Join Garrick Chow for an in-depth discussion in this video Understand MIDI and Musical Typing, part of GarageBand Essential Training.
- [Instructor] Now let's talk about software instruments. For this chapter, I'm gonna create a new empty Song Project file, and I'll choose a Software Instrument track. And we've seen this before, but this is the default layout when you choose a Software Instrument track as your first track. So let's talk about working with software instruments in GarageBand. In order to do this, we have to talk about MIDI. As I mentioned in the previous chapter, MIDI, which stands for musical instrument digital interface, is a method for electronic instruments to communicate with each other, and with computers, and various other devices that speak the MIDI language.
MIDI instruments are often referred to as MIDI controllers, because they're used to control MIDI software, such as GarageBand. Now when you sit down and play a note on a real piano, let's say you play middle C, you're actually causing a felt hammer to strike a string in the piano, which resonates to produce a sound. When you play a MIDI keyboard, however, pressing the C triggers a sample, or recording, of the middle C that's been saved on your computer. There are no hammers or strings involved. Nothing in the controller itself creates any sounds. Now as you've already seen, GarageBand contains scores of software instruments, all of which can be played using a MIDI keyboard.
Software instruments are really just a large collection, sometimes called a bank, of individual audio files that mimic the sound of a real instrument. In some cases, a software instrument bank is comprised of samples that have been recorded from a real instrument. For example, the grand piano sound in GarageBand was made by recording the individual notes of an old grand piano, note-by-note. Other software instruments, like many of the horns and wind instruments, were made completely electronically. But the point is that when you record yourself playing a MIDI instrument in GarageBand, no audio is actually recorded. What you're really recording is a series of MIDI messages.
The MIDI message of each note tells the MIDI device, again, in this case, GarageBand, what note to play, but also sends information like how long the note was held, how hard you pressed the key, whether you were pressing a sustain pedal, and lots of other information. And when you play back your recording, GarageBand just reads the info you saved and plays the appropriate samples. The cool thing about this is that since you haven't actually recorded any audio, you can pick other instruments to play your performance after you've recorded it. For example, let's say you recorded yourself playing the Classic Electric Piano instrument we have here, and you're really happy with your performance, but a week later you decide you'd really prefer the sound of the Steinway Grand Piano.
You don't have to go back and try to recapture your performance by playing it again with a different instrument. All you have to do is select the track, and then change the instrument that plays the data. We saw how this works in a previous chapter when I showed you how you could take a software instrument drum loop and have the notes played by a piano or a guitar instead. Now in case you don't have the MIDI keyboard, GarageBand does come with on-screen music keyboards that you can find under the Window menu here. We have Keyboard and Musical Typing.
So you can also switch between the two of these with these buttons up here. Let's start here with the regular keyboard. Now really, either of these on-screen keyboards are a poor substitute for a real MIDI keyboard, but they may work in a pinch, if you need to add a single note or two here and there. The keyboard will play the sounds of whatever instrument is currently selected in your track. The neat thing here is that, depending on where you click, you get a slightly different sound. Clicking lower on the keys (piano note playing) plays the note harder, or with more velocity, as it's called in the MIDI world.
Clicking higher plays the note with a lower velocity. (piano note playing) So depending on where I click, I get different velocities. If I need to play a lower or higher note, I can drag this blue indicator here, that shows me the entire keyboard, (piano note playing) or I can click the arrows on either side. Now, if I have the space on my screen, I can also increase the size of the keyboard window. I can also make the keys larger, by dragging the lower right-hand corner down and to the right.
(piano notes playing) Again, when I play a note on a MIDI keyboard, or on the on-screen keyboard, what I'm really doing is triggering a sound file to play. The problem with playing the on-screen keyboard is that you have to play by moving your mouse and clicking at exactly the right time, and it limits you to playing only one note at a time, which might be okay, if you're just playing a snare drum part, or some other single note part. Now to make things a little bit easier, we can try switching over to the other virtual keyboard, called Musical Typing.
This displays a window that lets you play notes on your Mac's keyboard. You can see here that the letters on the keys tell you which notes they'll play. Typing an A plays a C, (piano note playing) typing a T plays an F-sharp, and so on. Now, these are laid out in such a way that they mimic an actual piano keyboard, at least as well as a computer keyboard can. Notice the black notes are all in the line of letters above the white notes. So, if I press A for a C, and I want to play a C-sharp, I press W, which is up and to the right of A, kind of like the C-sharp on a piano keyboard is up and to the right of the C.
Musical Typing is a nice feature to have, and it's definitely easier to play a melody using it than it is using the on-screen keyboard. For one thing, you can play simple melodies much easier than by click your mouse. (piano notes playing) Like the on-screen keyboard, you can click up here to choose the octave range you want to play in, but you can't stretch the window like you can with the on-screen keyboard, although there's not really a need to do that since you can only type an octave-and-a-half at a time.
Notice down here you can type Z to go an octave down, or X to go an octave up. This can be useful if you're playing a line that spans more than an octave-and-a-half. It takes a little practice, but if you press Z or X, at just the right time, you can play a seamless line. For example, I'm gonna press A-D-G, over and over again, but each time I'm going to press X after I type the G to go up an octave. (piano notes playing) Why don't we start a little bit lower, I'll press Z a couple times, (piano notes playing) here we go. (piano notes playing) So, it's not the most graceful way to play piano, but it can work for simple lines.
Just remember that you're limited by having an octave-and-a-half. One of the many other limitations of your Mac's keyboard as an instrument, is that it can't tell how hard you're hitting the keys. Now, as you saw on the on-screen keyboard, you can click the notes in different areas to change the velocity of the note. With Musical Typing, you either have to press C or V before you type the note to have it play either softer or louder, which is probably not the best way to play a passionate melody. We also have some other capabilities here, like pressing the Tab key will sustain notes, like pressing the sustain pedal on a real piano.
(piano notes playing) So, if you really practice, you might be able to wrap your brain around using your left pinky finger as your right foot. And finally, we have this top row of keys for controlling pitch and bend modulation. Pitch Bend bends the notes a full step up or down, and modulation adds vibrato, which is sort of like a fast, repetitive pitch bend, that stays within the range of the note. So, by pressing any one of these keys, I can bend its pitch by pressing 1 or 2, (piano notes playing) And we can also add up to five levels of modulation.
So, GarageBand's Musical Typing feature will work in a pinch for certain scenarios, but if you're serious about recording your music with software instruments, you really need to go out and get a real MIDI keyboard that has actual piano keys on it. They're just so much more flexible, and give you much more control, than anything either the on-screen keyboard, or Musical Typing, can offer.
- Creating a new project
- Adding tracks
- Working with loops
- Recording software instrument tracks
- Getting real sounds into your Mac
- Recording and compositing multiple tracks
- Arranging, editing, and mixing your project
- Sharing your music with others