Figure lets you make electronic music in three easy steps on iOS: Hands-on

Figure is a music-making app that lets you lay down beats with funky bass lines and synth leads, and you don't need any musical training whatsoever.

Figure Drums
Touch and hold on drum sounds to hear the beat and adjust levels. Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET

Figure (99 cents) lets you create a song with three tracks -- drums, bass, and synth lead -- through a series of taps on a beautifully designed touch interface. The easiest way to get started familiarizing yourself with Figure is simply by touching record, then holding drum sounds to lay down your first beat.

Once you're satisfied with your beat, touch the red Bass tab at the top to add a bass track. You'll see three circles at the top with Rhythm on the left (number of bass notes per eight bars) and Range in the middle (this adjusts what part of the scale your notes will come from). On the right side of the interface you'll see a circle divided up into pie pieces illustrating the steps of the scale -- the actual notes you are playing. Figure automatically makes sure you're in tune, only using notes from the same key. Once you've filled out the loop, let go and listen to your drum and bass lines.

Figure Lead Synth
Touch and swipe left and right in the yellow area to play notes that fit to the beat. Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET

Now that you have the basic components of the song, it's time to add some lead synth. Just like the bass, you're given the option to choose the rhythm, range, and scale steps for your synth lead. Touch, hold, and move your finger left and right through the yellow field to automatically play notes in time with the music. When you're finished, hit record again to stop recording. These are the three basic steps for making a song, but there's much more to Figure than that.

While the interface is stylistically an amazing layout for making music, not all the features are immediately obvious. When playing or recording, notice the moving bar across the top that goes through eight counts then loops back to the beginning. This helps you to figure out what the sequence will be like as you add more instruments. The circles over each instrument type indicate how many sounds per eight bars will be added. You can play around with these until you get a sound you like.

Figure Song tab
Touch the Song tab to adjust the overall key, change beats per minute, and more. Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET

When I first tried the app, I made a little song and thought it was pretty fun, but thought there wasn't much more to explore. That was before I realized there are tons of different drum kits, bass sounds, and synths to choose from by swiping left and right on instrument names at the top. Not only can you use any combination of these instruments, a Tweak button at the bottom of the interface lets you touch to adjust wave forms and other elements of the sound you're playing with for virtually limitless possibilities. The Song tab at the bottom is also very powerful, letting you switch keys between all the major and minor scales and letting you adjust beats per minute. The Mix tab lets you adjust levels for each instrument. What quickly becomes clear is you could play with this app for hours, making new songs with different rhythms, bass lines, and synth leads with completely different overall sounds.

Even with everything Figure offers for easy music making, there is one major drawback. There is no file manager, so there is no easy way to save your songs. The only option is to erase your current song under the System tab and start fresh making a new song. This is such a huge oversight that I can only think the guys at Propellerhead Software must be planning to include it in an upcoming patch. But even without the ability to save, Figure is an awesome way to quickly make songs and is definitely worth 99 cents just to see how the apps works.

With an easy-to-play touch-screen layout, tons of sounds to choose from, and endless customization through rhythms and effects, Figure is an excellent app for people who want to quickly make loops. Once the developers add a file manager for saving songs, this app will be a no-brainer for anyone who wants to easily make cool-sounding music.

 

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