Till now, music software on the iPad has largely been divided into two categories. The first consists of expensive apps ($10-$20) such as Korg’s iElectribe and Propellerhead’s ReBirth that essentially let you create electronic and techno music. The second consists of relatively amateur-grade keyboard synthesisers that let you play chords via touch. Garageband, Apple’s entry-level digital audio workstation and sequencer, is the latest to grace the iPad. What’s unique about this version is that it isn’t merely a cut-down version of the desktop software. It does some new things rather well and is priced affordably at $5.
Compatible with both first and second-generation iPads, the app offers the whole gamut of virtual instruments including synthesisers, drums, guitars and an audio recorder that lets you record your voice or external instruments like the guitar. Additionally, novices who have no idea about music theory or skill will find the smart instruments very convenient. Chords, scales and even complex drumbeats can all be played with as little as a tap. This oversimplification might turn off actual musicians but it does make things easy while on the move. Furthermore, you create a song with up to eight layers in any permutations and combinations you like. You can either export your work to an mp3 that can be shared over email or save it as a project that is compatible with Garageband on your Apple computer.
There are six basic drum kits on offer. Three analogue sets comprise classic studio, live rock and vintage and three drum machines allow for hip-hop, classic and house-based beats.
Like the keyboard, there’s velocity control that changes the volume and quality of the sound output depending on how hard you tap the keys.
You can produce different sounds by tapping different areas of the individual drums. Hit the side of the snare to get a rim shot and the base to get the side sticks. Similarly, you can get open and closed hi-hat sounds.
You’ll be familiar with the track editor if you’ve used any other digital audio workstation like Logic, Fruity Loops or Ableton Live.
There are as many as eight tracks including the guitar, bass, drums and effects. You can add effects like echo and reverb or pan the track from one channel to the other.
The first-generation iPad does take more time “optimising tracks” though. Still, Garageband runs smoothly.
Tracks can be clipped, deleted or merged. You can also solo or mute a track during playback.
This is for those who want to come up with catchy techno-beats with minimal work involved.
Like the drum kit, you can play around with multiple sets of beats comprising kick drums and other percussion.
You can drag and drop the drum effects on the 8x8 grid. The beats range from simple to complex and loud to soft depending on where they’re dropped.
If you can’t come up with anything interesting, tap the die on the left and Garageband will niftily randomise the beat.
The guitar playing aspect of Garageband leaves a bit to be desired. You can’t play your own chords like you would with the keyboard. Still, you can add a tonne of effects.
You can tap on strings and perform effects like bends, hammer-ons and pull-offs or play a predefined number of chords depending on the scale in question. It’s good for those interested in learning the guitar though.
With aftermarket accessories like iRig or Apogee Jam, you can plug in an electric guitar and do real-time effects on it.
This is easily the best part of the app. You can choose from instruments like the grand piano, organ, electric piano not to mention over 72 synthesised sounds and effects.
Using the iPad’s built-in accelerometer, the keys support velocity control. Tapping gently produces soft sounds while heavier taps when strumming the guitar or playing a chord change the timbre in addition to the volume.
Overall, just the keyboard feature itself is worth the money spent on this app.
Garageband does a whole lot of things right. It offers as much functionality as apps costing three times as much. It’s perfect for musicians on the move, especially those who constantly have tunes in their heads and want a way to note them down. Look at it as a way to draft your musical ideas whenever you wish and you’ll be left very satisfied.