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Hands on with GarageBand for the iPhone and iPad

Serenity Caldwell | Nov. 3, 2011
It's no secret around these parts that we're pretty fond of GarageBand on iOS.

In the center, you have your standard play controls: A button for returning to the beginning of the song, one to Play/Pause, and one to record. Off to the right, there are one or two icons, depending on the complexity of your instrument. The first--the effects icon--appears only if your instrument has additional toggles that the iPhone simply doesn't have space to display. (For example, the Autoplay knob and Chord/Notes toggle for the Smart Guitar.) Tap the icon, and the play area will slide down, revealing the extra controls.

I like everything about this implementation. For one, the effects area still provides you with some access to the instrument (or, in the case of Smart Instruments, their chords) so that you can try out effects without constantly switching views. In addition, the GarageBand designers have been able to have a bit of fun stretching the instrument design metaphor, which leads to really beautiful discoveries: Tap the effects icon while in Smart Guitar, for example, and as the chords slide down, so does the entire guitar, revealing the curve of the instrument.

The last icon in the toolbar--the ever-familiar gear icon--has been multi-purposed here into a single window for track, section, and song settings. (In the iPad version, all three have separate pop-overs.) Like the effects view, you can test out a tweak made without having to leave the screen by tapping the volume icon in the upper left corner; it'll play a snippet from whatever you've been working on.

I didn't have too much time to play around in GarageBand's editing mode, but it, again, looks remarkably similar to its iPad cousin. You have full access to loops, support for cutting gestures, and the same eight-track limit for songs. Our full review of GarageBand 1.1 will likely take a closer look at the music-making process, but from the limited time I spent with it, I was incredibly impressed.

Instrument ch-ch-changes

You'd think adding universal support to GarageBand would be enough for one update, but there are plenty of other tweaks. The program's Smart Instruments--Smart Guitar, Keyboard, and Bass--now offer support for custom chords, something I've been itching for since its release. You can adjust any of the eight pre-formatted chords by tapping Edit Chords in the settings pop-over and test them on the fly; if a chord you picked doesn't work well with the one next to it, you can just adjust it at will.

Smart Keyboard, Keyboard, and the Sampler get an Arpeggiator, a feature that sounds like it should be destroying things in a science-fiction film; in reality, the only thing it'll destroy is your free time. Based on the synthesizer effect of the same name, the Arpeggiator lets you define a sequence by playing a chord, then proceeds to create an arpeggio from that input. You can add a varied octave range (from one to four) for your arpeggio, change the note order, and alter the speed and note kind (1/4 - 1/32 note, dotted, or triplet).


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