Roli Songmaker Kit GarageBand Edition adds touch control to Mac

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Any Songmaker Kit can be turned into the GarageBand Edition.
Any Songmaker Kit can be turned into the GarageBand Edition.
Photo: Roli

Roli makes touch-sensitive controllers for music apps, and they come in Blocks, little modular units that can be snapped together via magnets to form bigger, better controllers. They’re kind of like Transformers for music. Now, Roli will now sell you a GarageBand-friendly version of its amazing Songmaker Kit, optimized for use with the Mac version of GarageBand.

But what if you already bought a Songmaker Kit? Should you return it and buy the new one? Nope. The hardware is exactly the same, all you need is a software update.

Today we’ll see what the Songmaker Kit GarageBand Edition can do, and find out how to update your own Blocks to use it.

How to use the Songmaker Kit GarageBand Edition

Even aliens can enjoy touch control.
Even aliens can enjoy touch control.
Photo: Roli

I’ve been testing a Songmaker kit for a few weeks, and I’ve found it pretty tricky to understand. It consists of three Blocks:

  • The Lightpad Block is a touch-sensitive, silicone covered square that is both a controller and a display. It shows different light patterns depending on the mode.
  • The Loop Block has 9 or 10 buttons (one is a two-ended rocker switch) that have fixed functions.
  • The Seaboard Block is a Micro Poly Expressive (MPE) keyboard, with a silicon surface that lets you press and slide over it to manipulate sounds.

You can connect the Blocks to a Mac either via Bluetooth or via USB. I chose the latter, as it also charges the Blocks.

If you have the new GarageBand Edition, all you need to do now is launch GaragBand on your Mac. The Seaboard Block keyboard will automatically be recognized as a MIDI keyboard, for playing instruments.

The Lightpad and Loop Block work together.
The Lightpad and Loop Block work together.
Photo: Charlie Sorrel/Cult of Mac

The Loop Block and Lightpad work together. If you tap the Mode button on the Loop Block, it cycles through the modes on the Lightpad. These include the usual modes — you can tap on a grid of blocks to trigger drums sounds, for example, or pick a different grid — but it also has a special GarageBand-only mode.

GarageBand mode

In this mode, the Lightpad shows various sliders, and you can slide your fingers over them to change parapets in GarageBand. Controls include:

  • Volume for each track.
  • Panning, solo, and mute for each track.
  • Play/pause/record, and loop a section.
  • Toggle metronome.
  • Track select.

Plus, you can use a bank of sliders to control the parameters of the instrument you’re currently playing. These could be the knobs of a virtual guitar app or a synthesizer, the controls of a drum machine, and so on.

Once you get used to it, the controls are quite intuitive. You can also press the mode button at any time to turn the Lightpad back onto a trigger for the instruments themselves.

How to update your old Songmaker Kit to GarageBand Edition

This part is easy. If you have an old Songmaker kit, then you just need to launch the Roli Dashboard app on your Mac while your devices are connected, and let the software update itself. Then, you’ll see the new GarageBand Control “app” inside the Roli Dashboard app. Just click these to load them into both the Lightpad and the Loop Block, and you’re good to go. There’s also a versions for Logic Pro, which is pretty much the same, but for Apple’s pro music app.

This update is fantastic if you use GarageBand on the Mac. It lets you forget about the mouse or trackpad for a good deal of your work, and just focus on playing and creating.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t work with GarageBand for iOS, which is a real shame. You can continue to use the existing Blocks controls for the iPAd and iPhone versions of GarageBand, but you don’t get the tight integration of the Mac version. One hopes that this will be added in future, but until then, there’s no point buying the Songmaker Kit GarageBand Edition for iOS. Just get the regular one. Then again, they’re the same price, for the same hardware.

Buy from: Amazon — $599.00