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GarageBand for iPad: first impressions (awesome!)

GarageBand for iPadNext to the new iPad 2Steve unveiled on March 2nd it was the brand new GarageBand for iPad that made my jaw drop. It’s been available from the AppStore for a few hours now and as soon as I noticed I bought it for $4.99 (€3,99). Here are my very first impressions & thoughts about it.

In two-and-a-half words: IT’S AWESOME! There are, of course, a few things that aren’t there (yet). But, come on, it’s a game changer, that’s for sure! GarageBand for iPad definitely deserves its name. It’s really the small brother of GarageBand for Mac OS X. Here’s a random list of my first impressions, the pros and cons (there are a few, yes). Let’s start with the pros (screenshots are below):

  1. Velocity sensitive keyboard actually works quite well! I was sceptical how good this motion sensor thing would be but I’ve to say: well done! In most of the keyboard instruments one can even set the velocity sensitivity. Nice!
  2. You can have one or two rows of keys in the keyboard instruments and you can chose between three different sizes of the keys (for little, medium or large fingers).
  3. The online help is really nifty! Apple designed the UI in a way so that there is still space here and there for little help tags that appear on most screens when you tap on the question mark icon in the upper right corner of the screen. In addition to that there’s a really nice online help system with lot’s of text, images, links, a table of contents and even a search feature. All on top of GarageBand so you don’t have to switch to Safari and leave GarageBand for that.
  4. Try the sampler! Recording sound, voices etc. and playing them on the keyboard is fun. You can even edit the sampled material: reverse it, loop it (includes the possibility to define which part to loop, edit the volume envelope etc.)
  5. Nice as well: you can define sections of your song (tap the puzzle icon in the upper left). They’re named A, B, … and if you want to have B before A you just tap the Edit button and drag&drop the B above the A. 🙂
  6. They even have a „light“ version of the loops browser we know from the „big“ GarageBand. Just tap the loop icon (in the track view) and you get a nice popup window with a filter at the top and the filtered loops at the bottom. Tap a loop to preview it. Even change the preview volume. To use a loop in your song just drag it out of this window and drop it into a new or an existing track. Easy.
  7. Smart instruments are fun! There are only four patterns for each instrument type but you can vary the pattern in case of a guitar and a bass by using one, two or three fingers when you tap on the area corresponding to a harmony.
  8. Oh, those chords can be changed! Searched a while but finally found it: it’s the „Key“ parameter in the setting dialog. If you chose another key the chords change. But you can’t select which chords will appear. Those are fixed. For C major they are: Em, Am, Dm, G, C, F, Bb, Bdim. For all the other keys they are the same, accordingly.
  9. In case of the smart keyboard in conjunction with the autoplay feature you have three areas for each chord: press the chord’s name to hear the chord pattern (1-4) AND a bass notes pattern. Tap the lower part of that key only to get just bass notes. Now you can press the middle part of another key to play another chord simultaneously to the bass notes of that former chord. Nice.
  10. Without autoplay you have five variations of that chord (in case of the smart keyboard) plus three possible bass notes you can combine.
  11. In case of the normal keyboard instrument: there’s even a simple arpeggiator, you can set a scale and for most of the electronic keyboards and synths you get a couple of parameters (mostly four) to play with to make the instrument sound different. These aren’t always the same parameters, they depend on the instrument you selected.

A few glitches and missing stuff:

  1. I wasn’t able to playback the current song and play a smart guitar on top of that live together with the song. Maybe it’s meant to be not possible?
  2. You can’t actually edit recorded MIDI data. The keyword MIDI isn’t even in the online help (search index). But I’m sure those green tracks that are recorded instruments contain MIDI data. You can do lots of things with a region (cut, copy, delete, loop, split etc.) but you can’t correct a single wrong note or manipulate the velocity afterwards.
  3. Master and insert effects are there, but … There are two kinds only: a delay (they call it echo) and a reverb. You can only select from a few presets but you can’t edit the parameters of these effects. You can set the amount of the effect for each track but that’s it.
  4. Sometimes you wish you had still a few more loops. For example: I selected Bass as the instrument in the loops browser and Electronic as the Genre. The result was just 1 item („Techno Bass 01“) and that consisted of one bar … When you remove the „Electronic“ genre tag you get all the Bass loops: there are only 14 of them. Could be a bit more, sure, but remember the size of audio loops and the amount of memory the iPad has … 😉

All in all and despite the few cons: this is one of the best iPad apps ever made if not THE best iPad app ever made! BRAVO, Apple! Can’t wait to see GarageBand 2 for iPad – and maybe for iPhone, too?! 😉

Here are a few screenshots I made during my first GarageBand session today. Enjoy! 🙂

  1. Dietmar

    Klasse Bericht. Danke :-). MIDI edit würde mir aber auch fehlen und Punktabzug bedeuten. Und: Kann man direkt per MIDI Anschluß live einspeisenn und das Ergebnis geradeziehen lassen? Wäre für mich Grundvoraussetzung.

  2. Robert

    In der Tat ein sehr schöner und informativer Bericht. 🙂
    Wie Dietmar bereits erwähnt, ist das Geradeziehen (meiner Fehler 😉 ) für mich gleichfalls eine Grundvoraussetzung um GB produktiv einsetzten zu können.

  3. Richie

    I agree with your sentiments, having tried a lot of the music making apps on the iPad, GarageBand is by far the most professional looking as you’d expect from Apple. I actually use Logic on the Mac and have strived for a decent portable solution.

    I currently use NanoStudio and had really high hopes when I heard GarageBand was being released. I think though that despite the excellent features, the inability to edit the notes recorded to just tidy up or remove bum notes really impacts its ability to be taken really seriously. I actually can’t believe Apple would not implement that. I think once GarageBand has this feature and I say once rather than if, as I believe Apple will have to implement this, I could solely use this app for portable music making.

    • Totally agree, Richie! I really hope that Apple will soon deliver an update, maybe a version 1.1 or 1.5 of GarageBand for iPad.

      • Ned Kellogg

        Mehre Fehler, vielleicht? Nur 4/4? Keine 3/4 oder 5/4? Aber das macht mir von Übungen für Dirigenten denken: der Metronome klickt 4/4 aber man spielt 3/4 oder 5/4..

        (English, better) More problems? Only 4/4? No 3/4 or 5/4? But that makes me think of conductors‘ exercises, where you hear beats in 4 but you play 3 or 4 against those beats.

  4. bee

    4 more features need to be provided on the next version in order to make GarageBand for iPad a lot better:

    1. Provide velocity setting for ALL kind of instruments, especially for the drum since it isn’t consistent (hit-and-miss) on it.

    2. Ability to define custom key (group of chords) to be picked. The provided keys is nice but they’re VERY standard and boring. For example, why can’t we pick E on C major? Even C7 isn’t available on C major!

    3. Ability to change or switch key while playing an instrument. It’s common to switch to D on a C based song, for example. I don’t know what is the correct term for that.

    4. Mic input level. Enough said.

    I’m NOT a musician or a music expert whatsoever. Being said that, the lack of those 4 features above are quite annoying for me when I want to create a SERIOUS song (though amateurish) on GarageBand for iPad (not just random and noisy sounds).

    • Agreed, bee, being able to change the chords (not only the base key) would be important. But I guess Apple thinks: those folks who want other chords are musicians and they know chords, then they can use the real (not the smart) instruments to play those chords …
      But I’m sure they’ll enhance this part of GarageBand in an update.
      So for me that’s a prio 2 thing.
      Being able to select another measure than 4/4, like Ned pointed out, is far more important. I totally forgot about that! That has to be in the first update!

  5. Chank

    The samples are awesome. I was a bit bummed though that I could not choose 3/4 time. However, there probably aren’t many people out there with the desire to record Cajun waltzes with this app, lol. For now I’ll just have to stick with 4/4 time songs, or will try to record 3/4 time manually. For $5, I can’t make much of a fuss.

  6. Dietmar

    After some more testings I can tell You that nearly all of my sessions ended with a crash 🙁 With these crashes it is no solution for live sessions (even not for fun sessions). And I miss more instruments. Where do I find them? No trumpets? No instrument import option? Who needs this flipping instrumens menu? A list would be better for me. So I am still not too excited with this App.

    • Einen ausgiebigen Test konnte ich natürlich nicht machen, wenn ich am ersten Tag der Erscheinung des Programms schon einen ersten Bericht schreiben wollte …
      Sorry, das ist natürlich doof, dass das so oft abstürzt!
      Man muss auch immer im Hinterkopf behalten: 5 Dollar!! Mehr Instrumente würden noch mehr Platz belegen (so fern sie auf Samples beruhen). Und Trompeten, Posaunen, Saxofone zu synthetisieren ist keine leichte Aufgabe.
      It’s (currently) more of a toy than a serious app. If it were a serious app I’d expect it to cost a lot more (like some other more/semi serious music apps in the app store).

    • plus: I’m really looking forward to the 1st update!

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