Garageband on the iPad Makes Amateur Musicians into Artists

Can you be a composer without being a musician? Thanks to the latest generation of music authoring software, the answer is yes.

Take me, for example. I played the trombone in high school, and I can still read music (bass clef anyway), but I would be very hard pressed to strum a guitar chord, keep the beat on a drum set, or sing on key through a whole song. Compared to friends like Greg Huang, who’s a bassist for the Boston band Honest Bob and the Factory-to-Dealer Incentives, or Graham Ramsay, who’s been writing fine instrumental and choral works since he was a teenager, I would never presume to call myself a musician. But none of that has stopped me from using the new iPad version of Garageband, Apple’s $4.99 music authoring program, to assemble a few bars of material.

I want to talk today about Garageband and why I think it’s so important, but first I invite you to give my pieces a quick listen. It’s a stretch it to call them “songs”—let’s go with “ditties.” The first one was conceived as a lighthearted soundtrack for a dogs-at-the-beach video.

The second, somewhat darker ditty doesn’t have a video to go with it—just click the play button below to listen. If you’re a fan of the Fox TV sci-fi series Fringe, it may help you to know that I put together this piece after watching the season finale, and that I was thinking about Peter and Olivia—the star-crossed lovers pulled apart by an interdimensional war.

Peter’s Song – Wade Roush

I want to underscore again that I have no pretensions whatsoever to being a real songwriter. I hesitated about sharing these pieces at all, given their obvious amateurishness. But I wanted to give you a sense of what a rank beginner can do in a very short amount of time with Garageband. I put about two hours into each of these compositions.

For a taste of what a serious musician can do in the same amount of time, listen to this next piece, written and performed by Robby Grossman. In addition to being a singer/songwriter/guitarist, Robby is a software engineer at Cambridge, MA-based social media tools marketplace Oneforty. He gave me permission to republish the piece here. He calls it “Garage Band Jam.”

Garage Band Jam – Robby Grossman

In a March blog post, Robby explained that he wrote this piece for the same reason I wrote mine—to give Garageband a try. You’ll notice that he’s using a lot more instruments, including several real ones. (There are two electric guitars, two acoustic guitars, and two vocal tracks, all recorded using the iPad’s internal microphone, as well as a virtual bass and a virtual drumkit.) By contrast, all of the instruments on my songs were virtual.

It would have been hard for a non-professional to do any of this, let alone in a couple of hours, before Garageband came to the iPad. The amazing thing about the program is that it’s both a … Next Page »

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Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish. Follow @soonishpodcast

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2 responses to “Garageband on the iPad Makes Amateur Musicians into Artists”

  1. Wade, needed a Fringe fix after that perplexing season finale — will Peter be back? — and enjoyed your piece.

    The dog ditty was also good; we occasionally take our pug Sophie to the beach and I think you had a good beat and rhythm to that experience. Kudos to you and Garageband.