how to use garageband

How to Use GarageBand for Beginners

Some people insist on using only the best recording software, like ProTools or Ableton Live. And yeah, those are great tools, but don’t underestimate a program like GarageBand. You probably didn’t know this, but some of the biggest stars use it (more on that below).

So if you’re looking to keep things simple as a Producer, this guide is for you. I’ll be covering how to use GarageBand for beginners.

In our discussion of how to use Garageband, we’ll cover how to:

  1. Create a new project
  2. Create your first track
  3. Set the Beats Per Minute
  4. Use Apple’s huge loop library
  5. Record a software instrument
  6. Record a live instrument
  7. Share your song with the world

What Is GarageBand?

GarageBand is a free digital audio workstation (DAW) — in other words, a piece of software that lets you record music. It comes preloaded on every Apple device, even iPhones and iPads.

It also includes a bunch of drum loops and virtual instruments. According to Apple, it “puts a complete music studio on your computer.” I’ve used it and I second that.

You can do everything from recording to mixing to sharing your music with the world. Once your song is finished, you can use Apple’s AirDrop to send the song to iTunes or Soundcloud.

In other words, GarageBand is a beginner Producer’s best friend.

There’s a little song Rihanna released called “Umbrella.” The drum loop in that song is a tweaked GarageBand drum loop, one that comes preloaded with the program. More specifically, Vintage Funk Kit 03. The song won a Grammy, hit number one on the Billboard Hot 100, and made Rolling Stone’s “500 Greatest Songs of All Time” list.

GarageBand Pros and Cons

Before we dive into how you can use GarageBand, let’s look at the pros and cons of it.

Pros:

  • Preloaded on every Apple device
  • Comes with drum loops and virtual instruments
  • Preview drum loops at the tempo of your song (before you insert it into the project)
  • AirDrop your song to iTunes or Soundcloud

Cons:

  • Only compatible with Apple devices
  • Crossfading is difficult (more on that below)

Famous Artists Who Use GarageBand

Okay, one more thing before we cover the how-to of GarageBand. Have you ever realized how many famous artists have used GarageBand to make some of their biggest songs? Yeah, it’s true.

Here are a few of them…
Steve Lacy
Steve Lacy from the band The Internet produced the Kendrick Lamar song “PRIDE” entirely on his iPhone. Lacy used GarageBand (mobile!) to make a song that ended up on an award-winning album by one of the most well-known Rappers today.

If it’s good enough for Lacy and Lamar, it’s good enough for beginners.

Rihanna
There’s a little song Rihanna released called “Umbrella.” The drum loop in that song is a tweaked GarageBand drum loop, one that comes preloaded with the program. More specifically, Vintage Funk Kit 03.

The song won a Grammy, hit number one on the Billboard Hot 100, and made Rolling Stone’s “500 Greatest Songs of All Time” list.

Radiohead
When Radiohead released In Rainbows in 2008, they did so with a pay-what-you-want price tag. They also made available the stems for the guitar, bass, drums, strings, and voices for fans to download from iTunes and remix. If the fans downloaded all the stems (each the same price as a single song cost back then), they’d get access to a GarageBand project file for the song “Nude.” Later that year, Radiohead did the same thing with their song “Reckoner.” Clearly, the band saw the potential of this little DAW.

T-Pain
T-Pain actually works with Apple as a sort of spokesman for GarageBand. Apparently, he had been using it long before Apple approached him with the partnership. He claims to have been using it for many years to quickly make beats for people.

“If I tell you that the last song I released was completely done on GarageBand,” he told he told The Verge, “You either wouldn’t believe it or you’d go, ‘I need to check out GarageBand.’”

A Step-By-Step Guide on How to Use GarageBand

Once you open up GarageBand, the first prompt will be to create a new project (you can also do this with Cmd + N or File > New). You can choose your type of project, like “Ringtone,” “Hip Hop,” “Songwriter,” and “Voice,” among others. One option is “Empty Project,” which is probably the one you’ll want to start with if you’re new to this software.

Then it will prompt you to create your first track. If it doesn’t, you can go to Track > New Track or hit Option + Cmd + N. You can choose the type of track, including Voice, Instrument, or Software Instrument.

Let’s use a Software Instrument as an example. After you create a new Software Instrument track, you’ll see on the left side of the screen a library of the different virtual instruments. In the middle-right of the screen, you’ll see what you’ve recorded. In the bottom-right, you’ll see the editor.

But all of this sits behind the digital piano window, which corresponds to the QWERTY keyboard. So for example, the letter K might be the note C, the letter O a C#, the letter L a D note, and so on.

T-Pain actually works with Apple as a sort of spokesman for GarageBand. Apparently, he had been using it long before Apple approached him with the partnership. He claims to have been using it for many years to quickly make beats for people.

Probably the first thing you’ll want to do before recording is set the Beats Per Minute, aka BPM aka Tempo. This is at the very top of the screen in the middle. Just double-click (or click and drag) the number above “Tempo” and put it in your preferred BPM. And you can change the key or time signature by clicking them.

Alright, so now you’re ready to start putting your song together. The best place to start, especially for GarageBand beginners, is Apple’s huge loop library.

Maybe inhale deeply before you do this. There are so many loops it may take your breath away.

Every single virtual instrument in GarageBand has multiple loops — a short piece of pre-recorded music or drum beat. To open up the loops, hit the O key or just visit View > Show Apple Loops. That opens up a panel on the right. From there you can pick your instrument, genre, and mood.

Once you find a loop you like, just click-and-drag it into your session. If you want to loop the loop, click-and-drag the upper half of the right edge of it. Then pull it to the right until you’ve looped it enough times.

You can do this over and over again with different loops and different instruments. Just make sure they’re all in the same key. You can also double click on the loops to edit, add, and move the MIDI notes (i.e. the notes or parts of the drum being hit).

Plus, you can download free loops that don’t come with GarageBand at outside places like MacLoops or Loopmasters.

If you’d like to record a software instrument, you can either use the digital piano within GarageBand, your own MIDI keyboard, or you can manually place each MIDI note. Just create a new Software Instrument track and create the music with your chosen method.

Let’s use GarageBand’s musical typing keyboard as an example. Hit Cmd + K and the keyboard will appear. Then choose the virtual instrument you want and start playing.

If you’d rather record a live instrument, just create a new Voice track (for vocals or acoustic guitar) or a new Guitar track (for electric guitar). You’ll need an audio interface for this. That’s the device you plug your guitar or microphone cable into which then plugs into the computer, usually via USB.

(However, if you’re using the iOS version of GarageBand, you can plug a guitar cable directly into your iPhone or iPad as long as you have a ¼” to ⅛” adapter).

From there, you can play with all the different effects that are included with GarageBand.

Once your song is done, it’s time to share it with the world. They make it easy to do this (just make sure you hit File > Save first!). When you’re ready to share the song, choose Share > Export Song to Disk. This will export the GarageBand project as a file that you can upload to Soundcloud, Bandcamp, or distribute to Spotify or Apple Music (file types: AAC, MP3, AIFF, and WAV).

Or you can share your song on iTunes or Soundcloud directly by choosing Share > Song to iTunes or Song to Soundcloud.

GarageBand: The DIY Musician’s Best Friend

If you’re an independent musician, you’re like most of us. We’re all trying to make the best music we can with the little amount of time, money, and resources we have.

But GarageBand is a great friend to people like us. It allows us to produce music on a budget that can stand up next to music made in a professional studio.

Being a successful Producer is all about knowing how to use the tools you have to make the most powerful music possible.

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