2020 Update: Coolest New Apps For Musical Composition
Composing is an important musical skill – and it’s worth mastering. While you may not create a piece worthy of the next Top 10 Songs For the Violin, the process of composing is a way to reverse engineer what you’ve learned as a musician. Plus, creating and working on compositions of your own provides a healthy respect for both contemporary and historical composers – it’s a complicated skillset.
The good news for the contemporary musician is that you can put those blank music pages and pencils aside. Music composition apps are the wave of the future. In addition to converting what you play into notated sheet music – including accurate rhythm and key signatures – these programs also offer recording and editing features, so you can hone your skills as you go.
Note for beginning musicians: If you’re a beginning musician whose composing skills exceed your ability to write/read music – always have your instructor play your composition back to you to ensure it was notated correctly. You may find you’ll need to tweak the digital version a bit if the microphone or amp doesn’t pick up – and notate – the music as you intended.
During this challenging time of needing to shelter in place and keep our social distance, composing music and learning how to do so, is a wonderful way to use your time to grow as a musician. In addition to all the great apps listed below that are great for solo composing, visit our recent article about apps for creating music collaboratively online for even more options.
Music studio gets rave reviews, especially because it packs a powerful composing punch for just $14.99. Available for both iOS and Android, Music Studio offers superb sound quality that is competitive with desktop and more expensive hardware application options. It has won a respectable amount of awards as well as rave ratings from some of the most stringent reviewers, including AppAdvice.com, razorianfly.com, and appfreakblog.com.
In addition to the normal range of basic, digital composition features, Music Studio offers 183 studio recorded instrument options (123 of which are free), 100 drum loops, the ability to play/record two separate instruments at the same time, and you can edit whole tracks, bars, or even individual notes. For $6.99 you can add 60 more instruments. And video tutorials are available on the Xewton's YouTube channel. Here's a sample:
This incredible software is designed to be used by your smartphone, computer, or tablet and offers integrative options for music composition. While you can sign up and use basic features for free, most serious music composers will prefer the premium version of Noteflight, which can be purchased for $7.95 per month, save by paying $49 for the calendar year or get really serious with a lifetime subscription for $299.
Technically, it’s more of a software program rather than an app, but it runs great on any of your mobile devices (iPhone or Android). The notation editor is simple to operate and easy to learn, and the features allow you to write, play, and share your compositions with its worldwide community. Plus, you can view other works from composers on the site and learn from their examples.
Noteflight also has a Marketplace where you can sell your compositions. If you're looking for inspiration, do a search to find copyrighted songs that are allowed to be arranged. Noteflight Premium lets you create and sell an unlimited number of songs; whereas the free and basic versions have limitations.
For music teachers, there's Noteflight Learn — you can set up a private website and invite your students in to use Noteflight's features. Organize classes, create and assign lessons, create, compose, share music! If you're using Google Classroom, they work seamlessly together. And if you're using other LMS, Noteflight can integrate using its API. Best of all, you and your students can use any device such as Chromebooks, iPads, and smartphones.
This innovative music notation software offers composers a unique way to create music. Developed by Sven Emtell and Sven Ahlbäck, anyone can write and share their compositions with this amazing tool, and send it to anyone online, via email or posting on social media sites.
Free for PC and Mac users, this is a great option for beginning (or anxious) composers who want to get their feet wet but aren’t interested in sorting out the bells and whistles contained in other apps. Simply play (MIDI only) or sing and ScoreCloud records your music and turns it into music notation that you can print out into standard sheet music if you wish.
Create full arrangements with ScoreCloud 4 for PC or Mac, or create sheet music on the go with the ScoreCloud Express app. These paid versions offer 14-day free trials so you can test them out.
Since ScoreCloud only requires some kind of sound to operate, even beginner musicians can hone their compositions skills using this incredible new writing tool.
This Android app offers aspiring composers a fast way to write simple music scores on their smartphones. While it only gets 3 star-ratings, that’s because it’s less complicated and advanced than other apps. So, as with ScoreCloud, this simple composition app is ideal for beginners.
In addition to writing your work, this music composition app allows you to hear your results immediately, playing them back for you in one of over 128 MIDI instruments the app includes. Another benefit of this app is that it allows you to zoom the screen out, for improved viewing, and the touch screen features make it easy to adjust, writ and correct your notation.
This is another free Android app that makes music composition easier for beginners. With simplified “undo” options, you can explore a number of alterations to your score very quickly. This effective app lets you hear your compositions with up to 15 MIDI instruments simultaneously in its playback feature and has simplified options for a stress-free way to save your scores for future editing. Another great start for beginners.
This new iPad app combines all the features you need to create original compositions and is becoming very popular with composers. Although it costs $9.99 to download, it gives you the option to start from scratch or import a MIDI, ABC, or Symphony file so that you can edit them in the app. Instead of inserting just basic notations you have access to every kind of symbol you need including: dynamics, tempo changes, repeats, and much more. The playback feature lets you hear your creations immediately, and this music composition app ranks high with users.
Music composition apps like these are a major bonus for musicians on the go. Gone is the need to be seated at a desktop computer or in front of expensive recording equipment. Instead, you can compose anytime, anywhere – as long your device of choice is along with you. Apps for music composition are especially beneficial during those inevitable moments of inspiration that occur in the car, in a dream, while walking down the school’s hallways, or while waiting in line someplace.
All you have to do is pull out your smartphone or tablet, hum or whistle your riff into the device’s microphone, and your next musical masterpiece is waiting to be developed when you have a little more time. Get those creative juices flowing!
The publishers of StringOvation, Connolly Music, invite you to share your composition(s) with the world. Post your performance on your Facebook page with the hashtag #MusicIsMyRefuge (make sure your post is shareable). You could reach over 150,000 folks and bring some much needed light into their worlds. See our announcement below:
Sponsored by Thomastik-Infeld
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Editors' Note: This article was originally published in 2018, was updated Sept. 27, 2019, and most recently on April 23, 2020.