Using GarageBand: Part II

If you like the idea of writing your own music but have limited musical know-how, Apple’s new GarageBand music production software (part of the iLife ’04 bundle) may help you to realise your potential. This tutorial builds on the introduction to GarageBand, found here and looks at how to finish your first basic track. In doing so, we’ll step through using some of the more advanced editing, recording and arrangement tools available.

Editing MIDI notes

Last month we covered live recording of the bass part as MIDI data, to which it is most likely you’ll need to do some fine-tuning. The great thing about recording using MIDI information is that editing individual notes is so easy. As seen in screen shot, click on the scissors (track edit) button and a new area will appear at the bottom where your bass notes are displayed in ‘piano roll’ view — you may need to scroll up or down a bit to see them.

You can click on a note to hear what it sounds like or press the <Delete> key to remove it. Dragging the note up or down will change the pitch and moving it left or right will change the sequence. Hold down the mouse and draw a rectangle around notes to select more than one, and to zoom in use the slider at the bottom left.

You can program a new note by mouse-clicking while holding <Cmd> (a pencil cursor will appear). For more control over placement, uncheck Snap to Grid from the Control menu (this function can sometimes help parts play in synch).

You might also like to investigate adjusting note lengths. You’ll find controls (such as Fix Timing and velocity/loudness) for each note on the far left.

The way you use these tools depends on your own bass part as much as personal preference. Remember that the bass part should lock in with the drums (in terms of timing, sound and groove) and that a bit of variation helps to maintain a listener’s interest.

Recording audio

With your drums and bass sorted you can pretty much work on any part of the song in any order that you want. For example, you can now add a loop or other audio file (AIFF, WAV or MP3) from the finder simply by dragging it onto the timeline from OS X’s Finder. The file will be converted to AIFF and saved as part of the project. This can be quite handy if you already have guitar or vocal pieces you’ve previously recorded with other software.

Recording into GarageBand from guitars and some microphones requires a simple 6.35mm to 3.5mm converter (available from places like Dick Smith for approximately $5). Apple also sells its own Monster Instrument Adaptor (MIA).

With your instrument or microphone plugged in, go to the Apple menu-System Preferences and select Sound. Click the Input tab and adjust the Input volume slider while playing the instrument or talking into the microphone. Make sure you don’t send the input level meter into the red.

Back in GarageBand, pull down the Track menu and select New Track. Pick the type of recording you’re doing (vocal, guitar, drums, etc.), and choose either No effects or an effects type. Preview effects by selecting Monitor on at the bottom right. When you’re done, click OK.

Tip: You can change or add effects to a track at any time by double-clicking on its far-left instrument icon.

You can choose which tracks to hear while recording with track controls. The speaker button mutes its track, the headphone button will play just that track (solo) and any other track with the same button selected.

Put it all together

To adjust the volume of a recording you’ve made (for a fade, for instance), do the following. Click on a track’s volume automation down arrow and you will be presented with a volume line over the length of the clip. Similar to iMovie, a centred line is normal volume while upwards and downwards increase and reduce volume.

You should now be going back and forth touching things up on your project, adding and removing sounds and loops and experimenting with what works and what doesn’t. The loop browser is useful for finding pads, strings, effects, melodies, drums and more to fill out your track. The parts that you add should be moved about on the timeline to form the basis of your track or loop; this is known as arrangement. Good arrangement can take years to master, but by listening closely to your favourite tracks, you can learn.

To share your results with others, go to Edit-Export to iTunes. If you want to learn more about GarageBand, you’ll find some useful tips at Apple’s Web site.

Pricing: iLife ’04 is bundled free with all new Macs; existing Mac owners: $79; The GarageBand JamPack has extra 2000 loops, 100 audio effects and 15 virtual guitar amps: $99
Minimum system requirements: G4 processor, 256MB RAM, DVD drive for installation, OS X 10.2.6 or later, 4.3GB to install iLife ’04.

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