GarageBand was the other big app that Apple used for the iPad 2 launch hype, the first of course being, iMovie. The difference, in my experience, between GarageBand on the iPad and iMovie on the iPad, is GarageBand is primarily a fun app while iMovies can be used for productivity. Professional musicians would really just play around with GarageBand on their iPads and maybe use it as a reference for what they create later. However, GarageBand really is good for people who have never attempted to make any music, to gain an understanding of the basics of rythm, beats, production etc.

Can't touch this. Actually...

Can't touch this. Actually…

Design

The layout of the app is pretty user friendly. Just like iMovies, there is the homescreen with all your projects which you can scroll through to pick which one you want to work on. There are tabs on the bottom bar to create a new project, add a tune in from iTunes (can't do that with protected songs but tracks you've made with GarageBand on your desktop for example can be imported), you can send your finished tracks to iTunes and also trash any of them.

When you actually start playing around with making music, besides the general tabs to take you back to the welcome screen, instruments and track versus instrument view, the tabs also contain settings for how the music you make works, adding consistence to the process of setting tempos and choosing scales. You can choose to have a fixed view of your instrument, for example only one part of the scale on the piano or a guitar board, or a scroll view so you can access more octaves. You can choose whether you view scales as major, minor, major pentatonic etc. on the keys themselves. 

The smart keyboard that plays melodies for you

The smart keyboard that plays melodies for you

All said and done, the design of the app is very neat and comfortable. Tracks are neatly laid out on their timelines with the icon of which instruments they are on the left hand side, just like the desktop software. Clicking on the instruments tab in the top bar, takes you to a screen where you select your instrument by scrolling through their logos. This actually makes it very easy to know what you need to choose instead of having to read through a list of instruments which would get confusing. So as I've said before, a thumbs up to the design. It actually is easy for a user who is new to music to understand what they need to do to make a basic track.

Features

The features of the app, especially compared to the desktop version, are actually pretty impressive. The app comes with the loops that the desktop version is famous for (rollercoaster icon on the top bar when you're in track view). The number of instruments and the complexity of their playing that you have access to is pretty incredible. First of all, you have access to instruments as you would in real life where you do all the work, however for non musicians there are also 'smart' instruments. You can choose how 'smart' the instrument is by picking an automated level (goes from 1 to 4) where all you do is push a chord and the instrument comes up with its own symphony. This is actually a good way for new musicians to learn how various chords sound together when played with actual melodies so they can learn in general which chords are good to go with others (for example, when C and F are played in succession, what how that sounds can be used for).

You can add stompboxes for your guitars

You can add stompboxes for your guitars

The other feature that was impressive was with the smart drums, there are actually two variables you play with rather than just one. You can add each part of a drum kit (snare, high hat etc) in a grid where vertically the grid indicates loudness and softness and horizontally the grid goes from less complex to more complex. You can of course also adjust tempo and scales of the tracks you make, drum kit included.

The two variables of smart drums

The two variables of smart drums

You can also record your own samples to place in a track using the iPad's microphone. So if you have a set of chords you like to play on your real life guitar, you can put those in and play around with producing it further by adding more tracks to it. It, however, is just an iPad microphone so don't expect the best quality of recording. You can also record a voice track in the same way, even though they have a seperate icon for voice recording.

Recording voices or effects

Recording voices or effects

With any track, you can adjust the track volume, echo level and reverb level as well as adjust tempos via icons in the top bar. A big limitation with this app is that you can only record 8 bars of music which inevitably ends up being a maximum of thirty seconds. The demo song that they provide goes on for a good two minutes however.The other limit is that you can only add 8 tracks of instruments (which considering that this is more of an on-the-go type service, 8 really doesn't seem that bad). One feature that would have made the experience a little better is the ability to copy paste individual tracks from one song to another. The demo song actually had a drum beat that I would have liked to copy over to a song I wanted to make, and I could copy the track, however could not paste it in the timeline of the song I was making. A lot of the features too, can get a little complex for someone who doesn't know what everything in music means, for example knowing what it means to have a scale in arpeggios, what it means to be in a major pentatonic or a what Klezmer scale is etc. However, like I said, it's really a good way to learn what these are by actually doing.

The timeline to a song

The timeline to a song

A feature professional musicians will enjoy about Garage Band is that you can use a guitar connector to use the iPad 2 as an amplifier and modulator. New loops can be added to the ones that already exist within the app.

Conclusion

If you're buying Garageband to learn the basics of music, then spending $4.99 (Rs. 224) on the app is a good idea. While you might need to sit with a dictionary, it teaches you a lot of what you need to know about building a song. However, if you are a professional musician, the only thing this app will help you with is very minorly editing a track you have already created in GarageBand on your desktop. For a newbie however, having loops do help but each song can really only be 30 seconds and the instruments get complex enough, newbies might use only loops or only instruments initially. Yes, it is mildly annoying that you can only make thirty second songs. However, as said earlier, for a newbie, this app does have educational value. The GarageBand app is available via the App Store for the iPad 2.

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