iPhone and iPad

How to Use CoreMIDI for Music Production on an iPad or iPhone [iOS]

Tim Brookes 18-04-2013

how to use coremidiI’m currently obsessed with the idea that the iPad, and other iOS devices like the iPhone or iPod Touch, represent a serious step forward for music production on a budget. Software synthesizers iPad Therefore I Rock: 8 Best Sub-$10 iOS Music Making Apps The iPad is often perceived as a fun yet altogether unnecessary gadget, and that leaves many wondering whether they can justify the purchase when their existing equipment will probably do. Despite being a great eBook... Read More , touch-friendly DAWs 5 iOS Digital Audio Workstations For Producers On a Budget So you've transformed your iPad into an endlessly evolving musical instrument, programmed your own tight drum beats and discovered the huge potential of AudioBus. You've sacrificed disk space for samples and your bank balance for... Read More and drum samples from the summer of love Got Drums? Funkbox Emulates 14 Vintage Drum Machines [iOS] Yesterday I reviewed AudioBus, a system for iOS that allows users to connect compatible music apps together. AudioBus offers a taste of the future when it comes to tactile music creation, but in order to... Read More are all vastly more affordable than the hardware they aim to replace, and the growing number of available apps makes iOS the world’s most portable production platform.


Apple added CoreMIDI to iOS 4.2 and since then app developers have been implementing MIDI functionality into their apps. This means you can use your iOS device as both a MIDI controller and with MIDI input devices for physical, tactile key response. CoreMIDI can also be used with apps or multiple iOS devices for a studio-like automated setup.

Excited? Here’s what you need to know about how to use CoreMIDI.

Knowing MIDI, Knowing You 

MIDI stands for Musical Instrument Digital Interface and was introduced in 1983 when artists like The Human League and Culture Club dominated the charts, armed with Roland drum machines and Casio keyboards. Our musical tastes have come a long way since then but MIDI hasn’t changed an awful lot aside from being more widespread in its application.

how to use coremidi

MIDI doesn’t carry sound but instead a signal which denotes pitch, note, volume and other parameters. This means you can use the same MIDI patterns on a huge range of instruments, simply by changing the destination device. Apple’s CoreMIDI works in the same way, accepting and sending signals to and from compatible hardware.


This functionality has been in iOS for a long time now, and over the last few years app support has grown tremendously. This goes for apps that support MIDI input (such as keyboards and DJ interfaces) as well as apps designed to drive external MIDI devices which I’ll come to later. When it comes to physical controllers and instruments, there’s only really one thing you need to use MIDI on your iOS device, and that’s an interface.

How to Use CoreMIDI for Music Production on an iPad or iPhone [iOS] apple camera

There are a few interfaces to choose from, with the most basic being Apple’s camera connection kit ($29) which adds a regular USB port to whatever you plug it into. From here you can then use any USB MIDI connection kit like the M-Audio Uno, provided it acts as a generic USB MIDI device. Devices that require drivers – i.e. manufacturer-enhanced MIDI connectors – will not work unless they’re put into generic USB mode.

A potentially more cost-effective option would be to purchase a dedicated MIDI accessory such as the MIDI Mobilizer II from Line 6 (not the original MIDI Mobilizer, which is not CoreMIDI compatible) or the iRig MIDI from IK Multimedia. Which option to go for depends on whether you currently own a USB MIDI interface or not, and whether you foresee yourself using the camera connector for its initial intended purpose.


How to Use CoreMIDI for Music Production on an iPad or iPhone [iOS] irig midi

Note: Some USB devices connected using the camera connector require more power than the iPad is willing to provide. While simple USB keyboards like the Akai LPK25 will work flawlessly, larger and hungrier inputs will require a powered USB hub in order to work. If you’re thinking of using a full-sized, externally powered keyboard then this won’t be an issue seeing as it will be mains-powered.

CoreMIDI & Apps

In addition to being a hardware interface using physical cables, CoreMIDI is capable of acting as a software interface and wirelessly too. Wireless MIDI usually takes the form of an app-to-app connection, and enables two or more iOS devices to communicate provided they share the same network. Latency might be an issue for routers that still use older wireless standards, and unfortunately Bluetooth connection is not possible.

One such app that makes use of CoreMIDI for wireless control is Funkbox, which can receive and send signals like clock speed, transport and note triggers to and from controllers and drum machines. Synthetic Bits, the developers of Funkbox, have also developed what is easily one of the simplest and best MIDI controllers for iOS called Little MIDI Machine [No Longer Available]. It allows you to sequence MIDI hardware, iOS apps and other iOS devices wirelessly and with all components working together, it’s a very advanced system as you can see from the video below.


MIDI uses numbered channels to send its various signals, and in order to trigger a specific instrument you will need to make sure that the channels match up, and this goes for both physical hardware connections and app or wireless connections too.. So to trigger a synth like Sunrizer which is listening to channel 10, you would need to set the output of your step sequencer (in this instance Little MIDI) to channel 10 also. It’s a simple system to grip once you’ve played with a set of apps or devices, and it’s an excellent way of finely-tuning a sequence before trying it out on a variety of instruments.

How to Use CoreMIDI for Music Production on an iPad or iPhone [iOS] lmm channels

Another often useful feature is MIDI Learn. Apps that support MIDI Learn allow you to assign various physical controls like volume or filter cutoff to sliders and knobs on physical controllers. In order to use MIDI Learn you will first need to activate the learning interface in the app you are using, then tap the function before assigning it to a knob or slider by moving it. Sunrizer supports this for a huge number of variables, and it also works for other functions like triggering an arpeggiator or holding notes.

So Where Do I Start? 

If you’ve never played with MIDI before and would like to see the potential first-hand you should download Little MIDI from the App Store as well as a cheap instrument like miniSynth 2 ($0.99) or Apple’s own GarageBand 5 Reasons to Spend $5 on GarageBand for iOS [iPad, iPhone, and 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 ($4.99) each of which support CoreMIDI. Both of these apps should be able to talk to your sequencer with default routing. Before building your sequence ensure you have turned on BG Audio on the synth (it’s under the FX panel) or Run in Background under GarageBand settings and mute the internal Little MIDI Machine piano note in the settings.


how to use coremidi

You can now sequence miniSynth 2 or GarageBand with Little MIDI Machine by adjusting pitch, velocity and various other triggers. To really master MIDI work your way through the brief but detailed Little MIDI Machine manual which provides a crash-course in sequencing a synth. You’ll probably drop the manual once you’ve figured much of it out! If you’re sick of switching between apps and are lucky enough to own an iPad and an iPhone you can even use CoreMIDI over Wi-Fi to sequence a synth on one device and play it on the other. Magic.

Have you tried using CoreMIDI on your iOS device? Any hardware or software tips and recommendations? Add your thoughts in the comments, below.

Image(s): MIDI In/Out (krunkwerke)

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  1. Bulldog
    March 5, 2015 at 1:42 pm

    Hi , I have Arturia Minilab, a Ipad Air and a powered usb hub, the minilab lights up on the keyboard, i have opened Garage band and tried playing a few keys on the minilab key board and get nothing, it seems to not communicate.
    Am i missing something ? ?

  2. canopus
    January 21, 2015 at 10:25 am

    I'am making an app like apple garage band, in which trying to use linuxsampler as sampler engine,
    Give ideas.

  3. Brek.
    July 24, 2013 at 8:12 am

    Greetings fellow iOS evangelist, I also am 100% sold on iOS for music making, fortunately bought into the ipad at the right time (v4), and am presently using garage band, with Magellan, Imini, nlog pro, animoog and dm1, and the capabilities are are awesome. I am old school so create everything from scratch rather than rely on pre created loops and sequences. Love the ipad for portable music making, then bang in into Logic Pro x once home for the the big production treatment.

  4. Yvonne
    June 16, 2013 at 4:31 pm

    I was wondering if there was another app that doesn't cost a fortune to use with the IDJ Live Numark controller for ipad/iphone thanks

    • Tim Brookes
      June 17, 2013 at 12:09 am

      Well as far as I'm aware (and you might want to check this) it's a MIDI controller. That means it should send MIDI signals to any software that supports system-level Core MIDI. There's a chance I'm wrong of course (hopefully not though) - find out more here: http://www.numark.com/product/idjlive

      Also for the money (and provided it's compatible, check first) Traktor's DJ app is probably a little more advanced than djay, though it will probably be more difficult to learn:

      Last of all if you have the iDJ controller (RRP $70) then I think the $10-20 for the app is probably worth it - don't you? If not then wait till it goes on sale, which it will do at some point.

  5. Evan in Spokane, WA
    May 14, 2013 at 5:50 pm

    I'm trying to use some sort of beat app that sends actual midi time clock to hardware sync. This looks like it may work with Little Midi Machine? I play live with a looper that accepts MIDI clock data and I really want this to work. Any advice is appreciated.


    • Tim Brookes
      May 14, 2013 at 11:48 pm

      This should work with Little Midi Machine but also FunkBox (by the same developers) should support it too. LMM is free to download and try, so you might as well - though you'll need some sort of MIDI cable or camera kit and standard USB MIDI cables. Seeing as you sound like you're already likely to have a few MIDI cables around you might want to just grab the Camera Connector Kit :)

  6. MakeUseOf TechGuy
    April 19, 2013 at 1:59 pm

    So, wait... I have a Yamaha USB keyboard, not Midi. Can I use that with just a camera connection kit and garageband then?

    Though, the mobile GB doesnt have tutorials like the full osx one, does it?

    • Tim Brookes
      April 19, 2013 at 10:16 pm

      No it doesn't have tutorials but yeah you could probably use it.

      I assume it's USB MIDI? So no standard MIDI connector but instead the same technology with a different plug. If it behaves as a standard MIDI device on your Mac (i.e. you plugged it in, installed nothing and it just worked) then yeah there's a good chance it uses very basic MIDI drivers which means it's iPad compatible.

      Well I assume it's USB MIDI. I dont see why a big instrument manufacturer like Yamaha wouldn't put MIDI on a keyboard built in the last 20 or so years.