Garageband: Music at Your Fingertips

There were many highlights from Apple’s launch show for the iPad 2, the Smart Cover made some huge waves! But for me, one of the most engaging moments (apart from seeing SJ take the stage) was the demonstration of Apple’s revolutionary new music software.

Garageband has been a staple piece of shipped software with Macs since way back in 2004 and, while being a solid and stable option for many musicians, hasn’t made a true impact on the use of more professional music software – and certainly hasn’t engaged with non-musicians in any hugely meaningful way.

Could this all be about to change?

Sweet Music

Before I get into looking at the merits of the app itself it’s worth mentioning that Garageband is already a huge success! I has remained high in the ‘Top Paid’ chart since its release and has an astonishing number of hugely positive reviews from musicians and non-musicians alike.

I think that this is an important point to begin with, even if you wouldn’t call yourself a ‘musician’ (whatever that may be) don’t switch off here – garageband doesn’t discriminate, or look at you with a patronising glint in its eye. It is to Apple’s great credit that it has created a music app that has virtually no barriers to use, its genius is instantly remarked upon by musicians and non-musicians alike.

Garageband

The interface is simply perfect, a masterpiece of intuitive design from the arrangement of your songs to the use of Smart instruments. The time it takes to get to grips with Garageband pales in comparison with the sheer power and scope of what you can accomplish with it.

Listening to the Garageband Demo, called ‘Curtain Call’, gives you a glimpse of the potential of the platform for music making!

Just add an instrument and get creative!

Add an Instrument

Joy

I have yet to find someone who has not found playing with the incredibly intuitive iPad instruments found in Garageband a joyful experience. Just hand over the iPad with the Drums up and watch your friend, or family members, eyes light up.

Playing the Drums

Move to the Smart Guitar and strum to your hearts content, play with the keyboard sounds and synths, or spend some time building the perfect loop with the Smart Drums. Garageband is so effective, and immediate, a piece of software because it’s wonderfully self contained.

Smart Guitar

You don’t need any external adaptors of equipment to put together your ideas into a realised arrangement. Even singing using the built in iPad microphone makes for a pretty acceptable outcome once you’ve added a little reverb!

All the instruments included in Garageband play remarkably well. They’re not just amusing and enjoyable, they work for a huge number of practical ideas. There are some inherent limitations, but on the whole the experience of using the instruments (both Smart and not) is astonishing.

Recording Your Voice

Garageband is able to engage with anyone at the level that they’re at. Musicians can put together song drafts in minutes, while the casual user can just pull in some loops and Smart instruments to express their creativity.

The sheer beauty of Garageband on the iPad, with its wonderfully tactile instruments and ultimate portability, is complemented perfectly by the vast amount of work and attention to detail that has been put into this application. I’m going to list a few features that certainly amazed me at first use, Garageband can:

  • Allow you play with touch sensitivity – using the accelerometer!
  • Quantize your recordings – adjust the timing of your playing to varying degrees.
  • Adjust the Tempo of your songs – even allowing you to tap to change tempo.

These are just a few points that give an idea of the incredible depth of functionality that Garageband offers, even after extended use it continues to surprise me!

One more substantially impressive thing to think about is how fast it is on the iPad. Editing and recording music is something that has, for many years, been the domain of dedicated machines or powerful desktop computers – with laptops only breaking in to this market relatively recently. It’s stunning that the iPad can so seamlessly handle the rigours that Garageband puts it through.

Smart Drums

It’s once again testament to the developers at Apple that they have created such a stable yet powerful application, and testament to the iPad itself as a device. I’m sure it could handle more than eight tracks, but stability is a key concern for Apple – future releases, on future devices, will inevitable expand on the current functionality.

I have tried it on both the original iPad and the iPad 2 and it works on both absolutely fine. The iPad 2 does things that little bit faster, as you’d expect, but it’s still definitely worth a purchase from original iPad owners.

It’s so fast on the iPad 2 that sometimes, depending on how much you have going on, it doesn’t even need to think to adjust the tempo of your song!

True Potential

If Garageband were only used as a plaything, it would still be worth the $4.99 price tag. As a beautifully intuitive musical sketchbook and simply inspiring piece of software it’s worth far more.

Arranging Your Masterpiece

The impressive scope of app can be extended using devices that allow you to play guitar in through the built-in amp modelling software, while recording vocals using an actual microphone would vastly improve the usability of Garageband for musicians.

Guitar Amps

The future is bright for Garageband, imagine the endless possibilities for expansion and future functionality. Imagine 24 (or 48) track recording, 100s of patches and drum sets, more versatile editing tools, and mixing and mastering tools (compressors etc). Garageband could become an unimaginably powerful mobile recording studio!

Final Thoughts

As a musician myself I absolutely love using Garageband as a beautifully portable musical sketchbook, it is the perfect way to capture musical ideas wherever you are! The single complaint I have is the lack of time signature options – you are locked into writing in 4/4 (or faced with some tricky editing). This is something that I am sure will come with time.

I want to take the time again here to emphasise how good Garageband is in the hands of anyone, yes anyone. It’s just as amazing an app for those who simply want to experiment and play, as it is for those with more serious ambitions.

There is so much depth to Garageband that this review has simply looked at its strengths and weaknesses, and avoided any specific tips regarding getting into the app. Have no fear! Over the coming weeks we will be running a series of How-To articles that will go into much greater depth, and have you getting the most out of Garageband in no time.


Summary

It's a must-have app for any respectable iPad owner! Apple have succeeded in creating a gorgeous and effortlessly enjoyable music app that appeals to people of all ages and abilities.

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