An Introduction to Garageband

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About Garageband

Using GarageBand - Adding More Samples. Joe Shambro - About.com
If you own a Mac built anytime in the last couple years, chances are you've got one of the most powerful music production tools available for a home recording user: Apple's GarageBand, bundled as part of their iLife suite.

In GarageBand, you can input music in three ways. One is pre-recorded loops. GarageBand is bundled with around 1,000 pre-recorded loops, with everything from guitars to percussion and brass. Second, you can input with any recording interface that's Mac compatible, from the built-in soundcard, USB microphones, or simple external interfaces. Third, you can use a MIDI keyboard to perform any one of the 50 included sampled and synth-based instruments. Expansion packs are available and very popular.

Let's take a look at how to create a simple song using GarageBand's included loops. I did this tutorial in GarageBand 3. If you're using an older version, you might find some of the menu choices slightly changed. Let's get started!
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The First Steps

Using GarageBand - Starting The Session. Joe Shambro - About.com
When you open GarageBand, you'll get the option to start a new project. Upon selecting that option, you'll be presented with the dialogue box you see above.

Name Your Song

Here's where you put in the name of the song, and also where you select where you want to store the session files. I recommend either your Documents folder or the GarageBand folder; however, anywhere you'll be able to remember is fine.

Set The Tempo

Using GarageBand requires a simple knowledge of music theory. The first setting you'll need to input is the tempo of the song. You can go from very slow to very fast, but be careful - most of Apple's built-in sample library is functional between 80 and 120 BPM. That's a problem when you're wanting to add samples of different tempo to match work you're recording yourself. Fortunately, Apple offers many expansion packs for GarageBand with varying tempos and keys, as do many outside companies. If the included samples don't work for you, there's a lot of outside options.

Set The Time Signature

Here, you'll set the time signature of your piece. The most common is 4/4, which is what most of the samples are locked in at. If you're having trouble making it work with your composition, consider a sample pack for expanded time signatures.

Set The Key

Here's where GarageBand has a major fault. You're only able to input one key signature throughout the song, which is hard if you plan to change key halfway through. In the bundled version of GarageBand, most melodic samples are in the key of C Major, so this isn't an issue unless you're using an expansion pack.

Now, let's look at our options for using sampled content.
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The Sample Bank

Using GarageBand - Sample Bank
Using GarageBand - Sample Bank. Joe Shambro - About.com
Let's take a look at the sampled content banks that come with Garageband. Click on the eye icon in the lower left corner. You'll see the box open up giving you several different categories of samples.

The thing to remember here is that most of your samples will be of varying tempos, keys, and time signatures. However, in the samples that come with GarageBand out of the box, there's not a lot of variety. When choosing a sample, keep in mind what you need for your particular song.

You have the choice of samples by type, which includes guitars, strings, drums, and percussion; by genre, including urban, world, and electronic; and by mood, including dark, intense, cheerful, and relaxed.

Now, let's look at actually using a sample.
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Adding & Mixing Samples

Using GarageBand - Sample Dropping. Joe Shambro - About.com
I selected a drum kit that has a sound I like, Vintage Funk Kit 1. Select a sample that you like, and follow along!

Take the sample and drag it to the mixing window above. You'll see it show up as a waveform and with several different mixing options to your left. Let's familiarize ourselves with the mixing options.

You have the ability to pan, which is the ability to move the sample left or right in the stereo image. This is good, because it allows you to separate the instrument from others in the mix. You also have options to solo the track, which means to listen to it without the rest of the mix; you can also mute the track, which cuts it out of the mix completely. You then have a fader which allows you to change the volume of the track itself. Now let's look at stretching the samples for use in your song.
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Time Stretching

Using GarageBand - Sample Stretching. Joe Shambro - About.com
Move your mouse to the end of the sample. Note how it becomes a straight line with a looped arrow? Click and hold down your mouse button. Drag the sample to your desired length; you may need to take a minute to listen to how it's sounding before you're done. It's as easy as that! You can now drag and drop other samples.

Go back into the sample box, and find some more samples you like. Go for some great rhythmic instruments, like guitars and bass; also add in some more melodic instruments, like piano. You'll select the sample, then drag and drop to where you want it, and stretch. Then, go over to the left, and edit your track volume and panning. Easy!

Now let's look at the options you have for the individual tracks.
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Track Options

Using GarageBand - Track Options
Using GarageBand - Track Options. Joe Shambro - About.com
Let's take a look at the editing options you have for your individual tracks. This is really useful for many things.

Click on "Track" on the menu bar. The track options will drop down.

The first option you'll really want to use is "New Track". That gives you a blank track to use for either your own instrument or recording, through MIDI or a USB/attached microphone. You also have the option to "Duplicate Track", which is useful for hard-panning guitar effects (try adding a delay to one side, and hard panning left and right), and for other stereo effects (especially on drums). You also have the option to delete a track if necessary.

By now, you should have a creation ready to bounce down! Let's look at getting that track out to the world.
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Bounce Your Song

Using GarageBand - Bounce. Joe Shambro - About.com
The final step we do is "bouncing" your mix. This creates a single .wav or .mp3 file of your song, so you can distribute it or burn it to CD!

To make an .mp3 file of your song, simply click on "Share", and then click on "Send Song to iTunes". This allows you to send the song in .mp3 format to iTunes, where you can label it and share it however you see fit.

The other option is "Export Song to Disk", which allows you to export your creation in .wav or .aiff format. This is most useful if you're burning to CD, since .mp3 format isn't considered optimal when burning CDs which might be shared. And that's it! Remarkably simple, especially compared to more expensive offerings, like Pro Tools.

GarageBand is extremely powerful - you're only limited by your imagination!