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What You Get

A DVD with the whole iLIfe suite. Numerous templates. A good electronic help section. Apple's web site there are also several excellent tutorials.

System Requirements

  • Intel-based Mac, Power Mac G5 (dual 2.0GHz or faster), or iMac G5 (1.9GHz or faster)
  • 512MB of RAM; 1GB recommended.
  • GarageBand Learn to Play requires an Intel-based Mac with a dual-core processor or better.
  • Approximately 4GB of available disk space
  • DVD drive required for installation
  • Mac OS X v10.5.6 or later
  • QuickTime 7.5.5 or later (included)
  • 24-bit recording in GarageBand requires a Mac OS X-compatible audio interface with support for 24-bit audio. Please consult the ownerís manual or manufacturer directly for audio device specifications and compatibility.

Garage Band 09

By Monte Ferguson

The 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.

Lesson Plan
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.

Amp'd Up
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 to find.

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 release.

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

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