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Chapter 26. Software Instruments (MIDI) > Recording a MIDI Track

26.5. Recording a MIDI Track

Whether your keyboard is on the screen or on your desk, virtual or physical, you use it to record in GarageBand the same way. Here's the routine:

  1. Click the track you want to fill with music.

    Remember, it must be a Software Instrument (green) track.

    If you don't already have a green track ready to record, choose Track → New Track to create one. In the New Track (Track Info) dialog box, click the Software Instrument tab, and then choose the instrument sound you want (Figure 26-3). Click OK.

  2. Turn on the metronome, if you like.

    A metronome is a steady beat clicker that's familiar to generations of musicians. By clicking away "1, 2, 3, 4! 1, 2, 3, 4!" it helps to keep you and GarageBand in sync.

    Use the Control → Metronome command, or the -U keystroke, to turn the metronome clicker on or off. (See the box on the facing page, too.)


    On the General pane of GarageBand → Preferences, you can indicate whether or not you want the metronome to play during playback, or only when you're recording.

  3. Choose a tempo for recording.

    This is a very important step. Because you're using a sequencer (recording software) instead of a tape recorder, it makes no difference how slowly you record the part. You can record at 60 beats per minute, for example, which is basically one note per second—and then play back the recording at a virtuosic "Flight of the Bumblebee" tempo (229 beats per minute, say). Your listeners will never be the wiser.

    This isn't cheating; it's exploiting the features of your music software. It's a good bet, for example, that quite a few of the pop songs you hear on the radio were recorded using precisely this trick.

    So how do you find a good tempo for recording? First, just noodle around on your keyboard. Find a speed that feels comfortable enough that the music maintains some momentum, but is still slow enough that you can make it through the part without a lot of mistakes.

    When Not to Use the Metronome

    GarageBand is perfectly capable of recording a keyboard performance without clicking away at you with its metronome. In fact, there's a very good reason you may not want the metronome turned on: if the piece you intend to play speeds up and slows down with the mood and the spirit. In those musical situations, a rigid, inflexible tempo would rob your music of all its spontaneity and feeling.

    Of course, playing without the metronome means that your sense of where the beats and measures fall won't correspond with GarageBand's. Your measures 1, 2, and 3 won't line up with the beat ruler at the top of the GarageBand window.

    That's not necessarily a bad thing. Listen to "03-Expressive Tempo," for example. (It's one of the songs on the GarageBand Examples CD—see Section 23.1.) It's a perfectly lovely piece. True, its beats and measures are all out of whack with GarageBand's sense of beats and measures. But when people listen to the music, they'll never know or care.

    Playing without the metronome does mean, however, sacrificing some very useful GarageBand features. For one thing, you may find it difficult to add another track to the same piece. It's hard to play together with a free-form, flexible-tempo track that you've already recorded.

    You lose much of the drag-and-drop region-editing flexibility described in Chapter 25, too. Remember how GarageBand regions' ends snap neatly against the underlying grid of beats and measures? If your more expressive grid doesn't align with GarageBand's, you're out of luck.

    Finally, you won't be able to adjust the rhythm of your performance using GarageBand's Align To button (Section 26.11.2).

    In more expensive recording programs (like Digital Performer, for example), you can actually teach the program to follow your own expressive tempo curve as you speed up and slow down; that is, you can make its conception of beats match what you play.

    GarageBand, however, is a much more basic program that offers no way to automate a tempo change in the course of a piece. If you're trying to record anything that's more expressive than, say, a typical pop or rap song, you may be forced to go off the grid.

    Then adjust the GarageBand tempo slider to match. Hit the Space bar to play the music you've already got in place, if any, and adjust the Tempo control (Section 23.4) during the playback until it matches the foot-tapping in your head.


    If you haven't recorded any music, one way to hear the tempo as you fiddle with the Tempo control is to turn the metronome on during playback, as described in the preceding tip. Then play back your empty song, using the clicks as your guide while you adjust the Tempo slider.

    Once you've found a good recording speed, stop playback.

  4. Position the Playhead to the spot where you want to begin recording.

    If that's the beginning, great; just press the letter Z key or the Home key. If it's in the middle of the piece, click in the beat ruler or use the keyboard shortcuts (Section 23.5) to position the Playhead there. (Most often, though, you'll want to put the Playhead a couple of measures before the recording is supposed to begin, as described in the next step.)

  5. Set up your countoff.

    It's very difficult to begin playing with the right feeling, volume, and tempo from a dead stop. That's why you always hear rock groups (and garage bands) start each other off with, "And a-one! And a-two!" That's also why most orchestras have a conductor, who gives one silent, preparatory beat of his baton before the players begin.

    GarageBand can "count you in" using either of two methods. First, it can play one measure full of beats, clicking "one, two, three, go!" at the proper tempo so you'll know when to come in. That's the purpose of the Control → Count In command. When this command has a checkmark, GarageBand will count you in with those clicks.

    If you intend to begin playing in the middle of existing music, though, you may prefer to have the music itself guide you to your entrance. This is the second method. For example, you might decide to plant the Playhead a couple of measures before the spot where you want to record. As long as doing so won't record over something that's already in your track, this is a convenient way to briefly experience the feel or groove of the music before you begin playing.

  6. Get ready to play—hands on the keyboard—and then click the red, round Record button.

    Or just press the letter R key on your Mac keyboard.

    Either way, you hear the countoff measure, if you've requested one, and then the "tape" begins to roll. Give it your best, and try to stay in sync with the metronome, if you've turned it on.

  7. When you come to the end of the section you hoped to record—it might be the entire piece, or maybe just a part of it—tap the Space bar (or click the Play button) to stop recording.

    On the screen, you'll see the new green region you recorded.

  8. Play back your recording to see how you did.

    Rewind to the spot where you started recording. If you recorded under tempo (that is, slower than you intend the playback to be), boost the Tempo slider to a better setting. (Because you recorded a stream of MIDI note information and did not record actual digital audio, you can adjust the playback tempo at any time without changing the pitch of the notes. You couldn't get an "Alvin and the Chipmunks" effect if you tried.)

    Tap the Space bar to hear your performance played back just as you recorded it.



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