The App Guide: 6 Best Music Apps

Just a few years ago, the ability to listen to digital music on an MP3 player seemed revolutionary. Today, you can use handheld devices, like your smartphone, to create your own stations or even your own music — without ever having to touch a real instrument.

“There are tons of great apps for music creation on the iPad and iPhone, and there are new ones emerging every day,” says Greg Thomas, a musician in El Cerrito, Calif. “There are apps that let you simulate playing keyboards, synths, guitars, drums, drum machines and other instruments.”

That’s only the beginning. Here are six don’t-miss music apps that will help you bring a little more music into your life.

Music App No. 1: Pandora
Lets you … Discover new music and share music picks with friends
Pandora  is a unique app that aims to expose you to artists you haven’t discovered yet but are bound to love based on your current music preferences. Just type in the name of one of your favorite songs or artists, and Pandora will create a “radio station” that streams music with a similar sound composition to your device. Give each song that is streamed a thumbs up or down, and Pandora will further optimize the station for you. You can create up to 100 stations, which you can also share with friends — creating a grassroots following for your new favorite artists.

“My favorite thing about the service is definitely the ability to discover new music,” says Bethany Miller of Scranton, Penn. “By far, my favorite artist that Pandora helped me discover is Gregory Alan Isakov. I’ve been playing his album That Sea, The Gambler more or less on repeat since I first heard ‘The Stable Song’ on my Pandora station and immediately went and bought it.”

Available on: Web, Android, BlackBerry, iPhone, iPad, Palm Pre and Windows Mobile.

Music App No. 2: Shazam
Lets you … Identify that great song you’re hearing at the store
Shazam  recognizes and identifies music that you hear offline, such as in a clothing store, at a party or on the radio. It uses your device’s microphone to listen to whatever song you’re hearing, and then it tells you the title and artist. Shazam even links you to a place where you can buy a track and share info about it with your social networks. The app does a pretty good job of identifying music through ambient noise, such as people talking in the background.

Available on: Android, BlackBerry, iPhone, iPad, Nokia and Windows Mobile

Music App No. 3: JamPad
Lets you … Experiment with music composition
Touchscreen devices are ideal for music-making, and you don’t even have to be a professional. Try JamPad : It features a keyboard, drum beats, electric guitar and guitar strum patterns — and you can play all four at once. You can’t record your musical creations, but this app is just for jamming anyway. Looking to record on your iPhone? Try NanoStudio .

Available on: iPhone and iPad

Music App No. 4: SoundCloud
Lets you … Share your original tunes
If you’ve made your own music on your device or computer, you can upload it to SoundCloud  and share it with friends to get feedback. They can even attach their comments to specific spots in your track to tell you a part they love or a part that needs more work. Then you can get on the SoundCloud site to explore and comment on the thousands of tracks that others have uploaded and categorized according to genre.

Available on: Web, Android, iPhone and iPad

Music App No. 5: Djay
Lets you … Spin at your own events
Just as the name suggests, djay  turns you into a DJ. Use the app to record your own mixes or to mix on the fly. If you’re a beginner and need some help, the auto-mix mode will turn a playlist into a mix for you. Plus, it integrates with iTunes, so you have your whole music collection to work with. The iPad version is especially cool because you can scratch the records just like you would on a real turntable.

Available on: Mac and iPad

Music App No. 6: mSpot
Lets you … Listen to your collection across devices
With mSpot , you can upload your entire music collection to the cloud and listen to it anywhere, from any device. The app also keeps your collection synced, so when you purchase new music — say, through iTunes — it will automatically upload your new tracks to your music library in the cloud.

Available on: Web, Android and iPhone