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When Apple rolled out iLife ’11, it touted the fact that more than 5 million folks are using GarageBand to create music, podcasts, and other types of audio, making it one of the most successful DAW (digital audio workstation) programs of all time. With this newly updated revision, there are even more reasons to really dig this maestro of a music-making app.
Perhaps the single most important new editing addition, Flex Time, has been brought over from GarageBand’s older sibling, Logic. Simply grab a part of a sampled audio track—a guitar lick or a vocal—and instantly drag it to a new position in time, with extremely smooth—and musically useful—results. It’s a study in effortless, clear interface design, and once you drag a guitar lick into place with it, you’ll instantly be hooked. GarageBand is incredibly smart about automatically grabbing the desired audio segment, and adjusting either the head or tail of the waveform based on where you click the mouse.
Among the new lessons, you can learn licks from some of rock's greatest heroes.
Accompanying this marvel is Groove Matching, which takes a selected master track—a drumbeat is a natural example—and instantly snaps other accompanying tracks into rhythmic compliance, perfect for musicians who are still honing their timing skills. Groove Matching does a great job of cleaning up uneven playing, and while it can’t fix things like being out of tune or off-pitch, it’s a perfect tool for tightening up timing with a minimum of fuss.
Guitar slingers are gonna love the seven new amp models and five fresh stompboxes, delivering a new palette of tonal options for six-string warriors. While we’ve been less than impressed with this aspect of GarageBand in past versions, these latest additions really raise the ante. In particular, the High Octane stack will instantly put you into shredder territory with tasty harmonics and a driving midrange that packs a solid punch, while on the other end, a really sweet Large Tweed Combo delivers a uniquely Fender-esque goodness for cleaner strumming. There are new flavors of fuzz, chorus, and overdrive, and combined with the distortion abilities of the overdriven amp models, you’ll be grinding away discovering new sounds until, well, the next update. Unfortunately, Apple only supports the rather pricey Apogee Gio interface for controlling the amps and stompboxes without having to grab onscreen controls, which seems a bit elitist—we’d really like to see support for less expensive control hardware.
For those learning how to make music, GarageBand ’11 builds on the excellent guitar and piano tutorials included with the last version, adding 22 new lessons (which can be downloaded—for free—directly within the GarageBand application), all designed with the novice in mind. The quality of the instructional material is excellent, but we really wish that Apple would follow this up with more regular and substantial updates. Along these same lines, GarageBand will also now evaluate your playing by tracking as you play along with lessons and showing you how you’re doing in real time. It’s like Guitar Hero with an actual instrument, and while it’s nifty, we found it a little less than stellar in tracking some of our guitar playing (and no, we’re not beginners).
The bottom line. Overall, there’s a lot to like about GarageBand ’11—it easily represents the best value in the musical-software world, and the moment you hit its creative ceiling, it’s easy to take your projects directly into Logic Express, the next step up in power.
Intel Core Duo processor, Mac OS 10.6.3 or later
Flex Time and Groove Matching are perfect for aspiring musicians. Sweet new guitar amps and effects.
MIDI remote control only works with Apogee Gio control hardware. Real-time feedback hits a few sour notes.