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This chapter is from the book

Recording a Software Instrument Track

While being able to play GarageBand's Software Instruments is fun in a "Let's all gather around the piano" sort of way, the real meat and potatoes of GarageBand is its recording capabilities. You learned how to lay down a rhythm track using Apple Loops in Chapter 2, "Making Music with Apple Loops." Now you'll learn how to lay down some tracks of your own.


If you have a USB music keyboard, just plug it into your Mac. If you have a MIDI model (one that only supports a 5-pin connector), you need a USB MIDI interface to bridge your gear to your Mac. Refer to "Hooking Up Your MIDI keyboard" in Appendix B, "Configuring Your Studio."

The GarageBand Control Bar

You can control most of GarageBand's recording functions from the Control Bar.

Let's take a quick tour of the Control Bar's buttons and functions. Your homework for tonight is to memorize Figure 3.4.

Figure 3.4Figure 3.4 You pretty much rock GarageBand's universe from the Control Bar.

Starting from the left side of the bar, the buttons and controls are as follows:

  • New Track—This button brings up the New Track window. You can also go to the Track menu and select New Track (or press Option-Command-N). The New track window allows you to create a new track and select an instrument in GarageBand's main window.

  • Track Info—This button brings up the Track Info window. You can also go to the Track menu and select Show Track Info (or press Command-I). The Track Info window allows you to select a new instrument for the currently selected track.

  • Loop Browser—Use this button to open the Loop Browser panel. You can also go to the Control menu and select Show Loop Browser (or press Command-L). The Loop Browser is covered in depth in Chapter 2.

  • Track Editor—The Track Edit panel opens when you click this button. You can also go to the Control menu and select Show Editor (Command-E). The Track Editor is covered in depth later in this chapter.

  • Record button—Clicking this button (or pressing R on your keyboard) toggles the record function on and off. Click to start recording and then click again to stop.

  • Go to Beginning—Clicking this button (or pressing the Home or Z key) returns the playhead to the beginning of the song.

  • Rewind—As its clever name indicates, clicking this button (or pressing the left-arrow key) moves the playhead backward one measure. It rewinds the playhead if clicked and held.

  • Play—Clicking this button (or pressing the spacebar) toggles between the play/pause function.

  • Fast Forward—If you guessed that this button (or pressing the right-arrow key) moves the playhead forward one measure when clicked or fast-forwards the playhead if clicked and held, then you were exactly right.

  • Cycle—Click this button (or press the C key) to toggle the cycle region function. The cycle function allows you to cycle (loop) a section of a song for either recording or playback.

  • Time Display bar—Contains the Time and Tempo Display as well as the MIDI Input Indicator.

  • Time/Measure Format—Clicking this button toggles the format of the time display. To change the time display to absolute time (hours, minutes, seconds, and fractions of a second), click the small clock button to the upper left of the display. To change the time display to musical time (measures, beats, and beat divisions), click the small note button to the lower left of the display.

  • Time Display—This area shows the current location of the playhead.

  • Tempo Indicator—Here you can change the tempo of your song. To change the tempo of your song, click the tempo in the display and drag the slider that appears to set a new tempo.

  • Master Level Meters—Displays the overall output volume level of a song.

  • Master Volume Slider—Drag to adjust the overall output volume level of a song.

Familiarizing yourself with the buttons and controls of the Control Bar will make working with GarageBand much easier. Next we'll explore actually recording a Software Instrument track.

Recording Your First Software Instrument Track

Now that you've played Software Instruments using a keyboard and had a quick run-through on GarageBand's buttons and controls, you are ready to record a Software Instrument track. We'll also familiarize you with some more of GarageBand's interface elements and controls.

Let's go ahead launch GarageBand and open a new song:

  1. If this is the first time you have used GarageBand, the New Project dialog appears immediately. Otherwise, you can bring up the New Project dialog by selecting File > New.

  2. Go ahead and accept the Tempo and Key settings, name the song Key test, and click Create.

  3. We should pretty much be looking at the same screen as we had in Figure 3.1 with Grand Piano as the selected Software Instrument. If you are using a MIDI keyboard, play a few notes to make sure that your MIDI keyboard is connected correctly.

  4. Select Control > Metronome if you want to hear a metronome to help you play on tempo. Selecting Control > Count In gives you a one-measure count-in before recording. This is just like Joey Ramone counting in before every song, except you don't hear Joey shouting, "One, two, tree, fo'!"

  5. Click Record. You should hear a clicking sound—that is the metronome. Notice that the first click for every measure is slightly louder and at a different pitch. This helps you to begin to play at the beginning of a measure.

  6. Play a few notes; then click Play to pause the playhead, and stop recording. Notice that a green region named Grand Piano has been created in the timeline.

If you would like to play back what you just recorded, click Go to Beginning and then click Play. You should see the playhead move along the timeline. When the playhead reaches the segment, you should hear the notes that you recorded.

Click Play or press the spacebar on your computer keyboard to pause playback. Then click Go to Beginning to return to the beginning of your song. This should look something like Figure 3.5.

Figure 3.5Figure 3.5 Look, Mom, my first GarageBand recording!

Congratulations, you've completed your first GarageBand Software Instrument recording. Unless you are particularly attached to your recording, you can now delete the region you just recorded by either going to the Edit menu and selecting Delete or pressing the Delete key on your computer keyboard.

Let's take a quick tour of some the features of the Track window as shown in Figure 3.5. There will be a pop quiz:

  • Tracks column—Contains the name and icon for an instrument as well as the Mute button, which silences the track; the Solo button, which allows you to hear a track by itself; and the Track Volume disclosure triangle, which shows the track's volume curve in the timeline.

  • Mix column—Contains the Pan wheel, which allows you to adjust the left-right positioning of a track in the stereo field; the Volume slider, which adjust the track's volume during recording and playback; and the level meters, which allow you to see the track's volume level.

  • Zoom slider—Drag the Zoom slider to see a closer view or to view more of the timeline.

  • Region—Regions are created when you add loops or record Software or Real Instruments. You can cut, copy, paste, and otherwise manipulate regions to build the arrangement of your song.

  • Timeline—The area that contains your recorded tracks and regions as well as the beat ruler, which acts as a time-based ruler for your song. The timeline is where you arrange your song.

  • Playhead—Shows the current position in the song that is being played or recorded. You can also move the playhead to navigate through the song.

  • Beat ruler—A time-based ruler that is subdivided by measures and beats, which are the units of musical time. You can click the beat ruler to move the playhead to a precise position on the timeline.

  • Timeline grid button—Adjusts the resolution of the beat ruler. Set it to automatic to have the value change as you zoom in or out in the timeline.

Cycle Recording a Software Instrument Track

Cycle recording is a powerful method for recording Software Instruments in GarageBand. We'll show you how to build up a drum loop using cycle recording.

We are going to presume that you still have your song, aptly titled Key test, still open. If not, the rest of the class will wait around while you open the song.

Just to make things more interesting, let's build a four-measure drum loop. First let's switch the Software Instrument from Grand Piano to the Pop Drum kit:

  1. Select Control > Metronome to keep us on beat.

  2. Select Track > Track Info. In the Track Info window select Drum Kits and then Pop Kit.

  3. Close the Track Info window, and you should have Pop Kit as the current instrument.

  4. Click Cycle. You will notice that a yellow bar appears below the beat ruler of the timeline. This is called the cycle region (see Figure 3.6).

  5. Drag the cycle region so that it is between measures 1 and 5 on the timeline. Click Record and play a few notes in time with the metronome with your keyboard.

  6. Figure 3.6Figure 3.6 The cycle region is sort of like GarageBand's spin cycle.

  7. Notice that you have created a four-measure region that is cycling and that the Record button is still active.

  8. While still recording, play a few more notes. The new notes are added to your previously played notes. While the notes displayed in the region seem to be erased with each pass of the cycle, you can still hear all the notes that you have played.

  9. Click Record to toggle the recording off. Notice that GarageBand is continuing to play back the cycle region and that now all the notes that you played are displayed in the region.

  10. Click Play to pause playback.


Exiting the cycle recording using the record button appends each recording cycle. Exiting the Cycle Record mode using the play button keeps only the last recording cycle, discarding the previously recorded cycles.

You can see how cycle recording is really useful if you want to create a complex melody but can only hen-peck keys or are using the onscreen keyboard.

Play and record a few notes on the first pass of the cycle region, and you can add notes one or more at a time each time the region cycles. GarageBand keeps adding your performances to the existing notes. Click the record button or press the R key when you're finished and want to stop recording.

Click Record again. Play some more notes. Notice that your notes are being appended to the previous recording. Click Record to toggle the recording off. Your region with all the appended notes will continue to play. Go ahead and click Play to pause playback.

You can add notes to a previously recorded Software Instrument region. Cool, huh?

I'm going to repeat the caution I already offered on the side—it is really, really important. If you exit cycle recording by clicking the play button or you press the spacebar to stop recording when you have cycling enabled, you will lose all of your previous recordings—only your last recording pass will have been saved. This feature is both powerful and dangerous.

For example, if you want to play a part over and over until you get it just right, exit cycle recording by clicking the play button or pressing the spacebar to stop recording and only your last and presumably best pass will be saved.

Also note that cycle recording is not just for drums. Cycle recording any Software Instrument works exactly the same way whether the Software Instrument is drums or acoustic guitar—as long as it is a Software Instrument. As you will see in the next chapter, cycle recording works differently for Real Instruments.

Overdubbing a Section of a Recording

Overdubbing a region using cycle recording is a two-edged axe that will allow you to either append or replace notes within a Software Instrument region. But be careful with that axe, Eugene, because it is very easy to replace when you intend to append.


You can also overdub a section of a recording by creating another track with the same instrument of the track you wish to overdub. Use cycle recording to record your new notes and edit the regions to append or replace the offending notes. This is a safer but more processor-intensive method.

Say that we really liked three out of four measures of our previously recorded four-measure drum region and that we want to append or replace some notes to measure 2. You can use cycle recording to overdub a portion of a Software Instrument region either to append or replace notes, depending on how you exit cycle recording. Take another glance at the caution in the previous section, so we don't want to have to say, "Told you so."

Go up to the yellow Cycle Segment bar with your cursor. Notice that as you roll over the ends of the Cycle Segment bar that your cursor changes to a vertical bar with left or a right arrow. You can click and drag either end of the cycle region to make it larger or smaller. Use this method to place the cycle segment over measure 2 of your song, as shown in Figure 3.7.

Figure 3.7Figure 3.7 Honey, I've shrunk the cycle region.

Click Record. Play a couple more notes. To append the notes to your recording, click Record again to exit the Recording mode. You should hear your appended notes playing back. To replace the notes of the cycle region, click Play to exit Recording mode. Click Play again and you should only hear your newly recorded notes. Click Play to pause playback. And then click Cycle to turn off cycling.

You now have a new highlighted region on measure 2 with either the appended or replaced notes. Shift-click the measure 1 region and the measure 3 and 4 regions. You should have all the regions highlighted at this point. Go to the Edit menu and select Join Selected. This command merges the data of all the selected regions and creates a single region with the appended or replaced notes in measure 2.

If you are not happy with the replaced segment, you have one last opportunity to undo your recording. Go to the Edit menu and select Undo Recording to give it another shot.

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