It’s easier than ever to create music on your iPhone, even if you don’t have a musical background. You don’t need to know how to read music, play an instrument, or even understand musical concepts like chords and scales.
There are apps for every skill level, every budget, and (virtually) every genre of music you wish to create. Try your hand at shiny pop songs, complex breakcore, or even string-heavy cinematic scores.
We won’t focus on individual instruments here, but rather all-in-one workstations, playthings, and musical tools.
Before you start scouring the App Store, turn to one of the best music making apps for iPhone and iPad that you also get for free: Apple’s own GarageBand. The Mac version has been used by artists like Rihanna, Justice, and Oasis as part of their creative process. It’s now available for free, in the palm of your hand, and makes great use of the touchscreen.
The app includes a great range of virtual instruments. You’ll find everything from drums and drum machines to stringed instruments like violins, virtual pianos, and keyboards. It even has virtual amplifiers for use with real guitars. With these tools and the sequencer, you can create songs that sound great in very little time. This may just be the best DAW for iPad, and it’s free to boot.
Then there’s Apple’s library of royalty-free samples, available to use however you see fit. You can fuse these with your own creations, record a rough vocal mix with your iPhone’s microphone, and create demos or even whole songs using just your phone. Learn how to use GarageBand with our step-by-step guide.
Download: GarageBand (Free)
While many apps try to rewrite the rules when it comes to creating beats and loops, Auxy only tries to simplify the process. The result is a free app that’s approachable, while offering serious power to those who know how to use it.
Use the piano roll editor to write looping melodies and bass lines, and create intricate drum patterns using preset or custom drum instruments. You can then arrange your patterns in scenes to create finished productions. Share them to SoundCloud, or export as uncompressed WAVs for further tweaking in your desktop digital audio workstation (DAW).
Auxy is free to download, with a $4.99 monthly subscription to unlock additional instruments, thousands of samples, and the ability to import your own sounds. There’s more than enough here to keep you happy for a few weeks before you open your wallet.
Download: Auxy (Free, subscription available)
Some music maker apps aim to provide every possible feature. Figure takes another approach, aiming to be a simple musical plaything that can get you surprisingly good results. Limitations and constraints can help make you more creative—Figure is the proof.
You get one drum machine, one lead synth, and one bass synth. There are a multitude of instruments for each element, which you can mix and match. Record synth parts by tapping, holding, and swiping the XY pads. Adjust the range of the scale, change the key, and fine-tune the sound till you’re happy.
For a while, it appeared that Figure had disappeared into the ether. Fortunately, the developer Reason (formerly known as Propellerhead) acquired the app in 2019, once again making it available completely free of charge.
Download: Figure (Free)
4. KORG Gadget
KORG’s lineup of iOS apps is almost as impressive as its range of hardware instruments. Gadget is a fully fledged audio workstation, featuring lead and bass synthesizers, analog and sample-based drum machines, and a sampler for recording external sound. The app was previously iPad-only, but now works flawlessly on the smaller iPhone screen too.
The app includes a powerful sequencer to tie all your gadgets together, with full automation and MIDI support. There’s also a built-in community, allowing you to share your creations and listen to what others have made for inspiration.
KORG Gadget is a full-featured iPhone and iPad musical workstation, and it’s not cheap. Fortunately there’s a light version to sample before you buy, though it limits you to three gadgets over three tracks. Advanced features like MIDI export, exporting to Ableton, Audiobus support, and more are disabled until you upgrade.
5. iMPC Pro 2
Akai’s MPC line of hardware samplers has been a major part of the music industry since the 1980s. Hardware like the MPC60, MPC2000, and MPC3000 has been at the heart of countless songs you probably know and love. Akai Professional’s iMPC Pro 2 all but transforms your iPhone or iPad into one of these samplers.
If you’re interested in iPad music production, iMPC Pro 2 may just be your new best friend. Not only is the software loaded with sample packs, but additional free sample packs are available as well. You can also record, chop, and edit your own samples using the iPad’s built-in mic or even an iOS-compatible audio interface.
The software is primarily built for iPad. A separate app is available for iPhone, with a lower price tag that reflects its somewhat reduced usability. You can still get great results—it’s just not as easy to use as the iPad version.
6. KORG iKaossilator
Just like Figure, iKaossilator is a musical tool that breaks down the boundaries. It’s based on KORG’s pricey Kaossilator hardware, which uses an XY touchpad to manipulate the 150 built-in sounds in order to create weird and wonderful pieces of music.
The provides you with five channels of sound, which you can toggle at will. You can then take these channels, remix them across your projects, and control your loops in real time. iKaossilator is as much of a performance tool as it is a creative one.
It’s likely most valuable when generating ideas, rather than creating finished productions. It’s possible to export your creations or upload them directly to SoundCloud if you’re into that.
Download: iKaossilator ($19.99, in-app purchase available)
Most of these apps focus on making their own sounds, which is great. That said, you may be more interested in recording music on your iPad or iPhone. To make the most of these you’ll need a USB audio interface and a way to hook it up to your iPad.
Once you’ve put in the setup time, you’ll find Cubasis is one of the best DAWs for iPad music production. Cubasis is based on Steinberg’s Cubase software, so you benefit from the years of development Steinberg has put into Cubase. Despite this, the most recent version was rewritten from the ground up, adding new features like group tracks and other features you may recognize from Cubase on your Mac or PC.
Originally iPad-only, Cubasis now works on both the iPad and iPhone. Even better, the app is Universal, so you don’t need to buy separate versions for each device.
Download: Cubasis ($49.99, in-app purchases available)
AudioBus isn’t a music making app, but it’s instrumental in many productions. The app allows you to route audio from one source to another, so you can take the output from a synthesizer or drum machine, add effects with an audio processor, then record it in your workstation.
AudioBus 2 is the cheaper, more linear version, but it hasn’t seen an update since 2017. Meanwhile, AudioBus 3 is currently maintained and does everything AudioBus 2 does. It has more options for routing multiple apps, plus full support for MIDI.
Many apps on this list, like GarageBand, KORG Gadget, and Cubasis already support AudioBus. Check out the full list of AudioBus-compatible apps on the AudioBus website.
Download: AudioBus ($9.99, in-app purchase available)
Get Started Making Music on iPhone
This is a small sample of the huge number of apps that let you use your mobile device to create music. If you want to dive into more specific niches, there are plenty. You’ll find a world of dedicated synthesizers, drum machines, and other single-instrument apps available for iOS.