Be Your Own DJ with These Apps

This week's review includes a look into the TonePad and Songify apps.

I am not musically inclined.

Or, rather, I'm not much anymore. When I was a teen, I played trumpet in a touring jazz band, but my ability to hit a high C has long since past.

Which, I suspect, is why I'm in love with the free TonePad and Songify iPhone apps.

With TonePad, there's no instrument to learn, or even music to read. You simply open the app up and run your finger across a field of dots--and voila, music!

Now, it takes a little tinkering before you're making anything but pleasant-sounding noise (the simplicity of the program makes it difficult to create pure cacophony). But once you start lining up dots (aka, notes) in vertical lines, the player recognizes them as chords. You can build on the chords and the progressions to create something polyphonic, but nothing past a bar or two.

That's both the genius and calculated limitation of TonePad. You can't add vocals or percussion (think of these as stripped-down electronica beats). Once you're done with your composition, it simply repeats. It's enough to create a ring tone or keep your kids occupied (mine love it), but you're not going to get Beethoven's "Ode to Joy" out of TonePad. Or even Portishead's "Wandering Star," which has a basic, infectious set of drone chords.

For a push-button way to scratch your music-making itch, try out the free Songify. This app takes recorded speech (yours), then digitizes it into a set of pre-recorded beats and soundtracks. (More elaborate song structures cost extra, of course.) These songs can be shared via Twitter, Facebook and email. It's more of a party trick, a novelty to turn a funny phrase or memorable line into something sharable.

Now, if there were only a way to combine Songify and Tonepad. That'd be dangerous. We've already seen the first Internet music sensations (Arctic Monkeys, Lana Del Rey) -- but who will be the first superstar artist to record music and distribute it on their mobile phone?

It's coming, I promise.


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