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Hands-on With Garage Band On The iPad 2

by Emily Price | March 25, 2011March 25, 2011 5:00 pm PDT

Along with launching the iPad 2 a few weeks ago, Apple launched a new GarageBand application for the iPad as well. The $4.99 application was one of the first I downloaded when I got my iPad home, and is something I’ve been playing around with pretty regularly/obsessively over the past few weeks. So what’s it like? In a word: awesome.

I have a secret desire to be a rockstar when I grow up. I’m friends with a decent amount of musicians, get invited to a lot of jam sessions, there’s a small chance that could actually happen for me – except that I stink. Despite numerous attempts at teaching me, I can not and have never been able to successfully play any string instrument except the ukulele, and I’m not that good at the uke. GarageBand helps me take care of that.

Autoplay Magic

So, where I typically fail in the string instrument arena is strumming on a guitar and playing the right notes simultaneously. I can do one or the other pretty well, but for some reason my brain can’t quite wrap itself around doing both at the same time. I’ve tried. For years. It’s bad.

So, GarageBand on the iPad takes care of that for me with a feature called Autoplay. Autoplay essentially strums the guitar (or bass) for me, so I can concentrate on playing the right notes at the right time. Chords are laid out on the virtual string instrument keyboard-style so I can navigate easily between them, and GarageBand comes with four preset Autoplay strumming styles, so I can match the style of the jam I’m trying to play. GarageBand also lets me set my own tempo by tapping on the screen, so I can adjust how the guitar is being played to match my musical genius. I could theoretically plug my iPad into a small speaker, attend one of these infamous jam sessions, and blend in.

For those of you who aren’t inept, GarageBand also offers the ability to play notes on the screen rather than chords, giving you more of a traditional guitar look and feel. From a non-guitar player standpoint, the notes option is a bit awkward to play, simply because you can’t feel the strings under your fingers…and it seems like you should.

Virtual Band

So, lets say you have this amazing idea for a song. All you need is someone to play guitar, a bassist, maybe a little keyboard action, and a hot drum beat to match up with it all. GarageBand comes with all of those things built-in, so you can essentially be your own band, play each part, and even record you own audio track over the whole thing to complete your musical masterpiece.

This feature in particular has been pretty huge to my musician friends. Even if you were in a real band, the feature allows you to lay down individual tracks and determine how you would ultimately like a song to sound. It’s a great feature for songwriters, who might be trying to bang out additional parts while the rest of the band isn’t around.

Create a demo

GarageBand offers the ability to mix together eight different tracks. Tracks can be from virtual instruments within GarageBand, or can be from your real instruments that you plug in to your iPad and record. If you’re a small band looking to record a demo, this can be an amazing feature to have at your fingertips. Recording a traditional demo is exceptionally expensive. Recording one with GarageBand certainly isn’t going to be a cakewalk, but it’s also not going to cost you a fortune.

Overall Thoughts

This is one of my favorite applications currently available for the iPad. “Playing” the different instruments within the app can be done fairly easily, virtually rocking out is tons of fun, and the application has the potential to be actually useful for real musicians in getting ideas down on paper and recording inexpensively.

Have any of you had the opportunity to try out GarageBand on the iPad? What do you think?


Emily Price

Emily has been obsessed with computers since the early 80s when she discovered she could play Ghostbusters on her father's Commodore 64. She...

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