Garageband iPad App Review

Since the release of the original iPad last year, a whole host of applications have appeared to explore the musical potential of this touchscreen device, with varying levels of success. Now, however, Apple have stepped into the arena with an iPad version of Garageband…

What’s Appening To Garageband?

garageband sequencer

So what does it do? Well, it’s basically very similar to the Mac based program. Garageband provides a number of instruments – the five main categories being keyboard, guitar, bass, drums, sampler – on which you can perform by using the accelerometer-assisted touchscreen (the accelerometer helps out with providing a sort of velocity-sensitive performance capability).

You can record up to 8 tracks using these instruments, and arrange them in the sequencer. Each track has controls for volume, pan, effect level, mute, solo – and this is where quantisation is applied also.

Garageband iPad Instruments

ipad-garageband drums

However, there are quite a few variations under the main instrument categories. There are standard keyboard and drums, but also ‘smart’ versions – which basically provide assistance in achieving musical results. For example, the smart keyboard can be locked to a specific scale or key – set it to ‘major pentatonic’ and you’ll never hit a bum note. Even your cat can play along…

So we have the smart bass, smart guitar, smart keyboard, smart drums, a sampler, an audio recorder and even a guitar amp (requires a suitable hardware interface to plug your guitar into, of course).

The Importance of Being Usable

Before going any further, I have to say that Garageband is the best designed music app I’ve seen in terms of sheer usability. It may not have the breadth of functionality of something like Nanostudio, but it’s just so much more fun – especially for the non-musician.

It’s nicely proportioned and intuitive – there’s not too much being crammed in, but the essentials are all there; with plenty of innovation to boot. The smart drum machine is indeed clever – at the centre there is a stage area onto which you can drag various components – kick, snare, percussion – and depending on where you drop them they will play at a different rate and volume.

iPad Sounds


The keyboard instrument comes with standard piano sounds, but also a pleasing array of synth leads and pads – in fact, both sonically and in terms of accessibility, it reminds me of Propellerheads’ Reason. It also has an arpeggiator for some frantic note flinging fun.

The section based recording system might take a bit of getting used to; it obviously isn’t as flexible as a full DAW, but once you are aware of its foibles, it works quite well. For all instruments except drums, you record on the first pass, then the play returns to the start of the section so you can listen to what you just performed. For drums, there is a constant overdub mode, which enables you to keep building up layers.


The guitar sounds very pleasant, and you can even engage an autoplay function that will pick your chords in a selection of patterns – all you have to do is tell it when to change from Am to G, for example. Or if you want to play it yourself, you can do that too…ranging from acoustic to electric metal lead.

The Bottom Line

This app is currently on sale in the app store for £2.99. There’s no other way of putting this – sounding disturbingly like an Apple fanboi – but at this price, if you have an iPad, you really must get this app. It may even be worthwhile if it cost ten times as much; it’s not perfect, by any means, but it really raises the bar for iPad DAW apps… and its fun and friendly (yet great sounding) implementation may well entice many newcomers to engage their music production potential, which is always a good thing.


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