I’ve spent a significant amount of time with music creation and editing software, and while at this point GarageBand for iPad 2 doesn’t have me throwing out my multitrack and uninstalling Adobe Audition, it’s an incredible application with loads of casual and professional possibilities.
Much more fun than any other music software I can think of, GarageBand manages to maintain some legitimate recording capabilities while bringing digital musicianship to the masses. I am hesitant to refer to GarageBand as an ‘app,’ even though it’s a product of the App Store, just because it has so much more depth than the apps that one normally buys for tablets and phones. It’s an application that really treats the tablet as a novel device, instead of just as an enlarged smartphone or fledgling PC.
The primary way GarageBand manages to employ the iPad 2’s unique abilities is also the most fun, appealing, and important aspect of the software: the onboard instruments.
GarageBand has a full ensemble of digital instruments to choose from, including guitars, bass, drums and keyboards. Not all instruments were created equal in GarageBand, however, and users who know how to play piano and have the patience and slender fingers to play accurately on the iPad 2 will be able to wring more from the software than the rest of us.
As someone who is absolutely terrible at piano, and has nubby fingers, I still found the piano bits of GarageBand impressive and enjoyable. With 80 keyboard options (with fantastic sound authenticity) to choose from, tons of customization features for each and the unique setting where a user can slide their finger around the keys to control modulation and pitch, the keyboard functionality makes GarageBand worth its price tag (and more) all by itself.
The only thing keeping the iPad 2 from becoming an instant keyboard replacement is that it can’t compete with the real instrument’s precision. And even without that precision, I still had as much fun with it as when I spent hours banging on my 99-effect Casio as a little kid to see what sounds I could make come out.
The guitar and bass bring less variety, offering only four models and a couple of effects for each instrument. It would seem like knowledge of the specific instrument wouldn’t really make much of a difference with the way GarageBand constructed the interface, but I think this is just a belief about electronic instrumentation software that I developed after many lost games of Guitar Hero.
I’ve dabbled extensively with bass on my own two real bass guitars, and I must say that roughly knowing how to play helped me a lot when I was using the GarageBand bass. For users who don’t have any prior exposure to an instrument, never fear. GarageBand is quite friendly about that and, aside from just offering a straightforward fret board or set of keys, provides chord arrangements and will even play the instrument for you, if you ask it to.
I personally couldn’t get into the drums. The smart drums are nice for establishing any necessary backup beats, but past that, I found the drum kit pretty difficult to use. The drum machines were more fun and user-friendly, but also came nowhere near matching the extensiveness and customization of the keyboards.
One of our IT guys however, who is an actual drummer himself, had a ball with the drum kit section.
GarageBand also allows users to take advantage of the iPad 2’s microphone in a couple of ways. For straightforward voice recording, there’s the audio recorder, which features eight preset effects like ‘chipmunk’ and ‘robot’. The audio recorder could also be used to input sounds from live acoustic instruments, although the fidelity would probably not be very good.
GarageBand also lets users record into a sampler, which takes a specific, usually short recording by a user, and allows them to play that sound on the GarageBand keyboard. So if you’ve been waiting to play Beethoven’s Fifth using a keyboard made up of you coughing or hitting your coffee cup, GarageBand can let you do that. It also provides a fantastic way to generate a whole new library of sounds if you somehow become bored of the pre-established keyboard choices.
RECORDING AND EDITING
Recording the electronic instruments is a breeze. Hit record, the metronome will give you a four beat count-in, and whatever you play will be rendered to the editor. My only recording complaint is that it cuts off whenever you reach the end of the song length you established (up to 32 measures for one section). So, if you’re jamming and not paying attention to your time, you’ll lose everything recorded after that set number of measures.
The editing options are where GarageBand falls a bit flat, and I chalk it up as a “you can’t have everything” sort of sacrifice. Touch to edit just can’t maintain the same precision as click to edit, and GarageBand’s editor does not feel to be of the same quality as the rest of the application.
With that said, it has all of the basics that you’ll need for scraping out a song, including split, trim and loop functions. However, it’s nowhere near as advanced as the full Mac version of GarageBand, which goes so far as to allow a user to edit specific notes on the electronic instrument recordings.
GarageBand is not a perfect app. With that said, it’s one of the deepest, richest, most compelling experiences I’ve ever seen a tablet deliver. It kept me engrossed for hours, and I’m sure there are a ton of features and various nooks and crannies I didn’t uncover.
Just one or two of its features, instruments, applications, etc. would easily be worth the $4.99, and even if you’re not a musician, it’s well worth it simply for the entertainment value. I found it to be at least as much fun as Guitar Hero or Tap Tap Revenge and, at the end of the day, you might just find out you made something awesome.