nkoda’s flagship asset is its library, the greatest digitised music resource in the world that is accessible to anybody. Collaborating with an ever-growing tally of music publishers, including the likes of Breitkopf & Härtel and Faber Music, the team has painstakingly assembled and catalogued over 100,000 titles of premium, copyrighted content.

This has been done for your convenience. So that when you want to behold Beethoven’s Ninth in all its glory, or perhaps a Wham! flute arrangement, nkoda makes it available to you. Anywhere, anytime. 

Reflecting the diversity of publisher content, nkoda’s inclusive material spans all instruments, abilities and genres. Despite your unique musicality, there will be something for you. 

And you don’t always have to go hunting either. Countless curated playlists stimulate discovery, and by personalising your experience (letting the app know what you like to play and to what standard) nkoda will deliver bespoke content to your homepage. 

Save whatever looks good to your library, create your own playlists, upload limitless PDF files to your account - so even if the library doesn’t have what you’re after you can still bring it in from elsewhere. Click any of this material and you’ll be prompted to switch seamlessly to the:

 

nkoda reader

 

This is nkoda’s complementary app. It enables you to actually view, study, annotate, play from, perform with your music - whether that’s material from the library or one of your own uploads. 

An ergonomic interface, easy (and Bluetooth-friendly) page-turning, layerable and shareable annotation tools, a dedicated performance mode, offline storage - through these features, the app strives to simplify and improve every facet of your engagement with your music.

nkoda has placed massive emphasis on customisation with their reader. Not only can you annotate freely here with the help of a huge variety of specialised toolboxes and widgets, you can also add them and remove them from a personal kit. There’s even an option to configure the right screen orientation for your needs. Whatever works best for you. 

In addition to the optimisation of features that an independent e-reader app enables, another reason for the great schism between library and reader is so that users can isolate and utilise nkoda’s e-reader function without needing to have a subscription to the catalogue. In other words, its complimentary as well as complementary. 

The library may be the heart of nkoda’s offering, but the reader is the real tool of empowerment. This is what plays an active part in your music-making. This is the means by which you actively engage with the materials that, in one way or another, constitute a key aspect of every musician’s practice. 

So don’t be put off by the library subscription - nkoda can still help. Download the reader, get a feel for the service, and see if this is a digital music space that you might be comfortable in. 

GarageBand

Best app for producing audio

GarageBand has long been at the forefront of the personal music-production game. Since its release in 2004, its developers at Apple have enhanced the app’s service consistently and dramatically. Now it boasts the perfect blend of accessibility and quality. With the help of this pocket recording studio, anyone can make audio that genuinely sounds great.

The GarageBand tag applies to a line of products available on macOS, iPadOS, and iOS devices. Each is a production system, enabling users to create audio through combining multiple sound tracks. These can take a variety of forms - digital instruments, effects, recordings and so on.

And the word audio is used deliberately, because creating music isn’t GarageBand’s only speciality. It’s probably used just as frequently to record podcasts as it is for composition and songwriting, and has developed a range of features for this purpose. But, as this article is about music apps, we’ll focus on what it can provide for musicians.

If you want to create your own music, acoustic or digital, but you’re not sure how to go about it, GarageBand offers an easy-to-use, first-class platform that’ll bring those ideas to life.  

 

Features

 

  • Record and playback multiple tracks of audio recordings, to which you can add effects like reverb, echo and distortion
  • Utilise a wide range of realistic, sampled virtual software instruments as well as built-in synthesisers
  • Import and playback MIDI, and adjust pitch, velocity and duration using piano-roll or notation-style editing
  • Guitar-specific features such as amp simulators and effects processors will take recording your instrument to the next level

 

Digital audio workstation

 

Some of those terms may be unfamiliar, so let’s take things from the top. GarageBand is a digital audio workstation (DAW), electronic software that’s used for recording, editing or producing audio. 

These can be super expensive, high-tech and complex, with top-end softwares like Cubase and Logic fetching for hundreds. Through GarageBand, you can access the kind of facilities that these products offer for absolutely nothing. And the truly amazing thing about it is that the quality of the music you can produce with it is far too high for an app that comes with no price tag.  

You can record your own audio with a good degree of fidelity and apply a wide range of effects to it. Make it ring with reverb; make it gritty with distortion. These audio inserts will immediately transform your sound.

An armoury of digital instruments is at your fingertips, from the obligatory piano right through to the guzheng. These sample the real thing, so that when you click a key on the virtual keyboard - or assemble a part through standard musical notation - a recording of a real instrument plays back what you commanded. 

These function using a digital information system called MIDI, through which you can import and export musical data from and to elsewhere. You can also hook up a physical keyboard and input your music on that via MIDI. 

We'll stop before this gets too technical, but hopefully you have an idea of what you can achieve through GarageBand. Once you start messing around with the app, you’ll get the hang of it in no time. The possibilities are endless. Any musician looking for an outlet for their creativity, or just trying to battle writer’s block, will find it a marvel. 

 

Music Lessons and Jam Packs

 

Two of the GarageBand’s great USPs are the its Lesson Store and the supplementary Jam Packs. These really set the app apart from its competitors.

You can download pre-recorded music lessons from the Lesson Store for either guitar or piano, so you have access to tuition alongside the production utilities. There are two types - Basic and Artist. Basic Lessons are a free download, while you have to pay for Artist ones. 

There's a good reason for that. Artist Lessons are given by renowned musicians who teach you to play the iconic songs that they wrote. Learn ‘Roxanne’ from Sting, or ‘Thinking About You’ from Norah Jones. With names like that on board, you can be sure of the quality of the product.

As for Jam Packs, these are official add-ons that help you to specialise in certain styles and genres. They come with extra loops and software instruments, many of them of a far higher quality than what the default selection can boast. 

So between tinkering with audio to producing slick tunes in world styles and orchestral setups, a massive creative journey with GarageBand awaits. As Apple itself says: ‘The world is your stage. This is your instrument’.

flowkey

Best app for aspiring pianists

By a huge distance, pianists form the most sizable percentage of instrumental musicians worldwide, meaning any given musician reading this article is more likely to play piano than any other instrument. So there's all but an obligation to include an app that supports pianists. 

There are numerous apps designed to facilitate self-tuition for pianists, each focusing on different styles of music or applying a different method to the learning process. 

flowkey is among the newest and best available. Downloadable from Google Play as well as the App Store and developed in collaboration with Yamaha, the app has an impressive range of features to facilitate steady, incremental progress. 

You might suspect that it’s geared towards beginners, as the majority of apps that fall into this category are, but flowkey’s repertoire is surprisingly expansive, and will prove useful for players of all skill levels. This breadth also applies to genre, with all styles well represented - right the way through to video game music.  

 

Features

 

  • 1,500 pieces to learn, encompassing a variety of music genres and playing abilities
  • Video integration allows you to watch an expert play even as you’re playing through your own performance
  • A unique configuration of learning tools are designed to hone your ability, including tempo reduction, looping, and hand isolation

 

Precision learning

 

Yamaha are total experts when it comes to the piano, and this is well reflected in the features that flowkey affords. 

How it works: you select the work you want to play and you work through the material, following a live visual marker. Simple enough, and not necessarily original, but that’s just the start. 

You can activate what they call ‘Wait Mode’, which makes that marker responsive - it listens to you play in real time and waits for you to hit the note before progressing. This is similar to the slow-motion feature, which basically reduces the speed, so you can get used to a piece before playing it at tempo.

There’s also a loop function, so you can concentrate on perfecting particular sections. And you can also isolate the staves and practise the left- and right-hand parts separately, before combining them again. 

Few apps in the piano-practice area of the market can boast quite such an imaginative and refined range of features that can genuinely make a real difference to your development.

 

Courses

 

As any teacher will tell you, educational materials - scales, exercises, studies, etc. - are a must if you’re going to maximise practice as well as progress.

The good folks at flowkey have obviously recognised this as well, and that’s why using the app doesn’t just entail learning specific pieces. 

It also provides a series of lessons that have been carefully structured to usher beginner players through the early learning stages - easily comprehensible, step-by-step courses that span music theory, chord vocabularies and learning to read sheet music. If that’s the kind of learning experience that you’re after - flowkey’s the place to find it. 

The app’s a paid service, but it does offer a free trial. So there’s no reason not to see if their unique approach to learning piano is the one that'll work for you.

Cleartune

Best app for tuning up

As with piano-related services, a substantial domain within the world of music apps is reserved for digital tuners.

It’s an essential piece of kit if you play an instrument that needs tuning regularly, and this far into the digital era, those chunky old box tuners are just too inconvenient for most musicians. 

You need a tuner that you won’t forget to bring to rehearsal - because it’s there on your phone at all times. And of the dizzying variety of options, Cleartune is the one you should look to - if you have an iPhone or iPad, that is. If you’re an Android user, check out these alternatives.

A tuner’s a simple service, so there’s not much to unpack, but we’ll highlight what makes it stand out from the crowd.

 

Features

 

  • Chromatic tuner with a broad variety of preloaded temperaments, and the pitch pipe spans ten octaves with four waveforms
  • Clear interface makes it easy to read on small screens or at a distance
  • Not solely guitar-orientated, as many tuning options are

 

The essentials, done well

 

Simplicity and accuracy are definitely chief among Cleartune’s strengths. It doesn’t mess around, it doesn’t complicate through the inclusion of needless extras, and the interface is easy to understand and navigate. This is an app that’s faithful to its mission.

The pitch recognition and tuning accuracy is excellent, too. And there’s no denying that this is the great barometer of a tuner’s effectiveness - that is its purpose, after all. The tuner may show a slight pitch waver, but no tuner app won't, as the accuracy is ultimately restricted not by the software but by the quality of the microphone on your device. 

 

Pitch pipe


 

Eclipsing the span of a piano keyboard, the tone generator boasts a wider range than any one instrumentalist could ever need. The lowest and highest sounding pitches will be too quiet at the lower end or inaudible at the higher end. 

In addition, the pitches can be sounded through four different waveforms. You might find that, depending on your device’s speaker and the instrument you play, some are easier to hear and tune to than others. Try them all out and see which is best for you.

All this can be yours for just 3.49 - a steal for one of the best pieces of tuning software around.

Band Mule

Best app for ensemble management

There are a lot of aspects to life as part of a band. Of course there’s the music first and foremost, which needs to be written, learned, rehearsed and performed. That alone involves time and effort. 

But there's a tonne of communication involved around that. And then setlists need to be determined, gigs arranged, schedules organised. Not to mention the heap of miscellaneous admin that you can’t fall behind on.

If only there were an app that catered to all those needs, that made band membership the unending thrill it should be. 

In fact there's a cluster of apps out there striving to provide this service, but it must be said that a lot of them are pretty subpar. Band Mule is not. 

The clearest testament to this is its app store rating, shining in contrast with the languishing figures of similar apps. Let’s take a look at some reasons why Band Mule is so dominant in this area.

 

Features

 

  • Service split across mobile and web apps
  • Shared calendar accessible through both, which all members can edit - you can also use a private chat spce to share dates of gigs and rehearsals, notify about availability, etc.
  • Populate a library of your material, and add it to setlists that can be easily edited, filled with unlimited titles and printed
  • Straightforward to invite new individuals and manage band membership

 

Utilitarian

 

The thing about this corner of the market is that hyper-specialism isn’t necessarily desirable. The collective performance community is big and diverse, encompassing not only gigging popular-music bands but also any kind of ensemble - amateur orchestras, string quartets, etc. 

There’s only a handful of core features that musicians in all these categories need, and beyond those, requirements become niche. So an organising app that’s too orientated towards fulfilling certain criteria might work for one group and leave others out in the cold. 

Band Mule focuses on those core features and has tuned them to perfection. It does the basics remarkably well, offering reliable software with a sleek and simple interface. And musical groups across the board, regardless of their bespoke demands, will benefit from this.

It’s an app that will come to your aid with minimal fuss and maximum return. For a service that’s geared towards making your musical life easier, that’s ideal.

 

Web app

 

Expanding this sense of utility to a broader level, Band Mule makes these features available through a desktop app as well as a mobile one (available on Apple and Android), allowing your organisational needs to be served through multiple platforms. 

So you can have it open on your PC at home, nattering with your bandmates as you breeze through your day job, before logging in on your phone to keep the ball rolling on the move. This means that you can always have that digital space there, and always remain in total control and awareness of all band-related activities.

And a major bonus is that it’s entirely free. On their site, the Band Mule team writes: ‘We may introduce premium optional features in future, but don't worry, the core functionality will always remain free’. No reason not to try it out, then.

Getting started with nkoda app for musicians

 

If nkoda is a service that stood out for you, then feel free to hop to the What is nkoda music page to know more, or the sign-up page to start your free trial. See if it’s the app that will take your music-making to the next level.  

For relevant content on the blog, check out the posts on what digital sheet music is and how it works. It’s tech at the cutting edge of practice, revolutionising what’s always been at its heart - the music that we all love.

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