GarageBand for iPad 2 Review: From Garth Brooks to AC/DC and Beyond
GarageBand for iPad 2 Review: From Garth Brooks to AC/DC and Beyond
Portishead
Pre-GarageBand Warm Up: The author honing his shredding.

As an avid guitar player for the last 20 years and a blogger about Apple products for the last 16, I was predictably excited when Apple announced GarageBand for iPad 2. The possibilities of capturing my musical thoughts wherever I am for all of $4.99 (plus, of course, $499 for the iPad) made the GarageBand app a must-try.

For decades, musicians have been carrying around recorders of one type or another to catch unexpected moments of musical inspiration. These days, post-digital revolution, the device of choice is a smartphone, computer and increasingly a tablet.

At the outset, I had some concerns. The app is clearly focused on making it easy for anyone to create music, but could a lowest common denominator music recording platform accommodate a serious musician?

SMART INSTRUMENTS (ALLEGEDLY):
GarageBand includes what Apple calls Smart Instruments. These are designed to let anyone create a song, -- even if they have no idea how to play an instrument. There's a Smart Guitar, Smart Keyboard, Smart Bass, and Smart Drums. Basically everything you need to create a band in a variety of genres including rock, blues, jazz and electronic.

There are different ways to control the Smart Instruments. In its easiest forum, you choose the root chord of a song you are "writing" and a Smart instrument and then GarageBand will automatically choose chords that naturally fit. For instance, if you choose a G as the tonic chord, GarageBand will recommend the subdominant C and the dominant D chords.

There are four styles of guitars: acoustic, classic clean, hard rock and roots rock -- that might be analogous to, say, Garth Brooks, John Mayer, AC/DC, and Lynyrd Skynyrd, respectively.

The other way to control a Smart Instrument is using the autoplay feature. The guitar, bass and keyboards have four patterns to choose from. The patterns are a starting place, but how you put them together and the chord progression is entirely up to you. Here you could employ the Garth Brooks guitar sound one track and AC/DC's heavier sound on another or combine the two.

The Smart Drums are different in that you drop your drums into blocks from simple to complex and quiet to loud, depending how you want your drumbeat to sound. I found the Smart Drums sounded more electronic than I wanted no matter what I did to make them more acoustic sounding.

TOUCH INSTRUMENTS:
The other type of instrument included in GarageBand for iPad 2 are Touch Instruments which assume some knowledge of the music device you choose.

For instance, when you choose the guitar, GarageBand brings up a selection of amp and effects models. Using a guitar adapter (sold separately), you plug your guitar into the iPad and play. You still record your guitar into the GarageBand timeline, just like any other instrument. There are nine amp models and 10 effects to choose from when configuring your guitar tone. Here you can channel your inner Eric Clapton, Neil Young or Tony Iommi.

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Rock A La Carte: GarageBand's amplifier menu.

The keyboard choices are impressive: Grand, Electric, Soul Organ, Metal Organ, Synth Classics, FX, and more. The keyboard player has control over scale, sustain, and an Arpeggiator, just to make things interesting.

The drum section has three acoustic kits and three drum machines. If you choose a kit, you are placed behind a trap set with a kick, snare, hi-hat, two rack toms, a floor tom and two cymbals.

VOCALS & SAMPLES (THE HIDDEN GEM):
The iPad 2 has a built-in mic to sing into and track in GarageBand. There is a level display so you don't overload the channel.

The hidden gem, however, is the built-in sampler. With the sampler, you can record any sound whenever and wherever. Just load the sampler, tap start, and hit stop when you are done and get your musique concrete on.

TIMELINE:
The GarageBand for iPad 2 timeline will feel most familiar to GarageBand for Mac users as the two apps look and act very similar. The timeline is where your audio and MIDI tracks are recorded and where the back-end production takes place. Here you can add loops, effects, and adjust the mix; set track, pan, echo and reverb levels; and cut, copy or isolate a track. It's in timeline mode where hit songs will be made or broken.

DISLIKES:
My biggest peeve at this juncture (beyond the lack of a good acoustic drum sound )is that you can't share your GarageBand project from the iPad back to your Mac. It is a feature that was supposed to work, but an updated Mac app has yet to be released (though Apple says it will be released "soon").

BOTTOM LINE:
GarageBand for iPad is an excellent starting point for both novices and serious musicians alike to map out song ideas. And right now, there isn't anything on the market that can do everything GarageBand for iPad 2 can.

(.Biz guest columnist Jim Dalrymple blogs about Apple products for The Loop. You can follow him on Twitter @jdalrymple. He is also known to shred on guitar.)