Studio recording on the go

Macworld Australia Staff
26 December, 2011
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Never mind the twin cameras and beefy dual A5 processor – the most fun you’ll have with your new iPad 2 should come courtesy of Apple’s fresh iOS take on GarageBand. While it inevitably strips away some of the more powerful functionality of its desktop progenitor, Apple has done an admirable job of delivering a remarkably full-featured portable studio. And thanks to the tablet’s tactile touch-screen controls, the new digital instruments included are not only infectious playthings, they also widen the barrier for entry with a range of hands-off ‘smart’ options. At just $5.49 from the App Store, it represents phenomenal value for money. Read on for a step-by-step guide to recording your first pocket symphony.

1 Weapon of choice 

Pick an instrument to start with. The straightforward hub screen lets you scroll between Guitar Amp (for those plugging in their own instrument), Drums, Keyboard, Smart Guitar, Smart Keyboard, Smart Bass, Smart Drums, Sampler and Audio Recorder. To make a selection just tap your choice.

2 Got rhythm

As any good musician knows, the beat comes first. The Drums option takes you to a basic kit layout. Just hit record and tap out your rhythm. Remember, the harder you tap, the louder the sound. There are six different kits to choose from, ranging from Classic to Hip Hop Drum Machine.

3 Beat smarts

Struggling to keep a beat? Try out the Smart Drums. Again, choose one of the six different kits, then drag the various component parts around the grid. Depending on where you place it, the app will then automatically start building a rhythm of varying complexity and volume. For pot luck, try the dice.

4 Build your track

Once you’ve laid down your rhythm, hit the Project View tab in the menu bar to switch to the studio screen, where you’ll piece together your track and edit its constituent parts. There are a range of editing options which we’ll cover later, but for now, hit the + symbol to add a second instrument.

5 Bass time

Complete your rhythm section by adding a bass track. Choose one of four bass types via the large button on the left, then strum or pluck away on the virtual fretboard. The default view fixes chords, but toggle the Chords/Notes switch to pick out your own bass line on a traditionally laid out neck.

6 Going solo

To record your own instrument, select the Guitar Amp option, and plug in your axe (adaptor sold separately). You then have a choice of 32 virtual amps to play through and 10 effects pedals. There’s even a built-in tuner and noise gate. Again, just hit record to lay down your track, then return to the studio screen.

7 Professional help

For those without their own instrument, pick the Smart Guitar option. Just hit a key tab to strum a chord or toggle the Chord/Notes switch to pluck individual strings. On top of that, the Autoplay dial cycles between four different picking or strum patterns, leaving you free to time chord changes.

8 Tinkle the ivories

Next up, keyboard. As with guitar, there’s both a free play and ‘smart option’. The standard setting lets you choose between 48 different set-ups, from Grand Piano to various shronky synths, each with their own range of effects. Hit the keyboard button on the far right to double-stack the keys.

9 Play it again

If you’d rather not go solo, pick the Smart Keyboard. Like the Smart Guitar, this forms chords for you, with the labelled chord strips offering four different octaves to work with. To change the key, go to the Song Settings menu at the top right. Tweak the Autoplay dial to have the app play patterns for you.

10 Sing it out

To record vocals, choose the Audio Recorder option from the menu screen and tap the record button to start. The app uses the iPad’s built-in mic situated on the top of the device. You can add reverb or echo effects to your voice by tapping the equaliser tab at the top right-hand corner of the screen.

11 Add a sample

GarageBand also lets you record samples. Choose the Sampler option from the main menu, then press Start to record. You’ll then be able to play and record the sample at any pitch on a keyboard. To access built-in sounds such as a dog bark, choose My Samples and pick one from the library.

12 Fine-tuning

Once you’ve fi nished recording all of your tune’s parts, head back to the studio screen to begin editing. To tweak the volume of each track, pull out the instrument sidebar and adjust the sliders using the touch screen. You can also mute them entirely by hitting the Headphone button.

13 Ch-ch-changes

You can alter the length of tracks by tapping on them once and then extending or shrinking the slider bar. To move a track around the timeline wholesale, tap and hold, then drag and place as desired. Double-tapping on a track brings up a menu window that lets you cut, copy, delete, loop or split the section.

14 Going loopy

GarageBand also offers a number of built-in instrumental loops to add to your track, from Cuban Sax to Jazz Flute. To drop one in, take your pick from the various options in the Loop menu at the top right, then drag and drop into an Audio Recorder track.

15 Share your song

Once you’ve fi nally fi nished with your composition, tap the My Songs button at the top left to bring up your library. Here you can name the tune (just tap and hold on the title to bring up the keyboard) and then share it with friends, either via email or by uploading it to iTunes.


If you want to plug in your own guitar and make use of GarageBand’s range of pedals and virtual amps, you’ll need an adaptor. There isn’t much choice out there. AmpliTube’s iRig (pictured) is an affordable option at $59.95, plugging into the headphone jack. You won’t get professional-quality sound, but it’s a solid and cheap-and-cheerful amateur option. The Apogee Jam plugs into the USB connector port and offers superior 24-bit analogue-to-digital sound, but is much pricier. It has just become available in Australia for around $120 from music technology stores.

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