GarageBand for iPad: Smart Instruments Explored

GarageBand for iPad has some useful additions over its Mac-based sibling. One of these, Smart Instruments, enables anyone, regardless of musical ability, to play an instrument. Hollin Jones explores.  

GarageBand on the iPad is a slick and powerful app for recording and programming music, and it costs next to nothing compared to a desktop DAW. Another thing it has going for it is its Smart Instruments, which have been specially developed by Apple to work with the iPad's amazing touchscreen interface. In typcal Apple style these aren't just playable with your fingers but you're able to do stuff like bending guitar and bass strings, or playing full chords as well. 

Step 1

Fire up GarageBand on your iPad and in the Instruments menu, swipe until you get to the Smart Drums. Tap on them to load them up. On the right you'll see a selection of drum elements which you can drag into the matrix in the centre. Try dragging the Kick icon into the square. 

Smart Drums

Step 2

You will notice that the matrix has four labels, one on each side. If you place a drum lower down it will be quieter and higher up, louder. Drag it to the left to make the pattern simpler and to the right to make it more complex. Try this with the Kick then drag a Snare in as well and experiment with its location. 

Making a pattern more / less complex

Step 3

Repeat with each of the drums parts and drag each one individually until you have a beat that you like. This is really easy and fun to do. To randomize the part, press the Dice icon at the bottom left of the screen. To record the part, press the Record button and GarageBand will automatically wind it to the start and record it. 

Randomize the pattern with the Dice button

Step 4

Next, choose a Smart Bass. Select a bass type from the guitar icon on the left: here we have a picked model. To have a part play automatically, flip the switch to Chords mode and choose one of the four Autoplay slots. You'll see the strings disappear, and tapping on any chord bar will play a pattern around that root note. 

Chords mode

Step 5

Switch to Notes mode and you can play any note or string by tapping on it.  The really clever part is that you can press and hold then bend a string with your finger. Try it '" it's amazing!

Bending a string in note mode

Step 6

The Smart Guitar works in much the same way, except that it's easier to play chords because of the nature of the instrument. Use Chords mode to autoplay different chords, or switch to Notes mode and press, hold and bend strings to play several notes at once. Like the bass you can change the scale by clicking on the Scale button, making it even more flexible 

Smart Guitar

Step 7

Finally try the Smart keyboard. Select a keyboard type '" here we have a Fender Rhodes '" and select an Autoplay option from the dial. The display is split horizontally into two sets of blocks so tapping the upper part will play a right hand part and a lower one will play a bass part. You can mix and match treble and bass parts. Each keyboard also has its own unique effects. With any Smart Instruments you can record the parts into the sequencer by just pressing Record '" it's that simple. 

Smart Keyboard

Whether you're a beginner or just looking for a bit of inspiration, check out what Smart Instruments have to offer. 

Hollin Jones was classically trained as a piano player but found the lure of blues and jazz too much to resist. Graduating from bands to composition then production, he relishes the chance to play anything with keys. A sometime lecturer in videographics, music production and photography post production, Hollin has been a freelance w... Read More


Thanks for the Article, Hollin!

The latest GarageBand for iPad update allows you to customize the Smart Instruments' chords. Quite a few options are available, enabling the user to employ a much more varied harmonic pallete. Once you customize the chords to your liking in one smart instrument, they become available in the others as well. A very useful upgrade!

Yes, this article was written before the update was released but I'm really enjoying the ability to customise chords now!

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