Music lessons with Garageband

Rob Beattie
31 March, 2011
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GarageBand ’11 comes with a number of new features that have been designed to help beginners become more proficient at playing instruments such as the guitar or the piano. There’s a lot more on offer than this, though. A rejigged interface, and a raft of new audio editing tools, amplifiers and effects have all been added to GarageBand ’11. In this masterclass, we’re going to look at its teaching features.

There are more free lessons than ever, and these cover a wide range of techniques and playing styles. You can play along with your electronic tutors and then assess your progress over time, go back and try to beat your best scores, or even open a completed lesson in GarageBand itself, so you can use the program’s editing features.

1. The Lesson Store Make sure you’ve got the latest version of GarageBand by opening Software Update under the Apple menu, and then load the program. When the New Project screen appears, click on Lesson Store in the menu on the left. GarageBand ’11 offers guitar, piano and artist lessons – click Piano Lessons.

2. Choosing a lesson type The first time you open the store in GarageBand, the program will flag any new lessons for your chosen instrument. Here you can see that there are six lessons in pop piano and four in classical. Since we’ve only completed the basic lessons before, we’ll have a crack at one of the pop piano lessons.

3. Downloading a lesson This opens the New Lessons screen where you’ll find six tutorials. (If you need to see the full details of what the lesson contains, just hover the pointer over the Description and it’ll pop up). Here we’ve clicked the Download  button to get the first lesson: Major and Minor Chords.

4. Starting a lesson Once the lesson starts to download, GarageBand will take you to the main Learn to Play window. Click the Piano Lessons heading and you’ll see the new Pop Piano lesson entry with a progress bar. When it’s downloaded, click the lesson and then click the Choose button.

5. The lesson window This is the main lesson window. The video tutor is at the top, the keyboard underneath and various controls under that – including Play/Pause, Rewind and a volume slider. It’s also possible to drag the position marker (shown here over the Intro) with the pointer to skip to another part of the lesson.

6. Studying a lesson Pressing the Play button starts the lesson and allows you to follow what’s being played, either by looking at the simplified stave with notes on it or by watching the finger positions on the keyboard. Here, for example, you can see the C chord being played with the first, third and fifth fingers.

7. Lesson settings To adjust settings stop the current lesson and click the Setup button. This lets you tailor the way that GarageBand displays lesson information. By default, Automatic will display what GarageBand thinks is best, but you can choose different views if you’d prefer. Click Setup again to close the window.

8. Slowing the tempo Early parts of the lesson are easy to play along with, but as you progress things get more difficult. If you’re having trouble keeping up, grab the speed slider with the pointer and drag it to the left to slow down the playback speed until you’re more confident. Then drag it back to the normal setting.

9. Keeping time Once you’ve finished the ‘Learn’ part of a lesson, roll the pointer up to the top window (where the tutor is) and then click the Practice heading. Choose one of the lessons there and then press Play. If you’re having trouble keeping time, click the metronome icon, which will help your rhythm.

10. Putting it all together Now for the real thing. Open the menu, choose a lesson from the Play section and click the Play button. You’ll get a count in and then you’ll hear a full band playing a tune that uses the chord patterns and hand movements covered in the earlier lessons. Follow what the tutor plays as best you can.

11. Adjusting volume levels If you can’t hear everything clearly, just stop the playback and click the Mixer button at the top of the screen. Here you’ll find some simple slider controls that will let you balance the various volumes of the tutor, band and your own instrument. Click Mixer again when you’ve made your adjustments.

12. Recording your performance You can also get GarageBand to record (and rate) your performance. Choose a lesson, click Record and play along. The software keeps an eye on your playing and displays correct notes as green, wrong notes as red, and notes played out of time as yellow.

13. Reviewing your performance Click the History button to see how you’ve improved (or not) over time, or press High Scores to see your best performances in chart form. You can also click Review to try the lesson again or Reset to start over. Pressing Open in GarageBand gives you access to all the program’s editing tools.

14. Glossary of terms There’s also a glossary, which you can access from anywhere in the program. This includes some technical terms, useful reference charts (such as notes on a guitar fretboard), tips and techniques. Some are also accompanied by videos. Click the Glossary button to toggle this on and off.


2 people were compelled to have their say. We encourage you to do the same..

  1. Arina says:

    This sure is a great way to learn to play music. Awesomeness!

  2. Gerry Van Tol says:

    Can anybody tell me if it’s possible to display (stream?) the lessons via your iPad? It’s hard to put my iMac on the piano!

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