GarageBand is fantastic tool for making music on your iPhone or iPad. In this article we take a look at some of the editing features that make it so powerful, and show you how to get the most from one of the best apps on iOS.
If you’re wondering how to build the track in the first place, take a look at How to make a song in GarageBand.
The track controls panel
Probably the most useful editing tool in Garageband is the track controls panel. To access this simply swipe in from the left hand side of the tracks view screen (the one with all the individual recordings displayed as coloured bars).
In here you’ll find additional controls for each track, including volume sliders, a headphone icon that lets you hear just that instrument, and a mute button to do the opposite.
If you press the Play button at the top of the screen you’ll also see animated, real-time volume levels displayed.
Fine-tuning the mix
Balance is an essential part of any composition. Therefore it’s very important to ensure that your mix is even.
The Mute (speaker with a line through it) button on the left can be used when you are trying to see how a particular track is affecting the overall sound. Turning it on and off will show if the track is covering up other instruments or interfering with their frequencies.
If you want to zone in on a couple of instruments in particular then use the Solo (headphone) button to isolate them. This makes it easier to see if they are clashing.
Finally you can adjust the volume on each track with the sliders, making sure to listen for any that stand out too much or get lost in the mix.
Quick track edits
To access the quick edits menu tap on the instrument icon of a track and you’ll be presented with a small selection of options.
These are very basic edits which include Delete (simply removing the entire track), Duplicate (which creates a new track based on the one selected but doesn’t copy any recordings), Rename (pretty self explanatory), Merge (adding two track together), Automation (setting when and where a track volume changes), Show in Grid (switches between the Grid and Track view), and Icons (which just changes the image on the left of each track).
GarageBand has a limit of 8, 16, or 32 tracks depending on your hardware, but to get more you can merge others together once you’ve finished working on them.
To achieve this tap on the track icon to open the Quick Edit menu, then select Merge. Tap on the other track you want to include, then use the Merge option in the top right corner.
Automating a track
Sometimes you’ll want to emphasise an instrument or change the feel of a mix. One way to do this is through the automation feature which allows you to manually adjust the volume of a track in multiple places.
Tap on a track’s icon to open up the Quick Edit menu, then select Automation.
You’ll see the size of the coloured bars expand and a faint white line appear. This represents the current volume. Tap on it and the line will turn bright white and have a dot at one end.
Tap and drag the dot to create another one. Repeat this and you’ll have three. Now, position the dots where you want the automation to appear, then drag the middle dot up or down to alter the level of the instrument.
Quick region edits
Double-tapping a part of the actual recorded track, or region, will bring up another menu with different options. Most are obvious (cut, copy, delete, rename, trim), but there are also the very useful Split and, for MIDI tracks, Edit.
If you want to copy a certain part of a region, or have a recording that is nearly right apart from one bit, then you can cut it in half using Split. Simply place the playhead where you want the break, tap Split, then drag the little scissors icon down to create two separate regions.
Edit is a little more complicated so we’ll cover that next.
Tapping the Edit option on a midi track (the green ones) turns the screen into a grid pattern with a piano keyboard down the left side.
On the grid are little green blocks which represent the notes in your recording. To change the timing drag them left or right, if you want to make a note longer or shorter than tap and hold it on the right hand side of the block, and finally moving them up or down will alter the pitch.
In the upper left corner is a pencil icon, slide this to the right and it turns red. Now you can add new notes by tapping on a grid square or delete existing ones using the same method.
The Track Settings button
Although you can get plenty of things done in the track controls panel, for more powerful tools you’ll need to tap on the three vertical lines icon in upper left right corner.
This opens up the Track Settings pane for whichever track you have highlighted. Different types of recording have their own colours – green for Midi, blue for live audio and loops – and the options that appear will vary accordingly.
Every track has settings for mute, solo, and track volume which behave in exactly the same way as in the track controls panel. There are also options for panning, EQ, and effects.
Below volume you’ll find a slider for Track Pan. When you create tracks in a recording they are all set pretty much to be in the middle. This basically means that you hear the same thing from both speakers, but with panning you can move them to be more prominent in either the left or right.
This is very useful when mixing as it can create space for instruments and generally widen the sound. Many top producers will have set places where they pan instruments, and also group certain ones together.
Experiment to hear how it can affect your song, especially through headphones.
Using Plug-ins and EQ
Beneath the Output section you’ll find Plug-Ins & EQ.
This has basic settings for Treble and Bass, plus a compressor. The latter is used to make tracks sound even by making the quieter parts louder and the louder parts quieter.
Try applying it gradually to see if it helps your mix.
For more advanced options tap the Plug-Ins & Eq header and you’ll find a new menu where you can select the type of effect you can use, as well as finer controls.
Applying Master Effects
The next two controls are in the Master Effects section, marked Echo and Reverb.
The first will, as the name suggests, echo whatever is happening on the track, repeating the notes straight after they’re played. It’s a great way to make a recording sound richer, but needs to be used with restraint.
Reverb replicates the echoes of a virtual environment (stadium, small club, etc) to make the track sound like it was recorded there.
Tapping on Master Effects will also open up a further menu where you can select the particular type of echo or reverb you want to use.
Using Manual Effects
Next the Track Settings icon in the upper left corner you’ll also see one for FX.
This opens up a fun section where you can apply effects to the whole composition. These can be ‘played’ by using the two grid sections in the left and right bottom corners.
To change the type of effect, tap the name at the top of the section. Also try experimenting with the various buttons in between the two grids.
All the effects are recorded to a new track, so if you don’t like how they sound then you can delete the track without altering your overall song.
Quantisation – your new best friend
When recording instruments it’s vitally important that you play in time. If you use a MIDI controller keyboard then you have the added help of the Quantisation control.
Tap twice on the midi track, then select Settings > Quantisation.
With this option you can take a track that is a little sloppy and snap all the notes into tight alignment with the tempo. Simply select from either Straight, Triplet, or Swing for how precise you want the effect, and select a note value from below if you know which one is relevant.
Otherwise just try them until you’re happy with the results. The effect is non-destructive so you can always click None to return the track to its original state.
The other MIDI specific control is Transposition, which is an easy way to change the pitch of any recordings you’ve made.
Say you’ve put together an arrangement but decide that really you’d like a high keyboard part rather than the one you have, tap on the Transposition button, move the Octaves option up by one and it’s done.
The same can also be done to create a lower part and if you make a duplicate track you can have even more fun by giving them different pitches. For those 70s sci-fi discordant styles you can also adjust the pitch in smaller increments using the Semitones option.
For more out-there sounds you can also alter the speed and even reverse the recording by using the options underneath the Transposition section.