Improve your piano skills with GarageBand

GarageBand's new 'How Did I Play?' feature explained

Improve your piano skills with GarageBand

One of the most overlooked components of GarageBand '09 was its set of lessons for budding pianists and guitarists.

Apple provided a bunch of high quality video lessons that enabled you to gradually improve your piano and guitar skills, mostly by playing alongside the mildly smug on-screen teacher Tim.

Live notation and multiple camera angles meant that even total novices suddenly had the means to improve their talents, with time being the only cost.

GarageBand '11 more than doubles the number of basic lessons available, taking the total to 40; and along with generic 'basic' lessons for each instrument, there are also genre-specific ones, such as 'classical piano' and 'blues guitar'. As before, the lessons also happen to be free, assuming you stick to Apple's own ones rather than the 'artist' lessons supplied by the likes of Sting and Norah Jones.

But the latest GarageBand isn't only about providing more content — with the new 'How Did I Play?' feature, your prospects of improving are greatly increased. In a sense, Apple has turned this aspect of GarageBand into a kind of serious take on rhythm-action video games such as Guitar Hero and Tap Tap Revenge.

You start recording yourself playing along with the Apple teacher, and you get instant visual feedback that shows how well you're doing. Correct notes are highlighted in green, bum notes are marked red, and yellow denotes timing errors.

Once you've muddled through to the end, you're awarded a percentage score that will then be added to a progress graph with which you can track your progress over time. This way, you can find out if you're on your way to becoming the next Jools Holland/Eric Clapton, or whether you might as well wear boxing gloves.

How to learn to play the piano with GarageBand '11

01. Download some lessons

step 1

GarageBand doesn't come with many lessons preloaded; instead, you're expected to download the ones you're interested in. Go to Lesson Store, choose Basic Piano and click a couple of the Download links. Lessons are quite weighty, so they may take a while to download.

02. Get started

step 2

Ensure you've got a USB or MIDI-compatible keyboard connected to your Mac, and then click Learn to Play, select a lesson and click Choose. GarageBand will go to fullscreen mode, and the lesson will automatically start playing. Watch the entire video through.

03. Switch modes

step 3

Hold your mouse cursor over the main viewing area (where Tim was previously strutting his stuff) and you'll see the learn/play menu. Click play and part of the lesson will be loaded, along with relevant notation, ready for you to begin recording your efforts.

04. Record yourself

step 4

Initially, it's best to play along with a metronome, since it helps you keep time; therefore, click it so it lights up. Next, click the record button. You'll be counted in and can then start playing notes you learned in the lesson. When you're finished, you'll get a score.

05. Review your efforts

step 5

Drag the playback head to any point along the recording and press play, or hit [Space], to review your performance alongside the teacher's. Click My Results – the recording area is greyed out and only the teacher's performance is heard; click again to revert.

06. Track your progress

step 6

Each time you make a new full (not partial) recording, GarageBand will store the data. Click the History button in the bottom right corner and you'll see a graph that, with a little luck and a following wind, will show an upward curve as you improve over time.

07. Hear old performances

step 7

Click the High Scores button to the right of the Progress header and you'll see your efforts for the lesson, each displaying a bar that shows the portions you got right and wrong. From this screen and the previous one, you can select a lesson and click Review to load it.

08. Fire the band

step 8

Although it's lovely that Apple has you playing alongside an orchestra, all those string instruments can be distracting. Click Mixer and mute The Band to get rid of the orchestra. You can also use the volume sliders to adjust your instrument or the teacher's.

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