GarageBand ’09 review
GarageBand Learning process
When Tim plays, you can see what he’s playing reflected on the piano keyboard or fretboard at the bottom of the screen - when he places his third finger on E above middle C, for example, a blue 3 appears on the keyboard’s E key. It works similarly on the fretboard - when he fingers a chord, those frets associated with the chord gain a blue dot and the strummed strings vibrate.
When you plug a MIDI keyboard into your Mac, it becomes available to GarageBand, allowing you to play a piano sound within the lessons.
If you’re using a guitar, you tell GarageBand whether you have an electric guitar plugged into an audio interface attached to your Mac or you’re using an acoustic guitar and a microphone.
GarageBand will record it accordingly. You can switch on a metronome as well as slow down the speed of the music so it’s easier to play in time (when you adjust the tempo, Tim’s voice is muted). You can also change the sound mix, adjusting the teacher’s voice, teacher’s instrument, the band (and each instrument within the band), and the volume of your instrument.
You can also loop sections of lessons so you can repeatedly practice them.
The Artist lessons are just as beautiful to look at and offer the same kind of interactivity. The teaching ability of the artists varies—some are more thorough instructors than others. Norah Jones, for example, speaks as if she’s had formal musical training and explains the way she voices her chords by describing their position (root, first, or second position).
One Republic’s Ryan Tedder doesn’t offer this level of detail but rather shows you how he plays a particular chord. Sting assumes you know how to make more complex chords on the guitar and so simply tells you the chord names and shows you how to finger them.
Not surprisingly, none of the artists completely agree on technique so you may see them do something finger a chord, for example that contradicts something Tim has taught you.
Some of the artist lessons are offered in both Simple and Advanced versions, allowing both beginning and experienced musicians to get some enjoyment from them.
And each artist lesson includes a video of the artist speaking about the song or another subject close to their heart. (Norah Jones doesn’t touch on her song at all, for example, but rather discusses the advantage of hauling a relatively portable Wurlitzer electric piano to a gig versus the back-breaking Fender Rhodes.)
Getting you started
GarageBand’s approach to teaching piano and guitar is an intriguing one - providing enough information to have you playing a song as quickly as possible.
It’s a great approach for giving nascent players the kind of success they need to keep at it, but there are compromises as well.
Some subjects aren’t covered very deeply and, of course, there’s no one standing over you to check on what you’re doing. But depth isn’t what Learn to Play is about. Rather, it’s a starting point for learning to learn how to play.
Fortunately, you have other choices as GarageBand ’09 isn’t the only instructional game in town. You can get more in-depth computer-based lessons from iPlayMusic, iPerform3D, and eMedia Music.
And iVideosongs offers some beautifully filmed artist lessons. (I discuss some of these and other instructional methods in Learn to Play an Instrument.) Of course, there’s still no substitute for a real teacher who can give you customized assignments based on your ability.