Garageband for iPad is an amazing deal – for just five bucks, you have access to a fully featured, powerful set of recording tools at your beck and call, all while on the go. There’s no need for wires, expensive sound equipment, or even instruments – GarageBand for iPad can make you sound like an expert musician, regardless of your previous experience with music or recording software. Let’s take a look at how.
Rock The Smart Drums
The foundation of any good rock, dance, or pop song is the beat. Creating a drum track that stands out will take your music from “meh” to “wow.” With GarageBand for iPad, you can now create drum tracks that sound incredibly good with very little knowledge or expertise.
When you start GarageBand on your iPad, swipe over to the Smart Drums icon, and tap it. You’ll be taken to the Smart Drums interface, which looks like an eight-by-eight grid of squares in the middle. To the right are the individual drum parts, and to the left is the type of kit that you are emulating.
Tap on the drum icon to the left, and choose the drum set you’d like to use. Each of the drum kits or machines has a different set of sounds that make it up, so experiment around a bit.
To create an interesting drum track, drag parts of the drum kit from the list on the right to the grid. Items place near the top will be louder, while those placed near the bottom will be softer. Drum sounds put on the left side of the grid will play in a simpler pattern, and those placed on the right side will play a more complex one.
Finding the right balance can be fun, so play around with various combinations until something strikes you as interesting. Even more fun is the dice button, located in the lower left. Tap it to get all sorts of cool randomly generated drum tracks. Pro tip: you can put more than one icon in any square on the grid.
Once you’ve got the killer track that’s just right for your latest album, it’s time to record. Tap the red record button at the top of the screen and GarageBand will count off the first four beats, then record the drum track you’ve just made. Once it has recorded the first eight measures, GarageBand for iPad will stop recording, and just play from the first measure on, in a loop. Tap the plus button in the upper right to add another eight bars. You can add a new, empty section with the Add button or simply duplicate the section you just recorded by tapping the Duplicate button.
When you’re done, tap My Songs in the upper left to go back to the song browser. GarageBand will save your efforts, ready for the next recording session, when you add bass, keyboard, and guitar parts!
Add some Phat Bass
With a killer beat in place, it’s time to add the second (mostly unsung) hero of modern music: the bass. Whether your tastes run to big, fat and bottom heavy or to quick, snappy and distorted, GarageBand has you covered. With GarageBand for iPad, you can create bass tracks that sound incredibly good with very little knowledge or expertise. Let’s take a look at the simplest way to do just that: Smart Bass.
Smart Bass allows you to play the four string instrument without any previous experience. I prefer to put down a bass track on top of some drums, but your preference may vary. If you choose to put drums down first, use your example from yesterday’s tip, or add a quick drum loop that stretches across eight measures. Then tap on the Instruments at the top of the screen to select Smart Bass. You may need to swipe left or right to find it. Once you do, though, tap it to open it up in your song.
Notice that the default view shows you a bass instrument in the upper left corner, typically the Liverpool style bss made famous by Sir Paul McCartney. Tap on the picture to choose one of the other eight bass sound choices. I grabbed Picked for this example. The background of the bass guitar changes to the bass instrument you chose, which is super fun.
Tap the Play triangle at the top of the screen to get your drum tracks rolling, and then take a look at the bass screen. There’s a toggle switch that lets more advanced bass players tap representations of the bass strings as they might on a real bass. Make sure the silver toggle switch is set to Chords. A new option shows up, and the strings disappear. The AutoPlay option allows up to four different patterns to play when you tap in the column under the chord names. Tapping on a new column changes the notes the bass will autoplay, while changing the number in the autoplay section will change the arpeggiation of those notes. If you turn off AutoPlay, the bass strings come back up, even with the keyboard bass sounds. Odd, but it makes sense. The strings will now play one of four notes within an arpeggio, but only when you tap them
Choose a bass sound, then one of the AutoPlay options that best fits with your drum track, then hit the red Record button at the top of the screen. Tap the chording columns in time with the music, and GarageBand will record the changes as you tap them out. Swipe across the measure ruler on the top to switch over to a new eight bars to record over. Repeat until your song is filled with sexy bass and drums. You did it!
Sweeten Things Up With Smart Guitar & Keyboards
Once you’ve laid down a solid rhythmic foundation with your drums and your bass, it’s time to sweeten things up with some different sounds, like guitar or keyboards. GarageBand for iPad makes this sincerely easy, with Smart Keys and Smart Guitar, letting you widen the range of harmonic counterpoint in any arrangement, regardless of any experience with real instruments.
All the work is done by your iPad and the GarageBand app, just like with the Smart Bass and Smart Drums functionality discussed earlier. Simply launch GarageBand for iPad and follow the steps below, and you’ll be listening to your own sweet tunes in your own sweet time.
Once GarageBand is launched, you’ll want to get to the Instruments section, which is accessed via a button in the upper left of the screen. Tap that, and you’ll be able to swipe left or right through the different musical instrument pictures. Let’s start with some keys, using the Smart Keyboard. Tap the icon of the keyboard keys encircled by a gear icon.
Set up your tune the same way as with Smart Bass, turning the AutoPlay setting to a number between one and four. Choose the type of keyboard you want to have play from the eight choices available, from Grand Piano to Classic Rock Organ to a variety of funky synths. Each keyboard will have a few different options, so feel free to play around with them. If you’ve been creating a whole song along with us, you’ll have drums and bass tracks to have GarageBand play along to. Tap the columns along the top half of the rows to play the right hand, and the smaller column sections along the bottom half of the rows to play the left. WHen you’re ready to keep your performance, hit the red Record button at the top and have at it.
Next, tap on the Instruments button again, but this time swipe over to and choose Smart Guitar. Things should start to feel familiar, with the same type of instrument choice interface in the upper left, and AutoPlay options to set up. Hit play on the transport toolbar at the top, and tap along with the same chords you used in the rest of your song. But now, let’s try something a little more advanced.
Switch the toggle on the right side from Chords to Notes. You’ll see what looks like a regular guitar neck come up on the iPad screen. Tap the strings between the vertical lines, called frets, to hear guitar notes. Now, assuming you’re not a guitar player, but you want to sound like one, tap on the Scales button that’s discretely placed in the upper right corner of the fretboard. Choose a scale style you want to play with (I grabbed Major Pentatonic) and your fretboard will turn into a more stylized version of itself. Now, tap on the strings in the resulting rectangles. Each rectangle to the right will be the next note in a scale along the same string. Tap in one of the highlighted rectangles and drag your finger to the right all the way to the next highlighted area to the right. Sounds like a guitar solo, right? Mess around with this over your backing tracks and you’ll be surprised what you’ll be able to come up with, regardless of your guitar experience in the real world. Pro tip? The strings can be bent, or moved up and down to create vibrato. Sweet skeuomorphism, eh?
Save your song by tapping out to the My Songs list, and you’re ready to roll.
Putting It All Together – Mixdown and Export
Recording a musical masterpiece with GarageBand for iPad is fairly straightforward, especially when using the “smart” instruments to layer a song together. However, if you don’t get the music out of your iPad, no one will hear it. If no one hears it, how will you know how amazing it is? Let’s take a look at some basic mixing and sharing features of GarageBand for iPad.
When you finally finish recording your Smart Bass, Smart Drums, Smart Keyboard (and, yes, Smart Strings as in the screenshot above), and Smart Guitar parts, it’s time to mix that baby down and then get it out to the rest of the internet.
Open the song you’ve been working with this week and tap on the Track button in the upper part of the screen, just to the left of the transport controls (the start from bar one, play, and record buttons). You’ll then be able to see the multiple tracks you’ve recorded. They’ll all be green, as the smart instruments in GarageBand are MIDI performances controlled by software, not recorded samples, which would be blue colored.
If the volume sliders are not visible like the screenshot above, swipe on one of the instruments to the right, and the sliders will appear. Hit the play triangle at the top of your iPad’s screen, and then move the sliders left or right for each track until they sound right to you. Drums, especially the snare, should be loudest, along with any melodic instruments you want your listeners to pay attention to. The other harmonic instrumentation, like soft strings or padded out synths, can be quieter, just to set the mood. The important thing is to have dynamics – make sure not all the instruments are playing at top volume – unless that’s the effect you want, of course.
Once you’ve mixed to your heart’s and ear’s content, it’s time to share your music with the world. Tap on the My Songs button in the upper left. This will take you to the song browser, where you will tap on the Edit button in the upper right. The rectangular previews of your song files will start the iOS wiggle. Tap on the song you want to share, and then tap on the familiar iOS sharing button, the one that looks like a square with an arrow popping out to the right of it.
Your options here are to share to Facebook, YouTube, Soundcloud, iTunes (where you can import your tracks into GarageBand for Mac as well as Logic, a more professional audio package), or send via email. You’ll need logins for each of the services, of course, in order to send your music there. Login with the required service credentials, tap through the various options buttons, including quality of compression in the options for internet services like SoundCloud.
And bam! You’ve just recorded, mixed down, and shared some music created by your very own self, right from your iPad. For a look at what someone who obviously can play an instrument can do with GarageBand, I offer you this, your moment of zen: