GarageBand is one of the staple offerings of Apple’s iLife home desktop suite. Yet unless you’ve got a podcast or band, you’ve probably never done much more than pop it open, peer into its bleak window and shut it down again. It looks like Excel. Too harsh? It looks like it needs explaining, and that can be turn off enough. When was the last time you found an app that needed instructions?
So Apple has reworked GarageBand for the iPad, and made it inviting to people who understand a piano keyboard no better than nuclear fission. The result is a small orchestra of modern instruments at your command.
Pick your axe (or keyboard, or drum kit) and after a few seconds of exploring, you’re making noise. All the keys, drum pads and guitar strings are velocity sensitive – the harder you hit, the louder it sounds. Amazing, but as you can’t turn it off, it can also be a slight hindrance.
Every instrument comes wrapped in kid gloves – but only if you want it to be. You want to stick to the eight most common chords in the key you’re playing in? Done. You want access to all the notes? You’re one tap (and a bit of self-inflicted hand gymnastics) away from playing that dominant seven augmented ninth. Whatever that is.
Purists will grumble that the “smart” instruments are dumbed down, that the idiot-proof eight-track sequencer is restrictive and that they’d rather sell their souls at a crossroads than play the blues on a touchscreen. Leave them to it; GarageBand for iPad understands why pulling sounds out of musical instruments is called “playing” – it’s fun, even as an experimenting amateur.
True, there isn’t a wild variety of noises on offer, but the ability to feed in vocals and other external instruments means your options are virtually limitless. In any case, it’s a balance – there are enough options and effects for variety, but few enough to keep things simple. The lowdown is this: you can go from nought to making listenable music in minutes. And that’s not something your neighbours will say if you take up trombone.