GarageBand for iPad music technology

9 More “Hidden” GarageBand Tips

Back in the early days of the GarageBand iPad app, I wrote an article sharing some “hidden” tips  – 9 of them to be exact.  Surprisingly, they are all still relevant today!

Lately, I’ve been immersed in the GarageBand app once again, while preparing my new Music Teacher’s Guide To GarageBand For iPad course and lesson plans and have discovered some cool new “hidden” tricks.

How many of these do you already use?

1. Keyboard tip #1: turn on note name labels!

Did you know that this was possible in the GarageBand app?

True confession time: I only found out recently, too.  

Garageband Keyboard with letter names

The option to turn note names on or off is a little hidden.

You’ll need to go to your overall iPad Settings and scroll down until you can see the GarageBand app in the list on the left.  Tap on the GarageBand icon to see the settings for that app and then turn on Keyboard Note Labels.

Garageband Settings turn on note labels

2. Use the Notepad to write chords, lyrics and notes

Like the desktop version of GarageBand, the iOS app has an inbuilt notepad that can be used to store compositional notes within the project.  

To access the Notepad:

  • Tap on Settings (the wrench icon)
  • Then tap Notepad
Garageband Notepad

There’s a blank space for you to use for your notes and you can access them at any time by coming back into the Settings menu.  The only drawback is that you can’t keep the NotePad open while playing an instrument or recording.

Some ideas for using the Notepad:

  • Write down song lyrics
  • Write out the chord progression for each section of the song
  • Make notes about which external hardware equipment you used when recording each track (ie. the type of microphone or audio interface)
  • Leave messages for your co-writer
  • Note down ideas for the arrangement such as the instrumentation or form of the song
  • Feedback from teacher to student

3. Vary the Smart Drums while recording a pattern

I often use GarageBand’s Smart Drums to create a super-fast drum pattern. The Smart Drums lets you build a rhythmic pattern by dragging instruments onto a grid.  

Garageband for iPad Smart drums

Each instrument plays a ready-made pattern and if you place the instrument on the right side of the grid, the pattern becomes more complex. Drag it to the left side for a more simple rhythm.  You can then hit the record button to record the pattern in your project.

One thing I didn’t realise at first is that during the recording you can shift the instruments in the grid – let’s say, move the hi-hat to the far right – and GarageBand will record the changing rhythm.  

A good way of using this is to start with the snare drum placed in the middle of the grid, hit record and then drag the snare to the right side towards the end of an 8-measure phrase.

The snare pattern will be more complex in the last part of the phrase, giving the effect of a drum fill.  This is a great way to add interest to your Smart Drum patterns.

4. Add a fade-in or fade out to a track

Have you ever wanted to add volume automation curves (the technical term for adding automatic fade-ins and fade-outs) into your GarageBand tracks?  This feature is “hidden” in the Track header area for the instrument.

Garageband Automation curve

To add volume automation:

  • Tap the track header (the instrument icon) and then tap Automation in the menu that appears
  • All of the tracks will expand vertically and the volume automation curve (it’s a line at first!) will appear on each track.  This line is a visual representation of the current volume level. To create a fade-out, you need to make the line go diagonally downwards at the end
  • To create the “curve” you will draw automation points on the line and then drag them up or down to create the desired effect.  Drag the Edit Automation button (it looks like a pencil) to the right to lock it into the “on” position, then tap on the automation line to draw points.  For a fade-out, you’ll need to add two points – one at the position you want the fade-out to start and one at the very end of the musical phrase
  • Drag the second automation point downwards to create the fade-out
  • Tap Done at top right

Essentially, the automation line is a visual representation of the dynamics for that instrument.

For a more detailed explanation of how automation works, take a look at the information on the Apple website here.

5. Every Autoplay pattern on the dial has 3 variations (that’s a total of 12!)

This one was a total surprise to me! GarageBand’s Smart Instrument Autoplay function is a super-useful one.  Smart Instruments (choose between guitar, bass, strings or keyboard) have chord strips on the screen that allow you to play an entire chord with the touch of a finger.  

If you turn on the Autoplay dial, GarageBand will play a ready-made pattern for you based on the chord strip that’s selected on the screen and there are 4 different Autoplay settings on the dial.  But that’s not all!

Garageband Autoplay

If you tap a chord strip with two fingers instead of one, GarageBand will give you a variation of the Autoplay pattern that’s currently selected. Tap the chord strip with three fingers to hear yet another variation.  That’s a total of twelve different patterns for each instrument!

6.  Play muted notes or chords on the Smart Guitar

As a non-guitarist, GarageBand’s Smart Guitar is a useful feature because it allows me to play chords with the touch of a finger by tapping on chord strips that appear on the screen.  

You can tap the chord letter name to hear the entire chord play, strum your finger up and down the strings or play single notes by tapping individual strings.

Garageband Play muted guitar notes and chords

What I didn’t realise at first is that you can also play with a muted effect. Touch and hold your finger to the left (or right) edge of the chord strips while you play to hear muted notes or chords.

7. Secret string articulation options

When you open the Smart Strings and head into Notes view you can play individual legato notes by touching a string.  To play pizzicato, touch and hold the articulation button on the left.

Garageband String articulation

Two lesser-known tips:

  • Double-tap the Articulation bar on the left to keep pizzicato turned on (double-tap again to turn off)
  • You can also play notes with bowing: touch and hold the Articulation on the left, then swipe a string up and down (yes, vertically!)

8. Quickly transpose all notes in a region with one tap

Have you ever recorded a keyboard part only to realise that you played the whole thing in the wrong octave? It’s very easy to fix.

Simply tap on the recorded region twice to bring up the menu options and then tap Settings. You can then use the transposition options to transpose all the notes in the region by octaves or by semitones.

Garageband Transpose notes

9. Speed up, slow down or reverse the notes in a region

If you have recorded a Touch Instrument part and would like to experiment with some compositional techniques, you can use the same region Settings menu mentioned above to manipulate and vary your musical phrases.

Tap a region twice to bring up the menu options and then tap Settings.

Garageband Change speed or reverse notes

Next, try one of the following:

  • Use the Speed slider to increase or decrease the note values in the clip. For instance, if you originally played minims (half notes) and increase the Speed slider to 2x, the notes will change to crotchets (quarter notes)
  • If you turn on the Reverse option, the musical phrase will play backwards (great for melodies!)

Useful when talking to students about compositional devices like retrograde, augmentation and diminution.

Related: 9 Things You Didn’t Know About GarageBand For iPad

Do you have any fun GarageBand for iPad tips?

Let me know in the comments below!

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Hello! I’m Katie Wardrobe – an Australian music technology trainer and consultant with a passion for helping music teachers through my business Midnight Music.

I’m a qualified teacher but no, I don’t currently teach in a school. I help teachers through my online professional development space – the Midnight Music Community – where there are tutorial videos, courses, links and downloadable resources.

I like to focus on easy ways to incorporate technology into what you are already doing in your music curriculum through a range of creative projects.  I also run live workshops and have presented at countless conferences and other music education events.

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