If you’re of an age—somewhere between 2 and 81—you’re familiar with The Kingsmen’s seminal frat-rock hit, “Louie Louie.” And if you’ve ever aspired to stand in front of crowds of the inebriated, making a load of racket, it’s one of the very first songs you attempted to play.
This lesson is not for you. Rather, it’s for those who’ve been denied the pleasure of banging out this three-chord marvel. Equipped with only a Mac and copy of GarageBand 10, all this can be yours. Here’s how to start rockin’.
Launch GarageBand and from the project chooser window select Empty Project and click Choose. The GarageBand window will appear and display a single track called Classic Electric Piano. Select that track and press the Delete key.
A sheet will appear that asks you to create a new track. Select Drummer and click Create. A track called SoCal will appear and to the right, display a yellow waveform. Click the Play button at the top of the window and you’ll hear your drummer, Kyle, laying down a basic rock beat. Click the square Stop button when you’ve heard enough.
Add and play the bass
Choose Track > New Track (or click the Plus button above the SoCal track) and you’ll see the track chooser sheet again. This time, click on Software Instrument and click Create. A Classic Electric Piano track will be added.
On the left side of the GarageBand window you’ll find a list of instrument families including Bass, Drum Kit, Drum Machines, Guitar, and so on. (If you don’t see this list choose View > Show Library.) Select the Bass entry and then select Fingerstyle Bass.
Choose Window > Show Musical Typing and a small window will appear that displays a musical keyboard with some letter names appearing on the keys. If you press the A key on your Mac’s keyboard you should hear the bass playing the “C” pitch. Press S on the keyboard and you’ll hear the “D” pitch. Press the D key and the bass plays pitch “E.” Thus the name “Musical Typing.” Your Mac’s keyboard acts as a musical keyboard.
You know the rhythm for “Louie Louie,” right? BANG BANG BANG, PAUSE PAUSE, BANG BANG, PAUSE, BANG BANG BANG, PAUSE PAUSE, BANG BANG. Great. You’re about to tap out that rhythm on your Mac’s keyboard.
Click the red Record button at the top of the window and you’ll hear a series of clicks. This is GarageBand’s metronome counting out time—a strong click for beat 1 of a four-beat measure and weaker clicks for beats 2, 3, and 4. Click the square Stop button to stop recording.
Now, with the bass track selected, click the Record button and wait for four clicks—this is GarageBand setting the tempo. After those four clicks, GarageBand will start recording for real and the drum part will play. Your job is to press your Mac’s keys in this order, following the “Louie Louie” rhythm.
A A A, F F, G G G, F F
When you’ve done this successfully, click the Stop button.
You should now see a green track next to Fingerstyle Bass that contains ten small dashes. These dashes represent the notes you just recorded. Congratulations, you’ve played and recorded your first track!
Extending and copying tracks
Now hover your cursor over the top-right corner of that green track and you’ll see a cycle symbol that bears a horizontal line and a semicircular arrow. Click and drag the top-right corner of the track so that it goes to the 17 mark in the ruler above. You’ve just created seven copies of the riff you recorded.
Hold down the Option key, click on where it says Fingerstyle Bass, and drag down to make a copy of the track. The version with all the repeated bits will appear as the third track, with the original track in the second position. Click on this second track’s name and then from the GarageBand library select Guitar > Hard Rock. Drag the top-right corner of that track so that it too extends to the 17 mark on the ruler. Click the Play button to hear your work—drums, bass, and guitar. If you don’t want to hear the metronome, just click on the purple metronome icon in the toolbar.
Fill it out
You have a lot of what you need, but let’s fatten it up a bit. Press Command-Option-S to create a new software instrument track. From the library select Vintage B3 Organ > Rhythm Organ.
Our organ part is going to play more than one note at a time. Specifically you’re going to press the keyboard’s A and D keys first, then A and F, then S and G, and finish it off with A and F again. Instead of following the usual “Louie Louie” rhythm, you’ll hold your two keys for two clicks and then move to the next pair. It’ll take some practice, but you only have to do it right one time.
Before you start recording, press the Mac’s X key one time. This causes the notes to play an octave higher. If you don’t do this your organ part will sound muddy.
Press Record and have at it. Got it? Great! Just drag its top-right corner so that its end matches that of your other tracks. You’re nearly done.
What else? Why the vocals, of course.
Click the Plus button once more and this time choose a Vocal track. Press the Record button and start singing into your Mac (or an attached microphone, if you have one). The lyrics aren’t important—in fact, you’ll sound more authentic if you shove a few pebbles in your mouth and sing whatever comes to mind. (Attorney’s Warning: Do NOT put pebbles in your mouth.)
Wrap it up
Click on the Cycle button (as represented by two arrows that appear just to the right of the LCD). A yellow bar appears in the ruler. Drag the right edge of this bar to the 17 mark. Click Play and your song will play to the end and then repeat until you click Stop.
To share your work with the world, click on the Share menu and choose the most appropriate option—Song to iTunes or Export Song to Disk, for example. Note that it will export only the tracks you’ve recorded, none of the repeats. If you want to export a longer version of the song, just drag-copy your tracks to extend them.
And that’s it, “Louie Louie”—perhaps the easiest rock song ever recorded—knocked out in just a few simple steps. Ready for a greater challenge? Give “Bohemian Rhapsody” a whirl and let me know how you make out.
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Chris has covered technology and media since the latter days of the Reagan Administration. In addition to his journalistic endeavors, he's a professional musician in the San Francisco Bay Area.