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This chapter is from the book

Editing a Software Instrument Track

The biggest plus to recording Software Instruments is that they can be edited extensively after recording. After recording a track, not only can you change the sound of an instrument, but you can change the entire instrument. You can see if that screaming guitar solo sounds better as a screaming sax solo or even a screaming tuba solo if you happen to be touring Wisconsin.

You also have extensive note editing options to make sure that your recording of "The Depeche Mode Polka" comes out just right.

Editing Software Instrument Regions

Editing and manipulating Software Instrument regions is exactly the same as manipulating Software Instrument loops, which we did in Chapter 2.

Changing Software Instruments

After you've recorded a track with one Software Instrument, you can easily switch the track to another Software Instrument to see how it might sound. Let's record a new four-measure cycle:

  1. Create a new song by selecting File > New.

  2. Accept the Tempo and Key settings. Name the song Change test. Click Create.

  3. Click Cycle and expand the cycle region to cover measures 1–4.

  4. Click Record and play some notes; then click Record again to turn recording off. You should hear the notes that you recorded playing back and cycling over and over and over. Starting to get tired of the Grand Piano?

  5. Select Track > Track Info. In the Track Info window select Strings and Hollywood Strings. After a couple of seconds, you will hear that the instrument has indeed changed to Hollywood Strings. Close the Track Info window to accept the change.

  6. Click Play to pause playback. Your piano part has now become a string part.

You will notice, however, that the track region is still labeled Grand Piano; this is handy if you want to remember which instrument you used to originally record a part. You can just as easily rename the region to the new instrument or anything else for that matter. Renaming regions is a perfect segue to our next section on using the Track Editor.


By duplicating a track and then changing the instrument of the duplicated track, you can add richness to your musical composition. Let your ears be your guide.

Editing Software Instrument Tracks Using the Track Editor

GarageBand's Track Editor allows you to edit almost everything in a Software Instrument track region. Using the Track Editor, you can often turn that so-so performance into something special.

Like cracking a nut, there are several ways to open the Track Editor. If you are into clicking buttons, click the track editor button on the GarageBand Control Bar (refer to Figure 3.4). You can also go to the Track menu and select Show Editor (or press Command-E). Or you can even double-click a region in the timeline to open that region in the Track Editor (see Figure 3.8).

Figure 3.8Figure 3.8 The Track Editor is one place that you can "fix it in the mix."

Renaming a Region

To rename a region, simply click in the Name field and type in a new name.

Fixing Note Timing

Even if you were not playing exactly on the beat, you can use the magic of the Fix Timing button to put you in the pocket. The Fix Timing button snaps your notes to the nearest ruler grid as defined by the Grid menu setting. The Grid menu is that small ruler icon hiding out in upper-right corner of the Track Editor (refer to Figure 3.8). Clicking the Grid menu brings up a menu of various musical timing divisions as well as an automatic setting (see Figure 3.9). The automatic setting is tied to the Zoom slider setting in the lower-left corner of the Track Editor (refer to Figure 3.8).

To fix a region's timing, you must first highlight the region by clicking the region in the Edit Timeline grid. Then set the beat amount you want your notes to snap to by either moving the Zoom slider or selecting a value from the Grid menu. And then finally snap your notes to a grid value by clicking the Fix Timing button. Experiment with different timing values to get your region's rhythm to sound just right.

Figure 3.9Figure 3.9 The Grid menu, like Frodo's ring, is small and very powerful.

You can also alter a note's timing by clicking the note in the Edit grid and moving the note by click-dragging the note left or right on the grid. And, again, you can adjust the grid timing values by either moving the Zoom slider or selecting a value from the Grid menu.

For many, the Fix Timing button is a godsend as it can correct small mistakes in timing; for others it is hell spawned because it can easily ruin subtle intentional nuances in timing. Use it at your own risk. There's always Undo.

Changing a Region's Pitch

If you played a region in a different musical key from the rest of the song or would just like to hear a part in a different key, you can adjust the pitch of the entire region by moving the Transpose slider. Note that the pitch values of the notes on the Edit grid do not change with the Transpose value. The notes on the Edit grid remain at their original positions on the grid. Only the Transpose display tells you that the notes have been transposed.


You can introduce chordal movement into your song by duplicating a region a couple of times and then transposing the duplicated regions. A classic "Louie, Louie" rock-and-roll chord movement is CCC, FF, GGG, FF.

Editing a Note's Loudness

A particular note's loudness is determined by its velocity value. The harder you play a note the louder it is. You can adjust the overall loudness of a region by selecting all the notes in a region (press Command-A) and adjusting the Velocity slider. You can also select an individual note and adjust its velocity value with the Velocity slider.

Editing Note Pitch

If you hit a wrong note when recording a region, don't worry. You can fix it in the editor. You can alter a particular note's pitch by clicking the note in the Edit grid and moving the note by click-dragging the note up or down on the grid. Notice that you hear the note's pitch change as you move it up or down on the grid. Also note the piano keyboard–like ruler on left side of the grid to help you find the pitch you are looking for.


Velocity doesn't just affect loudness; it can also affect the character of a note. Some Software Instruments sound quite different depending on how loudly or softly they are played.

Editing Note Duration

Sometimes a note is held down too long or not long enough. This is called the note's duration. You can alter a particular note's duration by clicking and dragging the tail end of the note forward or backward in the Edit grid. If Snap To Grid is enabled in the Control menu, the note's duration snaps to the grid value as set in the Grid menu or by the Zoom slider.

Duplicating and Adding Notes

Not only can you fix mistakes in the editor, but you can also get creative. If you want to duplicate a note and then drag it to another pitch or place in the timeline, just select the note you wish to duplicate and drag it to another location while holding down the Option key. If you want to add a note to the region, press Command and you'll see the cursor change to a pencil shape. Place the cursor over the point in the grid where you want the note to appear and then click to place the note.


You can select a group of notes to edit by Shift-clicking them or by dragging around the group of notes. You can then perform any of the previously mentioned editing functions to the group of notes, as well as the standard Mac edit functions of cut, copy, paste, and delete.

Editing Modulation, Pitch Bend, and Sustain

Modulation, pitch bend, and sustain are ways to add musical expression to notes beyond pitch, loudness, and duration. These are known in the MIDI world as continuous controllers. Your MIDI keyboard probably has a pitch bend and a modulation wheel as well as a jack for a sustain pedal. You might use the pitch bend wheel to "bend" a note in a sax solo, the modulation wheel to add vibrato to a cello, or the sustain pedal to extend the sound of a piano note.

If you recorded your performance and used these controllers, you have the ability to edit them in the Edit window. Click the Display pop-up menu to select either Pitch Bend, Modulation, or Sustain:

  • Pitch bend—Can alter the pitch of a note or series of notes up or down two semitones for most Software Instruments. These are expressed in GarageBand's editor as grid values between –64 and +64.

  • Modulation—Usually controls the vibrato or rapid cyclic volume modulation of a note or notes of a Software Instrument. These are expressed in GarageBand's editor as grid values between 0 and 127, depending on the depth of modulation.

  • Sustain—An on or off value, it is expressed in GarageBand's editor as grid values between 0 and 1, with 1 meaning that sustain is on.

You can experiment with altering these values in a previously recorded performance or edit the values in the Track Editor if you used these controllers while recording a Software Instrument.

If the controller was used, the controller's movements appear as lines connected by dots, called control points. These are similar to a volume curve in the timeline, which we explored in the "Adjusting Track Volume" section of Chapter 2 (see Figure 3.10).

Figure 3.10Figure 3.10 A modulation curve that looks strangely like my stock portfolio's value.

You can move the control points on the grid to change their values or click the line to add a control point. You can also use Command-click to draw control points from scratch. Select a control and press Delete to delete a control point.


Using continuous controllers adds a huge amount of data to the MIDI stream, which may negatively affect GarageBand's performance. Use continuous controllers judiciously and use the editor to thin the control points.

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