GarageBand, an Introduction.


This is the second and final post on recording for this month.  I wanted to use this time to talk about GarageBand, as it is a popular and accessible recording software.  It comes free on Macintosh computers, and is in the App Store for iPhone, iPad, etc.

I’ve been using GarageBand for years now, and it has changed a lot since the first time I used it.  My understanding of the program has only grown over the course of its evolution.  The first time I used it, I basically did a single track of guitar and vocals at the same time–all one take.

I’ve since learned from that experience (one take recording is stressful, dude) and now have a few tips and tricks that I want to share with you!  🙂

This post will serve as a basic introduction to GarageBand.  We’ll learn the benefits of multi-track recording, how to create an “empty” project, add multiple tracks, adjust levels, and what different icons mean.  I will focus on the basics for the software on iPhone and Mac computers.

Why Use Multi-Track Recording?

To a certain extent, multi-track recording is just common sense.

It ensures volume control, demonstrates proper boundaries, adds organization to the final product, creates a controlled environment, and space for independence/leadership opportunities.

Different tracks ensure control over volume and sound.  One can easily splice, trim, and modify a specific track easily, and it’s easy to single out or mute a track if need be.  For example, if listening to all tracks is overwhelming while trying to record a new track, one can mute everything besides the accompaniment or rhythm track.

Personal space is another thing to keep in mind when recording.  Physical boundaries can easily be breeched if all musicians are huddling around one microphone.  By recording separately, each individual take turns using one microphone, their own space.

For example’s sake, let’s assume that we’re preparing to record a group.  Each member of the group plays a different instrument.  While it may be expedient to record the whole group as one together, the quality of that recording will suffer.  You may not be able to hear the egg shakers, or maybe Jane Doe sneezed right in the middle of everything.

Although therapeutically speaking, we know the social benefits of playing live imperfectly can be better than playing alone perfectly.  When making a recording in the clinical setting, there is a reason behind it.  Undoubtedly, the group has already invested time in practicing and playing the song live before arriving in the “recording studio.”  By using multiple tracks while recording, you are providing your musicians with the opportunity to preserve the best version of their music possible.

As the music therapist, you create a controlled environment to record in.  There are so many decisions: Will the musicians use headphones to listen and perform with the backtrack?  Or will the music therapist cue them in?  You can prepare a track that will serve as a basic the accompaniment for your musicians.  It’s also within your control to delegate these responsibilities to others.  Leadership can be through specific tasks with regards to recording (turning on/testing the microphones, etc) or through the actual role of playing the instrument.

Multi-track recording provides increased autonomy and control but is not necessary to the success of a recording.

The Basics

Last month, if you recall, I created a mash up of a bunch of friendship songs [you can listen to that here!]  Below is a screenshot of what the first seven seconds look like in GarageBand:


Take Note!  4 things to glean:

1.) There are 6 total tracks (ukulele, guitar, vocal melody, vocal harmony, percussion, and drum).  I like to label my tracks so that at a glance I know what track corresponds to the audio I’m hearing in playback.  Organization is key.
2.) The entry for each track is staggered.  I purposefully do not start each track at the same time*.  I always trim off long periods of rest.  I find that this ensures that there are no accidental sounds (creaky chairs/floorboards, etc) that become buried in the texture.  It also aids in the visual representation.  Knowing what is playing when is important when working with more than 3 tracks.
3.) The bottom bar.  This view can be reached by double clicking on any of the blue tracks–it will magnify the track.  I find this comes in handy when I don’t use a “click track” (defined as a metronome click used to aid in monitoring tempo).  When any given track is magnified, it’s easier to visually see entrances, what’s loud, soft, etc.
4.) Volume control.  Each track’s volume can be independently modified.  This is an incredibly useful tool when one is making final edits to a recording!  That’s usually when I realize that the harmony is mysteriously much louder than the melody, or my finger snaps are completely buried.

*Here is a still from my iPhone of my initial test for the vocal harmony used in the mash up.  I especially trim when using an iPhone–typically I use my iPhone on the go or to demo and there always seems to be background noise happening.

iPhone Tracks

How To Create an, “Empty” Project

When using a Mac, go to “File > New” and the below will pop up.  Select, “Empty Project,” and then click “Choose.”


The importance of an Empty Project is that it’s easier to record acoustic/live music.  So, when recording an original song that was composed in session–this is the setting you probably want to use.  If you are looking to explore with different filters, or synthetic sounds, there are other options to consider.


On the iPhone, the interface is a little different.  Ultimately, the most similar option to “Empty Project,” is the “Audio Recorder” option.

Setting Up Your Project & Icons To Know and Recognize

When using GarageBand on an iPhone, this is the first screen you will likely see:

New GB

To create a, “New Song” simply tap the top left “+” icon.  This will create your project.  After recording your first track, the way you add additional tracks is by selecting the icon in the red box below:

iPhone New Track

Then you will see the below options:


Conversely, when setting up a project on a Mac computer, this is likely the first screen that you will encounter:


When preparing to record, here are 3 vital icons to recognize:

1.) This is the “Add Track” button!  This is how you create multiple tracks**.
2.) This icon allows one to switch from measures to time.  Right now, it’s set on, “Beats & Project” which is numbered measures (as in sheet music measures).  When you click that icon, you can switch to actual minutes and seconds.
3.) The two purple icons are a count in and the metronome feature.  When using GarageBand in a clinical setting, if musicians are unfamiliar with a metronome this can be distracting.  Conversely, if a musician is familiar and has been practicing with a metronome, then it can be useful.  Just remember to use headphones–otherwise the track will record with the metronome in the background (which could be helpful for practice tracks, but not for a final product).

**When adding a new track on a Mac, the pop-up looks like this:

New Track

If one is recording acoustically, the Audio Microphone setting is best to use.  The, “Input” is where you can select which input (be it an external microphone, or amp) you wish to use.

If you want to record with synthetic effects, you can choose the highlighted option “Audio: record guitar…” in the picture above.  You can use this without a special amp input–literally, just sing into the microphone and modify the sound with the synthetic effects!!

Another great benefit of using GarageBand is the “Drummer” setting!


The above is Kyle M.–Or the drummer setting, “Kyle” on a Mac.


The above is Kyle P.–Or the drummer setting, “Kyle” on the iPhone.

I find the drummer feature to be more useful than a click track.  It provides rhythmic structure without the foreign and at times annoying metronome click.  It’s also great if one doesn’t have a drum set–You just need Kyle from your back pocket! 😉  There are other drummer pre-sets.  And yes, they all have their own names: Maya-Alternative, Magnus-Electronic, etc.

More icons to be familiar with:


The top right box that is selected is the “Note Pad.”  This is useful if a recording session is interrupted (ex. run out of time, or pause discuss while listening to playback), or if schedules/to do lists are a beneficial support strategy.


The icon in the red box in the above image is the, “Library” button.  This allows different selections of synthetic effects to add to an audio recording (thus, you do not need to have a plug-in/amp to record with amp-like effects)!

Well, that’s all I have for today, folks.

🙂  It is my hope that you learned something new over the course of the last month!  I enjoyed sharing my knowledge with you about recording software and microphones!

Just a reminder, Catherine will be out again for July.  Unfortunately, although I announced that there would be an interview for July, plans have changed.  I’ll still announce our monthly theme on July 5th as promised, not to worry!  🙂  I’m looking forward to an interview in August instead.

Wishing you all a safe and fun summer!



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