Music apps for the iPhone fall into a few distinct categories. Air, for example, is a freeform tool for creating random sounds, while JR Hexatone Pro is an advanced loop creator. PatternMusic, from Richard Lawler, falls somewhere in between. The $2 app is accessible enough that you can create simple songs that consist mainly of repeating audio blips. Yet, it has a good collection of instruments and an easy way to create patterns that make it more than just an experimental tool.
On the other hand, an app like 8Bitone is easier to use and supports more musician-centric features than does PatternMusic. Of course, such apps are not necessarily geared for musicians--just anyone who loves music. With Pattern Music, you can experiment and make a real song.
PatternMusic's main purpose is not that obvious when you first start using it, though. Compared to Hexatone, which has a steep learning curve that eventually pays off, Pattern Music looks confusing initially and then reveals a fairly light feature set.
On the main screen, you'll see icons that look a bit confusing at first. They represent a "voice" or an instrument, so if you look closely at them you can see that the icon for a drum looks a bit like a drum. To play a song, you click a play button at the bottom of the screen--Pattern Music works primarily in landscape mode--and you can also fast forward and rewind. With each icon, you can drag that instrument up to raise it volume in your mix or move it left or right to pan the sound to the left or right stereo channel.
Each instrument consists of a series of blips. To say they are faithful to the original is a bit of an over-statement: the banjo sounds more like a Nintendo game, and the viola is less than authentic. The drum patterns are more palatable, though.
For each instrument, you can access an editor by holding down and then selecting the editing icon. Here, you can play notes or hold down to "write" that note. There are 64 notes per pattern (you scroll left to right, adding notes on a grid) and 4 octaves (you scroll up and down). The app works like the Yamaha Tenori-On, an instrument where you press buttons to set notes and create a song. It's great fun to create a repeating pattern, add instruments, and create an entire song. PatternMusic offers 40 instruments, though, compared to more than 300 samples in Hexatone Pro. You can quantize (lock notes into a set time), transpose (change octave automatically), and change the scale and time signature for a song.
PatternMusic lacks advanced features. You can't export your song, although that feature might appear in a future release. You can play along with an MP3 you have on your iPhone, but I didn't find that option very helpful. Personally, after using PatternMusic, I was just not able to create the same kind of complex songs with interesting audio loops as I could using other tools.
Still, for anyone with a casual interest in music, PatternMusic is a fun app. It's cool to create crazy looping patterns and mix them all together. For entertainment value, that's compelling enough. Just don't expect to be able to create a song loop you can use elsewhere--at least not until the app adds an export feature.
[John Brandon is a freelance technology writer based in Minnesota.]
This story, "PatternMusic for IPhone" was originally published by Macworld.