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.
(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.
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.
(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.
Now let’s walk through the process of adding your first loop:
With All Drums, Urban, and Cheerful still selected, scroll through the loops on the right until you see one called Vintage Funk Kit 03.
Click it and listen to the peppy groove. Click it again to turn it off.
Drag it to the track mixer (see Figure 2). When you release the mouse button, GarageBand creates a track called Drum Kit.
Click the Play button in the transport controls. Notice that GarageBand plays through the loop and keeps going, even though there isn’t anything left for it to play.
Click Play again, and GarageBand stops playing. Click the Go to Beginning button (also in the transport controls), and the playhead jumps back the beginning of the song. (You can also press the Z key to go to the beginning.)
It’s frustrating to stop and click Go to Beginning every time you play your song, so click the Cycle button. Notice the yellow bar that appears above your drum loop; this shows the cycle region—how much of the song loops when you hit Play.
The drums fill only half of the yellow bar, so you have two choices: make the drum track longer or make the cycled portion shorter. Move your pointer to the right edge of the yellow bar, and notice that the pointer turns into a vertical bar with arrows on each side (shown right). Drag to the left until the yellow bar lines up with the end of the drum loop. This should correspond with the number 3 on the beat ruler. Now click Play. When the playhead gets to the end of the yellow bar, it jumps back to the beginning of the cycle region.
No good rhythm section is complete without a bass line. Click Reset in the upper-left corner of the loop browser. The loops on the right disappear and all the buttons return to their default states. Click the Bass button, scroll through the search results to Slap Bass, and click the Slap Bass 01 loop. It sounds OK, but it’s not quite right. Click Slap Bass o2. That’s more like it! Drag it to the Tracks section, under the Drum Kit.
Tip: If you want to preview your loop choices along with your song, just click Play before (or after) you click your loop in the search results. There may be a slight delay before the new loop starts playing; GarageBand tries to synchronize the two, so you may have to wait a moment for the loops to line up. You can scroll through the loops in the browser while you’re doing this as well: either click the next loop you want to hear or use the Up and Down arrow keys.
Notice that the drum track is blue and the bass is green (pictured right). The bass also looks different in that it’s made up of horizontal lines, while the drums are two horizontal lines with jagged vertical lines crossing them. The drum track is actually a recording of a performance on a live drum set, called a Real Instrument track in GarageBand. The bass, on the other hand, is a Software Instrument: the sound comes from samples of an electric bass guitar, but the performance is controlled by data in the MIDI format.
Note: The two jagged lines in the drum track are a visual representation of the waveforms. Each of the spikes is a peak—a loud point in the track. In this case it would be an individual drum hit. The larger peaks are the snare and the bass drums, and the smaller peaks are the high-hat. There are two lines because it’s a stereo recording: the top line is the left channel (which comes out the left speaker) and the bottom line is the right.
Click the Play button. It sounds pretty funky but seems a bit fast. The right side of the time display reads “120 Tempo” (see Figure 3). Hold down the mouse button on the “120,” and a slider appears; drag down a little until the tempo reads 110. That feels better.
With the music still playing, look at the master level meters to the right of the time display. These show how loud the whole mix is. If the two dots on the right end are red, that means your audio is clipping (see Figure 4). Clipping occurs when the audio gets too loud and the high peaks—the loudest points—are chopped off. You don’t want your audio to clip; it creates nasty-sounding digital distortion.
Tip: Analog distortion is the stuff of rock music. Without it there would be no Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, or Van Halen, at least not in the forms we know them in today. Analog distortion is warm, rich, and thick. Listen to Van Halen’s
“Running with the Devil,” for example. Digital distortion, which is what you get when the master levels clip, is harsh and awful sounding. Avoid letting your audio clip! (If you want to hear what digital clipping sounds like, listen to this .
Look up at the drums and the bass in the Mixer column and notice that they each have their own level meters. First, check whether either track’s clipping indicators are illuminated. If so, turn down the track volume until the level meter barely pops into the orange. Then reset the track’s clipping indicators by clicking the red dots. If the indicators remain off, your track is no longer clipping. If they come back on, you need to turn the track volume down a little more. Do this for both tracks.
Tip: Remember that unless you reset the clipping indicators, they’ll stay lit until the end of time (or until you quit GarageBand). Even if you turn the volume down to zero on all your tracks, the indicators will stay lit. You have to reset them after you adjust the volume.
Now check whether the master level is still clipping. If so, turn it down as well and click its clipping indicators to reset them. When you’re done adding instruments you can check it again and see where the levels are. Ideally, you want the master level to be loud enough that it jumps into the orange without setting off the clipping indicators.
Tip: Obviously, your individual track levels don’t all have to jump into the orange. You can set them much lower if you want, but you can’t set them any higher. You probably do want the master level to be as loud as possible without clipping; otherwise, your final song will seem awfully quiet compared to the other songs in your iTunes library.
Figure 2: (1) Track mixer; (2) Timeline; (3) Drag from here to the track mixer to add a loop.Figure 3: The top bar shows musical time (measures, beats, and beat divisions, also called ticks); the bottom bar shows absolute time (hours, minutes, seconds, fractions of a second). (1) Time format buttons (for switching between time formats); (2) Playhead position; (3) Tempo display.Figure 4: Master Levels: (1) Master levels display—green is good, yellow is OK, red is bad; (2) Clipping indicators; (3) Master volume slider. The levels in this image are clipping. Lower the master volume or the individual track volumes to prevent clipping.
Add Melody Instruments
It’s time to add some color and melody. If the song is playing, hit the spacebar to stop it. In the Search window at the bottom of the Loop Browser, type Horn and press Return. Then, in the search results list, scroll down to RnB Horn Section 05. Listen to it if you want; it has some space in it and sounds as if it will fit with your tune pretty well. Drag it up to the track mixer. Notice what happens: it’s longer than the other loops you have there. Hit Play. It sounds fine, but the playback cycles back to the beginning before you hear the whole horn line.
To fix this, extend the yellow cycle bar so that it lines up with the end of your horn part, and hit Play. You can hear the whole horn part now, but the drums and the bass drop out halfway through the cycle. You need to make them longer. Point your mouse to the end of the drum region, but don’t click yet. Watch what happens: if the pointer is over the top half of the loop, it’s a line with a little circular arrow (the loop pointer); if it’s over the bottom, it’s a line with a straight arrow (the resize pointer). Note that the pointer must be over the region; if you move it even one pixel past the end of the region, it reverts back to the usual arrow pointer.
You want to use the loop pointer now, so position your pointer over the upper-right edge of the drum region (Figure 10). Now drag until the region extends to the end of the yellow bar and lines up with the Horn part. Do the same with the bass line. Notice that the two loops have little indentations in the middle; these show you where the loop starts repeating itself—a handy visual cue.
Move your pointer to the upper-right edge of a region to use the loop pointer. Drag to where you want the region to end; the region automatically repeats to that point.
Tip; What’s the difference between a loop and a region? A loop is a short fragment of music that you can use as a building block for your tracks. A region is what you get when you drag a loop into the timeline. A region can be the same length as the original loop, a cropped segment of the loop, or 20 repetitions of the loop. A region is always contiguous. Two regions butting up against each other are just that: two separate regions.
Hit Play again. Now it’s starting to sound like a song. You’ll probably need to turn the horns down a little using the track volume control. You want them to blend in and not overpower everything else.
Add one more track—Edgy Rock Guitar 01—and extend it to the same length as everything else. You can turn this track down a lot too. It should just be a background texture, adding a funky rhythm but letting everything else shine through.
Tip: Make sure you have Filter for More Relevant Results turned off in the General preference pane or you won’t be able to find Edgy Rock Guitar 01.
Learn Editing and Mixing Basics
If you’re not wearing headphones, I suggest putting on a pair at this point, because the effect of what I’m going to show you next is much more obvious when you’re wearing headphones.
Find the pan knob to the left of the volume control on the Horn track (shown right). Grab it in the middle and move the pointer up and down. The horns travel from the left speaker to the right speaker, depending on how you set the knob.
The default position is directly in the middle, equally balanced between the two speakers. The L and R next to the knob correspond to—see if you can guess—Left and Right. If you turn the knob all the way to the left, the horns come out of only the left speaker. This technique is known as panning in the audio world, and by using it you can position sounds in an imaginary space in front of the listener.
Now drag left or right on the outer part of the knob. (It also works if you drag just outside the knob, or even if you click in that vicinity.)
The knob snaps to each of the marked notches. If you want more exact placement in between two of the notches, drag in the middle of the knob. Move the horns to about the 2 o’clock position and the guitar to the 10 o’clock position. You may notice when you do this that these two instruments seem to get a little quieter; turn them up if you like. Notice how much more interesting the mix is now that there’s some stereo feel going on.
You have all the elements in place. Now you need to give the tune a beginning and an end. To give you an overview of what you’ll end up with: the song will start with just the drums and the bass, then the guitar will come in, and finally the horns.
Pause playback and click the Go to Beginning button (or press Z) to return the playhead to the beginning of the song. Then click the Cycle button (or press C) to turn off cycling, so that the song will play through without repeating. Use the loop pointer to extend the drum and bass regions to measure 17 on the timeline; this will be the total length of your song (shown below). Both loops will start at the beginning of the song and repeat all the way to the end. Now drag the horn region so that it begins in measure 9, and extend it so that it ends with everything else at measure 17, repeating it once. Finally, drag the guitar region out to start at measure 5, and loop it so that it lines up with the end of the song at measure 17.
TipWhat’s a measure? Most songs have a regular rhythmic pulse. This is particularly obvious in the drums, but all the instruments follow the pulse and add to the song’s rhythmic drive. Tap your foot along with the song you’re working on. Chances are you’re tapping on every beat. This song (like most popular songs) has four beats in a measure. Listen to the drums and the bass; each of these loops is two measures long, but in both cases the second measure is a variation of the first. The bass plays two high notes at the start of each measure, and then drops down and alternates between two lower notes in the second half.
Listen to your song. It starts off pretty well, but the ending is a bit abrupt. Position the playhead toward the end of measure 16 (drag the triangle in the beat ruler). Then grab the triangle in the zoom slide and move it to the right so that it’s between the right two tick marks. You should be zoomed in on the end of the song now.
Use the loop pointer to carefully extend each of the loops so that they look like this:
Basically, you want each instrument to sound one final note or chord to end the song. In the case of the drums and the horns, the note is one beat long (each of the darker tick marks in the timeline is one beat). The bass is about 3/4 of a beat, and the guitar gets to play for only 1/4 of a beat. Listen to the result and feel free to experiment to see what the end sounds like if the loops are longer or shorter.
Double-check your master levels again to make sure they’re not clipping, and you’re done. You’ve created your first song in GarageBand! Here’s
what your finished song should sound like. It’s short, but you’ve learned a lot about the program already.