Impromptu Music Day (GHD029)

Garageband Play Day On Tuesday, I met with my friend Rebecca to play with Garageband, the ubiquitous Macintosh song creation software that is now available for free from the AppStore. Rebecca, a flutist, had a few questions about how it worked, and while I wasn’t familiar with it at least I had some familiarity with this type of software.


Rebecca had a list of questions that we worked through, using a recording of some of her flute students, and then building our own new project.

  • Eliminating a mysterious drop-out from one of the recorded tracks. My guess was that it was a cut/paste issue, not a software issue. It was difficult to get an expanded waveform view from GarageBand as you can with other software.

  • “Flute players love reverb” said Rebecca. Weird GarageBand UI We hunted around for it and figured out how to work with Garageband’s odd plugin stack. The user interface for this, which is under “Smart Controls”, shows a bizarre multi-modal display consisting of an “inspector”, a “master” and a “compare” button. What the inspector shows on the left-most side of this box is dependent on whether “master” is enabled or not. “Compare” seems to be some kind of way to see how your changes are different as you goof around with the master reverb / master echo. Furthermore, the “Compare” button is disabled if “EQ” tab is showing, and if “master” is unselected, you get a different set of settings under the inspector panel that apparently apply globally…BUT WHO CAN TELL? This is a great example of how a user interface obscures the logical relation of functions through shitty information architecture (as in, not having any). Anyway, we found the settings we wanted from the weird little plugin stack when “inspector” is on and “master” is off (compare can be on or off).

  • Recording and Layering. Was it possible to record directly from Rebecca’s Zoom H2N (a nice portable 4-channel field recorder for less than $200 bucks) as she played? And then could she accompany herself? YES! Put the H2N into “Audio Interface” mode, plugging it into a USB port, then go to GarageBand preferences and select it as the audio input. The Mac CoreAudio user interface is so much better than the Windows one. Then, layering tracks was just a matter of creating a new track, pressing record, and recording while monitoring the other tracks with a pair of headphones.

  • How do other instruments work? We played with the “virtual instruments”, plugging in with a MIDI USB keyboard. Worked!

There were two interesting side effects from this help session too:

  • Another test of the Living Room Cafe concept. We had everything we needed to collaborate to make something work, and there was no lack of space. I am feeling good about the future of this private co-working space!
  • It was great to talk to Rebecca about musician collaboration. She is a classical flutist, but commented that most flute gigs consist of showing up for rehearsal a few times and then playing. She much preferred the opportunities to get together with other musicians and CREATE with them, which is wonderful to hear. She was on her way to jam with another area musician that I know, and want to get onto our podcast.
  • It was a treat to experience music made by someone who knows how to make music. When we were testing the USB MIDI keyboard, I was making random noises on it feeling like a total incompetent since I didn’t know how to play anything. It will be a challenge to overcome that sense of being “music dumb” when I start recording my music composition experiments.

Stuff Learned and GHDR Points Earned

I considered this activity as related to my Music Composition goal. Although I didn’t produce any music myself, some points were scored:

5 Personally helped someone with a past result (in this case, using music software)
3 Talked about my goal related activities with someone face to face
3 Tried something that I wasn’t sure would work (helping someone with software I wasn’t familiar with)
2 Posted here on the blog.

That’s 13 points. I am starting to think that scoring under 15 points is a reasonable amount of progress to make just to keep a project “warm”. Anything over 30 points is a major accomplishment, I think. I may have to adjust my point score system so that results are worth 50 points instead of 10 points; there really are two goal lists that should be treated separately. I will consider this in the next goaltracker design.

About this Article Series

For my 2016 Groundhog Day Resolutions, I'm challenging myself to make something goal-related every day from February 2nd through December 12. All the related posts (and more!) are gathered on the Challenge Page.