Right rhythm, right notes in Garageband

Rob Beattie
19 May, 2011
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While the new amps and stompboxes in GarageBand ’11 have had guitar players frothing at the mouth, the program also offers other new features that everyone can use, whatever their instrument. In this tutorial we’ll be looking at Groove Matching and Flex Time editing, features that elevate GarageBand into a proper home-recording program.

Groove Matching lets you specify which track should set the groove and then match the other tracks in the song, syncing them perfectly in time. Flex Time allows you to work on audio files you’ve recorded or imported to fix timing issues in your playing or sort out phrasing in your singing. Both are useful tools that will improve your home recordings no end. Here’s how to take advantage of them.

1. Record MIDI track undefined

Open GarageBand and choose New Project, select Piano and click Choose. Name the project and leave the other settings as they are – click Create. In the Control menu turn on the Count In option. Turn your MIDI keyboard on, choose a piano sound from the sample library, click Record and start playing.

2. Timing, timing

Stop the recording, rewind to the start and listen to the part. If it’s completely hideous, delete it and start again (GarageBand ’11 can’t fix everything). However, if all the notes are OK but the timing’s a bit – let’s say – relaxed, leave it and move on to the next step.

3. Add some drums

Open the Loop Browser by clicking the Eye button in the bar at the bottom right of the screen and select All Drums. Choose a beat you think will fit (for this example, we used a blue Apple Loops beat) and drag it into the empty space below the piano. GarageBand will create a new track.

4. Bad timing

Close the Loop Browser, hover the pointer over the top-right corner of the drum loop and then click and drag to repeat the drums to the end of the piano recording. Drag the slider at the bottom of the main Track List to the right to zoom in. Notice the MIDI notes (green) and drum beats (blue)

5. Match that groove undefined

We could correct the timing mistakes using the MIDI Editor (see the Bonus tip box, page 76) but GarageBand ’11 offers a quicker way. Hover the pointer over the left edge of the drum track and a little panel with a star in it will open. GarageBand will offer to analyse the track timing – click Continue.

6. Perfect timing

If the notes are miles off the beat, GarageBand can’t correct them, but for sloppy timing it works well. Notice the drum track now has an illuminated star next to it, indicating it’s the Groove Track and that the piano track is ticked, indicating it’s locked to the Groove Track. Everything now lines up pretty well.

7. Add an instrument

Now we’re going to add a real bass guitar. Click the Add a New Track button, with the ‘+’ sign on it and choose Real Instrument, then click Create. Make your recording and play it back. Playing out of time? Make it follow the timing of the Groove Track by putting a tick in the Track header, as above.

8. Changing the groove

While it’s usually wise to match everything else to the rhythm of the drums as we’ve done, it’s also possible to change the groove track – perhaps if you don’t have percussion and you want to ‘swing’ the track to an acoustic guitar or bass. Just click and drag the star icon to the new Groove Track.

9. Imported audio tracks

You can also drag audio files into GarageBand and groove match those. Drag the audio file onto an empty track and after a moment it’ll appear in orange. Double-click the track in the main window to open the editor. Put a tick next to the Follow Tempo & Pitch setting, then match it to the groove as before.

10. Editing audioundefined

Double-click an audio track to open it in the editor. Here, the guitar comes in too early so we’ll delete the start. Keep the pointer in the bottom half of the editor (where it looks like a ‘+’ sign) and highlight the bit you want to remove, then choose Delete from the Edit menu.

11. Meet Flex Timeundefined

But what if the guitar starts a fraction too late or too early? If that’s the case, use the new Flex Time feature to nudge the start of the recording left or right. Move the pointer to the top half of the editor window and watch it turn into a double-headed arrow. This indicates Flex Time is now active.

12. Flex Time editing

Zoom in using the slider at the bottom left of the editor and then, with the pointer in the top half of the editor window, click once to create a Flex Edit point. See the vertical line and marker at the top? Drag this left or right with the pointer to fine-tune when the guitar starts playing.

13. Multiple edits

As you drag a section of audio with the Flex Time feature, GarageBand highlights it – you can also see how far the note or notes have been moved courtesy of a little bar at the top, which become visible when you hover the pointer over them. Here we’ve made several changes to tidy things up.

14. Undoing Flex Time

If you make a mistake or need to adjust the edit, you can either click the small ‘x’ above the Flex Marker to remove the edit completely, or go up to the Edit menu and use GarageBand’s Undo feature to step back through your edits so you can have another go.

15. Bonus tip! Editing MIDI notes

You can also correct the timing of notes played using what Apple calls Software Instruments and what the rest of the world calls MIDI instruments. Double-click one of the green instrument regions in the main window to open the editor and you’ll see a keyboard down the left-hand side and horizontal bars (long and short) indicating the notes. You can drag notes around individually or in groups and use the various editors in the left-hand panel to alter all kinds of things like pitch, velocity, modulation, sustain and so on. In this way you can produce a note-perfect performance.

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