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best ios music making appsOut of the many categories of iPhone apps, music creation has to be my favourite. I’d rather create a funky loop How To Use Royalty-Free Music & Effects From GarageBand [Mac] How To Use Royalty-Free Music & Effects From GarageBand [Mac] Read More , tight beat or wobbly bassline while waiting for the train than I would play a game of Angry Birds 8 Awesome Angry Birds Videos For The Addicted 8 Awesome Angry Birds Videos For The Addicted I hate to admit it but I'm a little addicted to Angry Birds. I know many people hate the game in all its different iterations - it's for casual gamers, it sucks, it's pointless -... Read More , and recently I’ve discovered Figure for iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad.

Developed by Propellerhead Software, a company best known for their virtual studio suite Reason, Figure is quite simply one of the easiest and quickest ways of making music on the go. However, while Reason costs nearly $500, Figure is considerably more affordable at only 99 cents. So let’s take a look at what that dollar can do!

Creating Music

At the heart of Figure are two of Reason’s Thor Polyphonic Synthesizer engines (one for lead and one for bass) and the company’s Kong Drum Designer. This allows for three channels of simultaneous playback, which isn’t as limiting as you might think. You can record these three channels over a total of two bars, with the option of changing tempo and key to shake things up.

Figure’s channels are predictably split between drum, bass and lead. Switching between channels is easy using the labels at the top of the screen, along with two fat-finger-friendly buttons for playback and recording. While the iPad enjoys considerably more screen real-estate 100+ Free Retina iPad Wallpapers That Will Turn Heads 100+ Free Retina iPad Wallpapers That Will Turn Heads So you’ve managed to get your hands on Apple’s newest must-have gadget? It’s faster, better connected and that screen is to die for - but there’s only a handful of bundled wallpapers available to show... Read More than the iPhone or iPod Touch, Figure’s interface is identical regardless of device (at this stage, anyway).

best ios music making apps

First let’s take a look at creating a drum beat. Much like the rest of the app, the drum loop creator is very easy to use. There are four separate sounds to each drum kit, seen in the screenshot above. These change depending on the kit you’ve selected, but nearly all kits follow the basic kick, snare, hat and toms layout.

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The four circular selectors above each instrument are used to modify the rhythm – so if your kick drum is set at “4”; holding your finger down on the strip beneath produces four beats per bar (for a total of 8 kicks in your two bar sequence). Rhythm can be set anywhere from “off” to 16 beats per bar, and you’re free to set all channels to “off” if you’d rather layer your own custom beat, minus quantization (beat matching).

ios music making

Bass and lead also have a rhythm selector in addition to two other variables – range and scale. Range allows you to modify the range of notes played (i.e. lower notes, higher notes or somewhere in between) and the scale steps selector inserts more notes between jumps in the scale. If it sounds slightly confusing then don’t worry – once you’ve played with it for 30 seconds you’ll have mastered the basics.

ios music making

Sounds are created using the pad, and those of you with larger hands will appreciate landscape view, which maximizes the pad for better precision. A grid would be nice to facilitate the guesswork in finding a particular note, but practice makes perfect. Record mode features a button for removing your patterns, just tap Erase Mode and hold your finger over the pad to remove your notes (also handy for adding glitchy effects by tapping).

Sounds & Tweaks

The drum, bass and lead channels each have their own array of sounds to choose from. All the ingredients are here for a number of different genres, though the nature of a synthesizer means there’s more scope for electronic, dance and hip hop creations than traditional rock and jazz. I’m not going to go through each and every sound, partly because there are a lot included but mostly because it’s really quite fun experimenting.

ios music making

In fact, experimentation is key to Figure. This is what the Tweaks button is for in the bottom left of the app. Each synth sound or drum kit can be further tweaked in this area, with variables like delay and pitch at your disposal. You can even record your movements in the Tweaks panel to create some dynamic looping effects. Broadly speaking, the synthesizers and drum kits sound excellent and the available tweaks provide even more variations in sound.

making music on ipad

You can change the tonality, key, tempo and inject some variation with the shuffle selector on the Song screen. By varying the tonality you can create different sequences, though this will have to be done by hand as there is no way of recording your input on this screen.  Finally the Mix screen makes light work of balancing your channels using the large sliders. There’s even a Pump slider which provides a “pumping” volume ducking effect known as sidechain compression.

best ios music making apps

Uses & Limitations

I’m going to drop one rather large bomb here: Figure does not provide any method of exporting or saving your loops. While I wait for the gasps at the back of the room to die down, I’ll add that this isn’t such a big deal as it first seems.

Don’t get me wrong – I’d love this feature to make its way into the app via an update, but as it stands I haven’t found it too much of a problem. For this reason, Figure feels more like an instrument than it does a “music making” app. Unlike Garageband for iOS 5 Reasons To Spend $5 On GarageBand for iOS [iPad, iPhone & iPod Touch] 5 Reasons To Spend $5 On GarageBand for iOS [iPad, iPhone & iPod Touch] Apple’s popular home music production suite GarageBand has been iOS-friendly on the iPad for a while now, and thanks to last month’s update iPhone and iPod Touch users can finally jam along too. This article... Read More , where you’re always working with a project, Figure feels free of the pressure to perfect and carefully construct. At the same time, Figure is less cluttered and technical than iMaschine $5 App Review: iMaschine, A Powerful, Portable Groove Sketchpad [iOS] $5 App Review: iMaschine, A Powerful, Portable Groove Sketchpad [iOS] iMaschine is a new app for your iPhone from the clever chaps over at Native Instruments who are responsible for all manner of professional-level music software and hardware - Traktor and Maschine, to name but... Read More .

I’d go as far as saying that you could probably “play” a short but decent set with Figure. Transitioning from one “song” into another isn’t particularly hard to do, and with a bit of practice you’ll be able to evolve the sound by making careful changes, muting channels and fiddling with the Tweaks panel.

Conclusion

I’m relieved to say I’ve not encountered a single crash after hours of continuously using Figure, and only once (after a particularly long mess about) did the music become choppy while changing sounds and settings. Other than this, I’ve had no issues and the sound quality is ferocious to put it lightly.

It is for this reason (or maybe this Reason) that I’d recommend Figure to anyone with an interest in fiddling with synthesizers, drum machines and other things that make noise. Minus save and export it’s already worth the 99 cents that Propellerhead are asking for, and who knows what a few updates might bring?

Download: Figure for iOS @ App Store ($0.99, £0.69, €0,79)

Have you played with Figure? What did you think? Are you dying for a save feature? Let us know what you think in the comments, below!

  1. Joshua Clarke
    May 3, 2012 at 4:30 am

    Wow, without saving and exporting I'm probably not going to get this, even though it looks like an awesome music-making tool. But how am I supposed to share my tunes with my friends?

    • Tim Brookes
      May 4, 2012 at 12:06 am

      I'd recommend getting it even without these features, it's a lot of fun! The fact that you can't save is occasionally annoying, but if you consider the app a "blank canvas" each time you go to play with it you'll probably come up with a lot more than if you were constantly tweaking old projects anyway.

      If you're really interested in saving your work you can take a line-out recording from your iPhone to a recording device and record each channel separately. I've considered doing this, I've even considered recording a few "mixes".

      I think the real killer feature would be integration with Reason, so you could use your iPhone to control Reason on your PC or Mac. The touch interface is a lot more powerful than it first seems!

      For $0.99 you'll be impressed regardless of lack of export ;)

    • Joshua Clarke
      May 4, 2012 at 4:34 pm

      Cool, thanks for the info Tim. I might just check this out.

    • Tim Brookes
      May 5, 2012 at 3:09 am

      Let us know what you think!

  2. dustin
    May 3, 2012 at 3:24 am

    i am not an iphone user, but that app looks pretty cool. Reminds me alot of the kaossilator, except on crack.

    anyone got a spare iphone? i wanna try it out :(

    • Tim Brookes
      May 4, 2012 at 12:00 am

      This app is immense! I'd recommend you get a friend with an iPhone to buy it just so you can play around with it. It's well-worth the $0.99!

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