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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Block Rockin’ Beats — Adding Percussion

The orchestral section you just added forms a nice introduction to the song. You don’t want drums immediately tromping all over that nice strings section, do you? :]

Instead, introduce drums a bit later in the timeline. Choose the Kits category in the loops library, then drag the Effected Drum Kit 02 loop to the middle pane, making sure to line it up with the 9th bar. This makes the drums start right after the second time through the orchestrated loop.

Using the same dragging technique as above, repeat the drum loop, but don’t stretch it out to the end of the orchestral loop — just stretch it out to the 12th & 3/4 bar mark (note you have to temporarily turn off Snap to Grid to do this). This will leave a subtle break in the song before the piano kicks in at the 13th bar, adding a nice bit of tension to the song.

Play your song again to check out the new beats!

Strings? Check. Drums? Check. Time to tickle those ivories and add some piano! :]

Sing Us a Song Mr. Piano Man

To add some piano to the song, Choose the Piano category in the loops library, then drag the Emotional Piano 02 loop to the middle pane, making sure to line it up with the 13th bar.

However, you need the drums to continue playing with the piano. Right now, the drums end at the 12 & 3/4 mark. You don’t want to stretch out the drum loop past that point — what to do?

You could go back to the loops library and bring in the drums again, but GarageBand makes it incredibly easy to copy an existing loop.

Simply select the drums loop in the timeline, hold down the Alt key and drag. You now have an exact copy of the drum loop, which needs to be lined up with the 13th bar. Go ahead and do that now. You’ll note that the exact copy also has the same length as the original — it ends a little short of the 17th bar.

Preview your song again – ah, it’s starting to sound good!

The song is definitely sounding more accomplished, but is still lacking in something. Time to add some bottom end to this song and include some bass!

Drop the Bass

Choose the Bass category in the loops library, then drag the Groovy Electric Bass 02 loop (or any other groovy bass if you don’t have that one) to the middle pane, making sure to line it up with the 13th bar. Shorten the loop so it’s only 1 bar in length by dragging the right edge of the loop towards the left edge.

Copy the shortened loop three times using the same Alt-key technique as above, aligning the new copies with the 14th, 15th and 16th bars respectively. Your song should look like the following:

Go ahead and play your song now! Uh, the bass doesn’t exactly sound right, does it? It’s not really following the changes in the main orchestral and piano loops. In fact, it’s a bit monotonous. :[

Head on into the next section, where you’ll modify the bassline to make it match the song!


Use the keyboard short-cut Command + E to bring the loop editor onto your screen. Select the second bass loop from the timeline (the one that starts at bar 14) and, in the editor, change its Pitch value to -2. Do the same with the third and fourth bass loops, changing their Pitch value to -3 and -4 respectively.

Hit Command + E to hide the loop editor.

Play your song now! Ah, that sounds a LOT better, doesn’t it? Simon Cowell will be calling you at any minute with a recording contract in hand! :]

Time to Cut that Record — Exporting the Song

Now that you’re finished with your amazing new song, it’s time to export it to a file that can be used in your apps. However, before you export, you’ll need to make sure that the start points and end points have been set in the timeline.

Before anything else, disable Snap to Grid using the keyboard short-cut Command + E just to make your life a little easier in selecting the points you want.

Click the loop button in the playback controls, found at the bottom of the GarageBand window, to display the loop markers.

The loop markers a yellow bar found at the top of your project.

Click and drag the yellow bar, aligning the beginning of the bar with the start of the initial motif loop. Click and drag to extend the bar, aligning it with the end of the final motif loop — but be careful not to cut off any of your actual song!

Now that the start and end points have been set, you can export the song! To do this, select Share\Export Song to Disk….

In the export dialog, make sure Compress is checked (you usually want to compress background music like this) and MP3 Encoder is selected from the Compress Using drop-down menu. From the Audio Settings drop-down menu select Custom, and then set the bit rate to 320kpbs. The lower the bitrate the smaller the file is, but the lower the quality – you’re going for high quality here since you can always save it at a lower bitrate later. Finally, click Export.

Now, find the file where you saved it and check out your file – ready to use in any of your own apps or projects!

And that’s it! Congratulations, you’ve just created your first song with GarageBand!

Where to Go From Here?

Now that you have a new-found grasp on how to arrange music within GarageBand, feel free to delve into the huge library of loops Apple provides. Play with them, mix them, arrange them and edit them to create new and interesting songs!

Sharing your newly created songs with your friends and family is a great way to get feedback on your progress. Just like learning a real instrument, practice makes perfect; don’t expect to become the next Beethoven overnight! :]

Here are some resources that may be handy for you:

I hope you enjoyed this tutorial, and look forward to hearing your own compositions! If you have any questions or comments please join the forum discussion below.

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

Mic Pringle


Mic Pringle


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