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Record Your Own Material

If you happen to sing or play a musical instrument, GarageBand becomes an even more powerful tool. Not only can you build a song from loops and Smart Instruments, you can also record your own performance. In some cases, this requires an extra piece of gear or two, but many of these accessories are quite affordable, and should be within the range of even modest budgets.

Record Acoustic Instruments

If you sing or play piano, acoustic guitar, violin, or any other acoustic instrument, adding yourself to a recording isn’t difficult. You can either use the built-in mic on the iPad or iPhone or purchase a better-sounding option that connects to your device. Numerous options are available, from small mics that plug into the headphone jack to larger, more professional options that connect to the dock. In general with audio gear, the more you spend the better quality you get, so don’t expect a professional-sounding recording from a $10 microphone. But with some care you can achieve excellent recordings with mics costing $150 or less.

Once you have a microphone, recording an acoustic instrument is a fairly easy process.

  1. Find a good spot to record in. Generally speaking, you want a quiet location with good acoustics. Recordings of acoustic instruments always include at least some of the sound of the room. If you like the sound of your guitar in your living room, record yourself there. If it sounds even better in the closet, try that. The one thing you don’t want to do is plop yourself somewhere without any consideration of how the environment sounds.
  2. Connect your mic or use the built-in microphone. If you do use the built-in mic, know that the recording quality will not be as high as it would be with an external microphone.
  3. Tap Instruments and select the Audio Recorder.

    The Audio Recorder is the simplest instrument in GarageBand. It has no controls, and the interface consists entirely of a large VU (volume unit) meter measuring the level of the incoming sound (4.23).


    4.23 Recording audio through a microphone

  4. Play or sing at the same volume you will be recording. Watch the VU meter. If it peaks into the red, turn down the input on the microphone (if possible), play or sing more quietly, or move the mic farther away.
  5. If this is the first instrument in a new song, you may want to turn on the metronome to make it easier to sync other instruments with your playing. Tap the Song Settings button and turn on the metronome. You can also enable Count In if you want the metronome to tap for one measure before recording begins. This helps you internalize the tempo and lets you know when to start playing.

  6. When you’re ready to record, tap the Go to Beginning button to move the playhead to the start of the section.
  7. Tap Record and start playing or singing. Tap Stop when you’re done.

Carefully listen to the recorded take with headphones or speakers, and make sure the recording sounds the way you want it to. If you made a mistake, re-record the section. If the sound quality is poor, try to assess what went wrong:

  • Is the recording too loud? If so, it will likely sound distorted and look like a block of sound rather than distinct waveforms (4.24). Turn down the mic or move it farther from the source, and re-record your part.


    4.24 Loud like golf pants

  • Is the recording too quiet? In this case, turn up the mic, play or sing louder, or move the mic closer to the source.
  • Is the sound echoey or boomy? You may be recording in too “live” a room. Large rooms with hard surfaces often sound quite reverberant and may not be right for certain instruments. Try moving to a different location.
  • Is the sound quality poor? If you’re using the built-in mic or a cheap external option, you may need a better alternative. Try moving the mic to a different location relative to the instrument. Sometimes even an inch or two can make a huge difference.

Connect an Electric Guitar or Bass

If you’re the axe-wielding type, it’s also a snap to use GarageBand to record your guitar or bass, provided you have the right tools. Since the iPad doesn’t have an audio input, you need an audio interface designed for use with an iPad or iPhone (4.25). Apogee Digital and IK Multimedia make some of the more popular options, and many other companies have similar offerings. Most are plug-and-play, meaning all you have to do is plug the interface into your iPhone or iPad and you’re ready to start jamming.


4.25 Apogee Jam

For guitarists, a great recording option is GarageBand’s virtual guitar amp collection (4.26). GarageBand comes with eight different amps, all emulations of classic guitar rigs from the likes of Vox, Fender, Marshall, and Orange. With this kind of variety on offer, it’s possible to get a huge range of sounds even if you only have one guitar. GarageBand includes clean tones, crunchy and distorted options, and even heavily processed sounds.


4.26 Virtual guitar amps

In addition to amps, the Guitar Amp instrument includes 10 virtual stomp boxes (4.27). Many of the most popular effects are represented, including fuzz and distortion, chorus, and echo. To find all these goodies, tap the Stompbox button in the upper-right corner of the guitar amp screen. The guitar amp also includes a tuner so you can quickly tune your guitar between takes (4.28).


4.27 Stomp boxes


4.28 Guitar tuner

If you’re a bass player, your options are more limited. Unlike the Mac version of GarageBand, the iOS version doesn’t include any bass amps. But that doesn’t mean you can’t record your bass. You still have the option of choosing the Audio Recorder, which is a basic audio track with no bells and whistles.

The process is simple. Connect your bass as you would an electric guitar, and instead of choosing the Guitar Amp instrument, select Audio Recorder. Tap the Record button and groove!

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