Take Control of Making Music with GarageBand

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following article is an excerpt from Take Control of Making Music with GarageBand (version 2.0), a $10 electronic book available for download from TidBits Electronic Publishing.

With GarageBand 2, you can create exciting songs quickly and easily using the music loops that come with Apple’s music-creation program—even if you know nothing at all about writing music. In this excerpt, we’ll cover the process of putting together and editing a song as well as working with a loop. The ditty we’ll create throughout article may be simple, but it will cover a lot of territory about GarageBand.

Get Acquainted with the Interface

The GarageBand interface, as beautiful as it is, can be daunting to the uninitiated.

GarageBand 2 Interface

  • (1) Track Header Each track has a header that contains the instrument’s name and icon, as well as Record, Mute, Solo, and Lock Track buttons and a volume and pan curve button.

  • (2) Track mixer The track mixer displays a pan control (to set the track’s left-to-right position in the stereo field) and a volume slider.

  • (3) Timeline The timeline is where most of the action takes place. It serves as a visual representation of your song and is the canvas you’ll be working on as you add loops and so on.

  • (4) Add Track, Track Info, Lookp Browser, and Track Editor buttons You’ll frequently use the Add Track, Track Info, Loop Browser, and Loop Editor buttons when working with tracks.

  • (5) Transport Controls The transport controls function like VCR controls, including play, record, fast-forward, and rewind buttons (see Figure 1).

  • (6) Time display The time display shows the playhead position in minutes and seconds or in measures and beats. It also shows the tempo of the song in beats per minute.

  • (7) Master volume slider and level meters The master volume slider is where you set the overall output level of your song.
  • Add Loops

    If you haven’t already, create a new song by choosing File: New (Command-N). Name your song something other than “My Song” (I called this one “Funk Morsel,” but you have my permission to name it anything you like.) Leave all the other settings as they are and click Create.

    When you start a new song in GarageBand, one track called Grand Piano is already active (as you can see in the Tracks column in the upper left of the window). This track is handy if you want to plug in a MIDI keyboard, launch GarageBand, and immediately start to play. Since we have other things in mind, delete the piano track by choosing Track: Delete Track (Command-Delete). You should now be looking at a blank window.

    Click the Loop Browser button (shown below). The loop browser can be confusing to navigate until you get used to it. There are six columns of buttons, with instruments in the first three columns, styles of music in the fourth column, and various moods in the last two. Clicking a particular button narrows your choices to loops with that characteristic.

    GarageBand 2 Loop Browser

  • (1) Loop Browser button.

  • (2) Loop browser.

  • (3) Drag from here to expand the loop browser.

  • (4) Click the Loops column header to bring up the Loop Library pop-up menu, which lets you narrow your loop choices to a specific Jam Pack, to GarageBand’s default loops, or to the loops you’ve created (if any).
  • • In the second column, click All Drums. A list of loops appears in the results list on the right. Most of the other buttons in the first three columns are now dimmed. You can’t, for example, select Piano or Guitars anymore, because they’re not Drums; you could, however, select Kits or Beats (but don’t do that now).

    • In the fourth column, click Urban. The results narrow down to loops suitable for funk, hip-hop, rap, R ’n’ B, and so on. The other styles in the fourth column dim when you do this. A drumbeat can’t be Urban and Country (at least the way Apple has categorized their loops).

    • Narrow your choices further by clicking Cheerful in the fifth column. We want a happy beat! Several of the buttons in the last column dim; there are no cheerful drumbeats that are also intense or dark, but there are some that are electric or processed.

    Tip: You can drag the blank spot between the Track Editor button and the Record button (as shown in the Loop Browser screenshot) to expand the loop browser to its full height. Keep the loop browser compact, though, unless you’re actively browsing; it takes up a lot of space when fully expanded.

    Note The choices in the last two columns are paired: Single is the opposite of Ensemble, Relaxed is the opposite of Intense, and so on. If you select a button in one of these columns, its opposite is dimmed.

    Figure 1: Transport Controls and their keyboard shortcuts: (1) Record button (R); (2) Go to Beginning button (Home or Z), which sends the playhead back to the beginning of the song; (3) Rewind button (Left arrow); (4) Play button (spacebar); (5) Forward button (Right arrow); (6) Cycle button (C), which lets you listen to one area of your song over and over.
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