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Photography, notes, commentary and much more from former Reporter Online Editor Chris Stanley.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Rock On (with Garage Band for the iPad)

Last month I wrote about some low-cost / low-talent options for getting background music for videos. One of the suggestions was to learn and use Garage Band, great if you have an Apple computer.

With the introduction of the iPad2, Apple has also released an iPad version of Garage Band. Happily for early adopters, this is also completely compatible with the oh-so-2010 iPad1. The cost is $4.99, a major bargain when you consider some of the powerful features it brings from the full-size version.

Musicians and non-musicians (like myself) will both find something to love. Creating a quick beat, a simple chord progression with some percussion, or even a full-blown composition is fast and easy. What sets the newer versions of Garage Band from the original is the smart instruments, which allow for one-touch chords on guitars and keyboards and time-grid drum composing in a multi-track setting. Real musicians can hook up an electric guitar to the iPad and play through several simulated classic and modern virtual amps, adding their tracks to other instruments.

The interface is similar to the full-size Garage Band. You can toggle between instrument mode:

and track mode:

when creating compositions. After I first downloaded the app, I created a drum track using the 'smart drum' option, then used the 'smart guitar' and 'smart keyboard' to lay down some more tracks (dig the music lingo, man).

Every time you start a new track, you can play it while listening to previous tracks. Garage Band iPad allows up to eight tracks, but percussion can include many instruments in one track, so in reality you are getting more. If you record a track and don't like it, just go back to the beginning and re-record. You can also toggle to the track view and 'cut' a track by double-tapping on it. Tracks can be moved, duplicated, and looped in track view mode.

After playing around for about 20 minutes, here is the first thing I created. Please be kind, I'm not a musician and I JUST got the app:

I explored for another half-hour or so, and created another Grammy-winner (not). This time I threw in some electric piano and screaming electric guitar:

And as the clock ticked toward midnight, I created one final piece - this time I set out to prove that you can never have enough cow bell and Hammond organ in a song:

I was able to add reverb and echo to each track, or these can be applied to the entire composition upon output. Each instrument in 'smart' mode offers several 'autoplay' settings, which can be switched on-the-fly while recording. This is how I varied the Hammond organ chords - I only switched between a 'C' chord and an 'F' chord, but also varied the autoplay to add variety.

To get a composition out of Garage Band iPad, you can email it to yourself or add it to your iTunes library. It creates a .M4A file, which is playable on any device with new versions of QuickTime on them. These can also be converted to MP3 or AIFF files with a freebie app such a MPEG Streamclip.

Another useful feature is the ability to record vocals and work them into a composition. If you want to create a podcast with a little background music, this would be a good way to do that.

This is a great app for creating quick compositions, and the implications for music education and composition are enormous. No, it won't replace expensive music software and hardware. But for a third of the price of an average album, it's probably the best bargain in music.



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