I love to create music on the go. And thanks to apps like Garageband I no longer have the pressure of remembering an idea for a whole days worth of teaching. In the last App Review I took a look at Music Memos, the latest music app from Apple. Music Memos is a brilliant way of capturing an initial initial idea. This week let’s look at the recently updated Garageband app for iPhone (version 2.1).


When compared to Muisc Memos, Garageband really bumps the options as it works as a lite version of the DAW (Digital Audio Workstation). Garageband for iOS devices allows for up to 32 tracks with access to a variety of recording tools, midi arrangers, smart instruments and Apple loops.

After you’ve recorded your ideas with the MIDI instruments or audio tools the regions can the be trimmed, moved and placed exactly where you want them to play on on the grid. Once you’ve got your ideas  recorded you can use the basic mixing features including volume automation, track panning, basic equalization, add compression and well as add echo and reverb.

Midi Instruments and ‘Smart Instruments

As I mentioned before the app features a range of midi instruments and several ways of controlling them. The ‘Smart Instrument’ settings are a great way for people who aren’t confident arrangers to add instruments they don’t necessarily play.

The smart piano instrument can be used to create chords as well separate bass notes. To arpeggiate a chord simply drag your finger across the notes up or down to create instant arpeggiation, simple. If you want to play in a melody on a keyboard instrument I’d suggest using the separate keyboard instrument which is completely polyphonic.

The smart strings take a little while to get used to. A simple tap on a chord gives you a bright pizzicato sound whilst brushing a cross the chord gives a bowed texture. If you continue to brush across the ‘strings’ then the velocity builds and the chord crescendos. I found the timing a little difficult on this, as the attack is a little slow forcing me to play ahead of the metronome on bowed parts.

As a guitarist I was a little apprehensive at the idea of a smart guitar. Luckily with the exception of the super bright samples it works fine to get a rough idea down. The chord feature works similar to the smart piano although full chords have to be strummed across the screen very quickly. It requires some practice. There is also a fret board feature which works well for inputting melody, even if the string bending is fiddly and reminiscent of a keyboard pitch shift.

The smart bass chord setting is built around root and fifth intervals which is a very safe option for songwriters. If you have a riff or specific bass line in mind then simply open the fret board option to tap in the idea.

There are a couple input options for drums and percussion. Luckily neither of which require an in depth knowledge of drum programming. The first is the virtual drummer which automatically adds drums to the other pre-recorded ideas. If you need more control over the pulse of the track you can set the instrument that informs the drums arrangement. There are a number of different ‘players’ with distinct playing styles you can choice from. You can also adjust how complex or loud the performance is as well as fine tune how often it plays fills. If only you could do this with real drummers.

Each instrument has a surprising range of acoustic, electric and digital sounds so you can get a workable tone for most projects. Also being a midi editor you can change these sounds after recording which is handy especially if the project changes direction.

Garageband Amps

Those of you with Garageband experience will know the amp and pedalboard simulations are very usable. To attach a guitar or bass to the your device you’ll need a piece of hardware (I borrowed an IK Multimedia iRig for this).

There isn’t the full list of amps and pedals you’ve come to know in the full desktop version but there is enough of the most common tones to get a decent scratch track down.

I really suggest you avoid using the presets as they are a little extreme and noises in their settings but dial  the levels and gain back and they are very usable. Provided you get a decent recording then you can adjust settings later whilst mixing or send to the desktop version to get more sounds. Awesome.

Microphone Capture

For the vocalists out there the app also has a record function for the built in microphone (although you can get aftermarket microphones if you want a better quality). As long as you aren’t expecting studio level results this is a great way to get top line ideas down and the ability to add effects and reverb gives enough polish to get a decent demo recording.

You can also use this setting to record any other live acoustic instruments you want. If you have something like an acoustic guitar it sounds so much better than the midi sounds. I wouldn’t use it on electric instruments as the microphone will clip and distort.

There is also a Sampler instrument that allows you to record a sound and play it back  after auto-tuning it to a pitch using an on screen keyboard. So far I’ve mostly used this in as a bit of fun but I could see how lo-fi and noise artists could utilise this to create something interesting.

Loop Feature

This last week the iphone version updated with a new loop feature. It has a number of genres including EDM, Hip-hop and Dub Step. I’m not actually sure what the point is to this feature is as of yet. This allows you to turn different pre-made loops on and off as well as jump between entire pre-made sections. The ability do download other loops shows potential but as it currently stands it’s diverting but not exactly useful. Am I missing something? Leave a comment below if you know the application for this mode.

Sharing Songs and Connectivity

Now one of the most useful options for musicians is the ability to send the the files across to a desktop mac via Air Drop. For those of you that use iCloud Drive you can share files across all your devices as well as share the audio to your iTunes library.

The thought of sharing anything direct from the app via email, Facebook, YouTube or SoundCloud fills me with fear but it is an available option (I don’t like releasing demos if I can help it!). You can also send the audio files to be used as custom ringtones and alerts for your iPad, iPhone, or iPod touch.


I think this app has a lot of features and is worth the investment, especially for the £3.99 price tag. I think the ability to use this app in conjunction with the desktop version makes it an essential iOS tool for musicians. For musicians and creatives apps like Garageband and Music Memos are now essential for increasing productivity. They mean more of you inspiration can be captured as it strikes and fits into a busy modern lifestyle. As as a stand alone app I feel it’s slightly less useful but as the cost is fairly small it’s well worth a look.

What’s your experience with this app? Has it been a useful tool? I’d love to hear in the comments below.


2 thoughts on “App Review #2 – Garageband (iOS)

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