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Tech Take-Apart
Build a Mac Sound Studio Part 2: The Software
by kp

See Part I from last month

iMac with keyboard
See the setup

Now that you have all your music equipment plugged in to your computer, it's time to get started with composing music. Even though using Macintosh to compose music is not new, GarageBand has brought together some great features into one easy-to-use interface. Loaded with professionally created loops and hundreds of instrument variations, you can cut tracks for your band, or just make background music for your family movies. The best part of this program is that you don't have to be an accomplished musician to use it, because it's built to cater to both the professionals and novices.

GarageBand starts by creating a new song or "project." Next, the composing window appears and acts as the workplace for constructing your project with the track editing tools. Tracks that can be either software or real instruments are managed through the Master Track window (command + I). This menu allows customization of each instrument by adding sounds, effects and attaching an instrument-specific icon. Each instrument has its own equalizer, compressor and volume control, and the settings can be saved in your program preferences. Plus, each track has a mixer and volume curve feature for even more editing control.

GarageBand Quick Reference PDF
GarageBand Quick Reference PDF

A track is represented by a color-coded region that designates its placement and length on the timeline. The track's region can be moved over the timeline by simply clicking and dragging. The timeline can also be expanded by pulling on the far edge of the region or placed intermittently on the timeline. The track's region is shown in detail by the Track Editor (command + E) where additional tweaking can be done. A bonus in the GarageBand 2 is that the Track Editor displays music notation in real time.

Composing music either with a software or real instrument, GarageBand has its own keyboard (command + K) to enter the notes and can be extended up to ten octaves. Or instead, you can connect an external keyboard and use it to enter the notes. In GarageBand 2, your computer keyboard can be converted into a music keyboard besides just using the mouse. It can also record directly from externally connected instruments such as a guitar or a microphone. Real instruments are added to the timeline as "New Basic Instruments" and are recorded "as is" without any effects. Post-recorded editing can be done through the Track Editor window and timeline.

The timeline, where constructing of the song takes place, controls the sequencing and timing. Some of the great features of the timeline is that it has an adjustable grid button to change the note value, and a volume curve can that be added to each track. Plus, it's represented in digital format in which you can manually enter the time and tempo. There is even a zoom feature that can compact or expand the timeline to reveal or hide track detail.

If your music skills are limited, GarageBand has its own set of professional pre-recorded loops. The Loop Browser (command + L) is cleverly designed to help you find a variety of sounds that are itemized by style and genre. The Loop menu features a keyword search and item buttons that can categorize loops by tempo, key and beats. Apple has also made several add-on packages for GarageBand called Jam Packs which contain additional loops and instruments. Some of the Jam Pack options are:

GarageBand Jam Pack 1 - collection of more than 2,000 additional Apple Loops in a variety of instruments, moods and genres with over 100 new software instruments.

Garage Band Jam Pack 3: Rhythm Section - contains 2,000 Apple Loops that consist of drum beats, bass lines, chord progressions, guitar and keyboard riffs. Includes 50 software instrument from rock to alternative, metal to country, folk to blues.

Equipped with this software, your home MIDI studio should be ready to go. GarageBand's features with color coded tracks, loop browser and track editing has made creating music easier than ever. The best part is that all of this can be done for just hundreds - not thousands - of dollars. So don't miss out on the music revolution; get started composing today.

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