The best music software for beginners will get us going on putting those creative juices to work and ultimately, down for others to hear and enjoy. Nowadays, there are a lot of solutions when it comes to music production software (also known as digital audio workstations); however, finding the best for when we’re just starting out can be difficult when sifting through the rubble. Through personal experience and extensive research, we were able to narrow down our search to just 4 recommendations when it comes to beginner DAWs. The reason we include 4 will depend on a few factors we also want you to keep in mind while searching, and also feel it’s important you take the time learn a specific music software that will also allow for some leeway when it comes to a future learning curve once you’re a lot better at making music. Let’s get started.
What is a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW)?
A digital audio workstation is essentially a fancy name for “software to make music with”. It is a computer program, both for Mac and\or Windows, that provides the user a visual interface to create, edit, add, delete, copy, paste, and mix together sounds to combine for a compiled finished product — a song, track, instrumental, or whatever else you’d like to label as a mixture of a series of sounds. Through this program, you can also warp sounds and songs in many different ways, such as adding effects, changing the pitch of audio clips, reversing, chopping a part, rearranging, and more.
We’re no stranger to DAWs. We’ve been making music for more than 20 years and have tried just about every software out there. For those who have zero experience, never fear! You can always grab some free music software, to get going right away; however, we’ve been able to fine tune our search and find some more sophisticated solutions as the best beginner’s music software. Some are free, some are not. However, those that are not still provide (some, however) free trials so you can start downloading and making music before you even finish reading this guide. We’re glad you’re looking to get into music making — it changed our lives, and who knows, this could the start of a huge part of your life you never knew you were missing!
Picking the best music software for beginners
Yes, this is a pretty big decision — once you choose a software to make music on, we don’t recommend switching away from it for a very long time. The reason being is we feel once you invest your time to learning how a specific software works, you want to continue polishing your skills in the software so you can improve your overall production quality. Remember to be patient — we remember first learning Ableton Live after switching over from using Sony Acid after 10 years and were frustrated within the first 10 minutes. When you have ideas and tunes in your head, we understand — you want those to be down into the software instantly. However, that won’t happen right away, so one piece of advice for beginners we recommend is — be patient!
This is a long-term investment. In our opinion, there’s always a new feature to learn in many of the software available today, so even 5 years from now there may be a hot key or tweak you learn about that continues to help your recording and production process. Plus, this can potentially be software you use for the next 10 or more years, so it’s OK to be picky. With that being said, don’t panic — the software we have here today are perfect for both those learning to start out with and is even used by professionals to mix and master with in the ‘industry’.
Remember — try the free trials first! Unless your software is free itself of course, we always recommend giving a software a go before you completely make the decision on it being “the one”. Most of these brands offer free trials, as it would be pretty difficult to try to sell something as large as software without giving people a try first. There are also some tutorials that we will link you to if you want to watch a few videos or read some articles to get a better feel for the music software before you try it.
The operating system (OS) you’re using will also be a large deciding factor here, especially if you’re on a Mac, since Apple likes to make a lot of their music software only compatible with their OS. Most Windows programs are indeed cross-platform, but if you’re on a Mac, you’ll be more limited. We included both operating systems in here just in case. We won’t tell you which OS is “best”, we’ve used both and feel they’re fine either way you go. With that being said, if you haven’t purchased your computer or laptop for music, you’ll need to decide which OS you want first before you choose your music software.
Lastly, if you’re still looking for some gear to start making music with, you can read our beginners music equipment guide either before or after you choose your software. It may be difficult for you to make much without some type of external piece of hardware first (unless you’re big into samples like we are), since a lot of this software is compatible with many recording devices out there, such as MIDI keyboards, VST software, DJ controllers, microphones and more. You can however try to make some tunes without any gear first (it will be a bit more difficult but you can make it work), by perhaps using their visual interfaces or other features that allow for using just your mouse and keyboard only to arrange sounds and effects. If you don’t have gear yet and want to mess around with software, feel free to just see where your mouse and keyboard take you.
The best beginner’s music software
Let’s start with our first pick. One of the best beginner’s music software that is available to you right now if you’re on a Mac is Apple’s software ‘Garageband’. You may already have it — it is a software that is built directly into your computer and comes free with the purchase of any Apple laptop. If not, you can easily download it for free using the link above. Although Mac only and we suggest Windows users to continue reading, it is a fully capable music creation studio that can be used with the simple opening of an Apple laptop and nothing more. There is a complete sound library which includes features ranging from instruments to presets for guitars and voice as well as a selection of drums and other percussion instruments that allow you to make some tunes right out of the box (even if you don’t have a keyboard or additional equipment yet).
One fun and interactive feature of Garageband comes in the form of the Touch Bar shortcuts. The Touch Bar on the Apple laptop makes controlling your music creation a more physical and seamless activity, although you’ll need a MacBook Pro with a Touch Bar to use it. Because Garageband is an Apple product, it works seamlessly with the other original features of the laptop as well, making this software easy to use if you want to start learning the shortcuts and hot keys.
Since it’s hard to sum up the power of software in a few paragraphs, there are few other standouts we’d like to include here. When it comes to sounds, Apple Garageband also has an array of bass tones that are available to you. While using the bass tone feature, you are able to customize tones in the exact way that you want them by shifting the pitch or arranging them in a separate track (although you can do this with any other sounds they have as well, or perhaps samples of your own you’d like to add). There’s also something called ‘Drummer’, which is a virtual session player, allowing you create drum tracks with some visual help at the same time (you can do so with just your mouse and keyboard with no other gear needed).
We’ve heard of musicians using this who are into a variety of genres ranging from EDM to Metal, allowing you to create whatever kind of music you desire — we wouldn’t limit anybody using this beginner’s software based on musical preference. Garageband is also great for beginners who are new to playing music. There are built-in piano and guitar lessons available to you, which is a very unique aspect of this software system as we don’t know many others that do so. These lessons even provide feedback to you based on skill set, speed and accuracy of playing notes.
Lastly, something that we love about Garageband is how easy it is to share your finished songs. A finished song can be exported to iTunes and listened to on your music playing device, or posted on social media platforms for you family and friends to listen to. You even have the option to save your songs and make them into ringtones — why not?
Overall, with their plethora of features, Apple’s Garageband is a great way to create customized music, especially if you’re a beginner music recorder or producer. If you’re on Mac, we recommend just downloading it right now while you finish reading this article so you can start playing around — why not, it’s free!
FL Studio does not come included with the purchase of a laptop, as does Apple’s Garageband, however is compatible with only Windows, so for those who aren’t on a Mac, here’s our number one pick. It’s also known by some as FruityLoops (the original name) if that rings a bell. Once you purchase the FL Studio package, you are given access to a lifetime of free updates, meaning that you will never have to purchase another software —you’ll just have to update. This is definitely a popular music production system and is used worldwide, and has been since the early 2000’s.
When it comes to some standout beginner’s digital audio workstation features, FL Studio gives you access to composing, arranging, recording, editing, mixing, and mastering professionally sounding music. These features allow you to find and create the exact sound that you are looking for. There are multi-touch mixer and fading groups as well as six different mixer layouts, giving you command over your music. The UI scales perfectly up to 8K even across multiple displays, which is pretty impressive.
There is a large selection of copyright free audio samples which allow you to create music right off the bat, and a playlist option that allows you to drag and drop various audio files. This will be particularly useful for those who don’t have their gear yet. Also, the multi-touch feature of the FL Studio allows this software to be controlled with your fingers when using a multi-touch monitor. This unique aspect makes creating music a physical activity in case you’re into touch screens or don’t want to fiddle with a mouse or keyboard too much, although we ultimately recommend using some MIDI gear later down the road.
The layout and use of a vector-based, animated interface is very aesthetically pleasing and allows you to understand easily what is being used and what isn’t. There’s also great help across the internet as well as inside of the software itself. There are high-quality loops and pattern-based MIDI composition tools. This program has come a long way since its creation in 1998 and has been able to change and modernize with the rest of the world. They do a great job as it is kept up to date by the company and has many updates in order to keep the software bug-free.
This program may seem daunting for some of you when looking at it, especially some youngins, but many people claim that it is a system that is easy to learn. When one takes the time to understand FL Studio, using its features to their full potential will allow you to create powerful, customized, and professional sounding tracks, especially if you’re on Windows.
Let’s take a look at another one of our favorite picks as the best music software for beginners, this time being compatible for both Mac as well as Windows, so no limits here. We currently use this DAW in our home studio. This software has been hailed as the simplest DAW to navigate and use, especially within the last 10 years or so. It definitely takes a while to fully understand all of the different features and modes that are available to you in this program, but it isn’t impossible. Ableton Live takes a unique approach to composition and arrangement when compared with the traditional DAW. To name a few highlights, for one, there is a synth built into the program that allows you to create deep sounds without a keyboard. If you do indeed have some gear and you are to add play a melody and forget to record, Ableton has a lot of “smart features” that can for example “remember” melodies, etc.
Another reason we love this as a beginners DAW is creating music with just the arming of a MIDI track. Pressing play allows you to begin. Once you have an idea, pressing the Capture button after you’ve played it will allow the Live feature to match your tempo and timing and start your melody in a loop. You can shape the sound of the drums via the controllers on your program, or perhaps quantize or rearrange notes you played if you didn’t like how it came out when you recorded real-time (some may call that cheating, others call it the new norm). Also, with the addition of some new devices called Wavetable, Echo, Drum Bass, and Pedal, you will be able to elevate your music to an entirely new level. These devices let you customize your music through sculpting your sounds to the exact way that you want, and are great visualizations of complex musical concepts many aren’t able to achieve especially when first beginning.
With Ableton Live, you are also given the ability to edit multiple MIDI clips at the same time. You can view multiple MIDI clips across a variety of different tracks, all within a single view. This allows you to have a better command over musical tones and relationships present in your song. Everything from melodies and harmonies to sampled beats can easily be turned into MIDI, making it easy to control and customize. Ableton Live also allows you access to over 3,000 instrument sounds, 5 synths, 3 samplers, 390 drum kits, and over 4,000 free loops for your personal use right when the download and installation finishes. Their easy to use browser also allows you to find whatever sounds you want and allows you to place them on your work easily.
Despite these great features, it does take an open mind to make the switch from traditional DAWs to the Ableton Live. It is a unique set-up that requires some time to learn, but when you understand how to use this system, Ableton Live can prove to be one of the best beginner’s music software programs on the market now. It’s used by every single “skill level” in the music industry, so this will be a long-term investment and you may indeed never have to switch software ever again.
The last program on our list of best beginner’s music software programs is called Logic Pro. This system is very aesthetically pleasing and easy to understand, but is quite complex when you first get a hold of it. This is a system that can be purchased via the App Store on your laptop where it will automatically download as a new app (as you can see, no free trial, which definitely irks many out there — including us). This softwate seamlessly integrates with Apple products just like Garageband does, but allows you some extra features that Garageband doesn’t have.
For one, Logic Pro allows you to utilize iOS devices and turn them into a multi-touch controller for the program. The physical, interactive aspect of Logic Pro makes it are more interactive experience when creating your music. Notably, there is a ‘Smart Tempo’ feature integrated into the program which allows you to sync timing of your tracks automatically. This gives you full control over your music without having to work hard to get your music to perfectly match the track. This allows you to keep all of your tracks synced automatically. This makes working on your tracks easy because you no longer have to worry about the minute adjusting of melodies and loops to fit perfectly with your tune.
With Logic Pro X, you are given access to over 7,000 copyright free Apple Loops. Choosing from these loops allows you to integrate them into your songs and add new twists to create something great. Their loops are unique because they are tagged with various keywords, even conformed automatically to your specific tempo and key. You can move single beats within a waveform, which gives you full control over your music down to the tiniest detail.
Ultimately, we love Logic Pro and the look and feel of the program as a whole. It’s the most advanced software we’ll recommend for a beginners DAW, which is why it’s listed last (and unfortunately there’s no free trial to test first which may steer some of you away, although you can always watch some videos perhaps). It provides you with a lot of control over details, allowing you to have a fully customized track that you and your friends will love and give you music making capabilities for nearly the rest of your career.