GarageBand ’09 review

Unless you have an active interest in producing podcasts or creating a musical score, it’s likely you’ve opened GarageBand once and then never bothered with it again. Of all the programs that make up the iLife suite, none is more overlooked than this application. And, given its original focus, that’s not too surprising. Making music requires a skill not common in the general population of computer users. See also: GarageBand 11 review.

And so, with each version, Apple tries to explore a different angle, hoping to bring in a new audience for GarageBand. Two versions ago, with GarageBand 3, it was podcasting. In GarageBand ’08, Apple introduced Magic GarageBand, a feature that allows you to jam along with a canned band.

With GarageBand ’09, the new lure is guitar and piano lessons - nine basic lessons for budding musicians as well as a handful of optional artist lessons for learning specific songs by such well-known musicians as Norah Jones, John Fogerty, and Sting.

Veteran GarageBand users who’ve already mastered their axes aren’t left out of the mix. Guitar players now have the opportunity to play through five newly modeled amplifiers and a host of stomp box audio effects.

Players who were frustrated by Magic GarageBand’s inability to record what they noodled will be pleased to learn that recording is now part of the magic. And, regardless of who opens the application, users will discover a redesigned interface that makes existing features easier to find.

Lessons learned

The marquee feature of GarageBand ’09 is Learn to Play, the application’s basic and artist piano and guitar video lessons. GarageBand ’09 includes the first basic guitar and piano lessons.

You can obtain eight additional free lessons for each instrument by choosing the Lesson Store entry in the New Project window, selecting the Basic Lessons tab, and then clicking the Download button next to the lessons you want to download from the Internet. Artist lessons are obtained similarly, but cost $5 each.

Unfortunately, these lessons work only on Intel Macs with a dual-core processor, though the rest of GarageBand ’09 works with PowerPC-based Macs.

Each basic guitar and piano lesson is taught by “Tim,” an approachable instructor who begins with the physical layout of each instrument and, in later lessons, walks through the basics of playing the instruments.

For the piano lessons this includes left and right hand notes and fingering, sharps and flats, rhythm, major and minor chords, and scales. The guitar lessons include basic major and minor chords, major and minor barre chords, strumming, single note melodies, and power chords.

Nearly every lesson ends with a song that you’re welcome to play along with. Each lesson also includes a Play section that allows you to play along with the teacher (and record what you play).

The lessons are nicely produced, well paced, and presented in a way that you can easily zero in on exactly what you’d like to see. You can, for example, use the Mac’s number keys to switch views. In the piano lessons, nearly every view includes Tim at the top of the window and a keyboard at the bottom.

But you can switch views to see the treble clef, bass clef, grand staff (both clefs), or chords in between Tim and the keyboard. In the guitar lessons, there’s Tim above and a fretboard below with switchable views that include guitar chord boxes, chords, tablature, and notation.

Lefties can also change the orientation of the fretboard at the bottom of the screen.

You can view the instructor, instrument, and music in a variety of ways.

NEXT: GarageBand Learning process

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