How to Make Music with Garage Band

In this quick and easy tutorial, you’ll learn how to use Garage Band to make a simple background music loop that is ready to use in your own apps or projects. While working on this song, you’ll learn the basics of using Garage Band and will be ready to compose music of your own! By Mic Pringle.

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Learn how to make a simple background music loop with Garage Band!

Learn how to make a simple background music loop with Garage Band!

This is a blog post by special contributor Piotr Szwach, a composer available for hire!

Have you ever wanted to make your own background music for an app, a game, or a promotional video?

Well, it’s easier than you might think thanks to Apple’s excellent app Garage Band!

In this quick and easy tutorial, you’ll learn how to use Garage Band to make a simple background music loop that is ready to use in your own apps or projects.

While working on this song, you’ll learn the basics of using Garage Band and will be ready to compose music of your own!

No prior experience with programming or Garage Band is required for this tutorial. Let’s start jamming!

Hello, GarageBand!

GarageBand is part of Apple’s iLife family of applications and comes bundled with every new Mac.
Just as Xcode is classified as an IDE, GarageBand belongs to the family of apps known as Digital Audio Workstations, or DAW for short.

GarageBand is a popular choice as it provides the novice musician with the simplicity and ease-of-use that Apple products are famous for. Other leading DAWs include Apple Logic Pro, Cubase and Avid’s Pro Tools; these are often the choice of music professionals since they are far more feature rich — but they can also be a lot more complicated to use!

If you don’t have a copy of GarageBand, you can purchase it from the Mac App Store. The version used throughout this tutorial is 6.0.5, which is the current version available.

Your First Step to Musical Stardom — Starting a Project

Let’s get started! Open GarageBand, and select the New Project tab from the popup that appears. You should see the following:

Just like in Xcode or Instruments, these are some templates you can use to help get you started right away. For this tutorial, choose the Loops template, and click Choose. The following dialog will then appear:

Enter GroovyTune for the name, then click Create, accepting the default options. The full interface will then launch. Let’s take a quick tour!

In the Studio — The GarageBand Interface

Time for a quick whirlwind tour of the GarageBand interface! :]

On the left, you’ll see the Tracks pane. When composing a song, you can use many different tracks to contain each instrument or component you’ll use in the song, and they will all show up in this section.

In the middle of the screen is the timeline where you’ll drop the loops associated with each track. The timeline is the linear representation of your song where you can manipulate the different parts of your song.

At the bottom of the window are your standard playback controls. At any point during this tutorial you can play what you’ve arranged by using the controls to reverse, fast forward, or jump to the start of the song.

And speaking of loops, to the right is the loops library. A loop is a snippet of music that you can drop into your song; as the name implies, these snippets will play as long as you need them to in your song. This section contains all the predefined loops you can use to make music for your games.

To get a feel for how loops are represented, select the All Drums option from the loops library and scroll through the list to see what’s available:

Hey, what gives? Some of the Loops are greyed out! This just means that the Loop isn’t pre-packaged in your installation of GarageBand. Click on one of the greyed-out Loops now:

The dialog which appears allows you to download those missing loops. You can choose to do this immediately, or wait until the next time you run Software Update.

However, developers are an impatient lot, so select “Download Now” in preparation for composing your first song! :]

Note: After you click this it may open the Apple Store with the update tab selected. Be sure to click the Update button to get the process rolling right away!

Also, note that after the download completes you will have to shut down GarageBand so the update can be installed.

Hey, Ho, Let’s Go — Arranging your First Song

Now that you’re familiar with the GarageBand interface and have downloaded the missing loops, you’re ready to compose your first song. Or more precisely, you’re ready to arrange your first song! For this tutorial you’re going to take ready-made blocks of music and simply arrange them to create a song.

First you need a good motif.

“What in the world is that?!,” you may say. Well, a motif is basically a small fragment of music that will give the song structure and intent. You’ll use a predefined Loop as your motif in this composition.

Choose the Orchestral category in the loops library, and then drag the Orchestra Strings 08 loop to the middle pane, making sure to line it up with the 5th bar in the timeline. This timeline represents the length of the track, in seconds.

You might wonder why you’re starting this at the 5th bar instead of at the beginning – usually when I work on a project I find it handy to leave some space beforehand just in case I want to add something earlier.

Note: If you do not see the Orchestra Strings 08 in your list of loops, it probably means you haven’t finished downloading the optional tracks yet. Make sure to install those before continuing.

You now need to move this loop to a point slightly earlier in the timeline (again because it sounds a bit better), but because Snap to Grid is enabled, you can only move it at fixed intervals. Fix that now by either deselecting Snap to Grid from the Control menu, or using the keyboard short-cut Command + G.

Drag the loop 1/4 of a second to the left. To make this easier you can zoom in by either using the pinch gesture on your track-pad, or the keyboard short-cut Option + Control + Right Arrow.

Once the loop is properly aligned, turn Snap to Grid back on (Command + G) and zoom out (Option + Control + Left Arrow). Usually it’s convenient to keep this on most of the time except when you need exact placement like above.

One loop just won’t be enough — you’ll want to repeat this loop several times. To do this, place your mouse pointer over the upper-right edge of the loop, so the pointer becomes a loop pointer:

Then drag the right edge of the loop until it reaches the point where you want it to stop playing. In this case, keep dragging until the loop has been repeated three times (as you can tell by the beveled edges).

Now, play your song by clicking the Play button on the bottom toolbar:

Play song button in Garage Band

Ah, that sounds nice. But you’re going to need a great drum track to drive the energy of the song way up.

Unlike a real band where you’re always hanging around waiting for the drummer to show up, you don’t have to wait around with GarageBand! :]

Mic Pringle


Mic Pringle


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