Imagine the look on George Martin’s face if you transported back in time to the peak of 1960s Beatlemania and told him that in 2011 you’d be able to create an entire rock and roll song, without real instruments, on a touchscreen that’s almost thinner than one of the Fab Four’s best-selling LPs? He’d be a shade or two lighter than The Beatles’ White Album, we'd suspect.
The launch of the iPad 2 saw Apple unleash the ability to do just that with a tablet version of its brilliant GarageBand software. For just £2.99 you have the privilege of becoming your own record producer. T3 tested the app in a bid to become a self-built rock god.
If you’ve never used GarageBand, or even played an instrument before there’s no need to be intimidated. Apple has you covered. As well as featuring a host of completely manual, on-screen guitars, bass keyboards and drum sets for you to hammer away at, GarageBand features “Smart” versions of all of the above.
The Smart Keyboard and Guitars label out chords for you that can be played with one tap, anywhere on the scale and in any key of your choosing. So all you have to do is look up the chords to your favourite song and follow the letters. It’s like a join-the-dots version of music making. Having not played keyboards since school, we’d busted out a version of “Let It Be” that raised the bearded ghost of Lennon. It’s just so intuitive.
If that’s not easy enough for you, autoplay will allow you to just select chords and create a more intricate jam based on your one-press chord changes.
GarageBand for iPad: Drums
In a brilliantly designed interface you can easily switch between the instruments you wish to record with. Let’s start with drums. There’s a range of full drum kits on offer, from rock to hip-hop, but it can be a little hard to find a consistent beat. If you’re rhythmically handicapped and your finger-tapping doesn’t quite stay in time with your masterpiece then GarageBand can help you.
Smart Drums offers an automatic killer beat by allowing you to place the snare, high-top and cymbal wherever you like on a four-way pattern of loud, quite, simple and complex and GB will create the beat for you. It’s cheating and night on impossible to create the beat you imagined in your head this way, but it’s still fun.
GarageBand for iPad: Keyboards
If you’re already a piano maestro and want to blast out your own tunes, rather than just prodding ready-made chords, then an almost unlimited supply of piano’s, synths, keyboards and organs to choose from, including the spine-tingly accurate Grand Piano. It’s so easy to slide up and down Garage Band's keyboard octaves to get the sound of your choosing.
GarageBand for iPad: Guitars and Bass
Obviously the electric Hard Rock guitar is the most kick-ass option available, complete with a pair of pedals to produce a heavy metal sound that’d make James Hetfield blush. If you’re a guitarist you can play the notes on the screen and recreate your favourite solos complete with string bends and hammer-ons. It really is that flexible, but it takes a little while to get used to playing upside down.
GarageBand for iPad: Virtual Guitar Amp
Just like the Mac version, the app can be transformed into an amplifier and with the right adapter you can plug your guitar into the iPad and record your new riff directly into the device and then add drums and bass around that. It’s a magnificent little tool for on-the-road musicians who now have a full 8-track recording studio at their disposal. Whenever a new lick pops into their head they can get it down straight away just by plugging into an iPad with GarageBand.
GarageBand for iPad: Extras
It’s the smaller things that make GarageBand a sheer pleasure to use. Thanks to the iPad’s accelerometer, the keyboard is sensitive to your touch, so however hard you hit the keys, it’ll be reflected in the volume of sound, instantly separating With the Smart Guitar, when you apply your palm to the neck portion of the springs it will palm mute the note offering a muffled punk rock style sound. The drums will also recognise parts of the drum, so depending on what part of the cymbal you hit you get a different sound.
GarageBand for iPad: Recording
Once you’ve mastered the tune you’d like to play (either manually or with a little help from the smart instruments) and selected the key, it’s time to lay that sucker down. Just hit the red record button and the metronome will count you in. Once you’ve played the tune, it will appear in your 8-track timeline. If it’s a guitar track, you can record drums, bass and piano on top of that or even sing vocals in time with the music. As long as you start recording every track from the beginning rather than try and line it up in post-production you’ll be fine
With the right trims and cuts and slices and maybe the odd loop then you’ll have created a complete song in now time, even if it means utilising the smart instruments. Purists will be a little heartbroken as to how easy it is to cover a popular song using this app, but for the musical novices it’s hugely empowering and a whole lot of fun too.
GarageBand for iPad: Verdict
The simplicity of creating music with this app is expressed perfectly by the default message when you share your masterpiece: “I just created a song with GarageBand using my iPad and I wanted you to hear it. Take a listen…”
The best app on the iPad bar none, GarageBand brings the key functionality from the revolutionary Mac studio and makes creating a musical masterpiece easier than it has ever been.
Garage Band for iPad launch date: Out now, link Apple
Garage Band for iPad price: £2.99