GarageBand Review for iPad

GarageBand iPad Screenshot 2Rating: ★★★★★

Having just reviewed NanoStudio for iPhone it seems like a good idea if I take Apple’s widely lauded music making app for a spin. Especially now that it has come to both the iPad and the iPad 2. GarageBand on the iPad is a completely different beast to the likes of NanoStudio – but in the end it is a different way to do the same thing. Make music, and enjoy yourself doing it.

Where Nanostudio is focussed on providing a comprehensive music composing suite for the budding digital musician; who feels more at home with racks of components and exotic synths, GarageBand is aimed more at those who identify with real instruments that you can hold. And it is a lot more friendly for the casual user.

The most striking thing about GarageBand (and you’ll either love this about it, or be luke warm about it like me), is that it goes as far as it can to emulate real instruments visually. Even down to strings vibrating on the on screen guitars that you strum. All of this is viewed as glorious renderings of the individual animated instrument’s playing areas on the iPad’s touch screen. And of course, they are interacted with using our fingers.

GarageBand even employs a clever technique which creates the illusion of being able to strike keyboard keys and drum surfaces with differing intensity to create different sounds. Amazing. And it really does work quite well!

Overall the User Interface, and general functionality of GarageBand is everything you’d expect from Apple and iOS. Slick, intuitive, fun and overall efficient to use.

Aesthetically I can appreciate the beautifully rendered drum kits, keyboards, amps, and various stringed instruments of GarageBand. And I get the idea behind it. Which is, quite simply : “Let’s imagine we’re playing real instruments.” And I do love the almost tactile feel of what you can do with the interface. But it’s just a bit too kitsch for me visually I am afraid.

Having said all that, GarageBand is extremely competent at helping you make music and making you sound good – even if you are not that good, yet! It also offers an amazing array of instruments, gadgets, and music making functionality that rivals most desktop packages. And even if you never record a bar of music in the app’s excellent sequencer, you can still use GarageBand to learn on, or simply enjoy playing with sounds on. In fact kids will most likely use it that way more than anything else.

Probably the best feature of GarageBand, which really makes it a music making app for everyone is the wealth of “Smart” features, which make each keyboard, bass guitar or drum kit able to help you with single finger chords, arpeggios, or easy rhythm setups to make even some of the most random plinking and plonking on the screen sound good! It’s also a great feature for kids, and also for those who lack the confidence to experiment without a safety net – and perhaps are discouraged by the sometimes flat tones of simply playing notes one fingered on an instrument.

Where as in NanoStudio you have 4 identical, but infinitely differently programmable keyboards, GarageBand offers an array of different looking keyboards, guitars and amps. Right out of the box each virtual instrument setup has a beautiful custom screen layout, and a bunch of sounds which come from the genre it is modelled on.

Each keyboard, ranging from Grand Pianos to Rock Organs to Synths, offer all the knobs and buttons you’d expect to find on each. All can also be split into dual keyboard setups so you have high and low keyboard ranges taking up half the screen each. Organs have sliders for voices. Synths have buttons and dials and LEDs. And it all looks like it is made from wood, plastic, ebony, oak, cedar or steel – just like the real deal. Likewise with the stringed instruments, drums, amps and effect boxes.

With the keyboards, guitars, bases and drums you can tap keys, hit skin, and pluck strings gently or vigorously to achieve different sounds. You can also hold strings down, bend them, or strum them and watch them vibrate. With drums you can hit the drum skin itself, or around the edge, or even go for rim shots. With keyboard controls you can bring in beautiful Hammond Organ type effects on organs, or play with high and low pass filters to get just the right techno sound you want out of a synth. It’s all simple, immediate and satisfying.

On top of that you can also plug real instruments into the iPad like, say, an electric guitar (via the appropriate connector), and then choose the kind of amp you might use with that guitar from an impressive range that GarageBand has in its repertoire. Instantly turning your iPad and GarageBand into a mobile amp and effects box. Oh, yes there are foot pedal style effects boxes as part of the package too. You can even tune your guitar using a nifty on screen meter, which listens to your notes and indicates where each string is in relation to the note it is supposed to play.

Of course all of these instruments and options are backed up by an easy to use, fully featured sequencer. So recording individual tracks from any of GarageBands’ instruments is a breeze. As is copying, cutting, pasting and resizing little phrases of music to build an entire opus in the editor of the sequencer. It’s all touch driven, and extremely well put together – as you’d expect from Apple.

As you would also expect, all of the usual sharing options are there for the musical masterpieces you compose, including a way to move an iPad project to the desktop version of GarageBand. On the iPad you have 8 tracks in the sequencer. So you can put together some fairly comprehensive jingles if you wish. But you can also just put little ideas together on the move with the iPad, which you can then flesh out on GarageBand on your Mac later if you wish.

Apple keep things simple, so that they “just work”, and work well. And for that reason you have some fairly basic options for recording sounds in GarageBand, and then applying pre-set effects to them. Which are fun. But it’s features like this that separate GarageBand and NanoStudio from one another. GarageBand’s effects are best described as the PhotoBooth of audio.

On NanoStudio, for example, you will need to put a lot more work into creating music. But you can pretty much import, export, record, re-record, re-sample or tweak anything. You can also hook instruments up to each other inside the app. Program quite complex mixing and waveform generation timers, use MIDI and so on. Which is very very daunting, but also very very versatile.

With GarageBand the whole app is a lot more limiting. But also a lot more simple. You can have 8 instruments in a track you compose, chosen from a range that will keep you happy for a long time. But any tweaking or twiddling with those instruments is limited to the controls Apple gives you. But what you can do with GarageBand, that the likes of NanoStudio can’t, is add emotion to your playing through physicality. With differing pressure on keys, or hitting the rim or the centre of drums you can add expression to your music very easily indeed.

These things are why both NanoStudio and GarageBand are so very different, whilst at the same time very similar. Because of that both serve very different audiences. Or even different moods and needs. Because whilst I personally might use NanoStudio more, I can also see reasons for having and using GarageBand myself.

Apple is about enabling, and connecting with, everyone. And that is exactly what GarageBand does. Child or adult this is simply the best mobile music making app out there which is accessible to all. Not the best overall for me personally. But I suspect I may be in the minority there.

GarageBand is also priced very aggressively for all the features of such high quality that it offers. And that is because Apple plans to shift a lot of copies. Which they will. Because GarageBand is a must have iPad app.

Highly Recommended.


  • Pressure, hold and contact location sensitive instruments.
  • Great range of Instruments.
  • Very easy to use.
  • Beautifully presented.
  • Sure to appeal to kids.


  • Perhaps too simple for serious “musos”.

$4.99 (View in iTunes)
Category: Music
Released: Mar 10, 2011
Version: 1.0
Size: 369 MB
Languages: English, Chinese, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Swedish
Seller: Apple Inc.
© 2011 Apple Inc.
Rated 4+
Requirements: Compatible with iPad. Requires iOS 4.2 or later.


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