By Monte FergusonThe iLife suite as a whole is a very approachable package. Credit for
this comes from the ease of use of the programs. It also helps that the
tasks they perform fall under a general skill set. An abundance of
natural talent is not required to make a slick DVD or web site. The
programs do much of the work for you. Not so with Garage Band. Garage
Band is the one program in the set that requires some skill or talent.
It is likely that, unless you produce podcasts or create musical scores,
youíve opened Garage Band once and then never messed with it again.
With each new version Apple has tried to expand the potential audience
of Garage Band. It has done so by adding podcasting and Magic Garage
Band features over the last two releases. This year the enticement is
guitar and piano lessons. There are nine basic lessons for aspiring
musicians, as well as an initial handful of optional artist lessons. The
artist lessons teach specific songs by the artists that created them.
Artists included at launch are: Norah Jones, John Fogerty, and Sting.
The most touted feature of Garage Band í09 is called Learn to Play. As
its name implies, Garage Band now comes with lessons to teach beginners
how to play. The program comes with the first basic Guitar and Piano
lessons. You can download eight additional free lessons, for each
instrument. If you want to learn how to play Roxanne from the Police you
can download an Artist Lesson. Sting will teach you how to play his
song. You pay $5 for each Artist Lesson. (Reports coming in say that
Artist Lessons only work on Intel based Macs. Itís the only feature that
is Intel Mac only.) Some artist lessons come in both Simple and Advanced
versions, allowing both beginner and experienced musicians to get
something out of them. As a bonus each lesson includes a video of the
artist speaking about the song, or another subject dear to them.
The lessons are nicely produced, and paced well. They feature ďTimĒ, who
is a friendly instructor. He begins with the physical layout of each
instrument and, in later lessons, walks through the basics of playing
the instruments. Nearly every lesson ends with a song youíre encouraged
to play along with. There is also a section that allows you to play
along with ďTimĒ and record what you play. In each lesson the view is
split screen. The top view shows Tim. The bottom view shows either a
keyboard or a fretboard. When ďTimĒ plays an indicator, colored blue,
appears on the virtual keyboard or fretboard.
If you plug in a midi keyboard it becomes available in Garage Band,
allowing you to play a piano part within the lessons. If you plug in a
guitar Garage Band will ask you if itís acoustic, and using a
microphone, or electric. Garage Band will record it appropriately. You
can switch on a metronome to help keep time as well as slow down the
speed of the music so itís easier to play along.
The lessons are good, as far as they go. This is not an in-depth
teaching experience. Itís a starting point in learning how to play. More
in-depth lessons can be found in iPlayMusic, iPerform3D, and eMedia
Music. And iVideosongs offers some beautifully filmed artist lessons.
Apple has improved the amplifier simulations it includes with Garage
Band. There are five newly modeled amplifiers, as well as a bunch of
stomp box audio effects. Apple didnít just toss in a few new effects.
They rebuilt the amps and effects from the ground up.
You have always had the options of playing real instruments through the
programs amplifier simulations, or applying them after the fact. Many
folks just didnít know the feature was even there. Apple has redesigned
the interface so that these features are more obvious, therefore easier
You find the new amplifiers via the Electric Guitar tracks. These are
real instrument tracks which feature amplifiers modeled after Marshall,
Mesa Boogie, Vox, Fender Combo and Tweed amps. You can easily change out
amps as well as adjust settings of each amp. (They have virtual knobs
for adjusting Gain, Bass, Mids, Treble, Presence, Master, Output,
Reverb, Tremolo Rate, and Tremolo Depth.) You can even adjust a knob by
using the mouseís scroll wheel motion of up and down. An ampís master
echo and reverb settings can also be adjusted. They sound so real that
you even get noise, I.E. distortion, when you crank them up really loud.
Stomp box effects are also found under Electric Guitar tracks. Stomp
boxes are those small effect boxes that lie on the floor near guitar
players and are foot activated. They allow the musician to modify the
sound output of their instrument in dramatic ways. Garage Band stomp box
effects include Phaser, Overdrive, Distortion, Fuzz, Chorus, Flanger,
Vibrato, Filter, Delay, and Sustain.
You can have up to five stomp boxes at a time. Keep in mind that Garage
Band handles them in serial order. This means that changing their
position in the interface changes the output sound of the track. Each
stomp box includes an On/Off switch as well as knobs for adjusting the
parameters of the effect. Feedback has been very positive as to how real
the stomp box effects compare to their analog counterparts.
Apple has definitely made positive improvements to the interface of
Garage Band. It now has the same gray toned look as Aperture and Logic.
It sounds minor but by toning down the interface elements it allows you
to focus more on what youíre doing and less on figuring out what
everything is. Loops are now found in the main window, rather than
below. Effects, once hidden at the bottom of the Info pane, are now
available in an obvious Edit tab. When you add a new track, youíre
presented with a window that lets you easily choose a Software
Instrument, Real Instrument, or Electric Guitar track. The text
throughout the interface is larger.
The New Project window contains a broader variety of projects including
Piano, Electric Guitar, Voice, Loops, Keyboard Collection, Acoustic
Instrument, Songwriting, Podcast, and Movie. This makes it easier to
start out with a template that is configured for the type of project you
want to create.
When combined together the overall effect is to streamline the
interface. The most popular features are at your fingertips. Some
powerful, yet easily overlooked features are now easily discoverable.
Rounding out the positive features are the retooled amps and stomp box
effects. Now theyíre easier to find. Theyíre also totally rewritten.
They sound much better.
Garage Band still has a one project at a time limitation. Itís an
irritating limit. iMovie used to suffer from this limitation as well.
Hopefully this will be addressed in the next release.
There is one negative to using the amps and stomp boxes that come with
Garage Band. The amps and stomp boxes canít be controlled via MIDI. This
means you either have to stop playing to fiddle with their settings or
change the parameters afterwards. Thatís not a workable solution for
most guitarists who like to kick in effects as they play. For now you
had better hold onto your analog stomp boxes and amps if you want to
make changes as you play.
I wish Apple would either create an option to allow third party
plug-ins, or add the ability to support established plug-in standards
like VST. This could push the usability of Garage Band to new highs.
Garage Band 09 is a solid upgrade. The inclusion of the lessons broadens
itís appeal for music novices and hobbyists. The redesigned interface
and improved features brings more of the power to the forefront. There
is certainly a lot to like, especially if you play guitar, with this
Despite the improvements, you need some musical talent to make the most
of the program. Sorry to say Garage Band will not turn you into a music
virtuoso. But it can help you realize your creative potential.
Posted: Wednesday, January 27th, 2010