Jacob Haller (jwgh) wrote,
Jacob Haller

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Garage Band Tips (with F*ck The Bees as an example)

manfire recently got an iBook, and he already owns a PS04, so he asked me to put together some information on how I use Garage Band.

I figure I'll talk about how I made Fuck The Bees, since that was one of my first Garage Band projects.

This actually started as a PS02 project. I had the lyrics and an idea with what I wanted to do with them, so I set the tempo, bass line, and drums in the PS02 and recorded the vocals.

After this, I transferred the vocal track from my PS02 to my Mac using a card reader and a script paracelsvs made that converts .aud files to .wav files. Next, I used SoX to change the frequency of the .wav to 44100. (You have to do this as Garage Band stupidly assumes that all .wav files have that frequency, so if you import the unaltered .wav file Dag's tool created it will sound all sped up and funny. Garage Band doesn't have this problem with mp3 files, so if you didn't have SoX but did have something that could convert wav -> mp3 that would also work.)

At this point I switched to Garage Band.

Starting up Garage Band, you're asked for a title ('Fuck the Bees'), the tempo (I used the same tempo I set in the PS02; fortunately both agree, which you'd think would be obvious, but I have a drum machine that disagrees with my PS02 about how long a minute is, apparently), the time signature (4/4), and the key (I think this ended up being B in my case; I don't think this makes much of a difference insamuch as I don't think it actually makes Garage Band do anything differently).

After I'd done all that, I decided that the next thing I wanted to do was create my bass line. Since I don't have a bass guitar it was going to have to be a MIDI bass line, and since at the time I didn't have any way of playing a MIDI instrument into my Mac I was going to have to hand-sequence it.

There was already a MIDI track created (if there wasn't I would have gone under the 'Track' menu to 'New Track' and clicked on 'Software Instrument' and gotten to the same place) I double-clicked on the grey box under 'Tracks' corresponding to that track, where it said 'Grand Piano' and had a little picture of piano. This brought up the 'Software Instrument' screen. I clicked on 'Bass' and selected 'Upright Jazz Bass'. Now any notes that were put into this track would be recorded using this sound.

Next, how to get some notes in there to work with? There are two methods I could have used. (But first, click on the 'rewind' button at the bottom of the screen to make sure that the notes you add are at the beginning of the track instead of somewhere out in the middle of nowhere.) The methods are:

  • Record using the little software keyboard. To do this:
    1. If the keyboard isn't visible, go under 'Windows' to 'Keyboard' or hit command-K.
    2. Click on the record button (the circular button with the round dot) at the bottom of the screen.
    3. Press some random keys on the little software keybaord.
    4. Press 'stop'.
  • Alternatively, you could grab one of the pre-made MIDI patterns and use that as the source of your UR-note:
    1. Click on the little eyeball icon on the bottom of the screen, next to the scissors and the 'i' button. This should open up a frame at the bottom of the window that contains all the loops.
    2. Click on, say, the 'Bass' button.
    3. You can click on the loops that appear on the right to hear what they sound like. The ones with a green note to their left are MIDI loops, and the ones with blue sine waves are 'real instrument' loops.
    4. Find a MIDI loop you like (or if you're going to build a new bass line from scratch grab any MIDI loop) and drag it up until it's in the 'Upright Jazz Bass' track. (I should note that if you do this then whatever MIDI instrument the loop was originally recorded using will be replaced by the upright bass instrument. If you want to keep the original instrument don't drop the loop on an existing track, but instead drop it in the grey space underneath all of the tracks. Garage Band will automatically create a new track containing the loop.)

So at this point you have some notes in your MIDI track. Now, if you double-click on the green area containing the notes (or click on it once and then click on the scissors icon at the bottom of the screen) a new frame will open at the bottom of the window that allows you to edit the notes. (Rather than using a music staff, there's a grid, sort of like a piano roll; each vertical demarcation corresponds to a half-step.) Here, you can do several things:

  • Move notes around. If you click in the upper left corner of a note and drag it you should be able to move it around, both vertically (corresponding to pitch) and horizontally (corresponding to when it plays).
  • Change how long a note plays for. If you click near the right edge of a note and drag rightwards, it should allow you to make the note longer (or, if you drag left, shorter). For notes with short duration it can be annoyingly difficult to differentiate between moving a note and changing its duration, unfortunately. (If you find yourself doing the wrong one Garage Band does have an 'undo' button which I have found useful on many occasions.)
  • Change a note's velocity. This corresponds to how strongly the note is played. A higher velocity corresponds to more volume, generally, but it can also have other consequences (the note may bend more, it may last longer, etc.). To change it, click on the note, let go, and use the 'velocity' slider on the left.
  • Delete a note. Click on a note, let go, hit the 'Delete' key.
  • Add a note. Hold down the command key and click on the staff.
  • Copy a note. Hold down the option key, click on an existing note, and drag to the desired location for the new note.

For most of these functions you can operate on multiple notes at the same time. You can select multiple notes by selecting a note and then shift-clicking on the other notes you want to work on. Alternatively, click someplace other than a note and drag; a rectange will appear, and any notes that are in the rectangle when you let go will be selected. (To copy a bunch of notes at a time, select all of the notes, then option-click on any one of them and drag.)

One thing you might run into is that you might want to make, say, a sixteenth note, but when you try to do it Garage Band won't let you make notes shorter than an eighth note or whatever. This is because Garage Band aligns your notes to the grid with a certain granularity. You can change this granularity, allowing you put put stuff on off-beats, using the 'Align notes to ruler grid' slider on the left.

One problem you may run into is that you don't have enough space to put in the entire bass pattern that you have in mind, or alternatively there's too much space, or you may find that there's a big blank space at the beginning of your pattern that you'd like to get rid of. To fix this, return to the upper part of the screen where the tracks are listed. If you hover your mouse over the right end of the currently selected batch of notes, you should see your cursor turn into different things -- a vertical line with a spiraling arrow (this is the looping cursor which I'll talk about more shortly), or a horizontal line with a short arrow pointing right. If you hover over the left end of the batch of notes you should similarly get a horizontal line with a short arrow pointing left. The short arrow curors allow you to resize the pattern; click and drag when you have one of those cursors and you will beable to extend the block, or reduce it if that's what's desired. (If you reduce it too far so that some notes disappear, don't worry; if you extend the block again you'll see that the notes are still there.)

At any time you can hear what you've done so far by clicking in the 'ruler' area at the top of the screen so that the vertical red bar is just to the left of what you're working on and then hitting 'play'. If you want to hear it multiple times you can click on the button with the oval with two arrow heads to the right of the fast forward button; a portion of the ruler area will turn yellow, and by dragging the ends of the yellow area to where you want them to be you can cause Garage Band to play that section over and over and over until you hit 'stop'.

So. Once I got my bass line in shape (note the use of shifting tenses and pronouns to make the writing more interesting!) I wanted to, basically, repeat it over and over while I made other stuff happen on other tracks. To do this I used Garage Band's looping feature.

If you hover over the upper right corner of the region you just created the cursor should turn into a vertical line with an arrow spiralling clockwise. This is the looping tool. If you click and drag right a bunch of copies should be cloned of the original pattern (and if you make changes to the original pattern all the copies will be modified too).

After I did this, I created a drum pattern using the same basic methods. (For MIDI drum kits, you get different drum sounds when you play different 'notes'.) Then the rhythm section was basically done. Time to import my vocal track!

This is actually really easy to do. First, hit the rewind button so you're all the way back at the beginning of the song. Then, grab the .wav file from the desktop or the folder you've got it in and drag it into the grey area under all of the tracks. A vertical line should appear showing where the start of the track will go. Get the vertical line where you want it to be (usually the start of measure 1) and let go. Garage Band should then import the .wav file and create a new real instrument track to put it in.

After I imported the vocal I dithered around a bit deciding where I wanted to put it. You can move the track around by clicking on it and dragging right or left. By default you can only move it around so that the beginning lines up with a quarter note (one of the four divisions of each bar at the top of the screen); if you want to do something more fine tuned, click on the little diagonal ruler icon in the upper left corner of the screen and select the level of fine-tunedness. (Or turn off the automatic snapping-to-grid altogether, although I'd be cautious about that.) Usually I start with something pretty coarse, and then fine-tune if necessary after I've got the section of recorded music roughly where I want it.

After this I started messing around with the drum and bass lines. It's nice to be able to repeat the same bass line easily, but it's dull if the bass line never changes over the course of the song, especially if it's a pretty simple one with no chord changes as is the case with 'Fuck The Bees'. So I found the point on the timeline between verses, selected the bass line, positioned the vertical red line at the beginning of the appropriate measure, and went under 'Edit' to 'Split'. This split the block into two separate blocks. (Or more; if you split a loop someplace other than at the end of the loop, you'll end up with a block consisting of the first bunch of repetitions of the loop, then a short block containing a part of the loop before the split, then another short block containing the rest of the loop, and then another block containing the rest of the repetitions of the loop.)

Then I split the block on the right at another point a couple of bars on. Now I could modify what was in the two-bar break between verses and could also modify the notes at the beginning of the rightmost block to create a variant on the original loop. (If you listen to Fuck The Bees carefully you'll notice that the bass lines behind the various verses are all slightly different.) To do this, I double-clicked the block I wanted to change and dragged around the notes as before. I also split up the drum track to do some similar tricks.

But then I ran into a problem. The solo section in the middle, which consisted of me whistling, didn't have enough blank space before and after it to contain the bass and drum fills I wanted to have in there. What to do?

Well, as it happens, you can split real instrument tracks the same way you split MIDI tracks. So I found a spot after my vocals stopped and before the solo started, selected the vocal track, positioned the vertical red line by clicking and dragging in the ruler at the top of the screen, and went to 'Edit'->'Split'. Then I dragged the block on the right to where I wanted it. Then I did the same thing at the end of the solo before the vocals started again.

Everything was in pretty good shape at this point, but I wanted to try putting some kind of effect on the whistling.

To do this, I went under the 'Track' menu to 'New Track' and went to the 'Real Instrument' tab. Normally I start with a 'basic Track'/'No Effects' effect, and that's what I did here. Once the new track was created, I dragged the whistle solo down to it, making sure not to change its left-to-right position.

Then I double-clicked on the grey box that said 'No Effects' on it on the left end of the track so that the instruments window appeared again. I then positioned the vertical red line at the beginning of the solo, hit play, and in the instruments window (which was still open) tried clicking on different effects until I found one I liked.

I then did the same thing with the vocal track (I think I settled on the 'Male Vocals' effect for that).

So now I had a nice bass line, some drums, the vocal track, and the whistle solo track. What was left? I wanted to throw in some nice horn lines and maybe some extra little bits of percussion.

For the horn lines, I found a MIDI loop of horns that I liked and dragged it into the grey area below the existing tracks. A new track was created with the horn line. I then moved the loop to the desired position and moved the notes around as before until I had what I wanted.

Then I wanted to make a copy of this and move it to a point later on in the song. To do this, I held down the option key, clicked on the region containing the loop, and dragged it to the new postion. Then I modified that, etc.

To add the extra little percussive notes ... I could have done this in the original drum track, by figuring out where I wanted it to go, splitting the region at that point, adding the desired notes, etc. This seemed like a recipe for disaster, though. So instead I created a new MIDI track with a drum kit and added just the notes I wanted (a little cowbell here, a shaker there) at the points I wanted them.

I was almost done at that point. The final thing was to set the relative volumes of the tracks and set their balance. These were controlled by the 'Mixer' area at the left end of the track. (If you don't see a section marked 'Mixer', click on the triangle at the right end of the 'Track' heading at the top of the screen.) The volume slider is at the bottom of this area, and the left/right balance switch is on the left.

One option I didn't make use of in 'Fuck The Bees' is the option to vary the volume of the track over the course of time. To do this, click on the little triangle next to the headphones and megaphone in the area where it says 'Upright Jazz Bass' or whatever on the left end of the track. Another area will appear under the track with a green line showing what the volume is at each point in the track. Click on the green line to add a point to it and drag it up and down to change the volume of the track at that point.

Another tip: Sometimes when you're working with a lot of tracks at a time, or when you're deciding between different takes, it is useful to listen to just a few tracks at a time. To mute a particular track, click on the megaphone icon referred to previously. To listen to only one track, click on the headphones icon. (If you click on the headphones icon on a bunch of tracks you will hear all of those tracks and only those tracks.)

Another tip: If you drag the pointer that sets the position of the vertical red line around, it will snap to the grid in the units you selected under the diagonal ruler icon on the right end of the time ruler. However, if you click at a point on the time ruler, the pointer and red line will jump to exactly that point. Both types of behavior can be useful when you're splitting and joining.

Yet another tip: If you split a block of music (either real instrument or MIDI) and move the sections around, if you extend either of the sections of the block (by clicking on the right or left end when the 'extend' cursor is active and dragging) then whatever music were past the split will reappear.

That's all I can think of right now. I hope this has been educational!

Tags: recordings, tutorials

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