Creating custom GarageBand samples

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Reader Skip Edwards seeks an additional way to tinkle in GarageBand. He writes:

I have a little toy piano that I would like to sample and use in GarageBand, but I have no idea where to start and what software to use. Is there a (simple and cheap) way to sample this instrument and then use it as a software instrument sound in GarageBand?

Yes. This can be done for free if you have a microphone that works with your Mac.

You’d use that microphone in league with a recording application such as the free and open-source Audacity to record each note of your toy piano. I don’t want to turn this into a tutorial on how to record audio, so here’s the gist. Create a new file, place your microphone in a position where it can capture the best your piano has to offer, start recording, and plunk out a note on the instrument, letting it ring for as long as it sounds natural (which, for a toy piano, shouldn’t be too long). Name the sample (TP C3, for example) and save the file in the AIFF or WAV format. Create a new file for each note you eventually want to play in GarageBand.

Launch GarageBand and choose a new Piano project. In the resulting window, select the Grand Piano track and press Command-I to produce the Info pane. In the first Browse column select Sound Effects. In the Instrument column to the right, select Radio Sounds. Now choose Window -> Musical Typing. Locate the samples you recorded of your toy piano and drag them into position on the Musical Typing keyboard—for example, drag the Middle C sample to the correct position on the Musical Typing keyboard. If you have more samples than will fit on the keyboard, choose a lower or higher octave from the keyboard at the top of the window and drag in your samples.

GarageBand's Musical Typing keyboard

Once you’ve loaded all your samples, click the Save Instrument button at the bottom of the window. You’ll be prompted for a name for your instrument. Enter it and click Save. That instrument will now appear in the Instrument column when you select Sound Effects in the Info pane. Like other software instruments it can be played with both GarageBand’s virtual keyboard and an external musical keyboard.

If you’d like more control over your samples, check our SonicAmigo’s $35 PolyPhontics GB. With it you can tweak your samples to a far greater extent.

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At a Glance
  • Pros

    • More free keyboard and guitar lessons
    • Expanded set of guitar amp and effects
    • Flex Time and Groove Matching address poor timing


    • Very limited external control of amps and effects
    • Chord Trainer doesn't always hear correct chord
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