Apple has brought its popular GarageBand music program to the Apple iPad. Here's our review of GarageBand for iPad.

GarageBand '11, part of Apple's iLife suite, is a versatile application. With it, you can create musical scores by stringing together audio loops, play and record virtual instruments, record "real" instruments plugged into your Mac, create iPhone ringtones, record and assemble podcasts, create movie soundtracks, and play and record your guitar through modelled amps and effects.

Wonderful as the Mac-based GarageBand is, however, far too many people ignore it completely, or open it once to see what all the fuss is about and never do so again. They do this because GarageBand is perceived as a musician's tool.

With GarageBand for iPad, Apple is sending a different message: yes, GarageBand is a tool for making music, but anyone - from musicians to tin-eared newbies - can use it. No talent required.

It underscores this message by abandoning the podcast, ringtone, and movie-soundtrack elements and focusing entirely on making it easy to compose music. GarageBand for iPad includes a variety of "smart" instruments that allow you to play pleasing notes, chords and beats on virtual keyboards, guitars, basses and drums without requiring that you have a lick of musical training.

That doesn't make GarageBand for iPad a toy or somehow unworthy of trained musicians. In addition to its smart instruments, this eight-track recorder includes a wide variety of virtual instruments (synthesised and sampled) that you can play and record; lets you record real instruments jacked into a compatible audio interface as well as sounds recorded with the iPad's microphone or a compatible external mic; includes modelled guitar amps and stompboxes for guitar players; offers a couple of different ways to create drum tracks; and even includes a sampler instrument that allows you to use an onscreen keyboard to play back sounds recorded with a microphone.

After spending many hours with GarageBand for iPad, my first-generation iPad, and a few music gadgets, I'm a believer. By the time you finish reading this, you may be too.

GarageBand for iPad: Making tracks

When you first launch GarageBand for iPad you see an Instruments screen where you swipe through a variety of options including Keyboard, Drums, Smart Drums, Smart Bass, Smart Keyboard, Smart Guitar, Guitar Amp, Audio Recorder and Sampler. Keyboard and Drums are instruments similar to their real-world counterparts. To play them, you tap on virtual keys or drums. Smart Drums, Smart Bass, Smart Keyboard and Smart Guitar are instruments designed so that it's much easier to hit the "right" notes by tapping chords, preprogrammed patterns, or notes limited to a particular scale.

GarageBand Instruments screen

GarageBand's Instruments screen

Guitar Amp allows you to apply amp and stompbox models to a guitar you've jacked into your iPad via a compatible interface. The Audio Recorder instrument is for recording with the iPad's microphone or a compatible external microphone (or one plugged into a compatible interface). And the Sampler is used to capture and modify sounds recorded via a microphone and play those sounds on a musical keyboard.

You start working with GarageBand by choosing an instrument. Do so and you're taken to an instrument screen. At the top of each instrument screen are standard transport controls that include Go to Beginning, Play/Stop, and Record buttons. Nearby is a Master Volume slider for adjusting GarageBand's overall volume (the iPad's Volume toggle switch serves the same purpose).

Also at the top of the screen there are Mixer and Song Settings buttons that, when tapped, produce menus that you use to control track volume and panning, echo and reverb levels, quantisation setting (designed to improve timing that moves notes to a rhythmic grid so they play on the closest chosen beat - an eighth or sixteenth note, for instance), tempo, and key.

You can also switch on a metronome and choose to have GarageBand play a four-beat count-in before you record a track.

You can choose to record by section (an eight-bar section is enabled by default though you can increase or decrease the number of bars) or, by switching on an Automatic option within the Section menu, you can record a track for as long as you like.

Find GarageBand's controls at the top of each instrument screen

Find GarageBand's controls at the top of each instrument screen

When GarageBand reaches the end of a section, it loops back to the beginning and switches from Record to Play mode so you can immediately hear what you've just recorded, except for the Drums instrument. When recording a drum track, the playhead returns to the beginning of the track and continues recording, allowing you to build up a drum track by layering sounds on top of each other (called overdubbing). This is a typical feature of real drum sequencers and it's nice to see it included in GarageBand.

Next page: Mixing and editing >>

See also:

Apple iPad 2 review

Apple GarageBand '11 review

iPad app reviews

Tablet Advisor