Apple’s GarageBand

Apple’s GarageBand is a multitracking tool, bundled with your Mac (multitracking means mixing and editing several separate audio recordings or tracks in one piece of music. GarageBand can be used for basic audio recording, and whatever the tracks contain, each track can be individually chopped and changed, made louder and softer, and generally played around with.

Apple’s GarageBand

Among Mac owners, Apple’s GarageBand is the most widely used multitracking application (or sequencer), as it comes with Macs and is very easy to use, even though it’s not the only option. However if you get seriously into music-making, you’ll find GarageBand limitating at some stage. Thus you’ll want to work from scratch and check out a more serious sequencing package, such as Apple’s Logic Pro, etc. The full versions of professional applications are rather expensive, but they may help you to become a real music guru.

Back to GarageBand, the application allows you to record and edit layers of real sound and software instruments (just like a few other competing packages). But what sets GarageBand apart is its foolproof user-friendly interface and its incorporation of Apple Loops, such as rhythms, riffs, sound effects that can be drag and drop into your collections. Indeed, no musical training is required to create something basic with this app.

GarageBand takes care of all the details, such as making sure that the loops are all in the same key, playing at the same tempo, and so on. It may also create a podcast for you.

How to Create a Backing Track Using Loops

  • Launch GarageBand from Applications or the Dock.
  • Create a new project, when prompted.
  • If you like to pick a tempo, key and time signature, do it now, if not, go with the defaults, as you’ll be able to change them later using the Master Track settings.
  • Click on the eye button near the bottom-right (alternatively, press the Command key + L) to display the loop browser panel.
  • Now you can use the category buttons and view option to browse what’s on offer, clicking individual loops in the lower section of the panel to hear those loops.
  • When you find what you like, drag it into some empty grey space in the main part of the GarageBand window.
  • Now a new track will appear containing a colored region of music.
  • To extend the region of music, hold your mouse pointer over its right-hand end and drag the region out to whatever length you need (for example to loop a rhythm throughout the duration of the song). You can add more loops, such as bass, guitar, drums, whatever, until you’ve built up a convincing backing track.

A tip: To change the overall tempo, key and time signature of an existing song, double-click the Master Track. If you can’t see it, click the Command key + B or look in the Track menu. To quickly change the tempo of the song, select the metronome icon and click the displayed tempo to display a slider control.

Real and Software Instruments

One of the key concepts in GarageBand is the distinction between “real” and “software” instruments. In fact, every chunk of sound falls into one of these two categories, including non-instrumental lines (such as vocals). Real instruments include anything you record via a microphone or a hi-fi. Software instruments, by contrast, are virtual drum kits, violins, pianos and other instruments. You can play software instruments using a midi or on-screen keyboard. You can drag them in loops based on software-instrument sounds. Either way the music is just a set of marks on a grid that instruct the computer to play particular notes at particular times. It’s easy to distinguish real and “soft” sections at glance: real ones bear sound-waves, while soft ones look more like pianola rolls. Each track deals exclusively with either software or real instruments.

Recording Software Instruments

You should have an empty Grand Piano Track at the top of the screen. If you’d rather pick a different instrument, you can either double-click the piano’s name or add a separate track using the “+” button at the bottom-left of the window.

You can play your instrument of choice either with the on-screen keyboard, using the Command key + K, your computer keyboard (if you hit the Command key + Shift + K, this combination will show you which letter-keys correspond to which notes), or a connected MIDI keyboard. You can set up the connected MIDI keyboard in the Audio/MIDI pane of GarageBand’s Preferences (the Command Key + ,).

Real Vocals or Instruments

To get home-made sounds into GarageBand, you should attach a mic or instrument to your Mac’s line-in socket or audio interface. Don’t connect guitar directly to your Mac, if your are recording it. Instead plug the electric guitar into a normal guitar amp and take a line out from there, or simply mic-up the amp. Then, click the big “+” button (you can also use the shortcut Command Key + Option + N), and choose to create a New Real instrument Track. This will reveal the Track info panel to the right, where the user can select the instrument he or she is going to record.

If you can’t find your instrument there, choose Basic Track. You’ll find various styles in the right-hand column, which will add effects and EQs to the track. Note that the style is not set in stone, and you can switch off or change it at any time if you double-click the tracks’s title. You can also select it and hit the Info button (Command key + I).

When you are ready to record, follow the same red-button procedure as before and hit the spacebar when you’re done. A wave form will appear in the track to represent the sound you’ve recorded.

To open the newly recorded segment in the wave editor, double-click it. Now you can cut, copy and paste sections of wave (look in the Edit menu or use the standard shortcuts), tweak the tuning and tempo of a particular section, or change the overall pitch of the track. Have a tinker – if you make a mistake you can always go back a stage by pressing Edit-Undo or by clicking the Command key + Z.

Mixing

Once you’ve assembled all the basic components of your track, it’s time to get everything to work together. Obviously enough you can cut, copy and paste segments of music, drag them around and delete them by selecting them and pressing the backspace key.

Mixing a song is not just about content. It’s about fine-tuning volume levels and subtly panning tracks to the left of right side of the stereo spectrum, that’s towards the left or right speakers.

If you use the virtual knob and slider, you can change the overall level and pan for each track. But if you’d like to alter a track’s volume over time, click the download-facing arrow button to create a volume envelope. Click points on the line and drag them about to plot the volume shape you’d like.

To create fade-ins and outs for the whole song, open the master track by clicking the Command key + B, and then use the same technique.

To Export Songs

There are options in the Share menu that allow you to export your track to iTunes and for burning disks. If you are sending a song to iTunes, choose an artist name that you’d like to use, which iTunes playlist you’d like the song added to, and so on. You can also choose whether to create an MP3 or AAC file, and the audio quality setting of the mix you are creating. If you want to save space or email it to a friend, convert using the Good Quality setting, otherwise go with the default High Quality setting. You could even share your creation with other Mac music-makers.

Getting More Loops and Instruments

GarageBand comes with a good selection of loops and instruments, but before long you may be hungering for more. A selection of so-called Jam Packs, ranging from Remix Tools to Symphony Orchestra with royalty-free loopshare marketed by Apple, as well as numerous software instruments.

To import downloaded loops and instruments into the GarageBand, drag them iinto the Loops Browser. You can add them to your Apple Loops Library. Once the loops are installed there, you can delete or archive the original source files.

A Few Notes About GarageBand

  • To delete a track, select it and choose Delete from the Track menu or click the Command key + Shift.
  • GarageBand comes with a built-in instrument tuner. Highlight a real instrument track and then look for the option in the Control menu. You can use the shortcut the Command key + F, to start using it.
  • You can resize the on-screen keyboard by dragging the bottom-right corner. To choose which range of keys is visible either scroll using the arrows to the left and right or click the top-right button to reveal a full-sized keyboard with a dragable range control.
  • GarageBand input/output settings work independently of OS X’s. So set up devices and audio interfaces in the application’s Preferences, not System Preferences.
  • When recording with a microphone, use headphones to monitor what’s going on. Otherwise you might end up recording feedback, and the sound from the speakers will leak into the microphone.
  • To fine tune EQ settings and add additional effects, click Edit in the Track Info panel. If you find the options overwhelming, enable the early-to-use Visual EQ tool and the bottom and use that to adjust the sound.
  • You can also import whole audio files, such as WAV, AIFF, AAC, Apple Lossless or MP3 formats, into your song by dragging them from Finder or iTunes directly into the GarageBand window.
  • You can turn into a loop a track that you’ve played or recorded. Select a region and choose Add To Loop Library from the Edit menu.
  • You can temporarily silence a track and play it solo. You can lock it to avoid accidental changes using the row of buttons below its name.
  • GarageBand features a way to buy and download music lessons.
  • Apple support site has many tips and troubleshooting advice to help you struggle to get GarageBand to do as you please.
  • With iLife (a feature was discontinued), when users were closing GarageBand projects, they could choose to create an iLife Preview. This feature allowed users to preview their project with Quick Look without having to open it into GarageBand.

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