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Top 5 iPhone Music Applications

I wasn't going to say anything because I didn't want anyone to think I was an iHole (see Carrie Brownstein's blog post), but a couple weeks ago, when Apple released the new iPhone G3, I joined all the other fools who stood in line for several hours, waiting to buy one. It was so worth it.

The coolest thing about the iPhone isn't the Web or the email, or the fact it's also an iPod. It's all the programs and applications it'll run.

I assumed that most of the programs would be boring, work-oriented apps, like a day planner or some sort of "organizer." There are those, of course, as well as plenty of games. (I recommend Texas Hold'Em.) But the real mind-blowers are the music applications, available in the iTunes Store. At the risk of sounding like a shameless shill for Apple (I can't reprint what my editor called my endorsement), here are my Top 5 favorites:

1. Beatmaker: Beatmaker turns the iPhone into a Digital Audio Workstation. In other words, it lets you load audio clips into the iPhone and mix them together to make your own music. It's got a drum machine and lots of samples pre-loaded. You can loop effects. Watch this video to see it in action.


2. Band: This is a collection of virtual instruments: a couple of drum kits, a keyboard, bass, electric guitar. There's even an audience to give your music some applause. Apps like this one and the others listed here are possible because of the iPhone's incredibly elegant, touch-sensitive screen. Tap the keys on the screen to play piano, or the drum pads to lay down a beat. I've read that some people are recording entire songs using only the iPhone.

iphone band

3. Pandora: Billed as "a new kind of radio," Pandora sends you a steady stream of music based on your own tastes. Tell it you like the music of Sparklehorse and it'll play songs by similar bands. Hit the "info" key and it'll even give you a short explanation for why it picked a song. For example: "We're playing this song because it features basic rock song structures, extensive vamping, major key tonality, electric rhythm guitars and many other similarities identified in the Music Genome Project." You can rate the song with a thumbs up or down, which allows Pandora to better determine your tastes.

4. Guitar ToolKit: This is a set of essential tools for any guitarist. It's got a tuner (it uses the iPhone's built-in mic to listen and tell you whether you're in tune), a chord finder (scroll through more than 260 chord diagrams), a metronome, and "tuning tones," a set of harmonic tones to tune your guitar if you play by ear.

guitar tool kit

5. Shazam: Ever hear a song somewhere and wonder what it is? Hold your phone up to the song in question: Shazam listens and tells you what it is. Once it knows, Shazam lets you tag the song as a favorite, gives you a link to buy it from iTunes, and, if available, provides links to YouTube videos of the track. In my test, Shazam got nearly every song I played right. The only one it couldn't figure out was an atonal ambient piece by Sigur Ros. In the words of Gomer Pyle, "Shazam!" (That's right. I went there.)


When you're all done making music, finish it off with this tasty virtual beer:

virtual beer

Do you have an iPhone? Have you made any music with it?

Is there an application or program you'd like to have on the iPhone for NPR Music?



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We are in a phase of gismos over content. This is a splendid example of it. We go to summer movies not for great films but for the special effects. Same for the new iphone. It's i-piano may be a great gismo, but it obviously isn't a Steinway.
I add that I think people will soon tire of the gizmo age and it will be followed by an age where content and more substantial art (that comes out of the gizmo age) are king. That will be a golden age of art - the first world art too (because the net is worldwide).
But I also have to say that being a musician, I would love to have that handy tuner!
Pandora didn't work for me. It sends you music that is a clone of what you say you like. It doesn't stretch too much. For instance you would never hear a Feist song then a Dean Martin ballad, then a classical Mozart piece, then a Jimi Hendrix classic. They haven't anything in common to Pandora - but to me they are all wonderful music that I would like to hear in a row. Format music is for format people.

Sent by Tom Hendricks | 12:11 PM | 7-23-2008

I can see the Beatmaker and Band application as more of a novelty application that seems really cool but not particularly practical (after all, if you are really interested in recording your own music, you aren't going to do it on a cell phone).

I think the most useful has to be the guitar toolkit with the built in tuner. That is a really cool and handy feature that I can see a lot of budding guitarists using.

I'll also have to look more closely to Shazam. I've always have had trouble with look-up software in the past, but from what you say it sounds pretty good.

Thanks for the post and suggesting some good aps to download!

Sent by Bryant | 1:31 PM | 7-23-2008

Thanks Robin for the point towards far it's worked great! I have big plans for it now.

Sent by Tim | 3:28 PM | 7-23-2008

I just like having music and wikipedia, youtube, etc on the same portable device so I can look up info about what I'm listening to. Yesterday I found out that Steve Winwood has a flute credit on Traffic's John Barleycorn... (although I think most of it was done by Chris Wood).

I've previously requested what I would like for ipods and iphones but I'll say it again. I'd love to have and AAC format with chapters. Especially for the "best of" discussions where sometimes you guys talk about the song after it's played and I want to easily hear it again.

Sent by Gabe Meerts | 4:28 PM | 7-23-2008

I'm a little unnerved to see that the iPhone has this many applications for those seeking music recommendations. But until they make an iPhone that can lie around on the couch and eat an entire can of Pringles in one sitting, I will never be truly obsolete.

Sent by Stephen Thompson | 5:55 PM | 7-24-2008

Pandora is pretty awesome. Though I received an e-mail from Pandora stating that Congress is trying to pass a law that is trying to stop what Pandora's doing.

Sent by Junior Zuniga | 3:43 PM | 7-25-2008

the sucking thing about the iphone is that the volume isnt loud enough so i always miss a phone call. especially msgs, is there a software that we can have music as a msg tone? I know you can have music as a ringtone but not as a message.....yet. (hopefully)

Sent by Karen | 11:27 AM | 7-26-2008

I agree these music apps appeal mostly to gear addicts with one exception: there is real value to having a high quality pocket size 'scratch pad' for recording artists who travel or commute, or just want to capture somethin whenever the muse strikes. Beyond that, Protools owns the recording universe for good reason.

Sent by firedean | 1:04 PM | 7-27-2008

I have a friend who discovered Tuner and now he can live stream all sorts of internet radio over his phone (and in his car, over his phone). And, as long as there are men, there will be gizmos.

Sent by Ann V. | 10:55 AM | 7-30-2008

hi. i don't think the first commenter really gets what these apps are about.

this is not about gizmo over content, it's about applying advanced technology in ways that are more personal and useful than ever before.

if i want to hear fiest, then dean martin, then duran duran, followed by some tibetan throat singing and a recording of a marching band i will put my music player on random. the whole point of pandora is not to provide you with random ideas of stuff you might like but to give you a very comprehensive and musically-informed search tool. i have found many great new albums and artists that work in the genres and styles i enjoy with a much more specific focus than i've ever heard before. the fact that it is on iphone now is just a bonus, even regular online pandora is just a great listening experience for fans of music.

beatmaker is also an incredibly useful tool considering it is something on your phone! as a professional musician, i have found it to be very useful for experimenting with arrangements and also doing busywork of making various fills or other variants of patterns during the hour i spend commuting on the train. the preset sounds that come with it are just there to impress the plebes...what really makes it work is that you can upload your own samples and sounds and then dump them back out. of course it won't rival a DAW for full production but it already lets you import in and out of a modern computer environment easily and really opens up the possiblities for just jamming or creating while you are travelling or just killing time at a cafe. it won't replace a full studio of gear, but that's fine, it's not what it is for. instead, it's like an mpc1000 that you happen to have with you all the time since it's also in your pocket for phone calls anyway! and that is pretty much the kind of thing i would think was rad about the 21st century if you'd told me about it 20 years ago.

Sent by andy crosby | 2:29 AM | 8-2-2008

Tom -
Once you've entered various music "tastes" into Pandora, no matter how wide ranging, you can use the "quick mix" to intersperse them in your listening.

Sent by Andrew Smith | 4:36 PM | 8-8-2008

Not only would I like to listen to "live" NPP music, but all of the programs. That would be a great app! Or is there something that currently does this?

i think one is being built
for now go to


Sent by June | 10:46 AM | 8-11-2008

Nice list! There are a bunch more...check out the music apps listed here: ''

Sent by mike | 1:50 PM | 8-26-2008