GarageBand started life on the Mac in 2004 and quickly established itself as a simple yet feature-rich music creation application. Almost two decades later, GarageBand for iPhone and iPad continues to impress. It is completely free, completely user-friendly and offers hours of fun.
What is GarageBand?
GarageBand is a digital audio workstation (DAW). Most DAW software is expensive, complex and demanding from a hardware point of view. GarageBand is free, accessible and works on any modern iPhone or iPad. You will find it in Apple App Store. He is available for Mac, but we especially like the touch version for iPhone and iPad.
You can use GarageBand to make music quickly, without any prior knowledge of music theory or practical skills. Apple simplifies the instrument set process to the point where you can perform an entire section of strings with your fingers. A whole library of loops is also ready to use if you need inspiration.
Unlike other DAWs, GarageBand mainly focuses on usability. As a result, it lacks many of the advanced features that you will find in software like Ableton or Logic Pro. Despite these limitations, GarageBand has been used by producers like Steve Lacy (Kendrick Lamar, The Internet) and Grimes.
Justice produced his entire Cross album using GarageBand (including the song below), while Rihanna’s smash hit “Umbrella” uses one of Apple’s royalty-free loops for drumming . Even if you don’t use GarageBand to produce and mix an album, it’s still one of the easiest ways to get music out of your head and convert it to digital format.
Since the Mac, iPhone and iPad versions of GarageBand are interchangeable, you can save your projects in the cloud and resume them from any device. GarageBand projects are also natively compatible with Logic Pro X, Apple’s expensive professional DAW.
But you don’t have to be a producer or songwriter to take advantage of GarageBand. Not only is it useful, it is also very fun. It could be the perfect teaching tool for music theory or a starting point for anyone who has always wanted to make music but does not have the budget and practical skills.
Play virtual instruments
GarageBand includes a wide range of virtual instruments, including pianos and keyboards, guitars and basses, drum kits and drum machines, as well as an assortment of world instruments.
There are many ways to interact with these instruments. The simplest of these is Apple’s “smart” instruments like the Smart Keyboard and the Smart Guitar. These allow you to play chords and variations of these chords simply by pressing and dragging your fingers across the screen.
You can choose the chords you want, then save everything you offer in the timeline. More basic controls are also included such as an old regular keyboard and the ability to display only specific musical scales. If you are already familiar with keyboards, you can plug in a MIDI keyboard and play GarageBand’s various instruments instead.
The most important of these is Alchemy Synth, Apple’s virtual polyphonic synthesizer. You can also play with many other classic “analog” synths, dream pads, dominant leads, and a whole bunch of weird and wonderful “FX”.
One of the most impressive “instruments” is the string section, which allows you to conduct your own mini orchestra. You can choose the instruments to include (violins, violas, cellos and basses) and create orchestral swells by imitating the movement of a bow. It’s a lot of fun, even if you’re not composing a masterpiece.
While many of us do not have the skills to use these instruments in the real world, GarageBand makes experimenting and using them interesting.
Create songs using free samples
Apple Loops reinforce the already impressive possibilities offered by virtual instruments. These royalty-free samples can be used throughout your projects to add rhythms, bass lines and texture to your music.
Press the “Apple Loops” button (it looks like a loop) in the “Timeline” view to browse the catalog. You will have to reduce it by instrument, genre or descriptor, because there are so many available. You can download even more sound packs directly from Apple, no purchase necessary.
Some of these loops have been organized into full soundboards by Apple, which you can use by pressing “Live Loops” on the instrument selection screen. This provides you with a large grid of loops to start and stop at will. You can even create your own Live Loops soundboards using loops that you have recorded or imported yourself.
This effectively turns GarageBand into a groovebox. You can record your own loops or import others using the Files app. You can even import DRM-free music from the Music app. (No, it does not work with Apple Music.)
Record and process your own sounds
Guitarists can use GarageBand as a virtual amplifier and effect processor. All you need is a guitar, a cable and some sort of iPhone or iPad compatible audio interface. the iRig 2 is an example, but any digital audio interface that works with iOS / iPadOS will work. (Avoid analog inputs if you want clean sound.)
With your guitar connected to your iPhone or iPad, you can choose from a range of virtual amplifiers and record directly to your GarageBand timeline. The amps and effect pedals are specially designed for electric guitars and bass guitars, but just about any amplified instrument can work.
This gives you access to thousands of dollars worth of equipment and effects processors, the only cost being low latency. They may not seem identical to reality, but for free, it’s hard to complain, especially when there are so many premium apps dedicated to the same task on the App Store.
You can also record directly to your device with a microphone (including your iPhone’s microphone), then process this recording via several filters.
Use GarageBand with other apps
GarageBand not only contains the value of virtual instruments from a music department, but it can also be used to record and process audio with third-party applications. For this, you can use Audio Unit, Inter-App Audio extensions or good old copy-paste.
Apple announced Audio units for iOS and iPadOS in 2015. Audio units (Apple’s response to VSTs) have been widely used in music production since the mid-1990s. These stand-alone virtual instruments, or effect processors, run inside DAW like GarageBand or as separate apps. An audio unit running inside GarageBand eliminates latency and lets you control everything from a single interface.
The audio units have arrived to replace Inter-App Audio, which is still supported by iOS but will disappear at some point in the future. Applications are routed through a virtual audio interface in GarageBand but exist as separate processes. This means that you have to switch between the apps you want to use (like synthesizers and drum machines) and GarageBand.
Finally, some music creation applications support basic copy and paste. You can mix a drum rhythm or record a bass line in your favorite synth, copy it to the clipboard, then double-tap the GarageBand timeline and select “Paste”.
A drummer in your pocket
If you are a guitarist, bass player or just want to play to a beat, then GarageBand could be the perfect training tool. In addition to the virtual drums and drum machines, Apple has added a virtual drummer that you can modify as desired.
Each “drummer” has a unique name, style and sound. You can manipulate the rhythm by sliding your finger around an XY pad to choose between simple or complex beats and strong or soft beats. Customize triggered samples or batteries by toggling specific batteries or samples. Options are also included to control the frequency of drum fills and the swing to “humanize” the sound.
Record drum beats directly in the timeline and use them in projects, or just let the drummer run while you play and practice. It’s a lot more fun than just using a metronome to keep time.
Jam with your friends
For a real scrambling touch, why not sync multiple iPhones and iPads for a wireless jam session? Under GarageBand settings, you will find the “Jam Session” option, which allows you to host or join a virtual jam. Up to three other group members can play, with song parameters such as tempo, pitch and overall song composition synchronized with the conductor.
With synchronized devices, you can record multiple parts simultaneously in a song. These recordings will be transferred wirelessly to the group leader’s device when the recording is complete. If you feel particularly talented and have the equipment available, you can synchronize several iPhones or iPads together and control the entire “band” yourself.
Getting used to GarageBand
If you’ve used other DAWs in the past, GarageBand should be fairly easy to learn. Even for newcomers and non-musicians, the app should be self-explanatory enough to start making music.
Perhaps the most confusing aspect of GarageBand is the way the timeline is divided into sections, rather than being an overview of the entire song. You can add, delete and modify section lengths under the “Song Sections” parameters by pressing the plus “+” button in the upper right corner of the timeline view.
The best way to get started is to download the app and play with it. Create a new song and record some chords and a drum rhythm. Try Apple Loops to add texture and color to your song. Record coarse lyrics using your iPhone microphone. (You can always re-register later.).
Once you are familiar with GarageBand, you may want to learn more apps and hardware to create music with an iPhone or iPad.