Garageband: The Missing Manual
Posted: 30-Aug-2004

Mac Guild Grade

Publisher: O'Reilly


Reviewer: Diane Love $19.95

Garageband: The Missing Manual

By David Pogue
1st Edition June 2004
254 pages, $19.95 US

What the Book is About
Garageband, the newest member of Apple's iLife suite, aims to make creation of music possible for everyone with a suitable Mac, regardless of their knowledge of music theory or skill with any instrument. Like the rest of the iLife suite, Garageband sets out to be usable with no manual.

If you think that all manuals are the same (i.e. boring), then you may be surprised to discover where theater graduate David Pogue has taken the literary medium of the software manual. To read one of his manuals is to spend your time in highly entertaining company with very productive results. In general, the focus is on the creative process first, and the mechanics of using the software second. This book is no exception.

Target Audience
Like Garageband itself, this book aims to be useful to every Garageband user, including those with no knowledge of music whatsoever. It contains an appendix which covers the essentials of music terminology and notation, and throughout the text, never assumes that the reader knows any of the jargon of old-fashioned music or new-fangled music technology. For a reader with a background in music and music technology, the book is a useful reference and includes many tips for improving your own efficiency as well as that of your Mac when using Garageband.

This book has two major parts and three appendices.

Part one, "Building a Hit" contains all the mechanics of working with Garageband.

Part two, "Beyond the Garage" covers what to do with your finished work, how to get more sounds and loops into Garageband, how to optimize your computer's performance, troubleshooting and further freeware, shareware and commercial software to use along with Garageband or to move on to after becoming familiar with Garageband.

The Appendices are "The Garageband Music Crash Course" and references for menus and keyboard shortcuts.

Making Music
Creating any work of art is part creativity and part technique. This book aims to develop your creativity as well as giving you the techniques you need to execute your ideas. Techniques are illustrated with worked examples, so it's good to get Garageband running before you start. There are also some tutorial files which can be downloaded from O'Reilly's Missing CD web site.

The book starts by making sure you can get around Garageband without the mouse. This is particularly important if you are going to be working with a piano keyboard or a guitar on your lap. It's much easier to hit one key on the keyboard than grab the mouse, move it to a target and click.

The book then moves on to discuss working with each of the 3 types of music Garageband can use - loops, MIDI (a.k.a. "software instruments" in Garageband) and audio (a.k.a "real instruments"). Useful techniques in recording are described to make the results more successful and / or professional sounding. These techniques include slowing down the tempo while recording MIDI, building up a single MIDI track in multiple passes, working with multiple audio takes and manipulating MIDI parameters during or after recording.

As well as musical instrument simulations, Garageband also contains numerous effects simulations; the book explains what all the effects do to the sound and how you might use them in different musical contexts.

Where they arise, Garageband quirks are presented and discussed. These quirks may be fixed in later versions of the program but for now they can be confusing. For example, suppose you are entering the notes to play a song that starts in the key of C for a couple of bars then goes to the key of F. A shortcut would be to enter one bar of C and then copy it for all the other bars. For the bars in F you could then use Garageband's transpose function to move the notes up to those suitable for F. If you did this, you would be surprised to see the notes in the grid view looking as if they were at the same pitch as the notes for the C bars. You have to examine the note information to see that what looks like a C is really an F. Crazy maybe, but we have to live with it for now.

The book describes using various pieces of freeware and shareware to get around Garageband limitations. I was surprised to find that Emagic provide a free guitar tuner, and thought that once I downloaded and installed it, I'd be able to use it easily as an application. It wasn't so simple at all - it's actually a plug-in and you have to use it as an effect on a guitar recording and try to alter the settings of that effect before you see the window that shows whether your guitar is in tune. I doubt I would ever have figured this out on my own.

The only minor issue I have with this book is that while it frequently reminds you that you can't use Garageband to transpose your own audio recordings, it makes it look as if this is some kind of technical impossibility. It absolutely is not. The Amazing Slowdowner by Roni Software can shift AIFF and MP3 files in pitch incrementally or by semitones and independently of slowing down or speeding up the file. This is useful for learning to play existing music or using it as a basis to work out new arrangements. There is no technical reason why similar functionality could not one day be built into Garageband.

  • explains all jargon
  • builds appreciation of how music is constructed
  • describes performance optimization
  • good review of freeware and shareware
  • extra tutorials and other downloads available on the web

Mac Guild Grade
A+ (Awesome)

Final Words
While you can get by with Garageband at some level without help, there is plenty in this book to help the average person to develop their understanding of music production as well as to become more efficient and successful with Garageband. It's easy and entertaining to read, and assumes no prior knowledge of music theory or technology.