GarageBand Tips and Tricks

Apple’s GarageBand is one of the hottest new music applications in years, and it brings state-of-the-art music technology to a broader audience than ever before. It’s a fantastic tool for making music quickly and easily, and lets you do a lot using just your computer and the loops that come with the program. Other GarageBand users have those same loops on their machines, though, so if you want your songs to sound unique, you’re going to have to do a little extra work.

In this article, author Jeff Tolbert shares some of his favorite techniques for being more creative and productive in GarageBand. Many of these suggestions are taken from his 68-page electronic book, Take Control of Making Music with GarageBand, which you can purchase for $10 online. This article was written originally for Garageband 1.0, but should still be applicable to new versions.

Plan the Song

It’s fine to play around in GarageBand—dragging loops up from the browser, rearranging them so they sound cool together—but at some point you’ll want to stop and think about your goals. Are you making a soundtrack to your latest iMovie project? If so, what’s the mood of the movie or the scene? The clearer you are about your goal the smoother the process will be. You might want to make a little drawing of what you want your song to “look” like. Maybe you want it to start with a bang, then alternate between quiet sections and loud sections, and end with a longer loud part that fades out at the end (Figure 1). Or maybe it should start quietly and build slowly until the end. It’s your call. GarageBand comes with a ton of loops, so you should be able to find something that fits your goal.

sketch of a GarageBand song

Figure 1: A simple sketch of a song.

Change the Default Tempo and Key

Dare to be different! To keep your GarageBand tunes from sounding like everyone else’s, change the default tempo and key. If you listen to songs on Web sites like (, where GarageBand users upload their latest creations, you’ll notice that the vast majority of the songs are in the key of C and have a tempo of 120 beats per minute.

Even if you only change the tempo by a few beats per minute (118 instead of 120), that will be noticeable; subtle, yes, but noticeable.

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