GarageBand Song Tutorial

Updated August 15th, 2023 . 

Published Categorized as Singing

When picking up any new piece of equipment or software, our first reaction to any halt in progress can very easily boil down to impatience and frustration. This is scarcely more evident than in this field of music software, where our minds have run amok imagining all the musical ideas we might realise with a new gadget or workstation, a new room or a new toy in an old room. If you have ever bought any such thing, or asked for a similar thing for xmas or the like, then you will know of exactly what I speak.

Thus, if you are new to this thing here we call GarageBand, then chances are, in order to help fully realise your dreams and imaginings, you are going to need a GarageBand song tutorial, at least to begin with. Yes, even you noise enthusiasts who only intend to make ten to twenty minute long (harsh noise tv static atom bomb) soundscapes will need to learn some of the basics before you proceed. Or perhaps you do not. Who am I to say? Who is to say I even exist? Who is to say that I am not just a result of you listening to a few too many harsh noise sets? What if I am, in fact, the tinnitus in your ear blotting your eyes and your mind…

GarageBand Song Tutorial_six string acoustic

What is GarageBand?

At its most simple, GarageBand is a series of digital audio workstations for Apple devices that allows users to create music or podcasts. It is continually developed by Apple for macOS, once a part of the iLife software suite, along with iMovie and iDVD, which is how it initially came into the world. Its music and podcast creation system enables users to create multiple tracks with installed MIDI keyboards, built in loops, an array of various instrumental effects, and voice recording software.

It was initially developed by Apple alongside Dr. Gerhard Lengeling, formerly from the German company Emagic, the creators of Logic Audio whom Apple acquired in 2002. The initial announcement came in Steve Jobs in his keynote speech at the Macworld Conference & Expo in San Francisco in 2004, with everyone’s favourite blues chauvinist John Mayer assisting with the demonstration, likely to get more sceptical consumers on board with this new technology.

In essence, GarageBand is a digital audio workstation (or DAW) and music sequencer that can record and play back several tracks of audio at any given time. Inbuilt audio filters that use the AU (audio unit) standard allow the user to enhance and modify these audio tracks with various effects, such as reverb, echo, and distortion, amongst several others.

The inbuilt tuning system helps with pitch correction and can effectively imitate the infamous auto tune effect one hears in all the music of late when tuned to the maximum level. There is, in fact, a vast array of preset effects to choose from, with even an option to create your own effects yourself, to personalise the sound and tone to your explicit liking.

Track Formats

For any GarageBand song tutorial to go according to any sort of sane schedule, we must first address some of the main file types that the software itself is dealing with. Thankfully, they are helpfully color coded so that you can easily interpret what they are dealing out on the fly, without any need to enter any sort of backroom settings to learn this information. Each will serve a specific purpose and each has its own benefits, uses, and drawbacks, so it is worth learning each one on its own terms before we proceed.

MIDI Track

Very often this will be the common currency which you will be dealing with in GarageBand, that which separates from just any other Digital Audio Workstation and which enables just about anyone to step up and start working with it, regardless of their previous musical knowledge or experience (after following a helpful GarageBand song tutorial or two). This is especially true as this software allows you to use your computer keyboard (or onscreen keyboard if you are using a phone or tablet) as an actual keyboard, so you can make your electric guitar sound acoustic, which can then trigger the various programmable and inbuilt synthesiser sounds.

MIDI stands for Musical Instrument Digital Interface, and this long version of the term is a fancy way of rendering this acronym which essentially means that you can use an otherwise unrelated keyboard to control and trigger samples or programmable sounds external to the device in question. This might be, as already stated, the computer keyboard before you right now, or the onscreen keyboard of your mobile phone or tablet, but this could just as easily be an entirely separate unit built for the purpose.

MIDI keyboards or MIDI controllers are, in fact, a way to take your composing to the next level, though it is far from necessary to own one or use one at this point in your career, and can actually get in the way of your creativity if you are not otherwise inclined towards performing on keyboard instruments like so.

Within the software itself, MIDI tracks will appear in green and you will be able to the minutiae of the track from just about any point in the workstation, zooming in thus enabling you to see the specific MIDI rhythms and notes in more detail. Though they are not exact copies of the instruments on which they are based, MIDI instruments and MIDI samples are more than able to do whatever job you throw at them (unless that job is emulating a priceless and timeless piece of analog equipment of course)!

Audio Track

This track format will no doubt be familiar to everyone gathered here today, being as it is one of the primary ways we communicate and come to terms with the outside world. So much of communication is based on sound that it is often hard to imagine life without it. This software is, of course, heavily interlinked with sound, hence why it has two dedicated audio input types, which we will be going through in this GarageBand song tutorial.

Since the software is called garage band, it is inherently going to prioritise this kind of music. Thus, the guitar is a prominent part of the software design, so you will see that, of the two audio types, one is utterly dedicated to guitar. Through this one you will be able to insert the guitar’s signals and vibrations, as fed through the pickups, into the computer via an audio interface, which will then allow you to use a whole host of completely customisable virtual amps and effects.

The other type of audio track will cater for all other sounds. This can all seem a bit bizarre if you think on it too long, so probably best to leave the thinking to the professionals or something. You can either use the inbuilt microphone of the computer, tablet, or mobile phone that you are presently using, or you can go through an audio interface or attached headset, all of which will convert external vibrations into recorded sound on the software for your further manipulation.

Audio Interfaces

You will without doubt do a whole host of damage if you attempt to plug your guitar or microphone straight into your device without an inbetween, the auxiliary input jacks for audio not being designed to accommodate the 3.5 mm jacks that are typically used to send musical information between guitar and amplifier, or between microphone and speaker as the case may be.

An audio interface is by far the most popular way to bridge the gap, to bypass the barriers that inhabit the space between the instrument or microphone in question and the GarageBand song tutorial at hand. An audio interface is essentially a box that acts as a conduit and sender of signals from microphone or guitar to computer or computer to guitar etc. In this way it is a translator that allows the guitar and computer to speak the same data driven language, where the former would otherwise be speaking in sound waves and the latter in digital data.

This all means that you can plug your guitar into your computer, or other instruments or microphones into it and through it, where it begins its job of converting whichever signal you choose to data signals for your computer to read and transmit into the GarageBand workstation.

The sound within the workstation can then be sent out to headphone or speakers for external monitoring and for more recording, so that recorded sounds are not overheard on another recording, for example.

GarageBand Song Tutorial_Six String Acoutic

Drummer Track

Last, but by no means least or less popular, we have the drummer track, a favorite of many users of GarageBand for its innate ability to provide a strong and undeniable backbone to any project you might be working on, with little to no effort on your part. Whatever doubts you might be having during a GarageBand song tutorial, any woes you might be experiencing, or any rhythmical quandaries you may have found yourself in, the drummer track will no doubt be able to offer forth a helping hand so that you can return anew with renewed vigour.

There are plenty of options for programming drums in GarageBand, whether through MIDI or with other sample based routes, though the drummer track takes much of the responsibility away from the composer, instead allowing you to think about holistic picture, worrying not as much about the minor details.

This, however, does not at all translate to a lack of options or an inability to customise the result rhythmic results, for there are plenty of routes to take, so that you will be able to find a suitable rhythmic companion for just about any musical scenario.

There are six different holistic genres to choose from (Rock, Alternative, Songwriter, R & B, Electronic, and Hip Hop), all of which include up to six different drummers, each with a unique style pertaining to their respective sub category. The Alternative category, for example, includes Aidan (a proponent of Indie Pop), Nikki (Indie Disco), Gavin (Indie Rock), Zak (Garage Rock), Maya (Modern 80’s), and Duncan (Synth Pop), all of whom bring their own unique flavours to their respective sub genre. In this way, there will hardly be a musical base not covered for you.

Beginning at the Beginning; Starting an Empty Project

If you are a more experience user of the software, then chances are that, when you open up the software, a project that you were previously working on will come up, allowing to quickly and easily to return to whatever it is that you were tinkering with, without the need to mess around in your files looking for whatever it might have been that you had or wherever you were with it.

If so, then I don’t imagine this GarageBand song tutorial will be of much use to you, for you will likely be at a point where you already know many of these basic and introductory points, to the point where you might even start to tune out of what you are reading. We have all been there! Even if this is the case, however, I might encourage you to press on, for there could be something lurking within that you somehow managed to miss the first time round.

Inversely, if this is indeed your first rodeo so to speak, then your first course of action, unless you have something to take up with the settings, will be to start an empty project. If you are new to the software and you do not have any issues with the settings thus far, then this will almost certainly be your only course of action anyhow! So, begin at the beginning and click on ’empty project’ and away you will be able to go!

If you have already been making a track, and are thus directed onto it when you first open the program, then simply exit this current project, making sure to save whatever you wish to preserve for future production, and then return to the main menu where you will be able to start a new project.

Factory Templates

Right off the bat, in some instances before you have even begun to make a track in this GarageBand song tutorial, you will likely have been prompted with a series of templates, offered the choice to use one of them or to start an entirely empty project. These templates can include (but are not limited to): Keyboard Collection, Amp Collection, Voice, Hip Hop, Electronic, and Songwriter, all of which boast their own obvious perks and reasons for use.

By all means go for one of these templates if you are either well enough acquainted with the GarageBand workstation or if you feel you have a specific enough purpose in mind that you do not need to know about the holistic experience of the software. The templates are incredibly useful and well worth checking out, providing heavily stylised instrumental palettes for the various genres and styles of music.

The songwriter template, for example, provides the user with a bunch of already assigned track regions for easy assigning with one’s own song parts, as well as with a series of typical instrument tracks for the style, awaiting the user’s own input: Southern California Drum Pre Set, a Tracking Vocal, a Natural Strum Guitar, a Brit Clean Guitar, a Modern Stack Amplifier, and a Steinway Grand Piano.

If you are, however, either wanting to forge your own musical identity outside of the bounds of these sometimes limiting stylistic walls, feeling that these bounds are in fact barriers to creativity (which they kind of are), or feel yourself otherwise inexperienced with the software and want to get more of a feel for it all together first, then you would do best to work with an empty project, at least for now.

Your Workstation

So, once you have opened up an empty project afresh, you will be presented with your very own workstation. The software instrument tracks can be found on the left, smart controls on the bottom which relate to the software instrument in use; up top you ought to be able to see the vital signs of the entire song, the key signature, tempo, metre (time signature), beat & rhythmic divisions.

Useful Commands

To begin with, try picking a software instrument. Any will do, though it will help if you like the instrument of course! Once you are ready to program some sounds in through the instrument, press the Command key and the S key simultaneously. If you perhaps intend, instead, to record a track of actual audio, then opt instead to press the Command key and the A key simultaneously, which will materialise a new audio track.

Once you have experimented with the instrument, you can begin to record your results by pressing the big red button beside the Play, Back, Fast Forward, and Rewind keys. At this point, it could be an idea to incorporate a metronome. This is a counting mechanism that plays a sound on every beat so that your performance stays more or less in time. You can edit the sound from a set list of inbuilt sounds, as there will inevitably be some that you gel with more than others.

It is okay if you don’t play perfectly at this point, for, if you are indeed recording the music in with one of the software instruments via MIDI, you can quantize the notes after the fact, meaning that you can place them where you think they ought to be. It is, however, a good idea to be as precise as possible in the first instance, for manual quantizing can be a rather arduous process.

Musical Typing

If you are not using a dedicated MIDI keyboard for this GarageBand song tutorial, then chances are you are going to need to use either an inbuilt keyboard or an ordinary typing keyboard, so press the Command key and the K key simultaneously so that you can actually start experimenting.

This can be a great way to start out making music as a beginner without spending any extra money, especially useful if you have crippled yourself and your family financially just to purchase an Apple device. The rest ought to be pretty self explanatory, wherein you use the keys of the computer keyboard as keys on a musical keyboard, and you ought to see a visual correspondence on the screen. The yellow and orange keys will control other things, the yellow being the octave pitch of the notes in question, and the orange controlling the strength and dynamic at which a note will be played.

The Tab key will act as a sustain if held down, and any of the purple keys, 4, 5, 6, 7, or 8, will modulate the note(s) that you are playing. The blue keys, on the other hand, will bend the pitch of the note(s), the 1 key decreasing the pitch, and the 2 key increasing the pitch.

Final Tones

Well, there you have it! Hopefully this is enough for you to be getting on with at first, though do not be afraid to either drop a comment down below for some further tips or to further experiment in this new world on your own. The best things are learnt at one’s own behest, for no GarageBand song tutorial can teach you everything. We must learn things of our own accord; it is how they best stay in our minds long term, instead of simply being small factoids that we gobble up hungrily and spew out without memory. Our present society teaches us to do such things from the womb. Be the change you want to see.

You might be interested in my post about autotune microphones!

FAQs GarageBand Song Tutorial

How do you learn a song on GarageBand?

In 2005, Trent Reznor of the industrial rock band Nine Inch Nails released the source multitrack GarageBand files for the song ‘The Hand That Feeds’, allowing the public to openly experiment with the music, similarly permitting prospective GarageBand users to remix the song. He also gave permission for anyone to share their personalized remix with the world, free of charge and without any copyright complications. Since then, Nine Inch Nails and several other artists and bands have followed a similar tradition, of releasing the stem tracks from their music to an audience, for them to remix however they please. Thus, you could certainly find a song in this way and learn its every aspect through listening to the individual tracks alone and learning the song piece by piece.

How do you make a simple song on GarageBand?

Much of the work is already done for you with a GarageBand song tutorial, especially if you intend to use the song templates and the software instruments. The drummer track, for example, will allow you to lay down a solid and rhythmically clinical track as the back bone for a song without even lifting a finger, even offering a considerable amount of flexibility and customisation should this interest you. The rest, I suppose, is dependent on your song writing ability, though I might suggest that everyone’s contributions to the great cosmic ash pile of music at the edge of the internet is equally valid.

Does GarageBand have a tutorial?

There is not a GarageBand song tutorial built within the software itself, though there is, without doubt, opportunity to troubleshoot any issues you might be having along the way, whether through the help (?) icons built into the software itself, or through various online resources, such as this one right here! This being said, I find the best way to learn or wrap one’s head around these kind of things is to get stuck right in. This is nowhere more easier than with GarageBand, where so much of the work is already done with you, only requiring you to insert yourself in and bridge the gap between all of the inbuilt elements in your own unique way.

How do you make a song on GarageBand on a Macbook?

In much the same way as you would on a mobile phone or tablet, though with the added benefit of various keyboard shortcuts that lubricate the process somewhat. Much of the work is already done for you in GarageBand, especially if you intend to use the song templates and the software instruments. The drummer track, for example, will allow you to lay down a solid and rhythmically clinical track as the back bone for a song without even lifting a finger, even offering a considerable amount of flexibility and customisation should this interest you. The rest, I suppose, is dependent on your song writing ability, though I might suggest that everyone’s contributions to the great cosmic ash pile of music at the edge of the internet is equally valid.

By Nate Pallesen

Nate is just your average (above average) guitar player. He's no Joe Satriani, Jimi Hendrix or Jimmy Page - wait this site is about acoustic guitars (sorry) He's no Django Reinhardt, Chet Atkins, or Michael Hedges, wait? who!? He's no Robert Johnson, Eric Clapton or Ben Harper - more familiar? Anyway you get the point :-)

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