Recording Your Practice Sessions with GarageBand

There is nothing to improve your playing like recording and listening to yourself. (Sometimes, you may need chocolate after the fact but you have to do it if you want to get better! Or instead of the chocolate, see this post from The Bulletproof Musician: How to Listen to a Recording of Yourself Without Getting Depressed

There are plenty of apps available to help you record yourself. Including the Voice Memos app that comes on your phone. However, I believe that GarageBand is one of the better tools for the job.

First, you can easily record multiple lines in the same recording. It’s nice to see visually that one recording is a bit faster or louder or softer or whatever it is that you are fundamentally working towards on a particular piece.

I'm faster on the latest recording. (The one above is muted currently)

I’m faster on the latest recording.

Second, it’s great fun and really helpful to record an accompaniment to play against. You could absolutely ask your accompanist if you could record them and use that for practicing but I like to pull the piece apart and record the piano part myself (I usually do this on bassoon, not piano. My piano playing is really great for Hot Cross Buns. Not so much for the Saint-Saëns Sonata. Though, if you are a piano player, you can attach a MIDI keyboard through the camera connection kit or use the on-screen keyboard.)
Recording the accompaniment helps me learn the piece more thoroughly in terms of both chords and what is happening while I’m playing. I definitely listen to others playing the music if it’s available but that extra learning by doing is something that I really like.

Liven up your scales with some Bebop drums.

Liven up your scales with some Bebop drums.

Other reasons to use GarageBand in your practice sessions are:

  • The ability to use drum loops to play scales or improvisations against.
  • iCloud syncing, record your piece on one iOS device but listen to it on another. (I tend to use the iPad to record but I like being able to review the recording anywhere.)
  • Recording composition ideas using live or software instruments.
  • Sharing your song to a variety of places including SoundCloud. (Your students could easily send a recording to you through the mail though it’s not possible to share to someone else’s device through iCloud or to DropBox.
  • Importing and playing against a song from iTunes as long as it is not protected.
iCloud syncing on the iPad

iCloud syncing on the iPad

Limitations of GarageBand especially in the context of Classical Music include:

  • Only major or minor keys in loops.
  • Only 4/4, 3/4, or 6/8 time signatures.
  • Song Sections are only 8 bars by default.
  • These are not deal breakers for me because I turn the metronome off when recording since I’m usually trying to check how I’m doing on a piece and I wouldn’t have that metronome in a performance. When recording, GarageBand does give a lead-in of a measure which you can’t turn completely off but is easily ignored by waiting a silent measure. And for the song sections, you can manually change this but if you forget, it will most definitely stop recording. You could use the automatic setting for the song section as well but it will stop recording if you stop playing. I usually just set the section to a much larger measure number than I need so that I don’t have to worry about it.

    Increasing the bars in a Song Section

    Increasing the bars in a Song Section

    GarageBand is from Apple.
    It is $4.99 for the iOS version.
    This is a plus version so it will work on all of your iOS devices.
    Minimum requirements are iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, iPhone 4S, iPhone 5, iPod touch (3rd-current generation), and iPad. You’ll also need iOS 5.1 or later.

    GarageBand is also available for your Mac for $4.99.
    You can transfer a project from the Mac version to the iOS version through iTunes. However, most things don’t come through well and this is usually an exercise in frustration because the project from the computer is very likely not to open in the iOS version. There are however, some great things for guitar practice in the desktop version.