Feature Review: GarageBand for iPad

My expectations were not particularly high when I was downloading the rather hefty 350+ MB app to my first generation iPad. After all, as a Logic user, I had been hoping for a iLogic or Logic Lite iPa  

My expectations were not particularly high while I was downloading the rather hefty 350+ MB app to my first generation iPad. After all, as a Logic user, I had been hoping for an iLogic or Logic Lite iPad app since the day the original iPad had been released. Was GarageBand for iPad, at only $4.99, going to be another musical toy or a serious tool for recording artists? Would this be a defining moment for 'touch' musicians or would it be another app I would play with for 3 days and then not return to using?

I'm happy to say that Garageband for iPad is not a toy at all! Apple have set a new benchmark for musical applications on portable touchscreen devices. In fact they have created a tool of benefit and interest to musicians and non-musicians alike within an accessible, fun and intuitive 8 track mini GarageBand interface.

Read on to find out more...

Getting Started

On my iPad 1, GarageBand took a good few seconds to launch. I suspect the newly released iPad 2 will have faster load up times. I should mention that the load times had no negative impact on my overall experience.

Once ready, you're greeted with the Instruments screen where you can choose between a number of software instruments like guitars, drums, keyboard and audio tracks designed for voice recordings, sampling and a guitar input. For new songs you need to choose an instrument to get started.

Swipe to browse through instruments

Software instruments like drums, guitar, bass, keys are also available in 'smart' versions. More on this later. Tapping on an instrument takes you to the instruments page where you can tap a key, drum, or strum a guitar, etc. In my tests over 3 days the instruments were very responsive with the added benefit of velocity sensitivity! So it's possible to strike a key harder or softer and produce a more expressive performance. This utilises the iPad's built-in accelerometer and, while some people have complained of it's inconsistency, it worked for me better than expected.

The Lotus Pond Synth

Instruments and Smart Instruments

By default a Grand Piano is loaded as the standard keyboard instrument, but tapping on the picture of the Piano reveals a pop-up where a multitude of different instruments can be selected. Note the tabs at the top of the pop-up window where you can choose between types of the instrument. A nice touch is that each instrument has its own unique face plate and controls. For example the synths typically have cut-off, resonance, etc. controls, while the organs feature drawbars. If you've used Logic or GarageBand you'll likely feel at home with some of these preset instruments. While I would prefer more control to get under the hood of each synth, that's not the point of GarageBand for iPad, and although some of the controls are limited, there's enough here to play with and at least approximate the sound you're looking to create.

Changing keyboard type

The introduction of Smart Instruments makes it easy for anyone to make music on their iPad. I'm not always a fan of 'automatic' music making features, but Smart instruments are a great idea. With Smart guitars and keyboards a simple tap will trigger a chord and the AutoPlay feature provides 4 pre-recorded patterns and I found myself using it to quickly create backing tracks. The Smart Drums even include a randomization feature to help you create a variety of rhythmic tracks to suit your project.

Smart Guitar

The Interface

Recording your instrument is a simple matter. Tap on the Record button at the top of the screen and play your chosen instrument. It's important to note that GarageBand for iPad works in 'Sections'. So tap on the Jigsaw button (top left) to choose the length of the section you wish to record. By default Section A is set to 8 bars.

Once you've recorded your performance tapping on the Arrange view button will take you to the main Arrange area. Here you can create, delete and duplicate tracks... and cut, copy, paste, move, trim MIDI and Audio regions. In fact if you've ever used iMovie you may recognize the handle bar metaphor used on the edges of regions. It almost feels like Apple have been preparing us for iPad music creation since the release of iMovie'08 on the Mac!

The Arrange area. Look familiar?

There's a lot packed into GarageBand but Apple have kept the interface uncluttered, easy on the eye and responsive. I can't stress how intuitive the interface is to get around. With a little exploring you'll find features such as Quantization for MIDI notes, metronome settings, tempo and even a selection of Loops from the Apple Loops Library. The Question Mark in the top right gives you useful tips for that particular screen - and you might be surprised to discover some extra multi-touch features in certain areas of the interface.

Some people might question the quality of recording through the built in microphone or wonder how to hook up your electric guitar to your iPad. If you have an iRig that'll work as a guitar interface, but stay tuned for the studio quality Mike and Jam from Apogee, both designed specifically for GarageBand on the iPad (but will work happily on iPhone and Mac!). Expect a full review of these two devices in the near future...

Soon to be released Apogee Mic


GarageBand for iPad does feel like the younger sibling of it's Mac relative, a musical sketch-pad rather than a full blown DAW. But it packs a punch worthy of a well-designed Apple product. The ease at which you can start laying down musical tracks is as quick, if not quicker than the Mac equivalent. There are even additions not present on the Mac version, for example, an Arpeggiator for keyboard instruments and the ability to choose a Scale so that it's not possible to play a bad note!

There are of course some limitations, such as a maximum of 8 tracks, no Piano Roll editor for MIDI performances / offline note input, no advanced audio waveform editor, no track automation, limited effects to apply on tracks, limited - but fun - effects to apply on audio recordings. Additionally at the time of writing there is no way to import your song in GarageBand format into GarageBand on the Mac, though rendering your song to audio and sending to iTunes or by email is simple. Apple is, however, planning to provide this feature via an update and this should enable you to begin a project on your iPad and continue working on it in GarageBand on your Mac.

Don't let any of these limitations put you off. What Apple have created is the next step in mobile, touchscreen music production and once you're able to work on your song directly in GarageBand and Logic, the iPad will become even more of an essential portable device for musicians. And on that note I'm going to finish off a song in Garageband for iPad... Yes, it is that much fun in a hands-on way, that I can't keep my hands off it!

What you still haven't downloaded GarageBand for iPad? What are you waiting for? Get it here!

Rounik is the Executive Editor for Ask.Audio & the macProVideo Hub. As an Apple Certified Trainer for Logic (and a self-confessed Mac fanatic) he's taught teachers, professional musicians and hobbyists how to get the best out of Apple's creative software. He has been a visiting lecturer at Bath Spa University's Teacher training pro... Read More


Great review. However, you say " at the time of writing there is no way to export your song to GarageBand format, " - this isn't correct, as you CAN export in GarageBand format. When you click "send to iTunes" it gives you a choice of either AAC or GarageBand format.
Great review Rounik. A lot was covered!

I'm curious about a few things; have you experienced much latency - i.e. can the instruments be used for performance on a professional level?

How precise is the metronome?

Does GB for iPad send or receive MIDI data?

Do any mics currently work with the app?
Rounik Sethi
Hi Steve,
Thanks. You're correct! I've amended the article to reflect that the issue is not with exporting in GB format from the iPad, but with importing this file into GB on the Mac.
Rounik Sethi
Hi Adam,

Glad you enjoyed it! To answer your questions:
- Latency: Found it to be quite acceptable... the instruments were very responsive on my iPad 1.

- Metronome: Worked well in my tests and appeared accurate.

- GB supports MIDI In via the Camera Connection Kit. But from my tests doesn't support MIDI Out.

- I don't have an "iPad compatible Mic" to test this out... but am waiting to get hold of Mike by Apogee which is designed exactly for this purpose. As soon as I get my hands on one you can expect a full in-depth review!


Rounik Sethi
I should add that any iPad compatible mic should work in Garageband for iPad.
Thank you, Rounik ;-).
Hey Rounik,
Great review! I've been playing with GB on my new iPad and just love it! I don't have a compatible audio interface yet and am really interested to see what sort of things will be released for this platform. The Jam looks cool but $99 might be out of my price range for a stand alone guitar interface. We'll see if anybody else comes out with some other I/O devices.

The only things on my wish list right now are a piano roll editor and an update for the Mac version of GB so I can open my iPad projects on my Mac.

Rounik Sethi
Thanks Ed!

The Amplitube iRig might be a good option for you. I believe IK Multimedia have also released an iRig Mic.

I agree... a Piano Roll, Audio Editor and greater ability to customise effects would be amazing. I'm sure Apple are working on it... and wouldn't be surprised if in two years most people are recording and producing music on their iPad's! It's amazing... when I think of how much I spent on a tape based (or even a fancy zip drive based) 8 track tracks 10 years ago... It's not that far off the price of an iPad!
Rounik Sethi
An update for GarageBand '11 for Mac has been released today (6.0.2) which "supports opening projects imported from GarageBand for iPad."

Anyone tried it yet?
Hi Rounik,

Did the update, and also updated to iOS 4.3.1 on the iPad. Exported from the iPad to my Mac, and opened the song up in GarageBand on my mac no problem. Nice! I went ahead and did some editing, but could not get my iPad to import the song back. I think I did everything I was supposed to first, so not sure if it's a glitch.
Rounik Sethi
Hey Adam,

I didn't think you could transfer projects from GarageBand to Mac to GB for iPad - so not sure that it's a glitch... more of a "missing feature".

If this is the case, then I'd assume Apple currently view GB for iPad as the sketch pad and GB for Mac as where you'd want to finish off your project - rather than need to transfer it back to the iPad.

Will need to check this out...
Rounik Sethi
btw, you might be interested to know this article on GB for iPad has just been published here:
Thanks, Rounik.

Yes, I just noticed that new blog post. Very interested since I'll be getting an iPad 2 soon.

I was led to believe I could import from GB on the Mac into GB for iPad from the help section of GB for iPad. The heading there says 'Import a GarageBand song:'. The song I tried to import was eight tracks - actually just one track added to the 'Curtain Call demo that comes with the app., which is seven tracks of data, with one extra track. I recorded onto that extra track.
Great review, but I think you missed a pretty big "feature", which should actually be deemed a necessity in this program, and unfortunately it detracts hugely from what is otherwise a great product, especially for $4.99.

The feature I am referring to is the ability to change time signatures. As of when I am writing this, everything I create in Garageband must be in 4/4 time. Until this oversight is addressed, I cannot take this piece of software for more than a well designed toy.
Rounik Sethi
Hi Larry,

Thanks. I see! Being able to work in other time signatures than 4/4/ would be a very welcome feature. I expect it will come in a future version or update.
Rounik, thanks for the great info and review. I'm an amateur singer/songwriter who has been wanting to do simple, but decent quality, recordings on the computer for years. Unfortunately, all the options out there, and the sometimes steep price, has always paralyzed me and stopped me from taking the plunge. Well, I just got an original iPad and discovered GB. I only just played around a bit, but it looks fantastic! Can't wait to sit down and really experiment with it.

My question after reading your review is about how GB for iPad works in 'sections.' I'm not exactly clear on that. Does that mean you can't create a song in one continuous piece from scratch? Can you elaborate a bit?

Hi Robert,

Thanks! Glad you found the review useful.

Sections are designed to make recording different parts of the song easier. e.g. splitting a song into verses and choruses and breaks.fills etc. However, you essentially disable it:

- Tap on the Section icon (looks like a piece of a puzzle)

– Tap on Section A and then make sure "Automatic" is ON.

This way you'll be able to record free-form longer parts within the limitation of a manually set up section.

Hope that helps,
Definitely. Thanks, Rounik. I was exploring with GB last night, as I see I need to get into the GB 'mindset.' I'm a video editor by trade, so I am used to editing tracks and waveforms, but there are a few aspects I need to get used to.

Thanks again.

Hi Bob,

Sure. It can take a little while to cross-over. I started off in the music world and have crossed back and forth into the Video editing world myself.

Ask away if you have any questions. Also check the other GarageBand for iPad tutorials here on The Hub. Click on the "GarageBand" category on the right column to view 'em all.

Just thought I'd contribute this to this blog's comments, since I think it's relevant.

Came across this link today:


Nice production using Garageband for iPad, Thumbjam, and iRig Mic.

This podcast led me to the link, and may be of interest as well:


Want to join the discussion?

Create an account or login to get started!