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Playing keyboards

From: iPad Music Production: GarageBand

Video: Playing keyboards

Over the next couple of chapters, I'll be showing you how to play the various instruments that are available in GarageBand, and I've divided them into three categories; there are Touch instruments, Smart instruments, and Real instruments. Touch instruments are played by tapping the screen of your iPad, and they do require you to have a little bit of musical knowledge, and a sense of rhythm, at least in the case of playing the drums. Smart instruments conform through the tempo and the key of your songs, so they take a little bit less skill to play, you still need to have a little bit of musical knowledge and rhythm to play them as well. And real instruments are things like guitars or sounds out of the air that you might capture with a microphone, and we can record those with the guitar amps and the microphone recorder that's built into GarageBand.

Playing keyboards

Over the next couple of chapters, I'll be showing you how to play the various instruments that are available in GarageBand, and I've divided them into three categories; there are Touch instruments, Smart instruments, and Real instruments. Touch instruments are played by tapping the screen of your iPad, and they do require you to have a little bit of musical knowledge, and a sense of rhythm, at least in the case of playing the drums. Smart instruments conform through the tempo and the key of your songs, so they take a little bit less skill to play, you still need to have a little bit of musical knowledge and rhythm to play them as well. And real instruments are things like guitars or sounds out of the air that you might capture with a microphone, and we can record those with the guitar amps and the microphone recorder that's built into GarageBand.

In this chapter, we're going to focus on the Touch instruments, namely the Keyboard, the Drums, and the Sampler. Let's start off by taking a look at the Keyboard. The Keyboard is actually 80 different keyboards, and you can access them by tapping the name of the Keyboard you're currently on. In this case the default is Grand Piano, and you can see that this is divided into several different categories. We have Keyboards, Classics, Bass, Leads, Pads, and FX.

Some of these categories actually have multiple screens within them. If you go into a category like Leads for instance, you'll see these two dots at the bottom and you can actually swipe horizontally to open up another eight different keyboards you can play with. So among the keyboards here, you'll find some of the most popular and signature sounds throughout pop and rock history. And each of these keyboards has a different look, for instance if I select the synthesizer, you'll see an interface like this. If I go back to Keyboards and select the Organ, you'll see this. But these different looks aren't just for show; each of these keyboards has its own set of controls and sounds.

Let's start by taking a look at some of the settings that are common to almost all of the keyboards. I am going to go back to the Grand Piano. Now we've already seen the Grand Piano in action. Again you can just start playing keys to play some music. But let's take a look at some of the controls that appear above the keyboard. First, we have our octave controls. Notice that the keys are labeled; we have C2, C3, and C4 in this case; C3 being middle C. But what if I want to play a little bit lower than what's currently available on the screen? In that case, we just use the octave buttons, so I can go down 1.

Now it says -1 here, notice that C2 is shifted to the center and now I have a low C at the very far end here. You can actually keep going all the way in this case down to -4. Now you are going to get into some sounds that actually don't exist on real pianos like that. (music playing) So you probably will stay away from notes like that when playing the piano sound, but you might use them for say synthesizers. The same thing goes if you go all the way back up to the top, to +4. I have these ridiculously high piano sounds, which again might not sound too natural when you have a piano selected, but might sound okay when you're working with a synthesizer.

To get back to the default location, just tap the middle between the two arrows and it takes it back to 0, putting middle C back in the center. But again, just keep in mind you can always just tap an arrow to go up or down while you are playing. The next what you have is the Sustain switch and this mimics the sustain pedal found on regular pianos. Currently, it's in the default or off position, the lock position. So when I play, I just hear the regular sound of the Grand Piano. If I switch this to the On or Unlock position, I'll hear the sound of the sustained piano.

(music playing) Now with it in that position, it's going to continue to hold down that sustain pedal sound just as if I continue to hold down the pedal on a real piano. Another way you can work this is to press the Sustain button, notice it changes slightly in color to turn off the Sustain temporarily, that's kind of like pressing up and down on the pedal on a piano. (music playing) So I have the regular sound there, when I release, then I have the sustained. This actually works the other way too which might seem more natural if you're a piano player. Its default position is off, but as you're playing, you can work it with your left-hand maybe as a pedal.

(music playing) And hold it down when you want Sustain. So the Sustain pedal works either as a switch to at least sustain on or off or you can press down or release to mimic the action of a pedal on a piano. In the center of the controls, we have this button currently labeled Glissando and that just tells me the default behavior of what happens when I slide my finger horizontally across the keyboard. So currently, I am playing glissandos. If I tap that, it switches to Scroll. So now when I slide horizontally, it actually moves the keyboard.

And how you have this set depends on how you like to play. If you want to be able to play Glissandos, you want to lock it into position by keeping it there. If you want to be able to scroll, for instance if I were maybe playing a scale, I can slide over and get my last note. Now on some keyboards, you'll see an additional setting. If I switch to for example a Lead Synth, just choose the Simple Lead, notice it has three positions on it and this one is currently set to Pitch.

This allows me to slide my finger across the keys and play with the pitch. So horizontally, I'm playing with the pitch. If I move vertically, I start playing with the tremolo. But I can also tap that center button again to get Glissando, or switch it to Scroll. Of course, if you are working with the default pianos or organs, you're not going to have the Pitch control. That will only show up for certain synthesizers. Next, we have the Scale button. This modifies the keyboard to only play notes within a scale that you select.

This can be useful if you're not an experienced keyboard player and you want to make sure the notes you play fit into the scale of the song. For example, if I start by selecting Major, I'll only hear the major notes, in this case C major, or I could switch to say the Major Blue scale. This could also be really useful for just soloing, because all the notes you play fit into that scale, you can just sort of move your finger around, and pick some notes and they'll probably fit in with the song that you are playing.

In this case though, I'll just switch that off so I have all the keys available to me again. Now as a reminder, GarageBand is working in the key that I set for the overall song, and again, that's found under the Settings here under Key, and I currently have the default C major key selected. So be sure you have your keys selected before you start playing around with the different scales. Next, we have the Arpeggiator, and as its name might suggest, it plays automatic arpeggios for you. Basically, an arpeggio is instead of playing all the notes in a chord at once, you just play them one at a time in succession.

(music playing) So that's a basic arpeggio. What the Arpeggiator does is play those sorts of things for you automatically. If I turn that to on, I can choose things like the Note Order, the Note Rate, and the Octave Range. So if I play a middle C right now-- (music playing) What I'm hearing are octaves. Now the Octave Range sets how many octaves I hear. Currently I am hearing two octaves. (music playing) So that's the same as if I had the Arpeggiator off and I just did this. (music playing) But it's basically playing it in much better rhythm than I can.

Let me turn that back on. We can set that up to as far as four Octave Ranges. (music playing) And you can also choose the Note Order. We can choose to go from low to high. (music playing) High to low. (music playing) We can go up and down. (music playing) We can have it done randomly. (music playing) And the As Played setting is useful if you're holding down more than one key at a time, it will play the notes in the order that you press them.

(music playing) So that's the Arpeggiator. It's really good for keeping a solid rhythm going maybe with just one hand that might be more difficult to play especially on the iPad screen like this. Now we also have the Note Rate. By default, it's playing 16th note, so if I wanted something a little less frenetic, I might change it to 8th notes. (music playing) And you can choose all the different types of Note Rates here. (music playing) And so on.

Let's leave that off again for now. And the final button here on the right are the Keyboard Settings, and there are a couple of different things you can set in here. First of all, I can see I have the single row of keys selected. I can change it to having two rows of keys if I want to have more keys available to me. So you can see, I have middle C here, and I have higher keys up here on the second row of keys. Personally, I find it kind of difficult to play like this anyway, so I usually prefer just having one row of keys. Now if you're playing a relatively simple melody and you're having trouble hitting the keys, you can make the keys fatter, so they're easy to hit, but that also gives you fewer keys to play.

We can also make the keys really thin, so we have more keys to play, but again I find it very difficult to be accurate with the keys this narrow. So let's switch it back to the default. Also found here under the Keyboard Settings are the Velocity controls. Velocity is the term for how hard you're hitting the keys. Now because the iPad is just basically a flat slab, there is no actual keys to press. So unlike a traditional keyboard or even a MIDI keyboard, there is nothing into the sense how hard you're hitting a physical key. Instead, the iPad uses its internal velocity sensor and it can tell just by how much it shakes how hard you're hitting the keys.

So I can play lightly or I can tap harder for a louder note. Now if you want a little bit more control over the Velocity, you can turn the Velocity controls on, that puts this slider bar here on the left-hand side. So this slider allows you to control the minimum and maximum velocity sensitivity of the iPad. Right now, it's at its default state, but if I wanted the highest velocity, I can just move this slider all the way to the top, so both of them are right here at the top. That's going to give me the loudest sound, regardless of how lightly I am tapping on the keyboard, or I can drag them both down, and it's going to give me the quietest sound no matter how hard I tap on the keyboard.

But of course, if I want it somewhere in the middle, I can just use two fingers and spread both of those out, so it's got the widest dynamic range. So you can choose to have that Velocity slider On or Off using these Keyboard Controls. If you adjust the Velocity a lot, you'll probably want it On. Now the last setting in here is Key Controls. This basically determines whether this button in the middle appears here. So if I were to turn that Off, you can see it disappears. So if for instance, you always want a horizontal sliding motion to produce a glissando rather than sliding the keyboard around, you can just set it to Glissando, turn it Off, and that way you don't have to worry about it anymore. You won't accidentally bump that button.

It will always be Glissando when I drag my finger across the keys. But of course you can always come back in here, and turn it back On if you want to switch it to the other behaviors. All right, so those are controls you'll find in common for pretty much all of the keyboards. Now again, some of those keyboards will have control specific to the type of sound they create. For example, if I switch to the Rock Organ again, you'll find things like the drawbars that you'll find on traditional organs to control the sound of the chorus, you've got the switches for Percussion, Chorus and Distortion. There is even a Rotation bar here to adjust the speed of the little virtually rotating speaker inside here.

So if I played a chord, I could speed that up, or slow it down. But you can see we also have the same controls that we saw on the Grand Piano, Octave Controls, Glissando, Scale, and so on. We don't have a sustain pedal because organs don't have sustain pedals. If I switch to a Synthesizer, we'll find a lot of standard controls that you'll find on regular synthesizers. They'll always usually have a Pitch and Modulation wheel to adjust pitch, and the modulation.

This particular one has the Velocity slider, again, but you can turn that On and Off if you want to over here. And most of the synths will also have dials for things like cut off, resonance, and attack, and release. Now the circular dials are controlled just by putting your finger on them and just dragging up and down. You can also do a rotating motion around them if you prefer, but I find it easier to just go up and down on these circular dials. And just in case these circular knobs aren't behaving the way you expect them to, you can go into your GarageBand settings, you'll have to go into System Settings, find GarageBand, and here you can choose Knob Gestures.

And currently, they're set to Automatic, but if I tap that, I can choose Linear or Circular. With Automatic set, they'll work both ways. If I tap on a button, start dragging up and down, it will go up and down, if I tap on a button, start moving it around in a circular fashion, it will work that way as well. But you can lock it into one or the other if you prefer. Now really the key here, especially if you don't have a lot of experience playing with synths or organs, is to just open some up and play around with their settings. Spin some of those dials. Play around with the different voices and things like that. There is really no way you can ruin the settings that are on an instrument.

If you mess up all the settings to something that just sounds horrible, just pick a different instrument, and then go back to the one you're working with and it will go back to its default settings. Now on the other hand, if you did create a sound that you really like and you want to make sure you can get it again without having to manually set it each time, tap the name of the instrument, and then tap Save. Here, you can create a name for the sound you just created, most awesome, name it whatever you like, tap Done, and you'll see this has created a new custom category here among the keyboard categories.

So anytime I need to get back to that, I can just go to Custom, select it, and it will bring up the sounds that I've programmed in. If you change your mind and it's not the great sound you think it was, you can always come back in, tap Edit, and delete it out of there, and now I can just pick one of these standard keyboards again. So those are the settings and options available to you when working with the Touch keyboard in GarageBand. Now if you are going to spend a lot of time playing keys in GarageBand, I highly suggest you pick up a physical keyboard like a MIDI controller that you can connect to the iPad.

That way, you can play actual physical keys rather than having to tap on the screen for an extended period of time. You're going to be much more accurate playing real keys. This particular keyboard connects to my iPad using a USB cable that goes through the Apple Camera Connection Kit, and that just plugs right into the dock connector of the iPad. Just about any MIDI keyboard will work though. Be sure to check out one of the other course in this series called Inputs, Mics and MIDI where I show you a variety of ways to connect keyboards to the iPad and GarageBand.

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iPad Music Production: GarageBand

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