498 days and 68 lessons later, it’s time to apply the decorative ribbon to Mac 101. It was fun while it lasted, but I’m done. As part of our journey we’ve started with the most basic of basics; taken long looks at the Finder; dived into the Mac’s Find features; explored Mail Contacts, Calendar, and Messages; gone on Safari; defined common jargon; previewed Preview; and even dipped our toes into iPhoto, iMovie, and GarageBand. In short, I’ve churned out enough material to create a goodly-sized book (he says, hinting broadly).
If you (or, more likely, someone you’ve urged to learn more about their computer) has followed along through the weeks and months, you’ve acquired enough knowledge to elicit glassy-eyed stares when, at your next cocktail party, you reel off endless Mac trivia with no more urging than someone humming the letter M within earshot. Congratulations.
While we could end this with a cheery wave, I’d like to draw your attention to a broad concept before issuing the final hand wiggle. And it’s this: The beauty of the Mac OS and its accompanying applications is that—when implemented correctly—it’s predictable. Harkening back to the Mac’s earliest days the operating system and design guidelines were drafted so that with a basic understanding of the Mac’s core principles, you could navigate and operate nearly every piece of software that you encountered.
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As a writer/musician who’s spent a lot of time with GarageBand over the years, I must resist the temptation to explore its every nook and cranny simply because I’m enthusiastic about it. Features that I find fascinating may appeal to only a few of you and I’d rather not tax your patience. Given that, I’d like to wrap up my look at the application by pointing out a few of its nuances that the majority of would-be GarageBand users will find helpful.
I’ve shown you how to “play” GarageBand’s instruments with an external keyboard, onscreen keyboard, and even the Mac’s keyboard. And while I expect that many of you have done so perfectly, there may be a person or two who has hit a clunker. Thankfully we’re no longer living in the days of tape where you either played every note and chord perfectly or relied on a very talented engineer with a box of razor blades. GarageBand is a music processor meaning that, like a word processor, you have the ability to correct your mistakes.
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It’s a tradition that a true garage band must have at least one guitar (and more if you can rustle up enough outlets, amps, and kids who can nail a bar chord three out of five tries). Given that, it would be ridiculous if Apple’s GarageBand didn’t have some fairly hefty support for guitar and bass players. And it does, particularly if you drop the $5 in-app purchase price to gain all of GarageBand’s content.
Before you can strum, pick, bar, shred, tap, or whammy your way to wonderfulness you must find a way to jack your guitar into your Mac. At the most basic level it can be done for about $7 with a 1/4-inch-to-1/8-inch mono audio cable. The 1/4-inch connector plugs into your guitar and the 1/8-inch connector goes into the Mac’s audio input port. If you choose such a cable, make it as light as possible. If you add an adapter to a standard guitar cable its weight may put undue strain on your Mac’s audio port.
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In the past few weeks we’ve covered features of GarageBand that are helpful to nonmusicians—GarageBand’s interface, creating ringtones, and creating grooves using the application’s loops. In this lesson I’d like to address those people who, at one time in their life, were plunked down in front of a piano keyboard and forced to play “Bone Sweet Bone.”
At the risk of making this all about me, when I played piano professionally one comment I heard over and over was, “I wish I’d kept playing as a kid.” To which I unvaryingly replied, “You could always start again.”
But of course that ignored the practicalities of doing so. It meant getting a piano if one wasn’t already ensconced at home, risking other people hearing them while they got back up to speed, and finding a teacher to help them along.
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In last week’s Let’s Create a Ringtone lesson, I attempted to show you that even musical novices can get value from GarageBand. And many of you grudgingly gave it a go. This week we’re going to create a rockin’ little multi-instrument groove. And yes, if you can click and drag, this is also well within your grasp.
That’s because GarageBand includes a collection of loops—audio blocks that you can piece together to form musical phrases. The particular magic of this operation is that you needn’t worry about the speed of your song or creating something where chords and notes are going to horribly clash. GarageBand was engineered so that these loops fit seamlessly together. Let’s give it a go.
Creating your loop project
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When introducing you to GarageBand in our last lesson, I claimed that nonmusicians could find uses for Apple’s audio and music application. I can hardly blame some of you for responding with a hearty “Prove it, buddy.” And so I shall, by outlining how to craft a ringtone from one of your favorite tunes.
Choosing a track
Launch GarageBand. In the Project chooser select Ringtone and click the Choose button. The main GarageBand window will open. Inside you’ll find a single track called Audio 1. The Cycle button will be engaged, and the ruler will bear a yellow bar that stretches for 20 measures. (That yellow color denotes the length of the cycled section.) To the right, the Loops pane appears by default.
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Wait!! Yes, you—you who absent-mindedly clicked the link that led you here; realized that you were about to receive instruction regarding Apple’s affordable audio/music application; thought “Heck, I’m no musician, I think I’ll read about user permissions instead”; and now have your finger poised over the mouse button, trackpad clicker, or iOS screen that will whisk you elsewhere. You needn’t be a musician—trained or otherwise—to get some use out of GarageBand. In fact, the application was designed with nonmusicians (or the minimally musical) in mind. And best of all, no talent is required. So stick around, at least for the next couple of paragraphs, so you can learn what GarageBand can do for you.
With GarageBand you don’t have to be able to play a lick to create musical scores for your movies. If you can place blocks end to end, you can use GarageBand’s loops to create a compelling score. You can also create your own ringtones from your favorite songs. You can edit any compatible audio file—not just music files but recordings you’ve made with your iOS device (of class lectures or business meetings, for example). And if you’d like to try your hand at playing guitar or piano, GarageBand includes introductory lessons for doing just that.
And if you’re a musician, GarageBand offers much more. It can serve as a musical sketchpad for writing tunes. You can use its built-in stomp box effects and amps to wail away on your guitar at 3 a.m. without waking your neighbors. The application’s Drummer feature helps make your tracks sound more lifelike. And its software instruments offer you the kind of synthesizer palette that once cost thousands of dollars to replicate.
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