GarageBand for iPad review

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There are now quite a few music creation, production and editing apps available for the iPad. A select few are very good, the vast majority perfectly adequate and some, predictably, are utterly dreadful.

But none of this really matters now. Apple’s GarageBand for iPad is here and, as you might have expected, it blows nearly all the existing competition right out of the water.

Not only has Apple kept GarageBand’s UI similar to that of the original desktop application but it’s also added a few extra bonuses as well as made it a hell of a lot easier for people that know next-to-nothing about notes, beats and composition, to make music.

GarageBand for the iPad, in this sense, is easily the most accomplished and straightforward music creation and recording application currently available on the iPad. Nothing else really comes close – you can record, sample, programme, strum, tap, edit, mix and export to iTunes.

As we said, GarageBand, like a lot of iPad applications, is geared towards making things accessible, so you don’t need a degree in Music Technology to record, operate and edit a track. In fact, anyone – including your grandparents – could probably knockout a half decent tune within only a few minutes of familiarising themselves with GarageBand.

In terms of instruments you’ve got the following to play with: Keyboard, Drums, Guitar Amp, Audio Recorder, Sampler, Smart Drums, Smart Bass, Smart Keyboard and Smart Guitar.

The ‘Smart’ aspect of these instruments refers to the ease with which you can play them – i.e: you don’t need to do much, other than press a button to get a decent sound. For instance, on ‘Smart Bass’ you can set the instrument to chords, so all you have to do is hold down an E and Smart Bass will play E.

There’s also the ability to switch on auto-play. Do this and the Smart instrument will play a lick, drum beat or serious of chords for you. This aspect of GarageBand is great for users with no musical knowledge, but will appear a little remedial for users that demand more creative freedom.

Fortunately, the more adept amongst us aren’t neglected and can use the instruments by manually playing chords, programming beats and creating bass lines.
Nonetheless, it is still definitely nice to see this kind of cater-for-all-levels-of-abilities within GarageBand. Especially since both modes – Smart and normal – compliment each other so well. We found that using a combination of both, so Smart Drums with a Sampler, for instance, yielded some seriously fast and, most importantly, rather cool sounding music.

There are also literally hundreds of keyboards, synthesisers, sound FX and samples to choose from – so many in fact, that we struggled to try them all. You can also create your own samples, either using the iPad’s microphone or a compatible attachment, then tinker around with them inside GarageBand, applying FX and the like before inserting them into your mix.

You can also plug your guitar into GarageBand, providing you have the appropriate cable, and take advantage of GarageBand’s selection of guitar amps and effects. This also applies to microphones, bass guitars and anything else that you can think of that will attach to a ¾ inch jack.

One issue we did have with GarageBand concerns how you programme instruments within the application, although for the sake of simplicity we’ll aim this at the drums aspect of GarageBand.

As it stands you have two options when it comes to creating music, or drum beats in this context: Smart Drums and Drums. In the latter you record your drum beat live as best you can, and in the former GarageBand pretty much takes care of it for you – you just drag icons onto a ‘smart board’ and they’ll begin playing.

All of the above is all well and good, but what GarageBand is missing is a pattern programmer – like you get in Reason and Cubase, where you can input individual drum notes and build up a beat that way. It’s faster, more customisable and certainly beats recording drum loops live and on the fly. That said, this is something that could very well be included in a future update, so it’s difficult to be too harsh on Apple for omitting it this time round.

All in all, Apple has set the watermark pretty high with GarageBand. It has everything you’d expect from a premium-end music creation and editing application, but at just £2.99 it’s a fraction of the price.

If you haven’t already downloaded GarageBand for your iPad, make sure you do so very soon. It is absolutely brilliant.

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