Garageband is an incredibly powerful audio production tool whether you’re creating radio-style shows or composing a musical masterpiece. The latest iteration includes the Drummer feature that was previously only available in Apple’s professional-level Logic software suite. In this guide we take a look at how you can use this excellent addition to bring a bit of rhythmic sparkle to your tracks.
See also: Garageband review
Step 1 - Meet the team - Whereas the drum options on most recording software are nothing more than kit and style lists, Drummer has an additional parameter - personality. Apple has created a collection of individual characters, or ‘virtual session player’, that each bring their own flavour to the party. To start with you only have one rock drummer, Kyle, but for a £2.99 in-app purchase you can download an additional fourteen characters who cover an expanded range of styles, including R&B, Alternative, and Songwriter. It’s definitely worth the money, as it gives you so many more options in your projects.
Step 2 - Creating a new track - Once you have all of your new drummers installed it’s time to put them to work. Create a new project and you’ll be given a choice of instruments to use. Select Drummer on the far right and Garageband will automatically set up a track and fill it with a groove from Kyle. This usually amounts to sixteen bars of the same pattern. Press Space to hear how it sounds. The metronome is also on by default, so you might want to click on the purple icon at the top to turn it off.
Step 3 - Choosing your player - Now that you’ve heard Kyle’s initial efforts you can also sample what the other players have to offer. Press Space to play the track, then while it’s going click on Kyle’s icon at the bottom of the screen. Four other players will appear, in this case Logan, Anders, Max and Jesse. Clicking on these will instantly change the drum track to their style, giving you the chance to hear the differences in real-time. To access more characters click on the bar above them reading Rock and you’ll be presented with a drop down menu for the other styles.
Step 4 - Choosing the Kit - To the left of the Drummer character icons there’s a large pane containing the various drum kits that you can use. Initially it’s set to Drum Kit>SoCal, but you can select any one on the list, again while the track is playing, to hear how it sounds. You’ll also notice that there are additional options such as Guitar, Piano, Mallet and so on in the far left column. You can actually choose these too and Garageband will play them, albeit in a fashion that isn’t exactly elegant. If you like a more avant garde feel to your music though, this might be a great place to experiment.
Step 5 - The Control Panel - To the right of the Drummer character icons is a greyed out section in which the majority of the editing tools reside. To access this you first need to click on the yellow drum track at the top of the page. Now the control panel is on and you can begin to tinker. The first thing to look at are the Presets listed on the left. As you click on each one the track will change to a variation of a pattern, with more emphasis on certain parts of the kit and differing rhythmic choices. You’ll also notice the settings in the right hand pane changing. That’s where we’ll head next.
Step 6 - Editing Patterns - The square grid with a yellow dot is the real heart of the editing features. You’ll notice that there are the words Soft, Loud, Simple, and Complex on the four sides. To change the way the drum pattern plays simply drag the yellow dot towards the elements you’d prefer. Want a complex, loud drummer? Drag the dot to the top right corner, and vice versa. The controls here are subtle enough to give you genuine control over the tone of your drummer, but so easy to use that you’ll be happy to experiment. Also, the next pane affords you even more power to hone the beat.
Step 7 - Fine Tuning - To the right of the grid there’s a graphic of a drum kit, which highlights different areas as you move the cursor over them. This allows you to select which parts of the kit you want the drummer to use. It’s deliberately restrictive to stop you creating patterns no human could play, so selecting Toms means you can’t have smashing Cymbals all the time. Above the kit are three percussion options to choose between, and all of the elements can be fine tuned via the three sliders to the right of the kit. As with the other steps make sure to play the drum track as you edit.
Step 8 - Even Finer Tuning - With the general feel and pattern of your drums set the majority of the work is done. Try creating some melodic tracks with other instruments now and see how the drums fit in. In most cases it will be fine, but lack that human randomness or flair that a real drummer has. Thankfully there are a few options to fix that. Above the Kick & Snare slider is a button marked Follow. Click this and a pop up box will appear. Now select which instrument you want the drums to follow closely. When you play back the track listen for how your drummer now pauses or pushes to match your choice.
Step 9 - Filling in the gaps - The last two editing options are the virtual dials on the far right of the panel, marked Fills and Swing. The first controls the amount of flurries and flashy hits that the drummer will introduce into his or her pattern. This is very good for adding variety into the beat and is particularly useful when used to differentiate different sections (more on that in the next step). Swing does what it says, with a jazzier laid back style of playing. To be honest it can be a heavy handed control that’s not easy to fit in with livelier styles, but a touch here and there can be interesting.
Step 10 - Creating multiple sections - To avoid the drums sounding like loops it’s best to create a few different sections in your song. To do this highlight the drum pattern and copy (Cmd+C) it, then paste (Cmd+V) the new section alongside it on the timeline. Now when you highlight the new one you can alter how the drummer plays, or even which one is active, just like you did before. As long as the same kit is selected then the tones will remain consistent, but your patterns will sound more varied and human. Also try adding one extra beat at the end of the song so your drummer’s cymbals can ring out.