How to Use GarageBand Tutorial

GarageBand is a great way to get started in the realm of digital recording. The interface is easy to use, and very similar to Logic Pro X, so it’s a good training ground before delving into a more profession DAW (Digital Audio Workstation.) Plus it’s free, so there’s that.

Recording in Garageband


GarageBand vs Logic

If you didn’t already know, GarageBand is essentially the lite version of Logic Pro X. Or Logic Pro X is the professional version of GarageBand if you prefer. That’s not to say that you can’t make professional grade music in GarageBand, and if you aren’t working in a studio recording a ton of tracks, then it may be all you need. If you are a singer/songwriter, it’s probably fine. While Logic Pro X is typically $200 in the App Store, GarageBand is free, and you get quite a lot of features for the price! That’s not to say Logic isn’t a good deal, as you get a ton of stuff as well, including free upgrades, but alas, we are here to talk about how to use GarageBand.

How to use the Drummer

Why am I starting with the Drummer you might ask? Well first off because it’s not only one of the coolest features but also easy to use. If you just want to jam on guitar, it’s always nice to have a drum track to play to, and you can get it up and running quickly. And lastly, if you are a songwriter and trying to create a melody on guitar or piano without a rhythm track, you are going to have a difficult time later trying to find the bpm and adjusting your audio region accordingly. I’m not saying it can’t be done, but why not just do the rhythm part up front and save yourself a headache later on? You can always adjust the drums and percussion if need be.

If you go into File, New and select Songwriter.

New Project Menu
New Project Menu

This will populate several tracks. Notice that there are several pre-populated tracks, a mic for singing, another mic for an acoustic guitar, a couple of guitar amp emulations for electric guitar, and a piano track, if you have a midi keyboard. The one we are interested in is the first track, which is a drummer track. Most tracks are audio or midi information, but a Drummer track is a special type of track.

Notice on the left side in the Library, Rock is selected and the “drummer” that we have chosen is Kyle, who plays a Pop Rock style. Under the headshot image, it will have a description of his playing style. We can select the genre and then the drummer that best fits the style we are going for. For now we’ll just stick with Kyle.

Drummer Track
Drummer Track

Most of the other drummers aren’t installed by default, so you’ll have to download them before you can use them. One nice recent addition is Percussion, so if you are doing more Latin or Fusion type themes, this can be handy. The Rock, Alternative, Songwriter and R&B are kind of what you’d expect and use “traditional” acoustic drum sets. The Electronic and Hip Hop genres will use “drum machines” but you can still use Drummer in the same fashion to control the patterns.

Notice under the drummers, there are also drum kits. You can not only change your drummer, but your kit as well! (You may need additional downloads for these as well.)

The yellow golden rectangle with a wave file graphic in it is called a “region”. Double click on it to show (or hide) at the bottom of the screen the track detail. Now click the play button to see what the current selected track sounds like.

Under Beat Presets you can select another pattern, below I have Crash the Party selected. To the right is the X/Y pad. Moving the dot up increases the velocity, or makes Kyle hit “harder”. Likewise, down makes Kyle hit “softer”. Moving the dot to the left will make Kyle play a simpler pattern, and to the right and more complex pattern.

Drummer detail
Drummer detail

If you click the Tambourine icon, you’ll hear a tambourine introduced into the mix. Click the Kick drum to turn it off, and clicking the cymbals will turn them on, and turn off the toms. You can adjust the sliders on the right to alter the “pattern” of each. Additionally, if you want Kyle to take liberties with his playing, turn “Fills” all the way to the right. If you want him to play the pattern straight with no variation, then turn frills off, to the left.

GarageBand Drummer detail
GarageBand Drummer detail

You can introduce a bit of swing to give it a little more human feel by turning the Sing knob and select if it should be on the 8th or 16th. And remember how I said you should do the drum track before recording your melody? Well if you already recorded the melody, you can try and check the “Follow” box, and you can select which track to follow. The Drummer will try and alter it’s “static” pattern to fit your timing. I’ve had mixed results, but it’s worth a shot.

Now hit the “B” key on the keyboard to bring up the “Smart Controls” for the track. You can “mix” in each drum mic. If you don’t want cymbals, just click the yellow button to turn them off. You can turn the knob left or right to decide how much of the “cymbal mic” that you want to mix into the track. You can also adjust the amount of compression and if there is an effect on the track.

GarageBand Smart Controls
GarageBand Smart Controls

Making Beats in GarageBand

We have an entire article called Making Beats on Logic Pro X. Rather than duplicate the data, please check out that article for more in depth insight. While there are a few advanced features that you won’t have, by and large there is a lot of overlap between making beats in GarageBand and Logic.

In the meantime, to get you started, go to File, New, and select the Hip-Hop project. This will populate the session with a Hip Hop drummer. You can select different drummers and drum kits in the Library on the left. Select Electronic Drum Kit, and then Boutique 808 to get started with a standard Hip Hop kit. You’ll notice it also populates the session with several synth options along with some strings and a piano. The Trap Door kit is also another one you’ll want to check out. The EDM kits are mixed in with the Hip Hop kits as they are all Electronic.

808 Boutique Electronic Drum Kit
808 Boutique Electronic Drum Kit

Recording Audio Interface

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You can use the mic on your Macbook or iMac, but obviously the quality won’t be great. You need an audio interface that allows you to plug into a quarter inch jack! Read about our review of the Focusrite 2i2 which is one of the most popular interfaces (and probably biggest bang for your buck.) If your budget is close to zero dollars, then the Behringer UM2 is about as cheap as you can get. Another option people seem to like is the PreSonus AudioBox USB.

Recording Guitar in GarageBand

Once your audio interface is plugged in, go to File, New, and select Amp Collection. What this will do is pre-populate several tracks with amp emulations. You’ll see Amazing Tweed and Surfin’ In Stereo which are obviously meant to be Fender emulations. Royal Rock is a Vox, Double Brit Phaser is a Marhsall, and so on.

When you click on the first track, “Amazing Tweed”, you’ll see down below where it says Track, there are Recording Settings and Plug-ins. If you select the Plug-ins down arrow, there will be effects like Noise Gate and Compressor. Click on the one that says “Amp Designer”.

You’ll see the emulation of the Tweed, You can not only select a different head, but a different cabinet to mix and match. You can also change the type of mic used, as well as if the mic is center or off axis to the cabinet.

GarageBand Tweed Amp
GarageBand Tweed Amp

There’s also foot pedals galore in the pedalboard. Select the Pedalboard option from the plug-ins to get the pedalboard to open up. You can just drag pedals from the right onto your board, and click and drag to re-arrange them.

GarageBand Pedalboard
GarageBand Pedalboard

Our honest assessment is that these are really good for free! And they’ll keep you occupied for while. If you’re like us though, you’ll be itching to really get your shred on and want to expand to things like the official Amplitube Orange and Amplitube MesaBoogie emulations. There’s also Engl emulations as well and Native Instruments has Guitar Rig, which is a whole rack of gear! There is plenty to keep guitarists happy.

Recording Vocals in GarageBand

While you probably should have an audio interface so that you can recording electric guitar and mic, if you only need to record vocals and perhaps an acoustic guitar, then you could get away with something like the USB Audio Technica Mic.

If you go into File, New, Voice, GarageBand will be populated with several tracks geared towards recording. I hate to call it mostly tricks, but the only difference between all these tracks is the plugins that are pre-populated on each track. On the plus side, they do let you see how some effects are created.

For example, if you click on the Telephone Vocal track, and down below expand Plug-ins, you’ll see what effects were applied. If you select Channel EQ, you’ll notice that the ranges not heard on a phone are removed with hi and low pass filtering. Additionally, there’s a boost in the middle where the vocal range mostly resides. Additionally, there’s a compressor and limiter applied, along with the Amp Designer. This brings up a great point, you don’t have to apply the Amp Designer only to guitar tracks. Try them on everything!

Channel EQ
Channel EQ

Tuner – Count In – Metronome

Metreonome
Metronome

The GarageBand tuner is pretty much the same thing that’s in Logic Pro X. You engage the it by clicking the “tuning fork”. As you play a note on your instrument it’ll tell you how many cents off you are. Usually you’ll use this for a guitar or bass, but it will work with any instrument you plugin in, including your vocals thru a mic (if you were curious what note you were singing.)

Tuner in Garageband
Tuner in Garageband

The GarageBand Count In is engaged by clicking the “1234” button. What this does is gives you a bar or two to prepare before it starts recording. This is beneficial because it not only gives you time to hit the record button and then get ready to play, but lets you hear the beat (note, you don’t the metronome engaged to hear the count in.) If you didn’t have this engaged, it’d start recording right away, so you’d miss your “cue”. You are almost always going to want to have this enabled. If you click and hold the button, it’ll give you the option of “1 bar”, “2 bar” or “None”.

The GarageBand Metronome is engaged by, you guessed it, clicking the button that looks like a “Metronome”. This will essentially give you a “click track”. While this can be annoying if too loud, if you don’t have a drum track laid down already, this is pretty much essential to keep you in time. Personally, I usually opt for just throwing in a temporary drummer track in the style that I’m going for, as it gives you more of a “groove” to play off of, rather than a stale click sound. If you know exactly what you are going for though, the drummer track might be too distracting, so the metronome is probably worth leaving engaged.

Plugins

The nice thing about GargeBand is that is supports standard Audio Units plugins. This means that rather than wait until you upgrade to Logic to start buying professional grade plugins, you can buy them now and use them in GarageBand. You may find that you don’t even need to upgrade to Logic with added capability that the plugins give you!

You’ll need to go to GarageBand, Preferences, Audio/MIDI and verify that “Enable Audio Units” is checked.

Midi Device Selection
Midi Device Selection

GarageBand hides the settings away at the bottom of the screen.

Amp settings
Amp settings

Reverse and Change Pitch

Reversing an audio track couldn’t be easier. Double click on the region to open up the detail window below. Click the Region tab next to the Track tab. Underneath the region name, there’s a check box called “reverse playback”. If you check that, it essentially flips the audio region horizontally, so it’s now backward.

Reverse Region in GarageBand
Reverse Region in GarageBand

If you don’t have Auto-tune and you aren’t a great singer, fear not! GarageBand has some pretty cool features built in. If you click on the “Track” tab of the region detail and slide the Pitch Correction to 100, this will force every note to its nearest chromatic note. If you want it to sound a bit more natural, then you can pull the slider back to somewhere in the middle.

Additionally, if you have a Key set for your song (which you can do at the top next to the Tempo) then you can force the notes to the nearest note within the Key of your song by checking the “Limit to Key” option. This behaves a bit more how Auto-Tune would if you picked a key for it.

On the downside, if you meant to sing a “passing note” that isn’t in the key but on the way from one note in the key to another note in the key, then this could ruin that for you. On the flip side, I’ve used this as a creative tool when writing a song and just vamping on some lyrics. By limiting to the Key, it might shift some of my sung notes up or down and create a happy accident where the melody sounds better than what I originally sang.

Pitch Correct Region in GarageBand
Pitch Correct Region in GarageBand

Save as MP3

Saving to an mp3 is easy. Go to Share, Export Song to Disk, and the Save As screen will pop up. At the bottom, you will be given four options, to save as AAC, MP3, AIFF, and WAVE. Most likely you’ll want MP3, and I wouldn’t go below 192kB/s. You’ll probably want to do 256kB/s if you will be submitting your song for distribution in a professional manner.

Share MP3
Share MP3

You can also submit to SoundCloud and YouTube via the Share menu if you setup your accounts. Here you can also export the project to iOS as well to work with on the go.

Rip Audio like Spotify

If you have an audio interface, you can rip streaming media. For more detailed info, check out our article on how to record Spotify . Essentially you want to remap the audio inputs on your Mac to your audio device. From there you add a mic track, change the input to the new audio inputs, and change it from mono to stereo.

Now when you play a song in Spotify (or play any other audio really) you can hit the record button and it’ll print the audio track, which you can then export to mp3. This is really useful if you are trying to model your song off a past hit song. This will help you match levels and match EQ, and it vital for the Tonal Balance in Ozone (see the mastering section.)

Keyboard Shortcuts

One nice thing when you are starting out and don’t have a midi controller, is the built in keyboard mapping to a piano keyboard. If you go to “Window”, “Show Keyboard”, the following image will popup. The letter A maps to middle C, w is C#, s is D, etc. To change an octave, you can slide the blue highlight up and down the piano keyboard. Obviously you won’t be performing Mozart on this, but it at least lets you hammer out some simple patterns in a pinch, at lets you “play” some of the instruments to hear what they sound like.

Music Keyboard
Music Keyboard

Time saving shortcuts.

  • R – record
  • SPACE – play
  • C – cycle loop on/off
  • , – rewind
  • . – fast forward
  • K – metronome on/off
  • shift K – count in on/off
  • B – show/hide smart controls
  • Command S – save
  • Option Command N – new track
  • A – show/hide automation
  • Shift Return – rename track
  • Shift Command M – show/hide master track
  • Command J – join regions
  • Command T – split regions (at play head)
  • Shift n – rename region

Mastering in GarageBand

Since GarageBand doesn’t have a mixer like Logic, it doesn’t have a 2-bus or mix bus that you’d typically apply mastering plugins to … or does it? While it doesn’t look like a typical mixing console, Apple was kind enough to give us a master track called “Master”. This is where we can put all of our typical 2-bus and mastering plugins. They do offer a Compressor, Limiter, EQ, and Exciter. These are fine to start with, but when you are ready for a more professional sound, you’ll probably want to start looking at getting some EQ’s and Compressors that are good for not only tracking but mastering as well.

Additionally, you can look at iZotope’s Ozone. This is great for GarageBand and beginners for several reasons. First off, it’s an entire suite of products that can be used separately or all together. There are plenty of templates to help with the style you are going for since it can be overwhelming when starting out (I bet you aren’t a Mastering Engineer.) You can also use the AI “Assistant” that can analyze your mix and optimize it.

Additionally, you can export your song to an mp3, and import it into Ozone standalone, allowing you to work on the master separately, outside of GarageBand. They offer a few different levels and pricing options, so you can start with the entry level version and work up to the professional version if you find it useful. You can also rent to own Ozone which may be a good way to take it for a test drive. (Personally, I used Ozone when starting out and found it to be fantastic. I still use it often, and find their Maximizer to be essential.) Their Tonal Balance is essential if you are trying to create music that sounds like another current hit song. It lets you import an audio file of the “radio hit” and lets you match up your song to it, so you can see where you need to trim or boost EQ.

This tutorial is a work in progress and continually updated. If you have any questions or suggestions, then we’d love to hear from you, please leave comments