Table of Contents (Version 3.0) Read Me First .................................................2 Introduction ...................................................6

Table of Contents (Version 3.0)
Read Me First .................................................2
Introduction ...................................................6
Quick Start to Recording with GarageBand .........8
Strategize Your Recording Session .................. 10
Choose a Recording Method ........................... 11
Recording Software Instruments..................... 14
Recording Real Instruments ........................... 33
Fix a Section ................................................ 69
Understand GarageBand Effects...................... 73
Learn GarageBand Tips and Tricks .................. 82
Listen to the Sample Songs............................ 87
Learn More .................................................. 94
Appendix A: GarageBand MIDI Drum Sounds ... 97
Appendix B: Troubleshooting.......................... 99
Glossary .................................................... 103
About This Ebook ........................................ 110
Featured Titles ........................................... 114
ISBN: 1-933671-12-2
Welcome to Take Control of Recording with GarageBand, version
3.0. This ebook covers GarageBand 3.0, though most of its contents
also apply to GarageBand 1 and 2. (If you’re using an earlier version
of GarageBand and want to read a previous edition of this ebook, click
the Check for Updates button on the cover to downgrade to an earlier
Even if you’ve experimented with GarageBand’s audio loops and basic
mixing features, you haven’t really tuned into the program until
you’ve plugged in a guitar, keyboard, or other instrument and laid
down some live tracks. This ebook covers all aspects of recording
in GarageBand, from setting up your equipment to recording and
editing tracks. This ebook was written by Jeff Tolbert, edited by Jeff
Carlson, and published by TidBITS Electronic Publishing.
NOTE This ebook covers recording music with GarageBand. If you’re
looking for information about recording and creating podcasts,
please see Andy Affleck’s ebook, Take Control of Podcasting on the
Mac (
To get in touch or learn more about the Take Control ebooks, you can:
• Contact us by sending email to [email protected]
• See About This Ebook to learn about the author and publisher.
• Read the fine print on the copyright page.
• Find answers to general questions by reading the FAQ at
• Buy another ebook by checking out our Featured Titles or by
The price of this ebook is $10. If you want to share it with a friend,
please do so as you would with a physical book, meaning that if your
friend uses it regularly, your friend should buy a copy. The “Help a
Friend Take Control!” button on the cover makes it easy for you to
give your friend a discount coupon.
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We may offer free minor updates to this ebook. Click the Check for
Updates button on the cover to access a Web page that informs you
of any available or upcoming updates. On that page, you can also
sign up to be notified about updates via email.
Onscreen Reading Tips
We carefully designed the Take Control ebooks to be read onscreen,
and although most of what you need to know is obvious, note the
following for the best possible onscreen reading experience:
• Blue text indicates links. You can click any item in the Table of
Contents to jump to that section. Cross-references are also links,
as are URLs and email addresses.
• Work with the Bookmarks tab or drawer showing so that you can
always jump to any main topic by clicking its bookmark.
• In Adobe Acrobat Pro version 6 or 7, set your preferences to view
Web URLs in a Web browser: choose Acrobat > Preferences, switch
to the Web Capture pane, and choose In Web Browser from the
Open Web Links pop-up menu.
• The Glossary defines a number of GarageBand-related terms,
which also appear in the text of the ebook in blue, italic formatting.
You can click blue, italic text to move to the glossary page that
defines it; you can then return from the Glossary to where you
were reading using a menu command or keyboard shortcut, as
noted in Table 1.
Table 1: How to Quickly Navigate to a Previous Point in This Ebook
Menu Command
Keyboard Shortcut
Adobe Acrobat 6
View > Go To > Previous View
Command-Left arrow
Adobe Acrobat 5
Document > Go To > Previous
Command-Left arrow
Go > Back
• Find more tips in the Take Control FAQ on the Web.
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NOTE Listen as you learn! I occasionally give an audio example by linking to
a song at the iTunes Music Store. You can click the link to connect to
the iTunes Music Store. Then, double-click the song in the album list
to play it.
Printing Tips
Although our layout is aimed at making online reading an enjoyable
experience, we’ve made sure that printing remains a reasonable
option. Please review these tips before you print:
• Use the Check for Updates button on the cover to make sure you
have the latest version of the ebook and to verify that we don’t plan
to release a new version shortly. If you want to commit this ebook
to paper, it makes sense to print the latest possible version.
• Don’t throw out your PDF after you print! You must click the
Check for Updates button on the cover to get future updates. The
link must be accessed from the cover of your PDF.
• For a tighter layout that uses fewer pages, check your printer
options for a 2-up feature that prints two pages on one piece of
paper. For instance, your Print dialog may have an unlabeled popup menu that offers a Layout option; choose Layout, and then
choose 2 from the Pages per Sheet pop-up menu. You may also
wish to choose Single Hairline from the Border menu.
• When printing on a color inkjet printer, to avoid using a lot
of color ink (primarily on the yellow boxes we use for tips and
figures), look for an option to print entirely in black-and-white.
• In the unlikely event that Adobe Acrobat or Adobe Reader cannot
successfully print this PDF, try Preview; several readers have
solved printing problems by using Preview.
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In reading this ebook, you may get stuck if you don’t know certain
basic facts about GarageBand or if you don’t understand Take Control
syntax for things like working with menus or finding items in the
Finder. Please note the following:
• Path syntax: This ebook occasionally uses a path to show the
location of a file or folder in your file system. Path text is formatted
in bold type. For example, Tiger stores most utilities, such as
Calculator, in the Utilities folder. The path to Calculator is:
The slash at the start of the path tells you to start from the root
level of the disk. You will also encounter paths that begin with ~
(tilde), which is a shortcut for any user’s home directory. For
example, if a person with the user name joe wants to install
fonts that only he can access, he would install the fonts in his
~/Library/Fonts folder, which is just another way of writing
• Menus: When I describe choosing a command from a menu in
the menu bar, I use an abbreviated description. For example, my
description for the menu command that activates the metronome
is “Control > Metronome,” which refers to the Metronome
command under the Control menu.
• Finding GarageBand’s Preferences: I often refer to preferences in GarageBand that you may want to adjust. To display
the program’s preferences (not to be confused with the systemwide settings found in the System Preferences application), choose
GarageBand > Preferences (or press Command-,). Within that
window, click a button at the top to display a pane for that category
of preferences. Instead of giving detailed directions each time,
I refer to each pane using an abbreviated notation such as “go
to GarageBand’s Audio/MIDI preferences.”
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What’s New in Version 3.0
I updated this ebook to cover new features in Apple’s recent upgrade
to the program, GarageBand 3.0, as follows:
• I added the Tascam US-122 to the section that describes setting
up your input device, and I added a note explaining why I switched
from the Mbox to the US-122.
• I added a more detailed discussion of the Volume slider in Set up
your track.
• The Track Info window is now integrated into the main
GarageBand window and is called the Track Info pane. I changed
this throughout the ebook.
• GarageBand now has the capability to import one song into
another. I describe the process in Combine Two GarageBand
Projects in One Song.
• I added screenshots of the finished example songs to make the
descriptions easier to follow. See Listen to the Sample Songs.
• Finally, I updated many of the screenshots to reflect GarageBand’s
new interface changes.
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GarageBand is quickly changing the way Mac users create music.
Many of us thought we’d need to spend hundreds, if not thousands,
of dollars to make decent recordings on our computers. Instead,
GarageBand makes recording much more affordable. Sure, the program doesn’t include some features of higher-end programs, but
what it does for the money is simply amazing.
Songwriters can make great-sounding demos to play for their bands
or prospective record labels. Proud parents can record their children
for friends and relatives. Those of us who never fulfilled our rockand-roll fantasies in our youth have another chance.
GarageBand’s recording process is easy and intuitive. Even if you
have no experience in a recording studio, this ebook will have you
working like a pro in no time. Whether you’re recording using a MIDI
keyboard, an electric guitar, or with a vocalist using a microphone,
you don’t need a lot of fancy equipment to get great-sounding tracks.
I show you bucketloads of tricks you can use to get the best sound
possible out of your equipment. Even inexpensive keyboards,
microphones, preamps, and guitars will give you wonderful results.
One thing to keep in mind: GarageBand is not meant to compete with
top-of-the-line recording software such as Pro Tools or Logic Pro. The
truly demanding user will discover its limitations. The audio quality
isn’t as good as its high-end brethren, it gulps down processor cycles
like they were candy corn, and you can’t apply effects to groups of
tracks at once, among other things. But for the typical songwriter,
home recording artist, or weekend rock-and-roller, GarageBand has
more than enough mojo to get your ideas out of your head and into
the real world.
I assume that you’re somewhat familiar with GarageBand. If you’ve
played around in GarageBand a little already, you probably know all
you need to feel right at home with this ebook. If not, I suggest that
you read my other ebook, Take Control of Making Music with
GarageBand (, to learn fundamental aspects of the program, such as
arranging songs and using loops. To purchase the ebook at a discount,
use the link on the Web page that appears when you click the Check
for Updates button on the cover of this ebook.
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GarageBand offers a variety of ways to record music. Software
Instruments use sounds generated by your Mac, using prerecorded
samples or models of different instrument types; Real Instruments
require you to plug an external sound source, such as an electric
guitar or microphone, into your Mac, in order to generate electrical
signals that GarageBand digitizes as sound waves. To use this Quick
Start section, choose the heading that describes your situation or your
interests. Then, follow its suggestions.
Plan ahead:
• Choose the best way to structure your recording time in Strategize
Your Recording Session.
• Decide whether to use Software Instruments or Real Instruments
in Choose a Recording Method.
Record Software Instruments:
• Do you have the equipment you need? Learn about MIDI Gear and
find out what’s required for using Software Instruments.
• Review Set Up Your MIDI Keyboard for information and
troubleshooting on getting connected.
• Check out Record Your Tracks to get your ideas into the computer.
• Tweak your parts so they’re just right in Edit the Performance.
Record Real Instruments:
• Learn about microphones and electric guitars, and find the best
(and cheapest) way to get a signal from your guitar or microphone
into your Mac in Consider Your Equipment.
• Set Up Your Input Device to get yourself connected and ready to
• Get a killer sound out of your guitar or bass, eliminate hum, and
record a great performance; read Record an Electric Instrument.
• Learn about microphone placement and how to best use a mic
to record vocals, instruments, or anything else in Record with a
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Rerecord a section:
• Make a mistake? Have no fear. Check out Fix a Section to learn
how to repair your errors, including how to correct pitch and
Understand effects:
• Add cool effects to your song to make it shine. Read Understand
GarageBand Effects to learn, for example, the difference between
a compressor and a phaser.
Go backstage with GarageBand tips and tricks:
• Learn GarageBand Tips and Tricks such as making a guitar sound
like a bass, turning your tracks into loops, and more.
Check out the sample tunes:
• I created two songs to highlight many of the techniques described
in the ebook. Listen to the Sample Songs and read descriptions of
how I made them.
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GarageBand is tailored to many possible uses. You can make a quick
and dirty demo of an idea you had in the shower, or you can record
your latest rock opera to sell on CD. Your intentions for the particular
recording dictate how you set up and record. In a nutshell, imagine
a continuum with speed, ease, and cheapness on one end, and quality
of sound and performance on the other. Your plans for the final
recording should determine where you stand on this continuum;
here are some examples:
• Speed: If you want to quickly plug in and record a brilliant song
idea you just had, speed is of the essence. Sound quality is secondary—use whatever is handy and easy, and don’t worry about small
mistakes or imperfections.
• Quality: If you’re making a final recording for a CD or an iMovie
project, you want quality. You should use the best equipment you
have and spend the time necessary to get everything right. Right
doesn’t necessarily mean perfect—often slight imperfections are
what give a song its life and excitement—but you don’t want wrong
notes or a buzzing guitar ruining your song. Work carefully to get
good sounds and strong signals.
• Middle of the road: If you’re recording a song demo to play for
your band or working out ideas for a more finished recording later,
you lie in the middle. You want the recording to sound nice so you
can approximate the final product, but it need not be the final product: small imperfections are okay, and spending three days to get
the perfect guitar sound makes no sense.
Your ultimate goal determines how you use this ebook. If you’re
recording Software Instruments using a MIDI keyboard, your goal
helps decide how many takes you record of a particular track and how
carefully you edit notes and imperfections. If you’re recording vocals,
a high-quality recording means more time spent placing microphones
for the best tone and fidelity, and more takes to make sure you’re in
tune and singing at your best. Some techniques in this ebook pertain
to all uses, while others apply only to more finished recordings. No
matter where you stand on the continuum, you can benefit from a
little knowledge of audio recording techniques. Your projects will
sound much better as a result.
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GarageBand offers two recording methods: Software Instruments
and Real Instruments. The casual listener may not be able to tell the
difference, but they involve two completely different ways of working.
Software Instruments
Software Instruments use MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital
Interface) data rather than actual sound waves to create a track.
MIDI is a digital language used to connect synthesizers, computers,
and other electronic instruments. MIDI information includes details
about the note played, its velocity (or volume), and any vibrato or
pitch bending that was applied.
NOTE One catch with Software Instruments is that you can record only
one Software Instrument track at a time. Even though GarageBand
now offers multitrack recording, that applies only to Real Instrument
tracks. You can’t plug in more than one MIDI device at one time.
MIDI is a flexible format that can open up many options that would
otherwise be unavailable to you when recording tracks. For example,
not many people own drum sets. Even if you do, you may not have
three or four microphones available to record a professional sounding
drum track. Maybe you want a flute in your song. Do you have a
flute? You could probably rent one, or put a sign up at the local music
school asking for flute players, but it would be so much easier to play
the part on your keyboard. MIDI makes all this possible.
NOTE When you record a MIDI part, the resulting performance is called
a MIDI sequence. GarageBand’s playback may sound like an audio
recording, but it’s actually just a series of instructions. Unlike a
recording made to an audiotape, a MIDI sequence is totally editable
after the fact—you can correct mistakes and change notes long after
you performed them.
Real Instruments
With all this talk of MIDI and its versatility, you may think recording
live audio is totally passé. It’s not. In fact, it’s preferable in many circumstances. You just can’t simulate the subtlety and nuance of a live
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guitar track with a MIDI keyboard. Live tracks have a certain, well,
live quality to them that just can’t be faked.
Real Instruments require several things. First, as you might expect,
you need a real instrument. This can be something traditional like a
guitar, a piano, or your voice, or it can be something more mundane
like a box of cereal or a wine glass.
The second thing you need is a way to get the sound of your instrument into GarageBand. For this you need one of two things—a microphone or a pickup. Microphones convert sound waves in the air into
an electrical signal that can then be amplified and fed into GarageBand. Pickups, on the other hand, respond to vibrations in a solid
substance—guitar strings, the bridge of a violin—and convert those
vibrations into an electrical signal.
In the simplest terms, pickups are electronic devices that enable
musicians to “plug in” instruments; usually, they’re plugged into
amplifiers to make the instruments louder, but they can also be plugged into mixers or other devices—even directly into your Mac! You’ll
encounter several different kinds of pickups; the best known are
magnetic pickups, usually seen on electric guitars and basses. The
pickup creates an electric field around the strings, and the strings
disturb it when they’re played, generating an electric signal. Piezo
(pronounced “pee-ay-zoh”) pickups are also common on stringed
acoustic instruments: they contain crystals (usually quartz, barium
lead, or barium titanate) that generate an electric signal when put
under stress. Other types include optical and transducer pickups,
and even MIDI pickups that convert played notes to MIDI data.
Although pickups are a tremendous convenience, each type has its
strengths and weaknesses for recording and/or performance, especially when trying to capture a “true” acoustic tone. Magnetic pickups
can buzz and don’t capture an acoustic sound; piezos tend to “quack;”
transducers feed back; and MIDI pickups are notoriously finicky.
Table 2, on the next page, summarizes some of the pros and cons of
Real and Software Instruments. Ideally, both are available: a MIDI
keyboard for certain tracks, and a microphone and/or instrument
with a pickup for others.
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Table 2: MIDI vs. Recorded Audio
• Wide variety of instruments
• Ability to add, edit, and delete
individual notes, as well as note
volume, timing, and duration.
• No noise added during
• Tempo can be changed without
affecting quality.
• MIDI files take up significantly
less hard disk space.
• No need to move mics around
to find the best sound.
• Notes can be “drawn” rather
than played on a keyboard.
• Ability to record anything you
want, even non-instruments.
• Varying mic choice and
placement results in endless
variation in sound.
• Record up to eight tracks at
once, with the right equipment.
• Ability to capture all the subtleties of a live performance.
• Tracks sound more exciting,
more alive.
• Real Instrument tracks are
generally more economical in
processor use than Software
Instruments, allowing you to
use more tracks.
• Certain instruments not available, at least in GarageBand.
• Easy to over-edit tracks, making
them sound sterile and uninteresting.
• You can record only one MIDI
track at a time.
• Impossible to capture all the
subtlety of a live performance.
• Software Instruments use more
system resources than Real
• MIDI recordings often sound
“fake” or “wrong,” even when
recorded by professionals.
• You must possess the
instrument in question and be
able to play it.
• Getting a good, clean recording
of certain instruments can be
difficult and time consuming.
• Many mistakes can be fixed only
by rerecording the section.
• Any noise or hum that occurs
during recording is on the track
• Tempo can be changed, but your
audio quality may suffer.
• Audio tracks can quickly eat up
hard disk space.
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Software Instruments are great tools for testing out ideas and working on your compositions, even if you plan on rerecording some of the
tracks later with real instruments. And don’t let your guitarist friend
give you grief—there’s absolutely nothing wrong with creating a song
entirely from Software Instruments (see The Software Instrument
Song, later in the ebook).
Learn about MIDI Gear
When it comes to MIDI, you must choose between a more expensive
and more sophisticated MIDI instrument, and a cheaper and less
flexible MIDI controller. Here’s an overview of each option:
• MIDI controller: A MIDI controller may look like a full
keyboard, but it doesn’t make sound itself or have any built-in
instruments. Most MIDI controllers feature piano-like keyboards,
but you can find MIDI controllers that act like wind instruments,
guitars, and drum kits, too. Musicians use MIDI controllers to
control other MIDI-capable devices such as synthesizers, samplers,
drum machines, and Macs—sometimes concurrently.
Since a MIDI controller can generate only MIDI data and not
sounds, it’s similar to a computer keyboard, which can’t do anything but send data that your computer interprets as letters and
numbers. Likewise, a MIDI controller generates only information
such as what key you pressed and how hard you pressed it.
Many modern MIDI controllers connect directly to your Mac
via USB, simplifying the setup process and saving you money.
• MIDI instrument: A full MIDI keyboard, synthesizer, or other
instrument is capable of generating both an audio signal and
MIDI data. You can record the audio signal by plugging a 1/4"
cord into the line out jack on the back of the instrument. GarageBand treats this signal as it would any other Real Instrument. On
the other hand, if you connect the instrument using a MIDI cable,
GarageBand treats the instrument like it was a MIDI controller
generating MIDI data. To use this data, you need to create a Software Instrument track just as you would with a MIDI controller.
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NOTE If your controller or keyboard doesn’t feature a USB jack, you’ll need
to buy a USB-MIDI interface. These are available fairly cheaply and
are quite easy to set up.
MIDI Keyboard Options
MIDI keyboards and controllers come in all shapes and sizes, from
tiny one-octave units to giant behemoths with full piano keyboards
and keys that feel like real ivory. Here are some available options:
• Unweighted action: Also called synth action, these devices
feature simple plastic keys that function merely as on/off switches.
Some people prefer unweighted action because they can play faster
without key resistance.
• Weighted action: A more sophisticated option that feels like a
real piano. The keys feel heavy and offer resistance as you play. A
third option, semi-weighted, is also available. It offers some weight
and resistance, but not as much as an actual piano.
• Pitch bend: Many keyboards include a wheel, joystick, or ribbon
that can raise or lower the pitch of a note. Pitch bending can mimic
electric guitar solos and trombone slides, among other sounds.
• Modulation: A modulation wheel or joystick is generally used
to add vibrato to a note. Many instrumentalists add vibrato to long
sustained notes—the modulation wheel is an easy way to mimic
this on a keyboard.
• Sustain: Many keyboards accept a plug-in sustain pedal that
functions just like the sustain pedal on a piano.
• Aftertouch: Some more expensive keyboards respond to the
pressure of your fingers after the note is initially struck. This can
affect how the sound changes on longer notes and how the sound
fades once the key is released. However, not many controllers offer
aftertouch, and it’s irrelevant for our purposes because GarageBand doesn’t currently support it.
• Touch sensitivity: Also called velocity sensitivity. The keys
respond to how softly or aggressively you play. Most software
instruments are designed to take advantage of velocity. See the
sidebar on the next page for more details.
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Some Software Instruments don’t use velocity at all. Organs are
a good example—the keys on most real organs are simple on off
switches and don’t respond to the nuances of a performance.
VELOCITY GarageBand’s Software Instruments respond to how you press the
key on your MIDI controller, which is known as velocity. The faster
you press a key, the louder the note sounds. This gives a performance
more verisimilitude by mimicking real-world instruments.
(I say “faster” rather than “harder” because velocity technically
measures speed. When you strike a key harder you’re also pressing
it faster, and the key sensors measure speed. However, since we tend
to think of pressure and not speed when playing, I’ll use the terms
“harder” and “softer” from now on when referring to velocity.)
In some cases, the actual tone of the note changes when you press
a key harder. Create an Electric Piano track and listen to the notes
get brighter and spikier when you play more energetically. In other
cases, the playing style changes when you strike the keys harder.
When you play the Steel String Acoustic guitar softly, you hear
a standard acoustic guitar sound. If you play more forcefully, you
begin to hear the strings buzzing against the frets, as they would
on a real acoustic guitar. If you hit a note at the maximum velocity,
GarageBand plays a two-fret slide up to the note you struck. Another
fancy thing about the acoustic guitar generator is that as you move
between notes, the software throws in high-pitched string squeaks
to add more reality to your performance. Very cool.
NOTE If you’re not ready or willing to buy a MIDI keyboard, a couple of
options are available. You can use GarageBand’s built-in keyboard
(Window > Keyboard, or Command-K) but it’s less than ideal
(though you can enlarge the window now). You must play notes by
clicking the mouse, which makes it difficult to end up with anything
musical, and all the notes play at full velocity. I prefer Musical Typing
(Window > Musical Typing or Shift-Command-K), which allows
you to use your keyboard as a sort of low-rent, one-and-a-half-octave
piano keyboard. The cool thing about it is that it includes rudimentary velocity, pitchbend, and modulation control, so you can actually
impart some musicality to your playing (but with difficulty).
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Set Up Your MIDI Keyboard
Setting up a MIDI controller or keyboard is fairly simple under Mac
OS X. As long as you have updated drivers for your device and everything is plugged in properly, you shouldn’t have much trouble. Follow
these steps to set up your MIDI keyboard for the first time:
1. Download the latest drivers for your keyboard or interface from
the manufacturer’s Web site. Follow the installation instructions.
2. Plug the keyboard or the USB-MIDI interface into your computer.
3. Restart your Mac.
4. Open /Applications/Utilities/Audio MIDI Setup. Click
the MIDI Devices tab to display that pane (Figure 1). Some keyboards include built-in support for Mac OS X—if an icon appears
with the name of your device, you’re all set. Skip ahead to Record
Your Tracks.
The MIDI interface icon with two arrows, one facing up and the
other down, represent the MIDI-in and MIDI-out connectors on
your keyboard or interface.
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NOTE Even though it’s all one piece of equipment, the Audio MIDI Setup
utility may see your USB MIDI controller or instrument as two separate items, one being the built-in MIDI interface, and the other
being the actual keyboard you play. In that case, you may need to
virtually connect the keyboard to the built-in interface to get a
working MIDI connection.
5. Click the Add Device button on the toolbar. A generic MIDI
keyboard icon appears. If you like, double-click it to change its
icon; this is totally optional and won’t affect performance.
6. Drag from one arrow on the interface icon to the corresponding
arrow on the keyboard icon. Do the same with the other. You
should now see two virtual cables connecting the keyboard and
the interface (Figure 2).
The interface connected to the virtual keyboard. Your keyboard
should now play in GarageBand.
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NoTE Technically, you need to draw only the inbound connection from the
keyboard to the interface. GarageBand doesn’t support MIDI out,
meaning you can’t control another MIDI device through GarageBand.
Therefore, the outbound MIDI connection is irrelevant.
7. Click the Test Setup button, and then play a key on the MIDI keyboard. The MIDI-in arrow on the interface icon should turn red
and you’ll hear a “ping.” If you don’t receive any response, try
pressing the Rescan MIDI button; quitting and restarting Audio
MIDI Setup; or unplugging and reattaching the MIDI or USB
cable. I’ve found that MIDI connections can be a bit finicky.
After the initial setup, you should only have to plug in your keyboard
and start up GarageBand.
OOPS If you’re still not getting a signal from the keyboard, check to make
sure your speakers are plugged in and turned on. If the steps above
don’t work, restart your computer. If that fails, make sure you’ve
downloaded and installed the latest drivers for the keyboard. Otherwise, your best bet is to contact the manufacturer or the store where
you bought the keyboard. Hardware problems do occur—the first
MIDI controller I bought had a bad USB port. Of course it took me
two days of reinstalling, restarting, and hair pulling to find this out.
Record Your Tracks
Once everything’s set up correctly, recording a Software Instrument
track in GarageBand is simple. If you’ve followed the procedure in the
previous section and you’re getting sound out of the keyboard, you’re
75 percent there. All that’s left to do is choose a sound and hit the
Record button.
Select a Software Instrument sound
Follow these steps to create a new Software Instrument track and
assign an instrument sound:
1. Create a new track in GarageBand by clicking the Add Track button (the plus sign to the lower left of the timeline), or choosing
Track > New Track (Command-Option-N).
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2. In the New Track dialog that appears, select the Software
Instrument tab.
3. Choose an instrument family in the left column and a specific
instrument sound in the right column.
TIP You can preview the sounds while the New Track dialog is still open.
This capability is handy, as it allows you to play your part or simply
noodle around until you’re happy with your choice.
4. Click OK to close the New Track dialog. Your new track appears at
the bottom of the timeline.
Fine tune your instrument
Each Software Instrument relies on what Apple calls a generator to
make its sounds. You don’t need to settle for the presets GarageBand
provides for you. Instead, access each Software Instrument’s generator and tweak its settings to create the exact sound you want by
following these steps:
1. Double click the track header (in the Tracks column of the timeline) of the Software Instrument you want to edit. Alternately, click
the track to highlight it and choose Track > Show Track Info (Command-I).
2. For the purposes of this demonstration, select Organs in the left
column and Classic Rock Organ in the right column of the Track
Info pane.
3. If the Details section isn’t showing, click the Details expansion
The first item in the list is entitled Generator. The first pop-up
menu selects the generator and the second selects specific presets.
In this case, the generator is Tonewheel Organ.
NOTE Some Software Instruments use effects for their sound in addition
to a generator. Be aware of this as you tweak instrument sounds. You
may want to uncheck the effects while you fiddle with the generator.
Conversely, you may be able to get the sound you’re looking for by
tweaking the effects and leaving the generator alone.
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4. No preset exists for this particular sound, so the second pop-up
menu reads Manual. Depending on the generator, you can choose
from any number of presets. Some of them share common generators and some are unique sounds (for example, each of the presets in the Guitar category uses different generators, while all the
Organs seem to use the same generator and merely vary the settings). Try different presets to hear how they sound.
5. Choose the preset Jazz Organ. Play a little and notice how the tone
is a lot mellower now.
6. Click the button with the pencil to open the Tonewheel Organ
settings. As you can see, you can edit seven different parameters.
Play with the settings until you find a sound you like.
NOTE Software Instrument sounds use one of two types of generators. Some
use samples of Real Instruments and some are generated artificially
using a software synthesizer. The sampled instrument sounds are
created using recordings of notes played by the actual instruments
they’re supposed to represent. For example, a vibraphone sound is
made by recording an actual vibraphone playing individual notes.
These recordings are then mapped to the keyboard, so when you play
a middle C on your MIDI keyboard, you hear the recorded vibraphone playing a middle C.
GarageBand creates synthesized sounds artificially, using an algorithm to generate the tones. This is obviously true of the synthesizer
sounds, but it’s also the case for the electric piano, clavinet, and tonewheel organ sounds. They may sound realistic, but they’re actually
well written mathematical formulas.
Synthesized tones work well for some types of acoustic instruments
(like flutes and some organs), as well as for purely artificial sounds
like visiting UFOs, or sounds resembling a cross between a duck call
and a dentist’s drill. However, sampled tones work better for reproducing most acoustic instruments, like pianos, horns, and drums.
Sampled instruments tend to sound closer to their real-life counterparts, but all those samples take up much more storage space than
a synthesized tone.
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Some Software Instruments include parameters called “attack,”
“decay,” “sustain,” or “release.” Together, these parameters make up
what’s called the volume envelope. The volume envelope (sometimes
called the ADSR Envelope) determines how quickly a sound reaches
its maximum volume and returns to silence. The envelope consists
of four parameters:
• Attack: The time it takes a sound to reach maximum volume
• Decay: The time it takes the initial peak to die down
• Sustain: The level at which the note is held for the duration of
the key press
• Release: The time it takes for the note to fade to silence after the
key is released
Figure 3 shows one possible volume envelope. Notice how it has
a fairly fast attack and a loud initial peak (also called the transient).
The note sustains at a lower volume, and once the key is released,
the sound fades slowly to silence.
A sample volume envelope.
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Start with a beat
If you’re starting a song from scratch, you probably want a beat to
play along with. GarageBand gives you two choices: a drum track or
the built-in metronome. The one you choose depends on the song, but
I generally prefer a drum track—the rhythm is usually a bit looser and
more groovy. The metronome (often called a click track in professional recording situations) is rather stiff, which may affect your
NOTE You may not want a beat at all. That’s totally fine. If your piece is
acoustic guitar and vocals, there’s no reason to play to a click track
if you don’t want to. If you do, you’ll lose some of the spontaneity of
your performance. More ambient, environmental pieces generally
won’t have much of a beat either.
However, if you’re playing a piece that you want to embellish later
with drums, percussion, GarageBand loops, and even other instrumental parts, it may be difficult unless you have some sort of rhythm
to synch up to. Using the metronome or a drum track helps keep your
performance in time with the tempo you set when you created the
song; any loops you add later will automatically play at this tempo
as well.
If you want to use a drum track, the easiest place to start is with a
drum loop. Follow these steps to add a drum loop to your song:
1. Click the Loop Browser button, which is marked with a picture of
an eye.
2. Click any of the buttons in the second column to choose from the
available drum and percussion loops.
3. A list of available loops in that category open on the right. Preview
your options by clicking the name of the loop. Click it again to stop
it. When you’ve made a choice, drag the loop up to an empty area
of the timeline.
4. You can make your drum region as long as you want by clicking the
upper right corner of the region and dragging to the right.
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TIP For more on using loops, see my other ebook, Take Control of
Making Music with GarageBand
If you’d rather use the metronome, toggle it on by choosing Control >
Metronome (Command-U). A check mark on the menu indicates that
the metronome is active.
You can choose whether the metronome plays only when you’re
recording or during both playback and recording. Go to the General
preference pane to select one of the two options.
TIP Another cool trick that makes recording easier is the Count In option.
When you choose Control > Count In, GarageBand starts playing
a measure ahead of the playhead location, giving you a little time
to get ready before you have to start playing. If you’re starting from
the beginning of the song, the metronome plays alone for a measure.
If the metronome is off, GarageBand sits silently for a measure.
Record a track
Recording a MIDI track is simplicity itself. Once you’ve chosen a
sound, follow these steps to begin recording:
1. Move the playhead to the point where you want to begin recording.
If you want to start at the beginning of the song, press the Go to
Beginning button (Z).
2. Press the Record button (the round button with the red dot) and
start playing.
3. Press the Play button to stop recording. That’s it!
TIP GarageBand 2.0 introduced the capability to adjust GarageBand’s
velocity sensitivity. Open the Audio/MIDI preference pane and adjust
the Keyboard Sensitivity slider. More means GarageBand acts as
though you’re playing harder than you actually are; Less does the
opposite. This feature is handy if you’re having trouble performing
a delicate percussion part or if you want to play a ripping electric
piano track.
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Record using a cycle region
If you’re like me, there are parts you want to play but you can’t quite
get your fingers to be in the right place at the right time. I never took
piano lessons as a kid, and I’m just not able to jump around between
the chords well. There’s a solution for people like us—we can build
up our tracks piece-by-piece using a cycle region:
1. Create a cycle region in the location you want to record. You can
make it as long as you want, but it might be easier to keep track of
what you’re doing if it’s shorter.
To create a cycle region, click the Cycle button (C) (Figure 4, top).
Then, drag within the cycle bar to create a cycle region covering the
measures in which you want to record (Figure 4, bottom).
To create a
cycle region,
click the
Cycle button
(top) and
drag in the
cycle bar
2. Break your part into manageable chunks—maybe do the main
melody in the first pass, some harmony notes in the second pass,
and the bass notes on the third pass. Practice the parts so you can
play them easily.
3. Hit the Record button and start playing the first part. When you
reach the end of the cycle region, the playhead jumps back to
where you started and GarageBand continues recording.
4. On each successive pass, play a different part. GarageBand saves
them all in the same region. You can also sit out as many passes
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as you want so you can hear what you’ve recorded. As long as you
don’t stop playback, all your passes will be saved.
TIP Beware when using this method. If you want a piano part to sound
realistic, don’t play too many intertwining parts. Sure, most of us
have ten fingers, but we can only use them to do so many different
things at once.
Unfortunately, if you mess up or decide you want to add more later,
you can’t simply press record and continue building up the part. Each
time you hit the Record button, GarageBand wipes the cycle region
clean and starts from scratch. So don’t stop recording until you’re
sure you’re done!
If you do decide you’d like to add more to your part after you’ve
stopped recording, use the method described in Fix a Section.
TIP If you press play to start playing back a cycle region and then press
record, GarageBand lets you record a region on top of what’s already
there. The new recording covers the existing region, but you can hear
them both on playback. This seems to be a bug, so I’m not sure how
stable the final result is—but it’s a nifty trick.
Recording drum tracks
Recording Software Instrument drums is a special case, and requires
a little more explanation. Each note on the keyboard controls a different type of drum hit. The usual suspects are there—bass drums,
snares, high hats, toms, and various cymbals—as well as more exotic
percussion sounds as well—bongos, timbales, claves, bells, and even
whistles and snapping fingers.
The GarageBand drum kits offer a surprising number of drum
sounds. Appendix A: GarageBand MIDI Drum Sounds lists all the
sounds found in Rock Kit. Most of the other kits feature similar
instrumentation with slightly different timbres. Some of the names
may seem bewildering to non-drummers—it may help to play along
on the keyboard so you can connect the sounds with their names.
The easiest way to create a drum track is to build it up gradually using
a cycle region (described previously), or to record different drums on
different tracks. With both of these methods you can concentrate on
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getting each piece right, although I much prefer the latter method,
as it affords a lot more flexibility.
To record a drum part using different tracks, follow along here:
1. Choose File > New (Command-N) to create a new song.
2. Choose Track > New Track (Command-Option-N) to create a
3. Select the Software Instrument tab. In the first column, choose
Drum Kits, and in the second column pick Hip Hop Kit.
4. Toggle the metronome on by choosing Control > Metronome
(Command-U). Make sure a checkmark appears next to the menu
item. Toggle Control > Count In on as well.
5. Press the Record button (R) and play the closed high hat (F#1 on
your MIDI keyboard) at each tick of the metronome. Play for at
least 4 measures and then press the spacebar to stop recording.
6. Double-click the region you created to open the Track Editor. Click
and drag to select all the high hat notes, and press the Fix Timing
button. I often use Fix Timing on high hat parts so they stay in
time. Close the Track Editor by clicking the Track Editor button
(labeled with scissors).
7. Select the Hip Hop Kit track and choose Track > Duplicate Track
(Command-D). Make sure the new track is selected and toggle the
metronome off.
8. Hit the Go to Beginning button (Z) and press Record again. Play
the bass drum (the C1 key) on the first and third beats, and the
snare (the D1 key) on the second and fourth beats of each measure.
(Yes, this is a boring drumbeat, so feel free to elaborate if you like.)
Here’s an MP3 file of the high hat part, the simple drumbeat, and
then a more intricate beat: drumtutorial.mp3.
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TIP If recording your own drum parts is not one of your abilities, use
loops instead. GarageBand ships with plenty of drum loops, and
plenty more are available in Apple’s Jam Packs and other add-on
packages. Since drums are purely rhythm instruments, they’re much
harder to single out, and it’s unlikely anyone will even know you used
a loop. (Not that there’s anything wrong with using loops!)
By far the most difficult aspect of drum parts is staying in the groove
when movement is restricted to your fingers. It’s easier to play drums
when you can use your whole body. Concentrate on the beat when
you’re playing and practice your part several times before you record.
NOTE You can buy MIDI drum pads that allow you to actually play a drum
part with sticks. They aren’t cheap, but they make recording drum
parts significantly easier and more natural.
TIP I can usually get a good feel for a few measures, but then I lose it.
The following method works well for longer drum parts:
1. For each separate part, record as much of it as you can, but stop
when you feel yourself losing the groove.
2. Listen back to what you just played and identify the place where
you lost the groove. Delete everything after that point.
3. Duplicate the track and move the playhead back a few measures
before this deletion point. This gives you a head start so you can
get into the groove again.
4. Start recording the new track. Again, play as much as you can
until you lose the groove again. Go back to Step 2 and repeat until
you’ve recorded the whole section.
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A groove can be an elusive quarry. In its simplest terms, a groove
consists of two things: rhythm and accent. Rhythm describes where
the notes are placed in time, and accent expresses their emphasis and
volume. If you’ve recorded your own drum parts and they don’t
groove or flow, consider these guidelines:
• A drum machine plays its beats perfectly in time. It’s exact and
precise and sounds extremely sterile. A real drummer, on the
other hand, toys with the rhythm, playing slightly ahead of or
behind the beat to create a more natural flow—a groove. Typically,
high-energy songs (such as Never Recover by The Cardigans) have
some beats and accents slightly ahead of the beat, while some laidback, relaxed songs (such as Silence Kit by Pavement) have certain
beats and accents slightly behind the beat.
• The other thing a drummer does more effectively than a drum
machine is to accent various beats to create an ebb and flow to
the rhythm. Listen to how Stewart Copeland of the Police makes
a drum part pulse and groove, especially in the high hat.
When you create your own drum parts, remain conscious of these
elements, especially when you edit your beats. But the most important thing to remember is to feel the grove rather than think it.
Edit the Performance
You’ve recorded your track, but something’s not quite right. Maybe
you’ve made a couple of mistakes, a few of the notes are too quiet,
and one section just doesn’t work the way it should. Do you have
to rerecord the entire thing? Absolutely not! A fantastic thing about
Software Instrument tracks is how easily you can change your parts.
Edit individual notes
Often, the part you recorded will be mostly correct, with only a few
notes out of place. You may have hit the wrong note, played a note
slightly out of time, or hit one key too hard in the middle of a quiet
passage. All these mistakes can be fixed easily without having to
rerecord anything. Here’s how:
1. Select the region you want to modify and click the Track Editor
button (Command-E). If you don’t see the region you selected,
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double-click it in the timeline. The Track Editor jumps to the
beginning of this region.
2. In the Track Editor, each note you played on the keyboard is represented by a gray or black bar (the shade of gray represents the
velocity level). Click the bar you want to edit. It turns green, and
GarageBand plays the note so you can tell if it’s the right one.
TIP To help find the exact note, play the song with your finger poised over
the spacebar. When you hear the note you want to edit, quickly tap
the spacebar. The playhead should stop just after that note.
3. Your choices now are as follows:
• Trigger a different note: Drag the bar vertically. Again,
GarageBand plays the notes as you move the bar so it’s easier
to tell when it’s in the right place.
• Trigger the note at a different place rhythmically in
the track: Drag the bar horizontally. If the Snap to Grid
feature is enabled (Control > Snap to Grid, or Command-G),
the note snaps to the ruler grid at various increments. This
increment depends on how closely you’re zoomed in the edit
window. On the other hand, if Snap to Grid is turned off, you
can position the note wherever you want.
TIP Notes are designed to snap to their current position, making
especially small movements irritatingly difficult. Try the following:
1. Visually make a note of the bar’s location.
2. Move the note somewhere else and release the mouse button.
3. Move it back to where it was, but keep the mouse button pressed
as you move it into position. This allows you to make tiny
rhythmic adjustments.
Don’t get carried away: try to fix only notes that sound out of place,
regardless of whether or not they look out of place.
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• Erase the note: Press Delete.
• Shorten or extend the note: Place the pointer at the end of
the note. It will change to the resize pointer (a vertical line with
a right-facing arrow). Drag the end of the note to change its
• Automatically line up the note up with the nearest
grid line: Press the Align to [note value] button in the left side
of the Track Edit window. This snaps all the selected notes to
the closest grid increment. The grid defaults to 1/4 notes, but
you can set the grid to anything from whole notes (1/1 note,
or one note equals one measure) to 1/64 notes, as well as other
TIP It may be tempting to select all your notes and align them to the
grid. Presto: perfect timing! Right? Avoid this temptation! There’s
no quicker way to make your song sound sterile and boring than to
make every note land in exactly the right place.
My recommendation is to use this feature occasionally on individual
notes or small groups of notes that you’re having trouble with. I much
prefer moving the notes closer to the grid lines manually, though.
That way they retain a little bit of that natural feel, and it doesn’t
sound like your song was performed by R2-D2.
NOTE You can also edit your notes using musical notation. To do so, click
the Notation View button (marked with a musical note) in the region
column of the Track Editor. For much more on using notation view,
see my other ebook, Take Control of Making Music with
GarageBand (
• Change the velocity of the note: Move the Velocity slider
to make the note louder or softer. You can also enter a number
between zero and 127 in the Velocity text field.
• Edit MIDI controller data: To edit modulation, pitchbend,
or sustain data, choose the appropriate data type from the
Display pop-up menu. You can move the control points, delete
Page 31
them, and copy and paste them. To create a new control point,
hold down the Command key and click. To delete a control
point, simply select it and press Delete.
TIP Beginning with version 2.0, Apple added two new types of MIDI data:
Expression and Foot Control. Expression can be used to create
volume swells and is perfect for things like strings and woodwind
Many instruments in Apple’s Jam Pack 4: Symphony Orchestra
( take advantage
of the Expression and Foot Control functions. You can use Pitch Bend
to control Expression and the Modulation control to select between
different playing styles—short (staccato) and long (legato) notes,
trills, tremolo, and more. Now you can perform your latest concerto
right in GarageBand.
NOTE Made a mistake and don’t know how to fix it? See Fix a Section, later.
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Recording Real Instruments in GarageBand is a snap. Once your
equipment is set up and you understand a few basic principles, it
takes a matter of minutes to lay your ideas onto a track. But some
preparation is required to get to that point.
THE MOST One of the guiding principles of audio recording is to always get the
IMPORTANT best sound possible when you record. The reasoning is simple: if you
AUDIO TIP use a lousy microphone to record your acoustic guitar, you’re going to
EVER get a muddy or thin sounding guitar track. No amount of equalization
will fix it because you simply can’t add frequencies that aren’t there.
Always strive to get the best sound possible when you record: use the
best preamp you can afford, use good microphones and place them
carefully, and make sure you have clean, strong audio levels throughout your signal chain.
Trust your ears. If you try something I suggest (or anyone else
suggests) and it sounds lousy, don’t do it! The buck stops at your
ears. Maybe using a lousy microphone will sound cooler than you
expect. What matters in the end is how the recording sounds, and
especially how it sounds to you.
Consider Your Equipment
To record Real Instruments, the first thing you need is, well, a real
instrument. I mean this more broadly than you might think. A real
instrument can be anything from a high-end electric guitar to a tin
can—and if a tin can isn’t handy, there’s always your voice (although
with some people it’s hard to tell the difference). The term Real
Instrument sounds somewhat intimidating and exclusive, but the
GarageBand programmers only meant to distinguish it from Software
Instruments covered earlier. Instead of recording MIDI data, Real
Instruments record physical sound waves.
Plug in
To bring physical sound waves into your Mac, you need some extra
equipment. This comes in two varieties: a direct signal from the
electronics in your instrument, or a signal from a microphone. Direct
Page 33
electronic signals can come from a variety of sources, but for most
people the source will be an electric guitar pickup (see What’s a Pickup?). Without going into too much detail about guitar electronics, a
pickup usually consists of magnets and wires that translate the vibration of a guitar or bass string into an electrical signal. A synthesizer
with a line out or stereo outputs is another electronic signal source.
It is possible to run this signal directly into your Mac, but the signal
level is too low to get good audio fidelity (see the sidebar just ahead).
You need a preamp to boost the signal to a usable level. A microphone puts out an even quieter signal than a guitar—a mic signal
definitely needs to be boosted before it gets to GarageBand.
Given the right adapters, you can plug a guitar cable directly into
your Mac and record in GarageBand. However, you’ll notice that the
signal levels tend to barely reach the middle of the signal indicator
(and the sound is fainter). A weak signal is bad for two reasons:
• Noise: Every electronic device produces a bit of low-level hum
or noise whenever it’s on. Think of fluorescent lights or your
refrigerator. The lower the signal level, the louder the noise is in
relation to it (see Figure 5, on the next page). So, if your guitar
track is extremely quiet and you raise its volume to compensate,
you’re also raising the volume of the noise. It’s far better to get the
strongest signal you can when you’re recording to keep the noise
to an absolute minimum.
• Bits: Tracks in GarageBand are recorded on your hard drive in
bits, or zeros and ones. Many, many times per second (44,100 to
be exact), GarageBand looks at the incoming signal and stores it.
Since GarageBand records in 16-bit audio, each slice (or sample)
of sound is represented by a number from 0 to 65,535. If your
signal is low, GarageBand can use only a small portion of this
possible recording range (say, from 2000 to 5000), resulting in
grainy, low-quality, noise-filled tracks. Ideally, you want to use
as much of the available range as possible for the highest audio
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If your signal is too weak (left), it’s barely audible above the noise.
Raising its level later also raises the level of noise. If the signal is
too strong (right), clipping occurs. The middle signal is just right.
Locate a preamp
You could swing by Radio Shack and pick up a preamp for $20 or
so, or you could go to a store that sells professional audio gear and lay
down thousands of dollars. For most GarageBand users, something
in the middle ($50 to $300) is most appropriate. The popular Griffin
iMic will also work in a pinch as an inexpensive preamp, but only for
guitars or other line-level instruments. Its signal is too noisy for use
with a microphone, and it doesn’t provide enough signal boost.
NOTE A dirt-cheap preamp will boost your signal, but its budget electronics
will also color the sound, emphasizing certain frequencies and minimizing others, or introducing an excessive amount of noise. The idea
behind a preamp is that it should provide gain without degrading the
signal. If you’re using a $150 microphone to record your $600 acoustic guitar, you don’t want a mediocre $30 preamp muddying the signal. At the same time, we’re talking about GarageBand here, not a
$2000 ProTools suite. If this is your first foray into recording, make
do with something under $200; you can trade up to more expensive
gear later.
Page 35
If you want to record more than one track at a time, you’ll need some
sort of preamp or mixing board. However, you won’t be able to record
more than two tracks at a time on anything that’s not a FireWire
device. This is because the audio in jack on your computer (or on an
iMic, if you don’t have an audio in jack) has only two channels—left
and right stereo. Even if your preamp features eight inputs, GarageBand sees only two incoming signals if it’s connected via a normal
audio in port. And USB doesn’t really have the muscle for more
than two tracks out at a time.
For the full GarageBand 3 experience, you need a FireWire interface
that can handle eight tracks at once (and a fast computer with lots of
RAM). For some hardware recommendations, hunt around in Apple’s
GarageBand 3 discussion group
Use a microphone
The second possibility for getting sound waves into your computer
is a good old microphone. Your Mac may have a microphone built
into its chassis somewhere, but it won’t give you the highest quality
audio you’ve ever heard. The same goes for the mic in an iSight.
You’re much better off with a quality inexpensive microphone made
specifically for audio recording. You can get a perfectly decent one
for about $100.
NOTE Another disadvantage of dedicated computer microphones is their
built-in noise reduction, which means that the quiet parts of your
audio will get cut out completely—not good for that delicate acoustic
guitar song. This happens when you’re talking to someone on a cell
phone and they want to share a song they’re listening to—you hear
only the loudest bits of the song and the rest gets cut out. It’s terribly
irritating and not at all what you want when you record audio.
A decent microphone is incredibly versatile. You can use it to record
your voice, any acoustic instruments lying around the house (pianos,
guitars, violins, tubas, kettle drums, and so on), and pretty much
anything else you can think of that makes a noise.
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If you have a guitar amp (and a guitar with a pickup), you now have
two ways to record your guitar. Recording the guitar directly into
GarageBand will give you a cleaner, less-processed signal that you
can then manipulate with GarageBand effects, but recording an amp
using a microphone yields a recording with more character and
ambience. Try both methods. You’ll probably find you like each
for different uses.
Set Up Your Input Device
By and large, setting up a preamp is fairly easy as long as you don’t
skip any steps. I’ll walk you through a few possible configurations;
if you own a piece of gear not mentioned, chances are the setup will
be similar. A number of preamps are available, of course, but to cover
a useful range of price and quality, I focus on the following four
devices: the Griffin iMic (next), the Behringer Eurorack UB502,
the Tascam US-122, and the Digidesign MBox.
The Griffin iMic (
is a USB adapter that allows you to plug many different types of audio
devices into your Mac. It’s especially useful on iBooks and other Macs
that don’t have an audio-in jack. You can use an iMic alone to boost a
guitar or microphone to a decent recording level, but you’ll definitely
achieve superior results with a better preamp.
The iMic is simple to set up. It requires no software and you can begin
recording in 5 minutes or less. Here are the steps:
1. Quit GarageBand if it’s running. GarageBand recognizes new
equipment only if the gear is plugged in at launch.
2. Plug in the iMic.
3. Push the switch on the iMic toward the microphone icon.
4. Plug your guitar into the microphone input on the iMic. To do this,
you need a 1/4" to mini adapter. If you’re using a microphone with
an XLR cable, you also need an XLR to 1/4" adapter/transformer.
5. Open the Sound pane in System Preferences and select the Input
tab. Select iMic from the list of input options and set the input
level using the slider while you play some notes. You want the input level to be as high as possible without maxing out. If you find
Page 37
you have the level cranked all the way up and you still aren’t getting enough signal, move the iMic switch to the speaker position.
6. Launch GarageBand. Then, in GarageBand’s Audio/MIDI preferences, choose iMic USB Audio System as the Audio Input option.
7. See Set up your track for more on fine-tuning the levels and getting
a good signal.
NOTE To use a microphone with the iMic you need an XLR to 1/4"
adapter/transformer plus a 1/4" to mini adapter (see Figure 6
for illustrations of common cable types). This setup is cumbersome,
doesn’t give you enough gain, and costs almost half as much as a
cheap preamp anyway. Griffin themselves admit that this is not the
best solution and recommend a dedicated preamp.
It’s also worth noting that every device you add to your signal chain
adds noise and degrades audio quality—another reason to use something other than an iMic for a microphone preamp.
Common audio cable types:
1. XLR, or microphone cord
2. 1/4" guitar cord
3. 1/4" stereo cord (notice the two rings on
the shaft—one for the left channel and
one for the right)
4. Stereo mini cord
5. RCA cord, commonly used to connect
home stereo components
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That’s all there is to setting up the iMic. As I said, it’s not a professional quality setup by any means, but if you’re just making demos
or quick recordings of ideas, it should serve you well. If your plan is to
create more polished recordings, you’ll want to get some fancier gear.
Behringer Eurorack UB502
The Eurorack series from Behringer is a set of remarkably inexpensive
preamp/mixers that work well in tandem with GarageBand. Their
only downside is that they only have audio outs, not USB, so you need
either a Mac with an audio in jack or an iMic to pass the signal. And
despite its six inputs, because of its audio-only connection, you can
record only to two tracks at once with the Eurorack (see the note, a
few pages earlier, Eight Is Enough).
Like the iMic, setup is simple; here’s what to do:
1. Plug in the Eurorack’s power brick to turn the unit on.
2. The Eurorack offers two options for sound out from the mixer:
Main Out or Tape Out. Each essentially gives you the same signal,
but Main Out uses two 1/4" jacks and Tape Out uses two RCA
jacks. I use a dual RCA to stereo mini cord, but a dual 1/4" to
stereo mini cord would work just as well. Plug whichever cords
you’re using into the Eurorack.
3. Plug the mini end into your computer (if you have audio in) or into
an iMic (if you don’t).
4. From System Preferences, open the Sound preference pane and
click the Input tab. Select Audio In or the iMic, depending on
which you’re using.
5. While you’re in the Sound preference pane, click the Input tab and
select Line In (or iMic USB Audio System) from the list of options.
Set the input level using the slider while you’re playing some notes.
The level should peak one or two bars below the maximum.
6. Go to GarageBand’s Audio/MIDI preference pane and choose
Built-in Audio or iMic USB Audio System from the Audio Input
pop-up menu, depending on which one you’re using.
7. See Set up your track for more details on setting levels and getting
the sound you want.
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Tascam US-122
The US-122 is an affordable, flexible unit that allows you to get highquality audio directly into your computer through a USB port. In
addition to 2 channels of audio inputs (for either mic or instrument
cables), it also has 16 channels of MIDI in and out, so it’s the perfect
solution for someone who has a MIDI controller that lacks a USB
connection. Installation and setup is easy:
1. Download the latest drivers from Install
the software according to the instructions and restart your Mac.
2. Plug in the US-122.
3. Launch GarageBand.
4. Go to GarageBand’s Audio/MIDI preferences and choose Tascam
US-122 as the Audio Input source.
TIP It’s probably a good idea to use the US-122 as the Audio Output
source as well, but it’s not required. If you decide to do this, make
sure you plug your speakers or headphones into the US-122’s Phones
jack and that you turn up the Phones level on the unit as well.
5. Continue to the instructions in Set up your track.
NOTE I ended up replacing my Mbox with the Tascam US-122. I wanted
to use Logic as my high-end audio application instead of ProTools,
and the Mbox often wouldn’t cooperate with other applications. For
example, recording my bass through the Mbox into ProTools worked
great, but recording into GarageBand resulted in a horribly fuzzy,
distorted bass sound. I never figured out the exact cause of the problem, and I know others have used the Mbox and GarageBand with
no difficulties. So my switch to the Tascam US-122 doesn’t mean the
Mbox doesn’t work with GarageBand, but only that I had problems
with my particular setup.
Digidesign MBox
The MBox is a more expensive option than the previous three. But
it works with GarageBand (for the most part), and is a viable solution
for someone who thinks they want to get into the more upscale world
of Pro Tools at some point. Other than having to install software the
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first time you use it, it’s even easier to set up than the other options
I’ve covered earlier in this section:
1. Download the latest version of the Digidesign CoreAudio Manager
from Install the software according
to the instructions and restart your computer.
2. Plug in the MBox.
3. Launch GarageBand.
4. Go to GarageBand’s Audio/MIDI preferences and choose
Digidesign HW (MBox) in both Audio Input and Audio Output.
5. Continue to the instructions in Set up your track.
TIP I recommend restarting your computer each time you want to use
the MBox. It may not be absolutely necessary, but I’ve experienced
some weird problems using my MBox with GarageBand, and
restarting solved them (at least temporarily).
Also, you don’t specifically need to use the MBox as the audio output
source, but I’ve found that GarageBand and the MBox cooperate
better if you set things up this way. In addition, the MBox offers
better sound output than your computer, so what you’re recording
sounds cleaner and more accurate.
Record an Electric Instrument
Recording an electric instrument is different than recording a MIDI
instrument. Here’s what you need to capture those power chords:
• An electric guitar or bass, a keyboard with a line out, or any
instrument with a pickup.
• A 1/4" instrument cord.
• A preamp.
• One of the following: A USB or FireWire cord if your preamp has
one of these connectors; or, a cord to connect the preamp output
(most likely either 1/4" or RCA) to the audio-in jack on your Mac
(mini plug). If your Mac doesn’t have an audio-in jack, you also
need a Griffin iMic or something similar.
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NOTE In the interest of simplicity, I use guitar as the example instrument
in most of the steps ahead. Unless otherwise noted, all examples can
be applied to any instrument with a 1/4" line out, including electric
basses, keyboards with a line out jack, or any stringed instrument
with a pickup.
NOTE You can take two approaches to record an electric guitar or bass.
One method is to plug the instrument into an amplifier and record
the speaker output with a microphone. If you absolutely love the tone
they get from your Marshall stack and won’t settle for anything else,
this is probably the way to go. You’ll also have the advantage (or the
disadvantage, depending on your perspective) of picking up some
ambient room noise along with your guitar sound. The drawback
to this method is that you’re stuck with the amount of distortion and
ambience you record. You can add more, but you can’t take it away.
However, you may end up with a more distinctive sound using this
The other method is traditionally called “going direct,” or recording
directly into the sound board (in this case, into GarageBand via a
preamp). You end up with a cleaner signal, but it tends to lack the
character of miking an amp. This method is often used for bass, since
many people prefer the clean, tight sound of a bass recorded direct.
GarageBand allows you to use both methods. Try them out and see
which you prefer for different situations. There is no right or wrong
way to do it, only personal preference.
TIP When you record direct, you can still use your external effects boxes
(distortion pedals, Line 6 Pods, and so on). Just plug them into your
signal chain between your guitar and your preamp. You won’t be able
to remove the effect later like you can with GarageBand effects, but
you can get some unique sounds this way.
Be aware that adding more devices to the signal chain has a tendency
to increase the noise level, sometimes considerably. See What’s All
That Noise.
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Now that all your equipment is set up, plug your guitar or bass into
your preamp. Some of these devices have a number of 1/4" inputs
that all look like they would accept a guitar cord. Which one do you
choose? Your first choice should be anything called Channel 1, Line
In 1, or Source 1. GarageBand defaults to Channel 1 & 2 (Stereo) on
Real Instrument tracks so, to record a mono track (like most guitar
or bass setups), you should choose the channel you plugged into on
your preamp. If you often use the same setup, you can leave everything on your preamp dialed in the way you like it; you won’t have
to do as much fiddling each time you record.
NOTE If you play an instrument other than electric guitar or bass, a pickup
is still an option for you. Many types of pickups and transducers are
available for acoustic guitars, pianos, strings, woodwinds, and brass
instruments. They generally clip onto the instrument, and use the
vibration of the instrument’s body or the strings to generate an
electrical signal. Search online or ask at your local music shop.
Set your options
Before you start recording, consider the following variables:
• If you want to add loops or overdub drums later, you’ll want your
audio to stay aligned to the beat ruler. If this is the case, add a
drum loop to your song or enable the metronome by selecting
Control > Metronome (Command-U). In GarageBand’s preferences, you can choose whether the metronome plays only when
recording or during playback and record.
It’s a matter of personal preference whether you record to the metronome or to a drum loop. Each has its virtues. Recording to a loop
gives you a more fluid groove to play along with, as long as it’s the
groove you’re looking for. The metronome has a much more rigid
pulse, but you can create the feel you want without having to dig
around for a drum loop that fits. If you’re laying down drums first,
MIDI or live, you’ll probably want the metronome.
• Choose Control > Count In to have GarageBand start a measure
before you want recording to begin. In the audio world, this is
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called preroll. It allows you to get a feel for the beat before you
actually have to start playing—always a good idea.
Set up your track
If you are new to recording in GarageBand, I recommend that you
carefully follow my directions for setting up your track, since you may
learn something you wouldn’t find out easily otherwise. However, you
don’t need to perform all the steps every time you record. To set up
your track, follow these steps:
1. Create a new Real Instrument track in GarageBand, either by clicking the plus sign button in the lower left corner, or by choosing
Track > New Track (Command-Option-N).
2. In the New Track dialog, select Guitars or Bass (depending on
which instrument you’re using, of course).
3. Pick a default instrument sound from the list in the right hand
column. If you want to record the bare bones, stripped-down
sound of your guitar with absolutely no effects applied, choose
the first item in the list, No Effects.
TIP The No Effects instrument sound is useful if you want an ultra-clean
sound, but it comes in handy at other times too. If your machine is
starting to bog down under the weight of many tracks in a song, it
may help to add effects after you record. No Effects is also a useful
place to start if you like creating your own sounds and experimenting
with effects on your own.
NOTE For some truly wild sounds, choose Effects from the list of Real
Instruments. This list offers bizarre combinations of effects, and
you’re guaranteed to sound nothing like the guitar player next door.
Some of these combinations may inspire ideas you wouldn’t have
thought of otherwise.
4. Directly below the list of instruments and sounds is the place
where you choose your input source, the format (stereo or mono),
and whether you want to monitor the track or not. Here is what
you need to know about each one:
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• Input: The input source in GarageBand depends on your
interface. You can have up to eight channels coming in to
GarageBand if you have the proper interface. The program
defaults to Channel 1 & 2 (Stereo), so for a mono input (i.e.,
plugging in a guitar or bass with one patch cord, or plugging
in one microphone), you should choose the channel you’re
using on your interface.
In some cases, an instrument may output a stereo signal—if
you’re running your guitar through a stereo chorus pedal, for
example, or if your keyboard features a stereo line out option.
Nine times out of ten, though, an instrument signal is mono.
NOTE If you do have a stereo signal coming out of your instrument, you
need to send it to both Channel 1 and Channel 2. Many instruments
with stereo output require two 1/4" guitar cords, one for each
channel. If your instrument has a single stereo output, you’ll need a
Y-cord or an adapter to split the stereo signal into two mono signals.
• Volume: Use the volume slider to set the input volume of your
track. Certain devices don’t allow you to use this slider. If it’s
dimmed, set the input volume earlier in the chain (using your
preamp or the Sound pane in System Preferences).
NOTE With some devices, this slider has no effect on the input volume.
My Tascam US-122 completely ignores the Input Volume setting in
both GarageBand and in System Preferences. With the iMic and the
computer’s built-in audio input, however, using this slider is the only
way to set the input volume.
TIP The volume slider is synchronized with the Input Volume slider on
the Sound pane in System Preferences. Unfortunately, the slider in
GarageBand doesn’t have an associated level meter, so you’re really
just guessing when you set the input level this way. I prefer to use the
slider in the System Preferences, because you can set the level much
more accurately. Use the slider in GarageBand to quickly make minor
adjustments if necessary.
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• Monitor: Turn monitoring on if you want to hear your guitar,
as well as the effects GarageBand is adding, while recording. If
you’d rather not hear anything as you play, leave monitoring off.
For the purposes of this tutorial, make sure monitoring is on.
5. Does the icon in the lower-left corner of the dialog not resemble
your guitar? Click the icon to optionally select a new image to
accompany your track.
6. Click OK to create the new track.
Each Real Instrument can be manipulated with additional settings.
Click the Details expansion triangle to see which are used by the
particular instrument sound. You may want certain effects, such as
delay and distortion, to be audible while you’re playing. It’s difficult
to play a blistering solo with a clean, undistorted guitar while imagining how it will sound with overdrive. But in many cases you can leave
off the chorus and reverb until after the part is recorded.
I won’t get any deeper into effects here (see Understand GarageBand
Effects), but if you want to tweak your sound so it’s just right, this is
the place to do it. Remember, you can change the instrument sound
at any point before or after you record. You’re actually recording your
guitar without any effects applied.
Page 46
If you plug in your guitar, bass, or keyboard and hear a nasty buzz,
you’ve got electrical interference, also known as 60-cycle hum (at
least here in the United States.). This may not be bothersome when
you’re practicing or playing a gig, but the prospect of capturing that
horrible sound as part of your recording may be more than you can
handle. Here are some things you can try:
• Unplug the cord and plug it in again: Jiggle it a little, too.
• Move around the room: Turn your body at different angles.
This often helps significantly. Believe it or not, facing magnetic
north works wonders (for those with a compass). While you’re
playing, try not to move much, if possible.
• Move your computer and preamp away from other
electrical devices or turn these devices off temporarily:
Beware of vacuum cleaners, televisions, some lights, fans, air
conditioners, refrigerators, microwave ovens, and other kitchen
appliances. Turning them off or moving away from them may
help. Fluorescent lights and computer monitors are especially
noisy. If your computer is a desktop model and you use a CRT
monitor, try turning it off while you’re recording.
• Use a decent, relatively new guitar cord: The shorter the
better. Avoid piling the excess cord up with all the other electrical
cords—this only increases interference. If your cords must cross,
keep it to an absolute minimum and do so at 90-degree angles.
• Eliminate as many links in the signal chain as you can:
Adding a lot of effects boxes (or even one) may degrade the signal
and significantly increase noise.
• Consider your guitar: Unfortunately, the best solution is the
hardest. Much of the noise is probably coming from your guitar
itself. Many off-the-shelf guitars and basses, even some expensive
ones, are poorly shielded and grounded. The hum is especially
problematic on guitars with single-coil pickups like Stratocasters.
The solution is too complex to explain here, but the experts at offer an excellent tutorial at
If you’re not up to doing a little soldering and rewiring, take your
guitar to a music store or repair shop and ask to have it shielded.
It’s money well spent.
Page 47
Set levels
Your guitar is plugged in; your track is set up. Now you need to make
sure your levels are adequate. You want the levels to be as strong as
you can get them without setting off the clipping indicators. Play
something on your guitar to make sure you’re getting a signal.
When the incoming signal gets too loud for GarageBand to handle,
clipping occurs. Clipping literally means that the loudest peaks of
your signal are chopped off, or clipped (see Figure 4, earlier). In the
digital world, this is undesirable. Digital clipping is harsh and nasty
sounding, and is something you always want to avoid. If you see the
red clipping indicators on your preamp or in your track going off,
turn down the gain on your preamp.
Use a good pair of headphones and listen carefully to the source
signal. Even if you’re not setting off the clipping indicators and the
peak light on your input device stays dark, confirm the quality of
the signal with your ears. I find that with certain preamps (especially
with bass tracks), I need to lower the input gain on my preamp somewhat to get a clean tone. Trust your ears above all else!
WARNING! When making your level adjustments, lower the volume on your Mac
or external speakers so you don’t blow them out with a sudden burst
of sound.
As you set levels for a particular track, play the part you’re actually
going to play. If you’re recording a rock song with lots of power
chords, don’t set your levels by fingerpicking a pretty one-note
melody. Likewise, if your bass part is a delicate set of arpeggios, don’t
check levels with loud thumb slapping and popping. Different playing
styles produce different volumes. Your goal is to make the loudest
part of your track generate as strong a signal as possible without
1. Turn the volume on your computer or your speakers down fairly
low so you don’t blow your speakers or set off a small avalanche.
You can turn it back up later, but set your input levels first.
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2. Set the track level to its default by Option-clicking the track’s level
slider. The track level doesn’t actually affect the record level, so
you can use this level while you’re recording to adjust the balance
between your guitar and the rest of the song. But for now, set it to
its default.
3. Turn up the volume on the guitar all the way.
Believe it or not, the volume knob on a guitar doesn’t actually add
volume (unless you have a guitar with active electronics). If your
guitar had absolutely no knobs, the sound coming out would be the
same as it is when all the knobs are at 10. The volume knobs are there
only to reduce the signal. The tone knobs do the same, except they
only affect certain portions of the frequency spectrum.
Setting the knobs at 10 gives you the true and unadulterated sound
of your pickups. It also sends a nice strong level out to the preamp,
which is what you want.
4. Set the volume on the preamp to about half of its maximum.
5. Open System Preferences and go to the Sound preference pane.
Click the Input tab and set the input level so the signal peaks just
below the maximum. Certain preamps, like the MBox, don’t use
the system preferences, so you may be able to ignore this step.
TIP Try to keep the signal level as consistent as possible throughout the
signal chain. In other words, don’t set your guitar volume to 3, and
then set the preamp level so high that you have to reduce the level
again in the system preferences. This only degrades the signal quality.
6. Now, play your part and slowly turn the preamp level up until it
just begins to peak. Once it does, back it off a little.
7. Option-click the track level slider in GarageBand to reset it to its
default level. Continue to play and look at the track level meter in
GarageBand. Ideally, the levels should peak in the high end of the
green or just into the orange and not set off the clipping indicators.
If the levels are too low, you must turn something up. The guitar
is already at 10, so that means either adjusting the preamp or the
Page 49
Sound preference pane. Also check to see if more than one knob
on the preamp needs adjusting. Some devices have individual
input levels as well as a master level.
If your guitar is plugged in but you don’t hear anything, double-check
the following things:
• Turn on Monitoring in the Track Info pane and make sure the
volume slider is up at a reasonable level (if it’s not dimmed).
• If the track level meter isn’t moving at all, check to make sure
the preamp is set properly and everything is plugged in where it
should be. Also ensure that GarageBand is looking for the same
channel you’re plugged into. I’ve often found myself plugged into
Channel 1 when GarageBand was listening to channel 2.
• If the track level meter is moving, a signal is getting into the computer. If you have a laptop with a built-in microphone, snap your
fingers near the mic. If the level spikes, then GarageBand is getting
its input from Built-In Audio, and not your external preamp. See
Set Up Your Input Device for instructions on setting up inputs.
• Make sure all the plugs are secured tightly, and are plugged into
the right jacks.
• Turn the volume knob on the guitar up all the way.
• Check the input level on the preamp, as well as the main output
level if there is one. Turn these levels up a little at a time, and test
the guitar after each adjustment. If all the levels are cranked and
you’re still not getting anything, turn the levels back down to
about 2/3 so you don’t blow your speakers when you figure out
what the problem is.
TIP You may need to adjust the track volume or the main volume levels
in the main GarageBand window. These don’t affect your recording
levels—only the level coming out of GarageBand into your headphones or speakers. If you are trying for an aggressive guitar part,
try turning the track level a little lower to encourage you to play with
more élan. Shooting for a more mellow mood? Try the opposite. Your
goal is to achieve a comfortable balance that helps you play your best.
Page 50
8. Click the Record button and play through your part for a few measures. Are all the levels strong? Can you hear what you need to hear
through your headphones or speakers? Is there a delay between
when you play and when you hear the output? (If you hear a delay,
read the tip below.) This is your test run, so make sure everything
feels right. Play back what you recorded to make sure you’re getting a clean signal. Turn off all effects temporarily and listen to the
part again. You can get a distorted-sounding signal even if you’re
not setting off any clipping indicators.
You haven’t mixed your song yet, so experiment with the levels of
the other tracks until you’re comfortable with what you’re hearing.
Hearing more drums, for example, may help you stay in rhythm.
You may notice when you’re recording that the audio you hear coming through your headphones or speakers is slightly behind what you
are actually playing. This is known as latency, and in extreme cases
it can make it impossible to play your part in rhythm. Follow these
steps to try to reduce the latency:
1. Open the Audio/MIDI preferences pane and select Minimum
Delay when Playing Instruments Live. If this is already selected,
don’t despair. Try selecting Maximum Number of Simultaneous
Tracks and switching back. GarageBand seems to lag for no apparent reason, and switching back and forth often fixes it. If not, try
quitting and restarting GarageBand, (or restarting your Mac).
2. If you still experience latency, mute some tracks and turn off some
effects. Try using the absolute minimum you need to play your
part effectively.
3. Lock some of your tracks (for details on this procedure, see
Appendix B: Troubleshooting). This takes some load off the
processor and should solve your problems.
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If a guitar is even slightly out of tune when you record it, you’ll have
to listen to it that way for the rest of eternity. If you’re planning to
do anything with your GarageBand recordings—release them on CD,
send them to a record label, play them for your musically inclined
friends—you want your guitar to be in tune.
Yes, you’ve been playing guitar for years and you know how to tune
your instrument. I’ve been playing for 20 years and I thought I knew
how to tune as well, but my life was forever changed by an excellent
article, “Guitar Tuning Nightmares Explained,” by Jack Endino in
TapeOp magazine (thanks, Jack!). You can read the full article at Here is how
I recommend that you tune your guitar:
1. Open the GarageBand tuner by clicking the tuning fork in the
time display, or press Command-F (see Figure 7).
2. On your guitar, select the pickup closest to the neck, turn the
volume all the way up and the tone knob all the way down (yes,
down). This minimizes many of the upper harmonics that can
confuse the tuner and make the needle jump all over the place.
3. As you tune, pluck each string above the 12th fret. This is usually
the one with two dots on the fretboard. Again, this minimizes the
upper harmonics and emphasizes the fundamental. Slowly turn
the tuning peg on the guitar until the note spends most of its time
in the green portion of the tuner. Always tune up to the proper
note, never down.
4. Try to pluck the notes with the same force you will be using when
you play the track. Fast, hard picking tends to make the note sharp
at first. This effect is accentuated on the lower strings, especially
the low E string. If your part is fast, with lost of short notes, tune
so the initial attack is in tune. If the part is slower with more held
notes, tune so the sustained part of the note is in tune.
Click the
tuning fork
icon to open
the GarageBand tuner.
Page 52
Let’s record already…
This is it: time to record. Don’t worry, this part is significantly easier
than the setup. All you have to worry about at this point is playing
your part well.
Hit the Record button (R) and record a take. The wonderful thing
about recording on your computer is that if it’s right, fabulous; if not,
just delete it and try again.
TIP A decent pair of headphones is a great investment for any small home
studio. Get a pair with good, even frequency response that faithfully
reproduces what comes out of the computer. Ideally, they should
cover your ears. If you can afford a pair of fully-sealed headphones,
that’s even better, because they prevent bleeding to a microphone.
This is especially true when recording vocals, but it can occur anytime a microphone is anywhere near your head. For great headphone
recommendations, read Dan Frakes’s TidBITS reviews:
• Music to Your Ears: 2002:
• Music to Your Ears: 2003
You may record a take that you want to keep, but you want to try
again to get one that’s even better. Duplicate the track by choosing
Track > Duplicate Track (Command-D). Make sure you mute the
original track before you start recording again. With this method,
you can record and save numerous takes of the same part. But
beware: your disk can fill up fast this way. At some point you’ll want
to listen to your takes, pick one or two to save, and delete the rest.
NOTE Hopefully everything will go smoothly, but there’s always a chance
you might run into trouble while recording. If so, see Appendix B:
Troubleshooting for tips on how to solve various common issues.
Page 53
Record with a Microphone
Microphones are amazing. With a microphone you can take any
sound and add it to your song. Think about it: you can bring any
sound into your computer. Your voice, your cat’s voice, the dishwasher, a wooden spoon hitting a plastic bucket, the robins in the
tree outside the window, and yes, traditional instruments, can all join
the party. Anything your ears can hear a microphone can hear as well
(and sometimes more). This opens up a whole world of possibilities
to you.
Choose a microphone
Microphones come in all shapes and sizes, and range in price from
about $20 to many thousands of dollars. Needless to say, the more
you spend the more you get, but you can purchase an extremely good
all-around microphone for about $100 that will serve your GarageBand needs admirably.
TIP If you were to buy just one microphone to use for almost everything,
it would be hard to go wrong with a Shure SM57. It’s arguably the
most popular mic in use. The Sennheiser e835 is similar, but it has
better response in the high end, which makes for crisper recordings.
For more mic recommendations (and a lot of other mic-related information), check out
Many types of microphones are available, but for general all-around
recording work, a dynamic mic is your best bet. For one thing, they’re
the most affordable. They’re also sturdy, easy to use, and work well
in most situations. The downside is that they have a more sluggish
response than other types of microphones, meaning they have a
harder time picking up quiet signals and subtle nuances. But in the
GarageBand world, they do an excellent job.
If you have a dynamic mic and you’d like a second option, the next
step is a condenser mic. Condensers are much more sensitive than
dynamic mics, which means they pick up more subtleties, but they
also distort easily if the source gets too loud. And if you shuffle your
feet while you’re recording your vocal take, you’ll hear it loud and
clear on the final recording. It’s a little creepy what even a budget
condenser mic picks up.
Page 54
TIP If you are extremely budget- and time-conscious, try the $50 USB
MicFlex from MacMice (
It’s affordable, respectable sounding, and extremely easy and convenient. The flexible neck contorts into pretty much any position
you want, and you can use it with or without the weighted base. I’ve
found it’s a great way to capture those late-night vocal inspirations
without having to go through all the rigmarole of setting up your mic
stand, plugging in the preamp, running the cord from the mic to the
It’s a bit sensitive to large volumes of air, so definitely use a windscreen (see the sidebar Build Your Own Windscreen, later). You won’t
be able to get particularly intimate, close recordings with the MicFlex.
But it’s great for quick demos.
Another thing to keep in mind is that most condensers either need
batteries or what’s called phantom power—external power, generally
coming from the preamp. You also have to be more careful with
condensers—they’re much more delicate than dynamic mics.
A last variable to consider is the polar pattern of the microphone. An
omni-directional mic will pick up everything in its vicinity regardless
of what direction it’s pointed. A cardioid, or heart-shaped mic, has a
more focused pattern and primarily picks up sound in front and to the
side, but not behind. For a general-purpose mic, the cardioid pattern
is a better choice, due to its superior isolation.
Select a room
Deciding where to record is important when using a microphone.
Depending on the shape of the room and the angles of the walls,
various rooms will emphasize various frequencies differently. These
resonant frequencies can build up and color your recording quite
I could get all mathematical and explain why this happens and what
you can do about it, but instead, I suggest you put the instrument in
the room you want to record in and play. If it sounds good, wonderful.
If it sounds lousy, try a different place in the room (perhaps move
toward the middle or one corner), or a different room altogether. You
can’t make something sound better than it does when it hits the mic.
Remember: start with the best sound you can.
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NOTE You may think that because your voice sounds great when you sing
in the shower, the bathroom would be the best room in the house to
record. This isn’t necessarily the case. Bathrooms are generally small
and highly reflective, resulting in a short, pronounced echo known as
slapback (often used in rockabilly recordings). If you record a great
vocal track in the bathroom and decide later that you don’t like the
echo, there isn’t anything you can do to remove it. Better to record
in a more acoustically neutral environment and add echo later.
TIP If you find that a room sounds too “live”—too reverberant and
bright—try tossing rugs across the floor or over a table between the
instrument and the wall. Or, try opening or closing interior doors.
The idea is to minimize standing waves—sound waves that bounce
back and forth between opposing walls and unduly emphasize certain
frequencies. Another option is to create a box around the mic with
pillows or furniture to isolate the mic from room reflections.
Learn about mic placement
Microphone placement is an art unto itself. Moving a microphone
even a millimeter can significantly change the sound it picks up. In
this section, I offer a few tips on using a microphone to record common instruments. But in all cases, no matter what I or anyone else
says about where the microphone should be placed, trust your ears.
If you read somewhere that you should place a microphone 6 inches
away from an amplifier, pointing at the speaker at a 45-degree angle,
try it. If it sounds awful, put it somewhere else. Even if it sounds fine,
try a few other spots—they may sound even better.
Mic an electric guitar or bass amp
Do you absolutely love the way your guitar sounds when it’s plugged
into your amp? Have you painstakingly tried to recreate this sound in
GarageBand with little success? Why not go straight to the source and
mic your amplifier? Miking the amp speaker is also a great way to get
variety in your guitar sounds—in a song with two guitars, you can
record one guitar straight into the preamp and the second by miking
the guitar through the amplifier. The two tracks will have different
sonic qualities that will help to distinguish them in the mix.
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Miking a guitar amp is not terribly tricky, but here are a few tips:
• Move the microphone around: Loud, distorted guitars often
sound great with the mic a few inches from the speaker cone,
giving a more meaty tone. A less distorted guitar might sound
better with the mic a few feet back, resulting in a warmer sound.
• Try different angles: Straight on will give you a more crunchy
tone, while more of an angle will sound warmer. If your amp has
an open back, try putting the mic back there as well.
• Tilt the amp back, or place it on a chair or a table: This
minimizes reflections from the floor that can muddy the sound.
Or leave the amp flat on the floor if you like the density of the tone.
• Play with the amplifier volume: Often, guitars are recorded
with the amplifiers cranked up so they distort. This is a possibility.
Try others. Louder isn’t always better.
TIP Don’t forget to use your ears again to listen to the track in context,
with the rest of the recording. Something may sound great on its
own, but it has to work with the track or all bets are off.
Mic an acoustic guitar
The key to recording stringed acoustic instruments lies in understanding how they produce sound. The strings vibrate, but in
themselves don’t generate much power. The volume comes from
the sympathetic vibration of the instrument’s body. Placing a mic
right on top of the strings not only puts the mic in your way, but also
results in a sound full of string noise—clicks and squeaks that you
probably don’t want as the dominant sound.
Most of the following recording tips are for acoustic guitars, but they
work equally well with banjos, mandolins, violins, and other acoustic
stringed instruments:
• Try this first: A good initial “standard” placement is to place the
mic 4 to 12 inches from the strings at a 90-degree angle to the top
of the guitar, aiming it at the fret where the neck and body join.
The angle of the microphone now acts as a kind of equalizer: tilt it
a little toward the sound hole to get more bass; tilt it a little away
from the sound hole to get more treble.
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• Don’t point the mic directly at the sound hole: The volume
of air moving out of the guitar causes a boomy, woofy sound, similar to what you hear when your local TV weatherman is standing
outside on a windy day.
• Place the mic so it picks up all the strings evenly: If the
microphone is pointing at the top of the guitar, it will pick up
mostly the bass strings and less of the higher strings.
When placing microphones, anything within 6 or 12 inches of the
source is considered close miking. Anything farther away is distant
miking. Both methods have advantages and disadvantages; which
you choose depends entirely upon the effect you’re trying to achieve.
Here are the differences:
Close miking:
• Fuller, tighter sound: highs and lows tend to be more pronounced
at close proximity. This is known as the “proximity effect.”
• Less room ambience on track: the microphone picks up more of
the instrument and less of the room reflections.
• More separation when recording in stereo.
• Subtle differences in placement are much more noticeable with
close miking.
Distant miking:
• More room ambience: this is fine if the room sounds good, but if
not, you’re stuck with it.
• Mics are not in the way of the musicians.
• Easier to pick up groups of musicians, like backup vocalists or
string sections.
• Easier to control dynamics: highs and lows are more pronounced
at close proximity; the dynamics even out somewhat.
One other thing to keep in mind when placing mics is depth of field.
If you mic everything in your song from two inches away, everything
in the song is going to be competing for that slice of space two inches
behind the speaker cone. Spread things out by recording some tracks
using close miking and others using more distant miking. Your mix
will boast a lot more depth, and tracks won’t compete so much.
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• Try different distances: Close miking will result in brighter
recordings with fewer harmonics. More distant miking gives a
rounder, warmer tone with more harmonics and more room
TIP If you have two mics and an interface with two or more inputs, you
can record two distances at once. Record with one mic up close and
one farther away, and then choose which one you like better when
you’re mixing (or combine the two).
• Consider the type of music: Some songs sound better with
a bright, close-miked guitar, and others are more suited to the
warmth of a guitar recorded from several feet away.
• Use two mics: Try recording acoustic instruments in stereo or
with multiple mics, especially if they are the main instruments
(see Record a stereo track). This results in a full, rich sound that
nicely fills out the recording. If you’re recording an acoustic instrument as a backing track that won’t be prominent in the mix, don’t
bother recording in stereo. The subtlety will be lost and may
actually muddy the mix and compete with other instruments.
• Use a pickup and a mic: If your guitar has a built-in pickup,
consider recording the built-in pickup on one channel, and recording your guitar with the microphone on the other channel. Again,
blending the two signals will often produce a great guitar tone.
Mic a piano
There are a million ways to mic a piano. The trick is choosing a
method that sounds suitable in the context you’re working in. In some
settings—a jazz tune, a quiet ballad—the warmth and subtlety of distant miking may be more appropriate. In a rock song or in a context
where the piano needs to cut through the mix, placing the mic (or
better, multiple mics) closer to the strings might be more effective.
Consider the following:
• Be careful when close-miking a piano: If you place the mic
in the middle of the soundboard, you may not pick up as much
volume from the low and high strings. Of course, if you don’t plan
on playing the low and high strings this isn’t a problem.
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• Record in two passes: Another option with one microphone is
to mic the lower portion of the soundboard and play the left-hand
part, and then move the mic to the upper strings and record the
right-hand part on a different track.
• Record in stereo: If you do have two microphones, recording
the piano in stereo often works beautifully. You can use one mic
for the low strings and one for the highs, or you can try one close
mic and one more distant to capture some room ambience.
Mic drums
Miking a full drum set is a tricky operation. Professional recording
engineers often use one microphone for each individual drum and a
pair of stereo mics for the cymbals. Even for a small drum kit, this can
quickly add up to six or eight microphones. I doubt that you have this
sort of arsenal at your disposal, but it is possible to get a decent drum
sound with one or two carefully placed mics. It’s not going to sound
like Steely Dan, but it won’t sound half bad. Here’s some basic advice:
• Mic from above: One mic placed overhead captures quite a bit of
the cymbals and the snare, but little kick drum.
• Mic from the front: One mic in front of the kit has lots of kick,
but little snare.
• Mic the whole setup: One distant mic will capture the full kit,
but the sound won’t be tight or punchy.
• Use two microphones at once: Two microphones give you
a more balanced sound. One mic is devoted to the kick drum,
and the other can be placed either close to the snare or overhead.
If the song is mostly kick and snare, go for close-miking the snare;
if the drummer spends a lot of time on the cymbals or the toms,
an overhead mic might work better.
Mic small ensembles
When recording a horn section or a string quartet, it often works
to record the entire ensemble at once with one or two microphones.
Position the players equidistant from the mic or mics. Musicians in
ensembles are usually able to balance volumes among themselves,
especially if they’ve played together before. Since you’re recording at a
distance, it helps to work in a good-sounding acoustical environment.
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If you have space, consider positioning your mics in front of and
somewhat above the ensemble (maybe 8 to 10 feet in the air), spaced
about 9 inches apart for a perceptual stereo spread.
When recording horns in particular, make sure the microphone can
handle large volumes of air. A cheap or delicate microphone will
overload, or worse, break when placed too near the bell of a blaring
Record vocals
Think of your favorite song. If it has vocals, nine times out of ten (if
not all ten times), the vocals are the most important part of the song.
As human beings, we tend to focus on other human beings, whether
it’s visually, aurally, or otherwise. This puts an extra burden on the
vocals, both in terms of the performance and the sound quality.
Set the mood
The first variable—performance—depends primarily on the singer,
and you can make the singer more comfortable and perhaps inspire
a better performance. Even if you’re recording yourself, don’t neglect
little touches that can bring out more emotion in your performance:
• Light candles or burn incense.
• Set out a glass of bubbly water or a cup of herbal tea.
• Arrange some flowers in a vase.
Of course, if you’re attempting to capture a different emotion (anger,
jealousy, dystopian angst), perhaps go easy on the flowers and instead
toss some dangerous-looking industrial machinery on the floor. The
point is, do whatever you can to set the appropriate mood.
It’s also a good idea to have a music stand holding a neat, legible copy
of the lyrics. Momentarily forgetting a line in the middle of an otherwise flawless performance can dampen the morale of even the most
seasoned singer. Have a pencil handy too, for last-minute changes.
Place the microphone
Just as with recording other instruments, mic placement is an important variable, both for the singer’s comfort and for the sound of the
recording. Close-miking a singer captures more of the dynamics of
the performance and sounds more intimate. Placing the mic a foot
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or more away adds warmth and ambience, and smoothes out the
dynamics—ideal if the song calls for abrupt shifts in volume.
When close-miking a singer (or any other source that generates large
volumes of air), it’s best to use a windscreen, or pop filter. This blocks
some air from blowing directly into the mic and thereby prevents
popping and distortion that can mar a recording. It can also help keep
the singer at a consistent distance from the microphone. The sidebar
on the next page tells you how to fashion your own budget
Here are some ideas for mic placement:
• Pointed straight at the singer’s mouth, 6–8 inches in
front: This is a good starting point. The space between the
microphone and the singer adds a little bit of warmth and
ambience. Use a windscreen.
• Close: Good for very intimate-sounding vocals. Not good for
vocals with wide dynamic shifts. Use a windscreen.
• More than a foot away: Works well for singers that move
around a lot. Captures more of the room sound, so make sure
you like the acoustics of the space you’re recording in.
• Pointed down at the singer’s nose: It looks weird, but it’s
great for people with nasally voices (like yours truly). The front
of the microphone should be parallel to the bridge of the singer’s
nose and pointed roughly at the tip of the nose. None of the air
coming out of the singer’s nose gets recorded, therefore, no nasal
tone. Move the mic back a little for more ambience and to get it
out of the singer’s way.
• Placed parallel to the chest, aimed up at the singer’s
mouth: Great for singers who like to lean into the mic. Also
captures some of the resonance of the chest cavity.
TIP If the song features distinct loud and soft sections, try recording each
section on its own track. Record the quiet section using a close mic
for intimacy, and the loud section from farther back so the singer can
really belt it out.
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You can buy windscreens at most music stores for $25 or so, but you
can build one yourself for about $3. Here’s what you need:
• Stockings. I use knee-highs. They come four to a pack and they’re
the perfect length. You’ll want to replace them occasionally.
• A wire coat hanger or similar heavy-gauge wire.
• A pair of pliers.
• A small diameter hose clamp. It should snugly fit your mic stand.
Assembly is simple:
1. Use the pliers to straighten the coat hanger.
2. Bend one end of the coat hanger into a 6-inch diameter circle and
twist the end back on itself. The hanger should look like a giant
lollipop (Figure 8).
3. Pull one of the stockings over the loop so the toe seam lines up
with the edge of the circle. Stretch the stocking as far as you can
away from the loop and poke the straight end of the wire through
the middle of the stocking.
4. Tie a knot in the stocking to keep it taut around the loop.
5. Place the hose clamp around the mic stand and clamp the free end
of the windscreen to the mic stand. You should be able to comfortably bend the screen in front of the microphone.
Bend the coat hanger into a
lollipop shape like this.
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Give the singer a pair of headphones, preferably the most acoustically
closed pair you have. Old Walkman-style headphones tend to leak
a lot of sound out the sides, and this can get picked up on a mic and
bleed onto your vocal track. In extreme cases, this can cause feedback
and potentially damage the singer’s hearing. Large, 1970s-style headphones that fit tightly around the ear are preferable.
To help the vocalist sing on key, have her move the earpiece off of one
ear, and try plugging the open ear with her finger. That way she’s able
to hear the song in one ear and herself in the other. Rock musicians
who perform with earplugs may be more comfortable this way.
TIP Follow these additional tips for even more amazing recorded vocals:
• Warm up: Sing scales or sing the song for 10 minutes before
• Choose the right time of day: Some people sing better in the
morning, some in the late afternoon. Check with singers to find
out when they sing their best and schedule accordingly.
• Hold something: If the singer is a guitar player and is used to
holding a guitar when he sings, let him. Or if he prefers to hold the
mic rather than use a stand, try it.
• Take a break: Sometimes it’s just not happening. Suggest that
the singer take a walk, have a snack, or do a crossword puzzle—
anything to take his mind off the song.
• Record a reference track: Record the vocal line on piano or
guitar so the singer can sing along to it. This may help his pitch.
• Double-track the vocal: Try recording a second vocal track
and mixing it with the first to thicken up the sound. For even more
effect, have the singer step back from the mic for the second vocal,
or turn the microphone around and have him sing into the back
of it. It’s different, but it works.
• Consider a shock-mount: A shock-mount suspends the microphone using elastic bands or springs so thumps and rumbles from
bumping the mic stand and foot tapping don’t get picked up by the
mic as easily.
• Watch your cables: make sure the mic cable isn’t underfoot.
Tapping feet can transmit vibration to the mic.
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Record a stereo track
If you own a preamp and two microphones, you have the ability to
record in stereo! Stereo recording is especially effective on prominent
instruments. If your song is acoustic guitar and vocals, recording the
guitar in stereo gives you a much bigger, richer sound than a mono
guitar track. Other instruments that can benefit from stereo recording
are pianos, small ensembles, and organs with rotating speakers.
When recording stereo tracks, you ideally want to have two matching
microphones. The closer the microphones are in sound, the more
accurate your stereo recording will be.
With the proper equipment, recording a stereo track is simple:
1. Set up your microphones. The sidebar on the next page, “Stereo
Mic Configurations,” outlines common stereo setups.
2. Plug one microphone into the Channel 1 input on your preamp,
and the other into Channel 2.
3. Create a new Real Instrument track in GarageBand. Choose the
appropriate instrument type.
4. To the right of the Input header, select Channel 1 & 2 (Stereo) from
the pop-up menu.
I’ve made a number of decent-sounding pseudo-stereo recordings
with two completely different mics. Try it and see how it sounds.
Record each mic to a separate track. Then pan one hard left and one
hard right. If that sounds strange or imbalanced, bring the panning
in on both tracks so they blend more in the center. This gives a stereo
feel, but also helps balance the different sounds the two mics capture.
It’s certainly not a true stereo recording, but it’s a good compromise,
and it’s a lot cheaper than shelling out for a pair of stereo mics. You
can also fake this by duplicating a mono track, applying different
effects to each copy, and panning them to different places.
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NOTE Beware of the temptation to record everything in stereo. For minor
instruments or things that you’re going to pan off to one side of the
mix, it’s total overkill. And in many cases, an overabundance of stereo
tracks will make your final mix sound muddy and indistinct.
For more information about panning and mixing, see my other
ebook, Take Control of Making Music with GarageBand
With two microphones available, you can record more depth by
capturing the audio in stereo. Here are two common configurations:
• X/Y pattern: The two mics cross in an X above or in front of
the source (Figure 9). Because of their proximity, this set up
minimizes phase problems between the two mics. For a wider
stereo image, increase the angle between the two mics—but
beware of creating a “hole” in the middle of the sound.
• Spaced apart: The two mics can be parallel to each other or
angled in toward the source. The parallel setup will generally give
you a wider stereo image. To increase this even further you can
place a baffle between the mics.
X/Y Pattern (left);
spaced mics with a
baffle (right).
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WARNING Beware of a little bugaboo known as phase cancellation. If you record
a stereo track with two mics that aren’t quite equidistant from the
source, the signals can cancel each other out (Figure 10). You can
minimize this by placing the second mic three or four times as far
from the source as the first. This way, the extra room ambience in
the second mic will minimize any phase issues.
The peaks of
Signal 1 line
up with the
troughs of
Signal 2.
When combined, the
result is
Record multiple tracks at once
Probably one of the coolest features of GarageBand is the capability
to record multiple tracks at once. With the proper equipment (and
enough people to play the instruments), this is a piece of cake:
NOTE Remember, if your preamp has only two channels, you can record
only two Real Instrument tracks at once—no more. And no matter
what kind of fancy interface you have, you can never record more
than one Software Instrument track at a time.
1. Plug your instruments into your input device. Depending on your
device, you can use guitars, keyboards with 1/4" outputs, mics, and
anything else you can think of (your stereo, for example).
2. Create a new track for the first input.
3. Choose the appropriate channel (or pair of channels for a stereo
track) from the Input pop-up menu.
4. Turn monitoring on if you want it, and adjust all the knobs and
sliders as described in Set up your track and Set levels.
5. Do the same for all the other tracks, making sure that each track
is on its own channel or channels.
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6. Now here’s the cool part: Click the Record Enable button on each
of the new tracks to arm the track for recording (Figure 11). If you
can’t enable a track for recording, make sure it’s not sharing an
input channel with another enabled track, and that you’re not
trying to record on more than eight tracks at once.
7. Click Record, start jamming, and make beautiful music together.
Click each track’s
Record Enable button
to start doing some
serious multitrack
Use your imagination
Now that you have a microphone or two, don’t be afraid to use them
to record anything you can think of. Why restrict yourself to traditional instruments? Record toy xylophones, refrigerators, squeaking
hinges, or anything else that comes to mind.
Homemade percussion is an especially fruitful area of exploration.
Plastic tubs, cardboard boxes, and tables and chairs all make excellent drums. You can fashion maracas and shakers from cans and jars
filled with rice or dried beans. Fill bottles or glasses with different
levels of water for a makeshift xylophone. Think of a sound you want
to create and then figure out how you can achieve it.
Another avenue for unique sounds is using interesting variations on
speakers and microphones. Play your guitar through a boom box. Get
a crappy old broken microphone and record something through that.
Go to flea markets and garage sales and buy old, weird instruments,
even if you don’t know how to play them. Sometimes doing things the
wrong way is the best route to inspiration.
Remember the golden rule: it doesn’t matter how you get a sound—if
you like the result, that’s all that matters.
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As with anything, every once in a while we all make mistakes.
Fortunately, you don’t need to rerecord the entire track to fix your
mistakes. You can redo a small section of a track, and starting with
GarageBand 2.0, you can even fix timing and pitch.
Punch In
In the audio world, rerecording a portion of a track is called punching
in. It’s a great way to rescue a performance that has one bad section.
TIP When you punch in on a Real Instrument track, you need to duplicate
all the conditions of the original recording or the repair will sound
different. If you put your mic in another place or set the knobs on
your guitar differently, you’ll hear it on the recording.
Here’s how to punch in and a fix a mistake:
1. Select the track with the error.
2. Make sure Control > Snap to Grid is turned on, and align the
playhead with the beginning of the section you want to replace.
3. Choose Edit > Split (Command-T).
4. Do the same at the end of the region with the mistake.
5. Select this new region and delete it.
6. With the same track still selected, choose Track > Duplicate Track
7. Select the new track.
8. Align the playhead where you want to begin recording. This way,
you can start recording as far in advance as you like without damaging the original track. This gives you a chance to feel the groove
and warm up before you get to the punch-in point.
9. Hit Record (R) and play your heart out!
TIP When punching in, it helps to start recording a few measures early to
allow yourself to feel the part before you need to start playing.
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10. If you’re happy with the new take, move it up to the old track or
simply leave it. I prefer to move it, to keep excess tracks to a minimum. You can also crop out part of the new take and move only
that portion. Remember that dragging a region over an existing
one replaces the portion of the old one (see Figure 12).
Dragging a new region over an existing one replaces the old region.
Notice that the existing region is cropped flush with the new one.
NOTE The GarageBand help files recommend a different method for rerecording, using a cycle region. I’ve found that method to be awkward
and potentially dangerous. If you begin playing before the cycle
region starts, or you hold notes past the end of the cycle, GarageBand
extends the new region you are creating and erases the measure preceding or following the cycle region (see Figure 13). I suggest using
the method featured in this section instead.
I started
playing too
early, so the
new region I
created wiped
out a chunk of
the preceding
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Fix Timing and Pitch
Did you play a wonderful sax solo, but mess up the rhythm on
measure 37? Is your singing full of emotion and energy, but you’re
a little sharp through the entire chorus? Never fear, GarageBand can
help you fix it. Enhance Tuning and Enhance Timing can tame those
out-of-tune notes and wayward beats. Here’s how:
1. Select the track that contains the offending region. If you messed
up in only one specific spot, isolate it with the Split command.
Place the playhead at the beginning of the section and choose Edit
> Split (Command-T). Do the same at the end of the error.
2. Double-click the region with the mistake to open it in the Track
3. Depending on your mistake, choose Enhance Tuning or Enhance
Timing in the Advanced column of the Track Editor, and drag the
slider to the right until you like what you hear.
NOTE Don’t expect miracles. Moving the slider too far to the right can easily
result in artificial-sounding audio with abrupt transitions between
notes and stuttering glitches in the sound. I recommend that you use
these tools only as a last resort. You’re far better off rerecording the
Change Tempo
Have you recorded your whole song and realized it’s too slow? In
GarageBand 2.0 and up, you can change the tempo of your song to
match the recorded regions to the new beat. That’s right, even your
Real Instrument recordings adjust to the new tempo.
NOTE Again, this doesn’t always work perfectly. You may find your audio
sounding “warbly” after you change tempos. Apparently this is a bug,
and doesn’t happen all the time. If you encounter it, quit GarageBand
without saving the tempo change, restart your machine, and try
changing tempos again. You may have better luck the second time
If you open an old GarageBand 1.x project in GarageBand 2 or 3, any
Real Instrument regions you recorded with the earlier version appear
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orange (not purple, like version 2.0 and 3.0 recordings). Orange
regions don’t have this tempo scalability, at least not yet. It is possible
to convert them to purple regions fairly easily, and then can scale
them as though you recorded them with version 3.0. Here’s how:
1. In the track you want to convert (or on another Real Instrument
track), record a short segment of silence. Place the playhead a few
measures away from any audio you want to save, hit record, and
then stop after a few beats.
2. Move this region next to the region you want to convert, either
before or after, it doesn’t matter (see Figure 14).
Move the empty purple region
next to the orange region you
wish to convert.
3. Select the empty purple region and all the other regions on that
track you wish to convert. They don’t necessarily need to be
contiguous. Choose Edit > Join (Command-J).
4. When the message “Non-contiguous audio regions require the
creation of a new file!” pops up, click Create.
Voilà. You now have a purple region where once you had only orange.
Change tempo and this region will change with you.
NOTE Recorded Real Instrument regions also must be purple in order to
change their pitch. To change the pitch of a region, open its Track
Edit window. The left-hand column contains the region pitch slider.
Move the slider right or left to raise or lower the pitch of the region.
But beware: raising or lowering the pitch of a region too much can
make it sound artificial. Your voice may end up sounding like the
Chipmunks or the guy who sings the Monster Mash. Use this feature
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Effects alter the sound of a track in a wide variety of ways. You
can make a track fit better in the mix, separate two similar-sounding
tracks, or give your song a certain quality—hard and edgy, dreamy
and ambient, robotic and mechanical. Effects are like seasoning—you
can’t turn meatloaf into lobster, but you can adjust its flavor quite
a bit, and in extreme cases, make it completely inedible.
Effects fall into a number of different categories. Dynamic effects
alter the volume of the notes or of a specific portion of those notes.
Filter and equalizer effects adjust specific portions of the frequency
spectrum. Time-based effects, such as echo and chorus, duplicate
notes and offset them by a certain amount to give the effect of space
or of several instruments playing together. And distortion effects
simulate overdriven amplifiers, speakers, or transistors.
GarageBand’s effects reside in several different places within the
Track Info pane. The simplest and most commonly used effects, like
the Compressor, Equalizer, Echo, and Reverb, show up in the Details
pane. To use the others, you must select them from one of the two
pop-up menus below the Equalizer.
The pop-up menus include two sections: the top section contains 15
so-called GarageBand Effects; the bottom section contains the more
complex Audio Units Effects (as well as any plug-in effects you may
have installed). All Audio Units Effects are designated with “AU” at
the beginning of their names. For more details on using Audio Units
Effects, follow the MacJams tutorial article available at:
To edit most of the effect parameters, click the effect’s Edit button,
labeled with a pencil icon.
TIP Most GarageBand effects come with useful presets you can select
from the effect’s pop-up menu. The presets typically offer a range of
settings from subtle to extreme, so the uninitiated can quickly get a
feel for what the effect does.
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TIP Effects can reside in one of two places: in the individual tracks, or
in the Master Track. The Master Track is normally hidden, but you
can access it by selecting Track > Show Master Track (Command-B).
When you view the Track Info pane for the Master Track, you’ll find
the settings for the global reverb and echo effects, which you can
apply to each track with their individual sliders (see Echo and delay
and Reverb, later in this section). You can also add compression,
equalization, and one other effect to the entire mix. This is useful, for
example, if you want to use reverb to make the entire mix sound like
it was recorded in the same room. You may also want to apply compression to the entire mix to squish the dynamic range and make the
song seem louder (see Reverb and Compressors for more on these
two effects).
Dynamic Effects
Dynamic effects include limiters, compressors, and gates. They alter
the loudness of your source signal: compressors and limiters even
out the differences between the loud and soft parts; gates block any
sound below a certain threshold and are most often used to control
noise or hum.
Limiters help avoid clipping, or signal overload, which can cause
awful-sounding distortion. Limiters smooth out peaks above a certain
threshold, and can help tame sounds such as drums and aggressive
guitar parts. The cool thing about limiters is that they allow you to
make a track louder without setting off the clipping indicators; however, applying a limiter too aggressively can make a track sound
artificial (or like a small child playing with a stereo’s volume knob).
AUPeakLimiter is the only limiter available in GarageBand.
Compressors are similar to limiters, but instead of just lowering the
peaks, they also raise the valleys, thereby evening out the quiet and
loud parts of a track. Compressors are great for tracks that have quiet
parts that get lost in the mix; for evening out bass parts; and for
smoothing out highly dynamic tracks, like vocals.
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GarageBand comes with several compressor options. The simplest
by far is the default Compressor that shows up in Details section of
the Track Info pane. One slider controls the amount of compression,
and that’s it. A bit inflexible, but oh so easy to use!
The other two compressors are Audio Units Effects:
AUDynamicsProcessor, a more traditional compressor, and
AUMultibandCompressor, which features a ridiculous number of
sliders. The nifty thing about the multiband compressor is that it
allows you to compress separate parts of the frequency spectrum
differently—so you could compress only the bass frequencies and
leave the rest of the sound alone, for example.
TIP One fun trick to try with these fancy compressors is to set the threshold fairly low and play with the attack and release settings. You can
get some super-funky “pumping” drums with this technique.
Gates, commonly called “noise gates,” selectively mute the quieter
parts of a track in an effort to eliminate buzz and hum. Of course, it’s
far better to record a track without any noise to begin with, but sometimes you don’t have a choice.
GarageBand’s default Gate resides at the top of the Details section
of the Track Info pane. Moving the slider sets the threshold—the
higher you set the slider, the more noise you cut out. At some point
you’ll probably start cutting out stuff you want to keep as well, so
set the slider carefully.
The AUDynamicsProcessor can also be set as a noise gate. It includes
three presets to get you started: Light Gate, Medium Gate, and Hard
Filter and Equalizer Effects
Filters and equalizers enable you to add, subtract, or even eliminate
specific frequencies. Most stereos include either a tone knob or dedicated bass and treble knobs—these are examples of simple equalizers.
And while Vocal Transformer isn’t the same type of effect as the
others, it alters the frequency content of the sound and fits well here.
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GarageBand’s simple equalizers, as well as some much more complex
variations, give you control over minute portions of the frequency
• Default Equalizer: The default Equalizer sits just below the
Compressor in the Track Info pane. Like many simple equalizers, it
divides the frequency spectrum into three sections: bass, midrange
(here called simply “mid”), and treble. This type of rudimentary
equalization is often adequate if you have only minor adjustments
to make.
TIP A good rule to keep in mind when adding equalization is to pull
before adding. Rather than adding more bass, try pulling the treble
and mid frequencies and boosting the overall level. The response is
smoother and you won’t degrade the audio signal as much.
The default Equalizer has four controls. The first and last are selfexplanatory: Bass Gain boosts or cuts the lower end of the frequency
range, and Treble Gain does the same to the high end. The Mid
controls are slightly more complex. Mid Gain is like the treble and
bass controls, but Mid Frequency lets you select a specific frequency
you want to work with. The easiest way to use this feature is to boost
the Mid Gain up about halfway, and then sweep the Mid Frequency
slider until you find the area you want to affect. This is especially
helpful for finding frequencies to cut—start by boosting the gain,
find the frequency that is most bothersome, and then cut it with
the gain slider.
• AUGraphicEQ: This 31-band equalizer features sliders for each
portion of the audio spectrum. Move a slider up to boost and down
to cut. For less jarring adjustments, it’s usually a good idea to keep
a fairly smooth visual curve in the sliders, but occasionally you
might want to cut a specific frequency and not touch anything else.
• AUParametricEQ: This equalizer is similar to the mid controls
on the default Equalizer with one added function. The Q slider
determines how wide the adjustment curve is. At a low Q setting,
the curve is wide and affects a broad swath of the frequency spectrum. At a high Q setting, the curve is extremely narrow and affects
only frequencies close to the center frequency.
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NOTE Some of the other GarageBand effects feature built-in equalization.
Most notably, Amp Simulation has four EQ sliders: the now-familiar
Low, Mid, and High sliders, and one new one—Presence. Presence
boosts or cuts a specific portion of the high-frequency spectrum
(around 2.5 KHz) to give the impression that an instrument is right
there next to you. A little presence can add crispness to the sound
that makes it feel “in your face.”
Filters are like equalizers, except they affect only portions of the frequency spectrum. (Actually, if you want to get technical, equalizers
are nothing more than a number of filters bundled together, each one
shaping a specific range of frequencies.)
• Treble Reduction and Bass Reduction: These two filters
completely eliminate the affected frequencies. You can set sweepable cutoff points above or below which all audio is filtered out.
If you want your drums to sound like they’re coming from your
downstairs neighbor’s apartment, use Treble Reduction. If you
want one of your guitar tracks to sound thin and trebly, add a
Bass Reduction filter.
• Automatic Filter: Despite the bland name, this cool toy sweeps
through affected frequencies over time to create a pulsing or
swooshing sound. One parameter that needs a little explanation
is Resonance, which emphasizes overtones near the center
frequency, making the filter sound sort of “boingy.” You have
to play with it to fully understand how it works, but it can create
some really wild sounds.
• Auto Wah: This filter simulates classic wah-wah pedals, made
famous in the 1960s by musicians like Jimi Hendrix. Wah-wah
pedals allow you to manually sweep through the frequency spectrum, making your guitar (or whatever other instrument you
choose) sound like one of the teachers in a Peanuts cartoon. Auto
Wah mimics this by using a gate to trigger the wah effect—when
the signal crosses a certain threshold, it initiates a new wah cycle.
• AUHighShelfFilter: This filter boosts or cuts frequencies above
an adjustable cutoff point. It’s a terrific way to add sizzle to a track,
especially when the default equalizer’s treble control doesn’t give
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you the control you want. AULowShelfFilter does the same for bass
frequencies (except it affects tones below the cutoff point).
• AUHighPass and AULowPass: Similar to the shelf filters,
these two add a resonance slider. Be careful with this! Turn it
up too much and you may shred your speakers or your ears.
• AUBandpass: This filter is similar to AUHighPass and
AULowPass, but you’re singling out a specific frequency band in
the middle of the spectrum. If you want to isolate only the highmids, for example, use the bandpass filter.
Vocal Transformer
The Vocal Transformer alters the frequency content of a sound,
although not in the same way as the other filter effects.
Vocal Transformer is arguably one of the most fun effects in the
GarageBand arsenal. Want to sound like a woman? A man? A child?
A droid? Something out of your worst nightmare? Vocal Transformer
is a great place to start. It’s surprisingly effective and can be loads of
Time-Based Effects
Effects like Chorus, Delay, and reverb fall under this category. They
all duplicate the signal and shift it over time in some way or another.
Chorus, flanger, and phaser shift the signal by small amounts to
mimic the sound of two instruments playing simultaneously, or to
create special effects. Delay and Echo offset the sound more drastically, so you’re able to hear the track and its echo separately. Reverb
uses multiple echoes to simulate sound waves bouncing around a
room. I’m also including Tremolo—fluctuation in volume over time—
under time-based effects, although it functions differently than the
other effects in this category.
Chorus, Flanger, and Phaser
All three of these effects shift the signal by tiny increments—so small
that you can’t distinguish the original sound from its echo, you only
hear the effect of the two signals combined. Here’s a rundown:
• Chorus: This effect gives a track a little bit of shimmer. It can
simulate two or more instruments playing together, or it can be
used for a variety of special effects. For more subtle effects, keep
the Intensity and Speed sliders toward the left side of their range.
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GarageBand also features a number of chorus presets that offer
a variety of good starting points.
• Flanger and Phaser: Both effects are similar and share the same
controls, although flangers are arguably more “musical” sounding.
To my ears, the flanger sounds more like a supersonic jet streaking
across the sky, and the phaser more like Jabba the Hutt. Having
read this, you may think I’ve gone completely mad, but give them
a listen. Set the controls for each as follows: Intensity in the middle, Speed at about 10 percent, and Feedback at 90 percent. Again,
you’re given quite a few presets to try out.
Echo and delay
GarageBand’s echo and delay effects can help you sound like
The Edge from U2, or like you’re playing in the Grand Canyon.
The default Echo slider, which controls the amount of echo applied,
is located near the bottom of the Track Info pane. If you want more
control over the echo of the entire song, open the Master Track by
selecting Track > Master Track (Command-B) and double-clicking
the master track header. Edit its parameters by clicking the effect’s
Edit button. Note that the Echo controls in the master track apply
to the default echo parameters for all the individual tracks. There
are some useful presets you can use as well.
If you want more control over a specific track’s echo, use the Track
Echo effect. Its controls are identical to the default Echo slider, and
again, you’ll find lots of useful presets to try.
AUDelay is a more sophisticated delay effect. One thing I like about it
is that you can specify delay times in seconds. Using a little math, you
can figure out what one beat is in fractions of a second and use that
number to synch your delay up to the beat of your song.
Reverb simulates sound waves bouncing around in an environment,
like a small room or a cathedral. If some of your tracks sound too
“dry” or “dead,” a little reverb might be just what you need. Reverb
makes vocals sound warmer and smoother, and can help to blend
tracks together, like a string section or backing vocalists. You can also
use reverb to make a track sound farther away from the listener,
especially if you roll off some of the higher frequencies.
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You can find GarageBand’s default Reverb control at the bottom of
the Track Info pane. Like the default Echo control, you can change
the reverb settings in the master track, and these settings affect the
default reverb on all tracks in your song.
If you want more control over reverb on a particular track you have
only one choice: AUMatrixReverb, which gives you much more control than the default reverb.
WARNING You pay for reverb. Performing all the calculations necessary for
accurately reproducing room acoustics places a great strain on your
processor. Expect GarageBand to give up and stop playback if you
add reverb to too many tracks.
In fact, I always recommend deselecting the default reverb checkbox
on all tracks that don’t use it. It’s on by default, but set to zero; even
though you’re not actually using the effect, GarageBand seems to
reserve processing power for reverb when the box is checked.
The Tremolo effect creates regular fluctuations in volume that can
make you sound like Duane Eddy. You can also use this effect to pan
your track back and forth between the speakers. Try out some of the
presets for a good idea of the possibilities.
Distortion Effects
Distortion effects attempt to simulate the sound of overdriven amplifiers and other signal deteriorations. They include obvious candidates
like Distortion and Overdrive, and also the more esoteric Bitcrusher,
which simulates low-fidelity digital distortion. I also include Amp
Simulation in this group, even though it does more than just distort
the sound.
Distortion and Overdrive
Distortion simulates an amplifier pushed beyond its limits. Distortion
has become a staple of rock music—it’s been difficult to turn on the
radio since the late 1960s and not hear a distorted guitar at some spot
on the dial. Overdrive is a subtler relative of distortion. In both cases,
turning up the Drive function also increases the volume. You can
compensate by turning the Output Level slider down.
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Bitcrusher simulates digital downsampling and bit reduction commonly heard in techno and in old-school video games. This type of
distortion sounds quite different from classic analog distortion: it’s
harsher, and depending on the sample rate reduction, emphasizes
overtones in a unique and quite nasty way.
Amp Simulation
If you recorded your electric guitar directly into GarageBand, Amp
Simulation is a great way to introduce some of the analog edge of a
classic guitar amp. More than just a distortion effect, Amp Simulation
attempts to mimic the sound of the whole amplifier, speaker cabinet
and all. Most electric guitar amplifiers feature distinct and deliberate
tones that are often as integral to a particular guitar sound as a
guitarist’s choice of instrument and effects. GarageBand’s Amp
Simulation tries to bring some of this distinctive tone to your tracks
without requiring you to own (and expertly mic) a variety of classic
guitar amps.
TIP Don’t reserve Amp Simulation just for your guitar. Try it on other
instruments too. It’s great for lo-fi vocal effects, and the occasional
distorted drum (listen to a distorted drum in Come On and Love Me
by Lenny Kravitz) or keyboard part can give your song an interesting
Bass Amp
Apple added a bass amp simulator to GarageBand 2.0, surprisingly
titled Bass Amp. It’s essentially the same as the guitar version, but
with different models and different presets. The first batch of presets
simulate different types of bass amps. The last three, titled Top Class
DI, simulate D.I. boxes—direct injection boxes that bass players
typically use when recording or performing live. D.I. boxes tend
to give a cleaner, punchier sound than miking an amp.
TIP I still use Amp Simulation for bass as well at times. Mix and match,
and try different sounds for different situations.
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It’s no secret that GarageBand is entry-level music editing software.
For the non-musician getting started, a peek at the controls and
settings in Pro Tools or Logic Pro can fry synapses faster than a late
1960s road trip on the Rolling Stones’ tour bus. But at the same time,
GarageBand can perform feats that aren’t immediately obvious.
Double-Track Vocals and Guitars
Double-tracking is an old technique for thickening vocals and other
types of tracks. The idea is that you record two takes of the same part
and lay them on top of each other. The resulting product has a thicker
sound and a unique quality. Double-tracking can also hide minor
tuning flaws in vocal tracks. The two versions blend together and
mask the out-of-tune bits.
To double-track a part, simply duplicate the original track (choose
Track > Duplicate Track or Command-D) and rerecord your part
onto the new track.
TIP Double-tracking isn’t the only method of thickening a track. Other
techniques include:
• Add chorus (see Time-Based Effects).
• Duplicate the track and offset the new track ever so slightly. It’s
tricky to move a track by tiny increments in GarageBand, but it
can be done. You need to zoom the timeline way in to do it.
The trick to double tracking is that the two versions have to be as
identical as possible, at least if you want the effect to be invisible.
There’s certainly nothing wrong with playing the second part differently and panning the two parts away from each other. This will add
thickness as well as a not so subtle stereo effect. Feel free to try
adding reverb or other effects to the second track for variety.
Make Your Own Loops
The wonderful thing about GarageBand’s loops is that you can play
them in any tempo and key that you want. Starting with GarageBand
2.0, it’s a cinch to do this with your own recordings as well:
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1. Trim the track down to the portion you want to use as a loop. To
do this, position the playhead at the start of the desired bit and
choose Edit > Split (Command-T). Do the same at the end of the
2. Make sure the desired loop is selected and choose Edit > Add to
Loop Library.
3. Name the loop, select Loop or One Shot, and choose scale, genre,
instrument, and mood descriptors.
TIP Selecting Loop creates just that—a loop. It scales to the tempo and
key of your song just like the loops Apple ships with GarageBand.
One Shot is meant for things like sound effects and cymbal crashes
that don’t need to conform to a particular tempo or key.
That’s all there is to it! Look in the loop library to find your loop
alongside the others.
NOTE For more on loops and how to use them, see my other ebook, Take
Control of Making Music with GarageBand
Turn Your Guitar into a Bass
So you have an electric guitar, but you don’t have a bass. You could
play bass lines on a MIDI keyboard, but maybe you lack one of those
as well, or you want a more natural-sounding bass part. Here’s a little
trick to turn your guitar into a bass (virtually—don’t worry, no power
tools are required and your vintage axe won’t be damaged):
1. Record your guitar playing the bass line an octave higher than you
want it to sound when you’re finished.
2. Open the Track Editor and move the Region Pitch slider down to
–12. This transposes the guitar loop down one octave. Your guitar
should sound a lot like a bass.
3. To make it even more realistic, double click the track header to
open the Track Info pane. Play with the following effects settings
until you like what you get:
• Turn on the Compressor and move the slider to about 30.
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• Activate the Equalizer. Boost the bass a bit to cut the midrange.
• Add some Amp Simulation. Try American Clean with a touch of
gain. Turn the bass up, the midrange down, and set treble and
presence to taste. Or, try one of the Bass Amp presets.
Combine Two GarageBand Projects in One Song
You may occasionally find that you want to import another
GarageBand project into your current song. For example, you may
have a project (or a portion of a project) that would work perfectly
as the intro to the current song you’re recording. Or perhaps you have
two versions of the same song that you want to combine into one (a la
The Beatles’ Strawberry Fields Forever). With GarageBand 3.0 you
can now do this with ease:
1. Open the Media Browser by clicking the Media Browser button in
the lower right corner of the GarageBand window (see Figure 15).
Click the Media Browser button to open (you
guessed it) the Media Browser.
2. Select the Audio tab at the top of the Media Browser and select
GarageBand/GarageBand to open your user’s ~/Music/
GarageBand folder in the Media Browser (see Figure 16).
Select the
folder to
access your
projects in
the Media
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NOTE If you store your GarageBand projects somewhere other than the
default location, you may not be able to access them from within
the Media Browser. In this case, you can copy the project into your
Users/(your name)/Music/GarageBand folder and access
it from there.
3. Double-click the project you want to import in the bottom half of
the Media Browser. If you haven’t opened it from within the Media
Browser before, GarageBand tells you the project was not saved
with an iLife preview and asks if you’d like to open it in
GarageBand so you can save it with an iLife preview. Click Yes.
GarageBand opens the project and creates a mixdown.
4. Close this project and open the original song.
5. Open the Media Browser again and drag the song you just
converted into the current project (see Figure 17).
Drag the song you want to import into the timeline just like you
would a loop.
The song appears as an orange region with a small guitar icon next to
its name in the timeline. This indicates it’s an imported project. To
edit the imported song, do the following:
1. Double-click the imported region in the timeline. This opens up
the Track Editor.
2. Click Open Original in the Track Editor.
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3. Make any changes you want to the imported project, then save and
close it.
4. GarageBand opens the project you started with, informs you that
the imported project has been modified, and asks if you want to
update the imported region. Click the Update Region button.
That’s it. This process is a bit cumbersome if you are making frequent
changes to both projects. It may make sense to finalize one of the
songs as much as possible and then import the finished one into the
other project. This will save you a lot of back and forth later on.
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I wrote and recorded two short sample songs to use as examples of
the techniques in this ebook. The first uses only Software Instruments
and the second uses Real Instruments (except for the drums). You
might want to listen to the song files with a set of headphones to hear
the different parts more clearly.
The Software Instrument Song
For the Software Instrument song, called “The 30 Percent Factor”
(thirtypercent2.mp3), I began with the acoustic guitar part. It came
to me while I was noodling around on my keyboard, so I recorded it
on the spot. One of the nice things about Software Instruments is that
that once you have recorded something, you can loop it just like a normal Apple loop. I repeated it four times and began coming up with
additional parts.
I used the Jazz Kit for the drums, and played the part on my keyboard. It’s a slightly unusual drumbeat, but it seemed to flow naturally from the guitar part and it came quickly. I didn’t need to record
many takes of it before it felt right.
The organ was next. So far the song had a fairly fast pulse, with two
instruments playing predominantly eighth notes. I wanted to contrast
that with some longer, slower notes, and organ seemed like the perfect instrument to use. I held a couple of simple two-note chords
with a staccato figure at the end to tie it into the rest of the song and
provide some punctuation.
At that point, the song definitely needed some bass; there were absolutely no low frequencies at all. This was fine for the intro, but once
the organ came in, I wanted the song to fill out more. I chose to use
fretless bass, feeling that the rubbery-smooth sound of the fretless
would complement the mellow atmosphere well. The descending slide
is worthy of note: this is actually one key press. When you strike a
note on the software fretless bass at maximum velocity, GarageBand
plays a whole-note slide down. And when you play a note at just
below maximum velocity, GarageBand plays the note with vibrato
(listen to the first long note of the bass line). These little tricks help
make your Software Instruments sound more realistic.
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Next, it was time for the main body of the song. I’m particularly fond
of funky electric pianos, so I added that next. I also added another
drum track to juice up this section. I wanted something that sounded
like handclaps, so I used the Jazz Kit again, but I added Distortion
and Auto Wah. The distortion makes the drums sound bigger and
noisier, and the auto wah gives them a squelchy sound that mimics
handclaps very well. Each handclap is actually two separate notes:
a snare flam (a snare drum hit with both sticks slightly off-time from
each other) and maracas. When you add the distortion and the auto
wah, it sounds like 20 people clapping together.
For variety, I added a small break with a new chord progression. I
dropped the handclaps during this section and added a drum fill to
create some interest. Then, when the main part comes back in, I had
the organ play a new, more active part to bring the song to a close.
I finished the song by panning some of the instruments off to either
side and creating some small fades to make the song flow more organically (see Figure 18). For example, I brought the acoustic guitar
up slightly for the finale, and I faded the electric piano down a touch
at several points so other instruments could come forward.
The finished Software Instrument song.
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The Real Instrument Song
The second song I recorded for the ebook, “In Over My Head”
(inovermyhead8.mp3), uses Real Instruments—guitars, bass, vocals,
and percussion. I used many of the techniques described earlier, in
order to give you an idea of how they sound in practice and to demonstrate what’s possible with a pretty minimal setup.
Recording the basic tracks
I started by creating the drumbeat using the Software Instrument
drum set Rock Kit; this is the only part of the song that’s not a Real
Instrument. I built the beat using the technique described in Recording drum tracks. When I was happy with the result, I added some
reverb to punch it up and make the beat sound bigger. I locked the
drum tracks to reduce the overload on the system. I also panned the
high hat track off to the left a little bit; I knew I would balance it later
with another piece of high percussion on the right.
I recorded the acoustic guitar next, placing the mic close to the body
just below the sound hole, pointed slightly down. I didn’t want to pick
up the boominess from the sound hole, and I also wanted to avoid
having too much low end in the mix, so I moved the mic until the
guitar sounded crisp and jangly, but not too thin.
The rhythm of this song is fairly choppy and staccato. Since I was
playing chords with a lot of open strings, the strings tended to ring
for a while and smooth out the beats, which I didn’t want. I tore
a thin strip of rag and placed it behind the strings near the bridge
(where the strings meet the body of the guitar). This muted the
strings and dampened some of the ringing. I also wrapped another
rag around the middle of the low E string—I wasn’t using this string
and when I hit it accidentally it added a lot of bass thumping and
booming. Wrapping the middle of the low E string controls the
vibration a lot better than wrapping the ends, since the middle
is where most of the movement occurs.
I thought this lone, muted acoustic sounded a little plain for the three
chords of the intro, so I recorded a second track of the same part, unmuted this time. This is basic double tracking at its simplest. When
you listen to the final song, you can’t really tell that two guitars are
playing. It seems to the casual listener like one lovely-sounding
guitar, perhaps recorded in stereo.
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I wanted to balance the acoustic guitar with a crunchy electric guitar,
so I recorded that next. I ran my electric guitar straight into the preamp and used the Amp Simulation effect for the distortion. I chose
the British Clean model, with the gain set about halfway and a lot of
Treble and Presence. This gave me a nice jangly, overdriven tone that
sounds a bit like the mid-1960s Kinks.
The bass came next. Again, I recorded my electric bass directly into
the preamp. I wanted a fuzzy sound with a lot of bass and midrange,
so the track would blend into the mix and not stand out. I used the
Amp Simulation effect again, this time set to American Clean with the
gain slightly more than halfway. I adjusted the EQ until I got a sound
I liked—kind of growly with a fat middle.
With all the basic tracks recorded, it was time for vocals. I’m not
much of a singer, so I asked my friend Lisa to come over and sing.
I set up a microphone in my living room (complete with homemade
windscreen). Lisa has a beautiful voice, so it wasn’t hard to get a good
tone. I pointed the mic straight at her mouth and the windscreen kept
her the perfect distance from the mic through numerous takes. I had
to watch the levels on the preamp pretty carefully, because as Lisa
became more relaxed and comfortable with the parts, her singing got
louder. This is a pretty common occurrence with singers, so watch
those levels! You don’t want to send the singer home only to find that
the vocals are audibly clipping.
The song includes three vocal parts—the lead vocal and two harmony
lines. We recorded several takes of each part. In a couple cases, three
of the four lines were perfect, but one needed to be punched in. It was
quick and painless to duplicate the track and record another take on
the new track. Since there’s so much time between each line, it was a
simple matter later on to consolidate both takes onto one track. In the
end, I had three vocal tracks, two of which were cobbled together
from several takes.
While I was putting these together, I remembered I had saved an
early take of the vocals with Lisa giggling and saying, “That’s so cute.”
I thought it would finish out the song nicely, so I cropped out the rest
of that take and added the chatter at the end of the lead vocal track, as
the other instruments were fading out.
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I wanted to give the drums a little more life, so I recorded an egg
shaker doubling the high hat part. If you don’t have one, go to your
local music store and pick one up. They cost about $2 and are quite
versatile. Depending how you hold it and how you shake it, you can
get a remarkable variety of rhythms out of it. Recording the shaker
is a piece of cake—you set up the mic and shake the shaker. Getting a
good level isn’t a problem. In fact, I had to turn the track down quite a
bit once I’d recorded the part. I wanted the shaker to sit unobtrusively
in the mix and not call attention to itself.
The final track I recorded was the lead guitar answering the third and
fourth lines of the vocal. For this guitar track, I decided I would play
through my amp and mic it. I have a pedal called the Blue Tube that
contains a little vacuum tube that adds a nice, warm, overdriven tone.
I ran the guitar through that and into my amp, which I close-miked
slightly off to the side of the speaker cone. I didn’t have to turn the
amp up terribly loudly to get a decent sound.
Mixing the song
After recording the tracks, it was time to mix. I didn’t do anything
fancy on this tune, since I liked the way the tracks sounded on their
own. This is yet another reminder of why it’s wonderful to spend time
at the beginning making sure you like the sound that’s coming into
GarageBand. If you position your mics carefully and concentrate
on getting good levels and tone, you won’t have much left to do when
it comes time to mix. On the other hand, if you’re sloppy and hasty
when you’re recording, you’ll be disappointed with your tracks and
will need to “fix in the mix.” The problem with fixing it in the mix
is that you can never quite get it right, and it will never sound as
good as a well-recorded part would have sounded.
The first thing I did was add a little EQ to the tracks that needed it.
Most of them got a little something tweaked, but pretty minimally.
In most cases I used the AUParametricEQ effect, which allows you
to adjust very specific frequencies. For example, on the main acoustic
guitar track I used two instances of AUParametricEQ, one to boost
the low mids for a touch more body, and one to add a little more
treble for added presence and sparkle. On the bass, I used the parametric EQ to cut some of the treble frequencies in order to eliminate
some of the string clanks.
Page 91
I used the pan controls to spread things out in the mix and give the
song a nice stereo feel:
• I panned the two acoustic guitars off to each side somewhat to give
the intro some space and breadth.
• I panned the electric rhythm guitar opposite the main acoustic
track to separate them during the body of the tune.
• I moved the shaker to the right to balance the high hat on the left.
• I left the bass, the drums, and the lead vocal in the center.
• I panned the background vocals off to the right, one track at about
1:00 and the other at 2:00 (assuming 12:00 is the default, dead
center position, like on a clock).
• Finally, I placed the lead guitar off to the left to balance the background vocals.
The last thing I did was add reverb to a few of the tracks. I added a
touch of reverb to the lead vocal, and more on the two backing vocal
tracks. Adding more on the backing vocals separates them from the
lead vocal and makes them sit back in the mix slightly. I also added
reverb to the main acoustic guitar track, which helps to round it out
and give it a bit more fullness.
Then I listened to the song about 20 more times to see if anything
stood out or seemed awkward. I found that the lead guitar wasn’t
working well—it sounded nasal and pinched. I tried EQing it, but it
didn’t seem to help, so I rerecorded it with the mic farther from the
amp. This worked well: I got something that fit in the mix more
solidly and added a little more depth of field.
TIP It’s always a good idea to listen to the song through several different
sets of speakers. Run your Mac’s headphone output through your
home stereo. Burn a CD of the mix and listen to it in your car. Often
you’ll hear things you didn’t hear through your headphones or computer speakers.
While you’re at it, listen to the song alongside other CDs that sound
good to your ears. This can help reveal any equalization issues—too
much bass, not enough high end, and so on.
Page 92
Remember, it’s not that hard to get a beautiful recording as long
as you spend some time and energy at the beginning of the process
getting great sounds. And just because something sounds good on its
own doesn’t mean it will sound good next to everything else. Certain
things, like the lead guitar track in this song, need to be heard in the
mix, with all the other instruments surrounding it, in order to see
if it’s going to work or not (see Figure 19).
The final Real Instrument song.
NOTE For more on mixing, see my other ebook, Take Control of Making
Music with GarageBand
Page 93
For additional information, consult these Web sites, books, and
Web Sites
Apple’s GarageBand Accessories Guide: A list of GarageBand
accessories available directly from Apple.
Apple’s GarageBand Discussion Board: One of the best sources
for GarageBand information, tips, and answers. The archives are
extensive and extremely useful. I learned a lot from the forum when
I started using GarageBand. No question is too tricky, too unusual,
or too stupid, and users are for the most part helpful and courteous.
Audio Recording Terms Glossary: A handy one-stop resource
for definitions of audio terms.
GuitarNuts: If you’re interested in upgrading or shielding your
electric guitar, this is the site for you. You’ll find more details than
you ever wanted to know about guitar wiring.
Home Recording Connection: Another site with information
specifically directed at home studio owners. It’s a bit more expert
than Tweak’s Guide, but still potentially useful for GarageBand users. Another site to share tunes. This one has a
nifty, GarageBand-like interface. A GarageBand song sharing site. MacBand also
boasts a loop section, so users can share favorite bass licks or
Page 94 One of several sites where GarageBanders can post
songs and share tips and tricks. They have forums, articles, a buyer’s
guide, and a resource library, but their main strength is the huge
library of user-contributed songs. Features Mac-related music news, forums, software
downloads, articles, and even a classified section. The site covers all
aspects of music on the Mac, not just GarageBand.
OS X Audio: In-depth coverage of all things Mac audio. It gets fairly
high-end at times, but there’s still plenty here for GarageBand users.
Soundtrack Lounge: Technically a site for Soundtrack, GarageBand’s cousin designed for scoring films. There are forums for both
applications, and users can share songs as well.
Tweak’s Home Studio Guide: A veritable warehouse of info for
the home recordist. The site is full of discussions of processes, technologies, equipment, and philosophies specifically directed at the
home studio user. Total newbies and more experienced home
engineers will find it useful.
GarageBand Visual QuickStart Guide
by Victor Gavenda, published by Peachpit Press
If this ebook wetted your appetite for even more information about
every musician’s favorite new toy, the Visual QuickStart Guide is a
great reference to turn to next.
Harmony and Theory: A Comprehensive Source for All
by Keith Wyatt and Carl Schroeder, published by Hal Leonard
This book features simple, straightforward explanations of chords,
scales, basic notation, and more advanced subjects as well. If you
enjoyed the music theory and want to learn more, this is a good
Page 95
Melody in Songwriting: Tools and Techniques for Writing
Hit Songs
by Jack Perricone, published by Berklee Press (Hal Leonard)
If your interest lies more in the realm of songwriting, this book has a
lot of advice on crafting great melodies and analyzes a number of hit
songs to explain why they “work.”
Recording Tips for Engineers
by Tim Crich, published by Black Ink Publishing
An absolute wealth of recording studio wisdom from a true studio
veteran. A lot of the information in here has to do with using highpriced equipment and analog tape, but you’ll learn plenty about mic
techniques, mixing strategies, and recording theory that serves
GarageBand users as well as full-blown audio engineers.
TapeOp: I absolutely adore this magazine. It’s definitely biased
toward analog recording, but you’ll find much to learn from the audio
gurus that populate its pages. Best of all, if you sign up on the Web,
subscriptions are free!
Electronic Musician: This magazine, on the other hand, leans
heavily towards MIDI and computer-based music making. While they
feature very little that is directly GarageBand-related, you’ll find
plenty of tips and tricks that you can use in your GarageBand work.
But beware, reading this magazine will make you want to go out and
buy more toys!
Page 96
Table 3, below, shows the keys on your MIDI keyboard that map
to drum sounds in the Rock Drums kit. In most cases, other acoustic
drum kits are similar. The digital drum kits differ more significantly
from this list, so you’ll have to experiment to find sounds you like.
Table 3: Key Map for the Rock Drums Kit
Open-closed high hat
High timbale
Snare roll
Low timbale
Pedal high hat
High agogo
Bass Drum 1
Low agogo
Bass Drum 2
Rim shot
Snare 1
High whistle
Snare flam
Low whistle
Snare 2
Guiro (high)
Low floor tom
Guiro (low)
Closed high hat
High floor tom
Wood Block (high)
Half-open high hat
Wood Block (low)
Tom 1a
Mute Cuica
Open high hat
Open Cuica
Tom 1b
Mute Triangle
Tom 2a
Open Triangle
Crash cymbal 1
Egg Shaker
Tom 2b
Sleigh bells
Ride cymbal 1
Bell tree
China crash
Page 97
Table 3: Key Map for the Rock Drums Kit (continued)
Ride bell
Taiko drum
Bowed cymbal
Splash cymbal
Guiro 2
Crash cymbal 2
Metal drum
Ride cymbal 2
Cajon 2
High bongo
Goat hoof rattle
Low bongo
Rain stick
High conga (muted)
Tom with jingles
High conga (open)
Finger snaps
Low conga
Page 98
Like most programs, GarageBand has its share of quirks and issues.
The tips and workarounds below should help you remain productive
and keep using the program to its full potential.
Improving Performance
It’s not uncommon for GarageBand to stop in the middle of playback
or recording and greet you with confusing messages like “System
Overload” or “Disk Is Too Slow.” If this happens to you, here are
some suggestions:
• Quit all other programs: Especially quit programs that perform background tasks such as checking for email. GarageBand is
greedy; it wants all your computer’s attention.
• Turn off FileVault: If you use Apple’s FileVault to encrypt your
data, either turn it off or store your song files outside your Home
folder. Remember that the Documents and Music folders are in
the Home folder, and GarageBand automatically stores song files
in the Music folder.
• Maximize the buffer size: In GarageBand’s Audio/MIDI
preferences, set the buffer size to Maximum Number of Simultaneous Tracks.
• Lock your tracks: Locking tracks, especially Software Instrument tracks, greatly reduces the processor drain. When you lock a
track, GarageBand renders it to disk, meaning that instead of
having to generate instrument sounds and effects on the fly, all the
program has to do is play the rendered track. It’s much easier for
your poor little overworked processor. When I see the dreaded red
playhead or get system overload messages, I can make the problem
go away by locking a couple of tracks.
To lock a track, click the Lock Track button in the track header.
The next time you press play, GarageBand makes you wait while it
renders the newly-locked track(s) to disk, and then plays the song
normally. Note that after you lock a track, you can still change its
volume and panning, but if you want to make any other changes
you must unlock it first.
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NOTE Software Instruments (the green tracks) are particularly CPU-hungry.
The computer synthesizes the sound on the fly, using software algorithms for the timbre of the instrument and MIDI data for the actual
notes played. In Real Instrument tracks, on the other hand, all the
computer has to do is play back previously recorded audio—a much
easier task.
• Reduce the load on your computer’s graphics processor:
GarageBand’s beautiful interface comes at a cost—your Mac must
render all those beautiful pixels on the fly, while simultaneously
crunching all the data needed to create Software Instruments and
real-time effects. Try the following to reduce the graphics load:
• Reduce the size of the GarageBand window. The less the Mac
has to draw, the less work it has to do.
• Zoom out so that you can see the whole song. Constantly drawing the next part of the song as the playhead scrolls requires a
lot of computational power.
• Hide the track mixer column by clicking the triangle on the
right end of the Tracks header. The bouncing colored lights on
the level meters use CPU power too.
• If all else fails, hide the entire program. Choose GarageBand >
Hide GarageBand or Option-click the Desktop while your song
plays. That way your Mac doesn’t have to draw anything at all.
• Turn off unused effects: Examine your tracks carefully to see
if any effects are turned on but set to zero. If so, turn the effect off
by deselecting its checkbox. GarageBand uses resources to process
active effects even if they’re not affecting the sound at all. Reverb
in particular is especially processor-intensive, but it’s a good idea
to turn off Echo as well if you’re not using it.
• Use fewer Software Instruments: Software Instruments (the
green tracks) are particularly CPU-hungry. The computer synthesizes the sound on the fly, using software algorithms for the timbre
of the instrument and MIDI data for the actual notes played. In
Real Instrument tracks, on the other hand, all the computer has
to do is play back previously recorded audio—a much easier task.
Page 100
• Convert Software Instrument loops to Real Instrument
loops: Now that GarageBand lets you lock tracks to conserve
processing power, this trick may not be as essential for some
users, but it still deserves a mention. Hold down the Option key
while dragging a Software Instrument loop into an empty part of
the timeline to convert the loop into a Real Instrument track. You
can also drag Software Instruments into an already existing Real
Instrument track and it will convert automatically. But beware,
once a Software Instrument loop has been converted, you can
no longer edit the individual notes.
Unfortunately, GarageBand doesn’t offer an easy way to convert
an existing Software Instrument track into a Real Instrument
track. Your best bet at this point is to lock the track.
• Bounce down to fewer tracks: Again, this is not so crucial
now that we have track locking, but bouncing is still a viable
technique. To bounce down a group of tracks, first save a copy
of your song, just in case. Then pick a group of instruments—say,
all the percussion tracks. Make sure you like the balance among
all the instruments in the section; you won’t be able to go back and
turn the maracas down once you do this. Mute all the tracks other
than the percussion section and export the song to iTunes. When
the song opens in iTunes, Control-click it and choose Show Song
File to locate the song in the Finder; then, drag this song file back
into GarageBand into a new track. Your percussion section will
take up only one track, and you can delete all the tracks you
used to make it. Do this as often as you like.
You can also use this method to convert a Software Instrument
track to a Real Instrument track. In this case, export only the one
track you want to convert and reimport it into GarageBand. It will
use up fewer of your precious CPU cycles, but again, you won’t be
able to edit the individual notes.
Page 101
NOTE Bouncing down to fewer tracks is a practice that was used often in
the early days of multitrack recording. Through most of the 1960s the
top-of-the-line recording consoles had only four tracks. A band would
record backing instruments—drums, bass, guitars or keyboards—
onto these four tracks, which the recording engineers would then
mix onto two tracks on another machine (one for the left channel of
a stereo mix, one for the right). This left two open tracks for vocals or
additional instruments. This process could be repeated several times,
but after a while the sound quality would begin to degrade, much like
making a photocopy of a photocopy.
Audio Delays
Depending on your input device, you may experience out-of-synch
audio, called latency, during recording. The following suggestions
should help get your audio back in synch:
• Reset the Audio Buffer: Go to the Audio/MIDI preferences
pane and switch the buffer size under Optimize For. This seems
to reset the buffer and often eliminates latency issues.
• Quit GarageBand: Quitting and relaunching GarageBand should
help if resetting the buffer doesn’t do the trick.
• Restart: If all else fails, restart. A fresh system can do wonders!
Page 102
Active electronics: An electric guitar with active circuitry has an
on-board preamp that boosts the signal beyond what’s possible from
the passive-circuitry in most guitars.
AIFF (Audio Interchange File Format): A sound file format
developed by Apple. Most Macintosh audio software can handle the
AIFF format, and GarageBand exports files in AIFF format. Expect
a GarageBand-exported AIFF file to consume about 10 MB of disk
space per minute of song. See MP3.
amplifier: A device that increases the amplitude of a signal, thereby
making it louder.
baffles: Pieces of sound-absorbing material used to block sound
waves from entering or leaving a certain space.
bass: The low frequencies of human hearing. See midrange, treble.
bleed: A situation where audio from one device is unintentionally
picked up by another during recording. For example, if a singer is
wearing Walkman-style headphones to monitor the song’s instruments, the music could be picked up by the microphone she’s using.
chord: Any combination of two or more tones sounded simultaneously. See harmony.
chorus: An effect that simulates the sound of several instruments
playing together in unison. Used to thicken a track or give it a more
stereo feel, or when overused, as a special effect (listen to the bass on
this Siouxsie and the Banshees song).
clipping: Digital distortion caused when output levels are set too
high. Every track, as well as the master output levels, has clipping
indicators: red dots that light up when your output goes “into the
red.” Clipping is bad, even if you think you can’t hear it.
close miking: The technique of placing a mic within a foot or so
of the source to pick up mostly the direct sound and minimize
reverberations from the room. See distant miking.
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condenser mic: A more sensitive (and more expensive) alternative
to a dynamic mic. Unlike dynamic mics, condensers need a power
source. They are also more delicate than dynamics, and they are
better at picking up high frequencies. See dynamic mic.
consonant: A chord or interval that is stable and pleasing to the ear.
See dissonant.
delay: An echo effect. U2’s guitarist The Edge is famous for using
delay on many U2 songs.
D.I., direct injection: Often used when plugging an instrument
directly into a recording console or P.A. system, a D.I. or direct box
changes the electrical impedance of the instrument signal to that of
a microphone.
dissonant: Any chord or interval that sounds unstable, tense, or
harsh. Combining two loops in different keys sometimes results in
dissonance. See consonant.
distant miking: The technique of placing a mic far from the source
so you pick up room reverberations along with the direct sound. See
close miking.
distortion: An effect that simulates an overdriven amplifier. Used
almost constantly in some form or another in rock songs from the
1960s to today.
dynamic mic: Generally the cheapest and simplest of microphones.
Less sensitive than condenser microphones, but they’re also a lot
more sturdy and are often better at picking up low frequencies. See
condenser mic.
dynamics: Variations in volume in a piece of music.
effects: Any sound-altering device that’s added in the Details pane of
the Track Info pane. These include reverb, echo, and EQ. See delay,
EQ, reverb.
EQ (equalization): A set of filters that lets you balance the bass,
midrange, and treble frequencies of a track. It also includes the Bass
Reduction and Treble Reduction filters, which cut all frequencies
above or below a certain adjustable cutoff point.
Page 104
fundamental: The primary note in a musical tone, as distinguished
from the overtones, or harmonics. See harmonics.
generator: The sound source for Software Instruments. For some
instruments, the generator is a set of prerecorded samples; for others
it’s a synthesized sound created by a computer algorithm. See sample,
half step: The smallest interval commonly used in Western music;
the distance between a black key and the adjacent white keys on the
piano (or the distance between two adjacent white keys if there is no
black key in between). See interval.
harmonics: All musical tones consist of a fundamental, which is the
primary tone heard, and a series of harmonic overtones, which are
quieter but add to the overall tonal color of the sound. Harmonics
always follow the same pattern, the first being one octave above the
fundamental, the second a fifth above that, and so on. For more on
the harmonic series, see the following Wikipedia entry:
See fundamental.
harmony: The vertical dimension of music; the interaction of notes
sounded simultaneously to produce chords. Harmony also refers to
the progression of chords over the course of a piece of music. See
high-hat: A pair of cymbals, one face up and the other face down on
a stand, arranged so that the drummer can control the space between
them using a pedal.
interval: The vertical distance between two pitches; the interval
between a white key on the piano and the adjacent black key is called
a half step.
key: A selection of tones that gravitates toward a root note, or tonic.
A song in the key of C is based on the notes of the C scale (all the
white keys on the piano) and naturally gravitates toward C. Keys are
commonly divided into major keys, which generally sound happy, and
minor keys, which sound more melancholy. See root, scale.
Page 105
latency: Latency is a delay between when you play a note and when
GarageBand records it (and when you hear it in your headphones). In
extreme cases, latency can make it impossible to play along with the
song in proper time.
level: The volume or loudness of an audio signal.
loop: A short segment of music that can be repeated seamlessly over
time. GarageBand ships with over 1000 professionally produced
measure: A rhythmic unit of organization. Most popular songs have
four beats per measure, and in general the snare drum accents the
second and fourth beats of the measure (the backbeats).
melody: A series of notes with a pleasing and recognizable shape. In
general, the most effective melodies are relatively simple and are easy
to hum.
microphone: A device that converts sound waves into an electrical
signal, usually fed into an amplifier or piece of recording equipment.
MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface): A digital language used to connect synthesizers, computers, and other electronic
instruments. MIDI information includes details about the note
played, its velocity (or volume), and any vibrato or pitch bending that
was applied.
midrange: The frequencies between the bass and the treble frequencies. See bass, treble.
mixing: Adjusting the individual track volumes, panning, and effects
to make parts of a song fit together harmoniously and effectively.
MP3: A compressed audio format. Much smaller than the AIFF format, it typically requires about 1 MB of disk space per minute of song.
mute: A button that lets you temporarily disable a track.
note: Any single pitch or tone produced by a musical instrument.
Page 106
octave: The most stable interval in Western music. An octave is the
distance between two adjacent notes with the same name. These two
notes sound like the same note, only higher or lower versions of each
other. See interval.
pan: A knob that lets you control the apparent position of a track
between the left and right speakers.
pickup: An electrical component on an instrument (most commonly
a guitar or bass guitar) that converts the vibrations of the strings or
the body of the instrument into an electrical signal. Not to be confused with a microphone, which converts sound waves (vibrations
in the air) into an electrical signal. See microphone.
polar pattern: A measure of how directional a microphone is. Unidirectional and cardioid mics pick up primarily what they’re pointing
at. Omni-directional mics, on the other hand, pick up sound from all
directions. Bi-directional or figure 8 mics pick up sound from two
directions simultaneously—great for two singers, for example.
preamp: A type of amplifier designed to bring a weak signal up to
line level, the standard signal strength required by audio recording
equipment. See amplifier.
preroll: The option to hear a one measure count-in before recording
starts. This helps you get your bearings and pick up the groove of the
preset: A saved instrument sound or effects setting. Real Instrument
presets consist of a predetermined set of effects. Software Instrument
presets also include pre-established effects, and the generator has
been set up for a certain instrument sound. Effects presets have settings already established for a particular result, for example the
Equalizer preset Add Bass Clarity. See effect, generator.
punching in: Recording over a short segment of a previous take,
generally to fix a mistake.
region: A contiguous segment of recorded music in a GarageBand
track. A cropped segment of a loop is a region, as is a loop that
repeats 20 times.
resonant frequencies: The shape and size of a room determines
how particular frequencies will affect it. In many rooms, several
Page 107
frequencies resonate loudly and color the sound of anything playing
in the room. Creative use of baffles and screens can help minimize
these reflections.
reverb: An effect that simulates an acoustical environment, such as
a small room or a large arena. See effect.
rhythm: The beat or pulse of a piece of music, including accented
notes, measures, and all other aspects of musical time.
root: The dominant note in a chord or scale; the note from which
a chord or scale seems to originate. Also called the tonic. See chord,
sample: A recorded sound or musical note. Typically, samples are
“mapped” to the keys on a keyboard, so they can be played like a
piano or a synthesizer. A set of samples of a trombone, for example,
could be played on a MIDI keyboard, and the performance would
sound as if an actual trombone were playing the notes. See MIDI.
scale: A series of notes progressing up or down in a stepwise fashion.
The most common used in Western music are the major and minor
scales. See key.
slapback: A type of short echo frequently heard in rockabilly songs.
Similar to the effect you get when singing in the bathroom.
snare drum: A drum fitted with wires, or snares, on the bottom that
produce a crisp, rattling effect when the drum is struck.
solo: A button in GarageBand that lets you listen to an individual
track by itself. It is useful for adjusting effects and EQ on a particular
synthesizer: An electronic instrument, usually played with a keyboard, that artificially generates waveforms. These waveforms can
be combined and manipulated by the synthesizer to produce complex
sounds, either to mimic other instruments or to produce totally
unique noises.
tempo: The speed at which a piece of music is performed. Ballads
have a slow tempo, whereas high-energy dance music often has a fast
Page 108
texture: The interaction of melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic elements within a piece of music. A solo cello holding long notes is one
kind of texture. A jazz band playing complex rhythms and harmonies
while a saxophone takes a solo is another, completely different kind of
timbre: Tone color. A violin can produce certain musical timbres,
whereas those produced by a piano are quite different. An electric
guitar can produce lots of different timbres, depending on many
factors (including the amplifier, the volume of the sound, and
whether effects are being used).
tonic: The dominant note in a chord or scale; the note from which a
chord or scale seems to originate. Also called the root. See scale,
track: In GarageBand, each track usually carries a separate musical
instrument. Each track is independent, and you can adjust its volume,
pan, and effects without affecting other tracks in the song.
transient: The loud initial peak that occurs in sounds such as drum
hits and electric guitar strums. Synthesizer washes and other sounds
that build gradually don’t have transient peaks.
treble: The highest frequencies of human hearing. See bass,
velocity: A measurement of how strongly a key on a MIDI keyboard
is struck. There are 128 levels of velocity, 0 being the softest and 127
being the loudest. However, be aware that velocity doesn’t always
control volume.
windscreen: A screen placed between a microphone and the source
that reduces or eliminates excessive amounts of air blowing onto the
mic and causing noise and distortion.
XLR: A common 3-pin connector used to connect microphones. If
someone refers to a “mic cord,” they’re talking about a cord with XLR
Y-cord: A cord with a stereo jack on one end and two mono jacks on
the other, used for splitting a stereo signal into two mono signals.
Page 109
In contrast to traditional print books, Take Control ebooks offer
clickable links, full-text searching, and free minor updates. We hope
you find them both useful and enjoyable to read.
About the Author
Jeff Tolbert is a musician, painter, and
graphic designer living in Seattle. He plays
bass and guitar and is becoming passable at
keyboards. He has played in numerous
bands over the years, including What Fell?,
the Goat-Footed Senators, the diary of Anne
Frank String Quartet, 80 Bones, and the
Fireproof Beauties, and with James
Howard. He is currently playing bass with
Tiger Zane.
When GarageBand came out, Jeff got so
excited about making music on his iBook
that he went out and spent close to $1000 on music equipment and
software. He now routinely stays up until the wee hours creating
songs and textures to amuse and irritate himself and his friends.
Author’s Acknowledgments
First and foremost, I would like to thank my mother. (If I didn’t thank
her I would never hear the end of it.) It’s probably also wise to thank
my father and my sister.
Without Jeff Carlson, this ebook would never exist. Jeff is a fine
officemate and the one who introduced me to Adam and Tonya Engst,
the wonderful and intrepid publishers of this and all the other fine
ebooks in the Take Control series. Collect them all!
A special extra-huge thank you goes out to Geoff Duncan, TidBITS
technical editor and musician extraordinaire. If not for Geoff, much of
the musical information in this ebook would be incomprehensible or
outright incorrect. You rock, dude!
I would also like to thank a few people not named Jeff. First and
foremost, Lisa Gallo, the honey-voiced singer on “In Over My Head.”
Page 110
Lisa, my friend, you’ve taken your first step on the road to rock-androll stardom. May the rest of the steps be as fun and as easy!
My officemates always thank me in their books, so now it’s
my turn to thank Larry Chen, Glenn Fleishman, Agen Schmitz, and
former officemates David Blatner and Steve Roth. A more wonderful
group of guys has never existed before on this green earth. And a
special thanks to new officemate Kim Ricketts, whose baked goods
are more wonderful than anything I’ve ever tasted!
Thanks as well to Victor Gavenda, author of Peachpit Press’s
GarageBand Visual QuickStart Guide. After writing the initial draft
of my other ebook, I did a technical review of Victor’s book. The
cross-pollination of ideas made both books better and more complete.
Last, but certainly not least, thanks to Anna, Skyler, Jessica, Laura,
Kyra, Coco, Elaine, Carl, Peter, and Alison—and, of course, John,
Paul, George, and Ringo.
Shameless Plug
If you don’t have it already, be sure to get a copy of Take Control of
Making Music with GarageBand, my first ebook in the Take Control
series. It covers using loops, basic song composition, and mixing in
About the Publisher
TidBITS Electronic Publishing has
been publishing online since 1990 when
publishers Adam and Tonya Engst first
created their online newsletter, TidBITS,
about Macintosh- and Internet-related
topics. TidBITS has been in continuous,
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Tonya are known in the Macintosh world
as writers, editors, and speakers. They
are also parents to Tristan, who thinks
ebooks about trains, clipper ships, and
castles would be cool.
Page 111
At the TidBITS Web site you can subscribe to TidBITS for free, join
in TidBITS Talk discussions, or search 15 years of news, reviews, and
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Production Credits
• Cover: Jeff Carlson,
• Take Control logo: Jeff Tolbert,
• Editor: Jeff Carlson,
• Editor in Chief: Tonya Engst,
• Publisher: Adam Engst,
Thanks to Mom and Dad for picking up Tristan from school on
Wednesday. Production powered by the Dire Straights.
Page 112
Take Control of Recording with GarageBand
ISBN: 1-933671-12-2
March 2006, Version 3.0
Copyright © 2006, Jeff Tolbert. All rights reserved.
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Take Control
of Making Music
in GarageBand
Take Control
of Podcasting on
the Mac
Take Control
of Your iPod:
Beyond The Music
by Jeff Tolbert
by Andy Affleck
by Steve Sande
Combine your creativity
with GarageBand’s editing
and mixing techniques to
compose tunes that please
the ear!
Everything you need to
know to plan, record,
edit, publish, and
promote your podcast.
Covers GarageBand and
other software options.
Have you ever
wondered what your
iPod could do beyond
playing music? Find out
in this engaging
Take Control
of Customizing
Take Control
of Buying a
by Matt Neuburg
by Adam Engst
Find real-world advice in
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Save money, avoid
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Delve into even
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