Timing is important in music; in many cases, it makes the difference between a great track and a cacophony.

Most people aren't perfect when it comes to playing guitars and keyboards, no matter how much they practice.

You might be surprised that's even the case for professional musicians – what you hear on albums and singles is very rarely live-recorded output; instead, you get the end result of countless hours of studio tweaking.

In recent years, tools that once cost thousands of pounds have filtered down to the consumer level, and GarageBand provides plenty of power under the hood. Previous versions of the application enabled you to tidy timing to a certain extent, largely with forced quantising; however, that's far easier to apply to MIDI instruments and can mess up live audio such as guitars.

In GarageBand '11, Apple addressed this shortcoming with two new features that enable you to improve a multi-track live recording in less time than it takes to boil a kettle. The two new features are Groove Matching and Flex Time.

Groove Matching enables you to define a key track referred to as the 'groove track'; GarageBand analyses other tracks and aims to make their timing and rhythm conform to the groove track, but in a 'human' manner. Therefore, if your groove track is a shuffly drumbeat, the other tracks will be looser than if your groove track is a metronomic electronic dance beat.

In contrast to 'global' Groove Matching, Flex Time provides the means to amend the timing and duration of single notes by dragging parts of audio waveforms. The tutorial assumes you have a keyboard and guitar connected to your Mac.

How To - Fine-tune your timing in GarageBand

1. Set things up: Open GarageBand and select Keyboard Collection from the New Project menu. This creates a project with keyboard tracks. Open the loops browser, select All Drums and drag Club Dance Beat 50 to the timeline – a Beats track is created. Loop the sample four times.

Set things up

2. Record some keyboard: Turn on the cycle region (C) and drag the yellow bar to match the four-bar Beats content. When you record tracks, this area will loop. Select Electric Piano, hit record (or R) and record a repeating four-note loop. If you record multiple takes, click the loop and select one.

Record some keyboard

3. Record some bass: Select Smokey Clav and record a baseline with octaves (A2/A3 repeating, say). Don't worry about tight timing. If you lack a MIDI keyboard, you can record your own parts by using Musical Typing (Window > Musical Typing).

Record some bass

4. Select a groove track: Hold the mouse cursor over the left edge of the Beats track and click the star that appears. This defines the drums as the groove track. You may need to click Continue to enable GarageBand to analyse and fix the other tracks. Note: you can only define a single groove track.

Select a groove track

5. Toggle matched tracks: On selecting a groove track, you'll see that every other track now has a checkbox to its left. When checked, this means the track follows the groove track. With the keyboard tracks, play them through, uncheck the checkbox, then play again to compare them.

Toggle matched tracks

6. Custom quantise: Because Groove Matching is a form of quantising, it overrides existing settings. If you need to override, uncheck the track's checkbox, open the track editor and define a value for Quantize Note Timing. With Groove Matching on, this will display 'Groove Matching'.

Custom quantise

7. Groove-match guitars: Load the tutorial.band file from your disc. Select the Sixties Basic Blues track and uncheck the track's checkbox. Solo and play it; it's pretty bad. Now check the checkbox and play it again. As you can see, timing errors in the live guitars are fixed by Groove Matching.

Groove-match guitars

8. Use Flex Time: Mute Sixties Basic Blues but no other tracks. You'll notice Memphis Clean's guitar in bar three stops short. Double-click the waveform to open it in the editor. Click slightly to the left of the gap and drag to the right. The waveform is stretched – improving the track.

Use flex time

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First published in MacFormat Issue 229

Liked this? Then check out Improve your piano skills with GarageBand

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