The 14 best music creation apps for iPhone and Android: how to re-make history’s greatest music with your phone

Autotune, echoes, rock guitars and rappers' delights – the tools you need to create a classic track of your very own

Humans have always used technology to broaden their musical palettes, from the earliest drums to today's digital delights - and some technologies transformed music altogether. 

Imagine a world without fuzzy guitars or drum machines, sampling, sequencers or AutoTune. Here are some of the sounds that changed music - and the apps that'll put them on your tablet or smartphone.

1. Slapback delay

As heard in: That's All Right Mama, Elvis

The legendary Sun Studios sound of Elvis, Johnny Cash and other rock'n'roll heroes owes a lot to slapback delay, which was caused by using a tape machine that introduced a slight delay between recording and playback. The resulting effect, slapback, made songs sound much fuller and more exciting.

Get the app:

SpaceSampler (iOS, £1.99)

usbEffects (Android, £1.99)

2. Theremin

As heard in: Good Vibrations, The Beach Boys

The Theremin is your go-to instrument for spooky 1950s sci-fi B-movie soundtracks, but its most famous appearance is on Good Vibrations: it's the ee-ooooo eeeee-ooooo sound that makes the song. The theremin is popular in avant-garde and psychedelic rock too. 

Get the app: 

Therimax (iOS, £1.49)

Etherophone (Android, £Free)

3. Vocoder

As heard in: Get Lucky, Daft Punk

The vocoder was originally designed for telecommunications applications, but the things it did to voices were too much fun not to use in music too. Its first musical role was in the early 1950s, but it wasn't until Wendy Carlos and Robert Moog collaborated in 1970 that the modern vocoder really appeared. You'll hear it on the Clockwork Orange soundtrack, Kraftwerk's Autobahn album, ELO's Mr Blue Sky and countless modern pop and R&B tracks.

Get the app: 

iVoxel (iOS, £6.99)

Robovox (Android, £1.49)

4. Chorus

As heard in: Come As You Are, Nirvana

If you play two almost identical sounds at the same time you get a great shimmering effect, and that's what a chorus pedal is designed to produce: it's what makes the bass sound of Come As You Are so distinctive, and it's the sound of The Police's Walking On The Moon, Boston's More Than A Feeling, Crowded House's Don't Dream It's Over and pretty much every 1980s heavy metal ballad.

Get the app: 

AmpliTube (iOS, £Free (in-app purchases))

usbEffects (Android, £1.99)

5. Reverb

As heard in: Wicked Game, Chris Isaak

Reverb is in almost all music - sound engineers use it to make flat recording rooms sound more lifelike, and vocals without reverb tend to sound really weird - but obvious reverb can make songs sound bigger, more widescreen or just spookier. Rockabilly and surf guitar wouldn't work without it – and reverb-free dub doesn't bear thinking about.

Get the app: 

AmpliTube (iOS, £Free (in-app purchases))

usbEffects (Android, £1.99)

6. Wah

As heard in: Voodoo Child (Slight Return), Jimi Hendrix

The wah-wah pedal was created by accident: given the job of creating a new footswitch for a guitar amplifier, Brad J Plunkett stumbled across an interesting new effect - the "wah" that Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton and thousands of other guitarists would use. But the wah wasn't just limited to guitars: it does great things to harmonicas, to brass instruments and to pianos too.

Get the app: 

AmpliTube (iOS, £Free (in-app purchases))

usbEffects (Android, £1.99)

7. Distortion

As heard in: Satisfaction, The Rolling Stones

Distortion is another happy accident: in 1951, Ike Turner's guitarist Willie Kizart played through an amplifier that had been damaged in transport, producing buzzy, fuzzy tones as a result. Early rock'n'roll musicians tried all kinds of things to get distorted tones, in some cases slashing their speakers with razors to get the required sound. The advent of distortion pedals in the 1960s saved countless amps from destruction, and the sound remains a staple of metal, garage rock and anything else that needs guitars to bite. You'll often hear it used on vocals too. 

Get the app: 

Ampkit+ (iOS, £13.99)

usbEffects (Android, £1.99)

More after the break...

8. Overdrive

As heard in: Howlin' Wolf, How Many More Years

Overdrive is similar to distortion, but it's the sound of an amplifier - ideally a valve one - driven just a little bit too hard. That produces a fuzz, but it's more melodic and less harsh than distortion. Overdrives are common in the pedalboards of modern rock guitarists, often alongside harsher distortion/fuzz pedals and over-the-top heavy metal pedals.

AmpliTube (iOS, £Free (in-app purchases))

Real Guitar (Android, £Free)

9. Digital Delay

As heard in: Where The Streets Have No Name, U2

A digital delay pedal listens to what you play and plays it back at a specified time – so for example you might hit a note once and the delay then replays it sixteen times, getting quieter each time. U2's The Edge loves his delays - it's the sound of some of the band's best-loved songs - and younger musicians are fans too: more recent models, which can replay multiple loops, have been used to excellent effect by the likes of Ed Sheeran. 

Get the app: 

AmpliTube (iOS, £Free (in-app purchases))

usbEffects (Android, £1.99)

10. Autotune

As heard in: everything

AutoTune was designed to fix the odd vocal problem by correcting the singer's pitch, but if you turn it up you can create really interesting effects. Artists from T-Pain to Jay-Z, Ke$ha and Cher have embraced the power of excessive AutoTune, and you'll hear it in stacks of modern R&B and pop records. More often than not, though, you won't hear it at all: many so-called "real musicians" use it to fix the odd mistake in the studio, or on stage.

Get the app: 

I Am T-Pain (iOS, £1.99)

Tune Me Lite (Android, £Free)

11. Drum Machine

As heard in: Blue Monday, New Order

All together now: Der der der der der der derderderderderderder der der der der der der derderderderderderder! The humble drum machine is behind some of the world's favourite music, from Sly and The Family Stone's There's a Riot Going On to Kraftwerk, rap, dour Mancunian electro-pop, drum and bass, dubstep and R&B. 

Get the app: 

DM1 (iOS, £2.99)

Niko Electrum Drum Machine (Android, £2.49)

12. Synthesizer

As heard in: Strange Days, The Doors

It seems bizarre now, but in the 1970s the Musicians' Union campaigned against the use of synthesisers, which it claimed would put real musicians - that is, ones who played instruments made of strings and wood - out of work. That may well have happened, but the arrival of synthesised musical instruments transformed music and opened up all kinds of possibilities: without synths there'd be no electronic music and rock would be dull as ditchwater.

Get the app: 

NLogSynth Pro (iOS, £6.99)

Mikrosonic RD3 (Android, £1.99)

13. Sequencer

As heard in: I Feel Love, Donna Summer

Sequencing is essentially programming for music: the musician would create a sequence, assign it to an instrument - often via MIDI, but the instrument might be a virtual one inside a music app - and start it playing. Sequencing enables musicians to play music they don't have enough hands to play in real time, and it created entire new genres: the distinctive basslines of acid house wouldn't exist without Roland's legendary sequencers, and the use of sequenced lead patterns is as important to trance music as guitar riffs are to rock.

Get the app:

Sunvox (iOS, £3.99)

Nanoloop (Android, £1.50)

14. Sampler

As heard in: Rapper's Delight, The Sugarhill Gang

Here's one for trivia fans: one of the most famous samples of all time, the sample of Chic's Good Times used in Rapper's Delight, wasn't a sample of the record: it was a replayed version of the original bassline. The song does sample Good Times' string section, though, and it's a great record to boot. 

Get the app: 

Samplr for iPad (iOS, £6.99)

Mikrosonic Music Sketchpad 2 (Android, £4.99)

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Comments

these aren't music creation apps, they're effects apps - I'd really like to see Stuff recommending the best music creation apps available for smartphones

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