Depending on your musical interests, the iPad is either a wondrous piece of equipment or nothing more than a toy. There are lots of apps out there for musicians, recording engineers, and songwriters, but how often do you actually see the iPad in action when it comes to music? Is it really a viable replacement for musical accessories and instruments that already exist?
When it comes to instruments, the answer is almost always yes. There are a few exceptions, but they are based in digital musical instrument technology. For example, Yamaha’s TNR-i – US is an iPad app that is a clone of the physical Tenori On instrument that saw a bit of popularity in the early 2000s. The app is fantastic. It works exactly like the real instrument does, and costs a fraction of the price of the real thing.
Deejay apps are another place where the iPad competes fairly reasonably. Many deejays have already gone digital anyway, so the switch to the iPad from a laptop isn’t much different. There are some fantastic deejay apps on the market that do everything you’d want your digital music to do. There are even some fun accessories out there for making your iPad feel like a real mixing board. The iRig MIX is a perfect example. You may need to add your own high-quality speakers to get the most out of your performance, but any professional deejay would love the mobility and usefulness of the iPad.
If you think you can replace your guitar, drums, or keyboard with an iPad, think again. There are fun apps out there for MIDI compatible instruments and fabulous effects pedal apps for guitar and bass, but the iPad will never replace real musical instruments. That is why you don’t see Megadeth playing iPad drums. Even Slash uses real guitar pedals when playing live and in the studio. He may have lent his name to an effects pedal app, but you won’t see him tapping his iPad on stage (Not that AmpliTube Slash isn’t really cool. I play around with it at home all the time).
When it comes to music recording, or digital audio workstation (DAW) apps, the iPad is both fantastic and nothing more than a hobby. I don’t record music, but I have a couple of friends that own music studios and there is no real consensus for whether the iPad is legitimately useful in the studio or not. I have one friend who loves digital gadgetry and thinks the iPad is great for working with digital files. Lots of recording engineers use GarageBand in the studio and the iPad version is just as powerful. However, most studios also have thousands of dollars worth of mixing tools that their computers are plugged into. I have another friend that still records on an eight-track and says nothing compares to analog.
Probably one of the most useful ways to use the iPad when it comes to music is for notation. I can speak from personal experience that the iPad is invaluable for writing down song ideas, gathering sheet music all in one place, and composing masterpieces. There are apps to let you create guitar tablature, apps that let you record and playback songs from pre-recorded tracks, and even apps that automatically turn the page of your sheet music based on where you are in the song. I regularly use my iPad when practicing. It stores my lyrics, song ideas, recordings of my band practice and more.
In reality, the iPad won’t replace your guitar on stage, but it can be a useful helper under different circumstances. I love using my iPad for all kinds of effects apps, and recording songs at home. However, I will never use it to replace my “Rat” pedal and there is no way I’d use my iPad to record my punk rock band’s next album.