How to Use GarageBand: Ultimate Guide for Beginners

GarageBand is one of the most accessible digital audio workstations and music creation apps. This makes it an excellent option for beginners to utilize when learning to write, record, and produce music. 

Even though GarageBand is geared for beginners and free, it still offers many tools and features you can use to create amazing music projects. If you spend some time with the app, your production skills will increase quickly. 

My name is Donovan, and I’ve been making music for most of my life. I love to write, record, and produce as often as possible, and I have years of experience working with GarageBand and other DAWs. 

This post will serve as a beginner’s guide to GarageBand. I’ll touch on all of the essential functions and features of the app to get you pointed in the right direction as you begin your musical creation journey. 

Let’s get started. 

Chapter 1: Who GarageBand is For

If you are reading this article, you will likely already have access to GarageBand and are eager to start exploring. There’s no better way to learn than to launch the app and start exploring, but it’s always a good idea to consider a few small things first. 

The first big thing to know about GarageBand is that it is only available on Apple devices. So unless you already have a MacBook, Mac, iPad, or iPhone, you’ll need to get one to use the app. It’s not available on Windows-based systems or any other formats. 

The good news is that GarageBand is free and comes preinstalled on every macOS or iOS device. You don’t even need to download it to start using the app, which is pretty sweet for beginners looking for easy access. 

Other than that initial barrier to entry, GarageBand is really designed for just about everyone. It’s straightforward to use yet also quite capable. Whether you have experience with other DAWs or not, this is a great tool to learn how to record and create music. 

GarageBand is a fantastic tool for people with at least a general interest in audio production or musicians who are just learning their instruments or how to record. It’s a very easy and effective app for people with limited experience. 

That also means it’s suitable for people of just about any age. It might be a bit too complex for younger children, but if your kid can play an instrument, they can probably figure out how to use GarageBand at a basic level. 

GarageBand is also good for any musician or producer on a budget who doesn’t want to or isn’t capable of buying a more in-depth DAW or audio production app. The fact that GarageBand is free is a big win for many people. 

On the other side, there are better options than GarageBand for professional musicians and producers. You can’t really make professional-level recordings with the app, so if that’s your goal, you will need another option. 

But for everyone else, GarageBand is an awesome music-making tool to start exploring. It’s one of the most straightforward audio production tools from a user-experience perspective, and learning how to use it is a breeze if you are comfortable with Apple devices. 

This post is geared toward beginners, and GarageBand is a top music and audio production app with those people in mind. It can also be a good option for more experienced musicians and producers on a budget, but it’s a pro-level option.   

Chapter 2: What GarageBand Can Do

If you are brand new to the world of music creation and audio production, you are most likely wondering what GarageBand can do. In a nutshell, it can do nearly every audio production task at a basic level. 

GarageBand essentially functions like a music recording studio for beginners. When you open the app, you’ll get several different project options you can choose from to get started. You can create a blank project or choose from several templates. 

Screenshot taken in GarageBand on my Mac

I’ll break down some of these templates in the sections below, but picking any of them will get you started with your music project. From there, the real fun begins as you start to build a recording within GarageBand. 

GarageBand is available on macOS and iOS devices, so it’s also a good option to record music with as you travel. If you have an iPhone or iPad, you can record music easily on those devices, either at home or on the move. 

When you start working within GarageBand, you’ll quickly notice how easy it is to control and work with. This is especially true if you already have experience with Apple devices and apps, as the user interface is very familiar. 

GarageBand allows you to make music either in the box or with connected microphones and instruments. If you want to create music straight away with little extra gear, you can start using the built-in software instruments and other features. 

You can also connect an audio interface to your Mac or iOS device to expand the possibilities of GarageBand. This will allow you to connect external instruments and microphones for a more authentic recording studio-like performance. 

You’ll need to spend money on extra gear like audio interfaces and microphones to make this happen. But you can quickly start making more complex projects with minimal investment while using GarageBand. 

GarageBand also has tools that can help you make beats for hip-hop and electronic songs. There are drum machines and other features that will get you started with this style of music. And they are super easy to use and take advantage of.

Overall, GarageBand is a well-rounded audio production tool capable of many things. It’s not a pro-level tool, so it has some limitations when creating full albums and commercially viable music, but it’s solid all-around other than that. 

The app also allows you to handle basic editing and mixing tasks. These come in useful as you create an audio project and give you increased control over the end result of your projects.  

Chapter 3: Setting Up a GarageBand Session

The first step to getting started with GarageBand is learning how to set up a recording session in the app. It’s pretty easy to do this, and you don’t need much instruction if you have experience with other DAWs or are familiar with Apple devices. 

Once you launch the app, you’ll see the project window appear. This is the image in the section above. If you want to start a new project, click on New Project on the upper left side of the window and then select Choose

You’ll then see a prompt asking you what type of track you want to create. You have the option to make a Software Instrument track, audio track, or virtual drummer track. Select the option you want to begin with here and then click Create. 

Screenshot taken in GarageBand on my Mac

Depending on the type of track you choose to use in your project, you’ll need to adjust the setup process accordingly. If you select Software Instruments, you can use the built-in instruments to make music. 

If you choose the Audio tracks option, you’ll need to ensure that you have a microphone or other instrument connected to your computer or iOS device, either using an audio interface or other connections. 

You can add as many tracks to your project as you want, and you can add additional ones at any time by clicking on the + icon at the top of the track window. GarageBand can support up to 255 tracks, which is many more than most people will ever use. 

Once your tracks are in place, you can begin the recording process by selecting the track you want to record and then pressing the record icon – aka the big red circle. You can press the stop icon or the space bar when you are done recording.

Keep in mind that the process for setting up a project in GarageBand is a little different on the macOS and iOS versions of the app. If you want to record a larger project, the macOS version is easier. But the iOS version is easier for traveling and utilizes touch-screen compatibility.

As you start learning to record and set up a session in GarageBand, remember that you should save your projects often to avoid losing any progress. This is an integral aspect of any DAW, and every musician and producer should always keep it in mind.   

Chapter 4: Tools and Techniques Overview

GarageBand is packed full of tools to add elements and texture to your audio projects. Knowing what these tools do and how to use them is worth doing to help you unlock the app’s full potential. 

The first tool you should know how to use and take advantage of is the Help Tool. This will give you quick insight into many of the tools, icons, and aspects of the main project window and is a solid asset for everyone. 

Once your session starts with GarageBand open, click on the Quick Help icon at the top of the window. With this icon selected, you can now scroll over other parts of the window and see a quick text window on what everything does. 

Screenshot taken from GarageBand on my Mac

The Sound Library is another great tool to explore when using GarageBand. The app has many software instruments you can use to create music without needing microphones or real instruments. 

The Sound Library icon is located on the top left of the main project window. Click on this icon and then scroll through the available sounds to see what you want to add to your project. Connecting a keyboard or MIDI controller can help you play software instruments. 

The Smart Control section of the project window is also something you should become familiar with. You can control various aspects of your project here, and the functions and tools will help with editing and mixing techniques when you are ready for that. 

The Smart Controls window can be accessed by clicking on the Mixer Icon at the top of the main project window. The controls will then appear at the bottom of the project. You can control plugins and EQ here, which are very valuable and important aspects of a project. 

Exporting a project is another important tool/technique to use if you want to share your musical creations with others. Exporting basically turns your GarageBand project into an audio file that can be easily shared. 

There are many other tools and techniques to use within GarageBand, but knowing all the ones described here is a good start. From there, you can keep using the Quick Help feature to learn more or explore things on your own. 

Chapter 5: Using Software Instruments

Using software instruments is one of the quickest ways to get rolling with music creation within GarageBand. These electric instruments are built into GarageBand, with many different captions to explore right in the app. 

You don’t need to purchase anything separately or install software instruments because they are already a part of GarageBand. All you need to do is know where to find them and how to insert them into an audio project you are working on.

If you are using a new GarageBand project, you can select Software Instrument from the track option when you launch a new project. You can choose the number of tracks you want to work with when doing this. 

If you are trying to use software instruments for the first time, only choose one or two tracks at first. Once the tracks are in place, you can access the software instruments by clicking on the icon on the top left of the screen. 

Scroll through the available instruments and choose which options you want to start using by double-clicking them. Select a track before this, and the software instrument will be assigned to it when you click it. 

Screenshot taken in GarageBand on my Mac

To hear what each selected software instrument sounds like, assign it to a track and then make sure the volume on your Mac, iPhone, or speakers is turned up. You can now play the instrument without needing to record it. 

I always like to use a keyboard or MIDI controller to play software instruments, but if you don’t have one of these, you can still play them with no problem. Simply press Command-K on the keyboard to pull up the Musical Typing window. 

The Musical Typing Window allows you to control and record software instruments without having an external keyboard or controller. You can use the keys on your computer like a musical keyboard or click on the corresponding keys on the keyboard icon. 

You can also adjust the controls and sounds of software instruments in the Smart Control area of the window. In the image above, you’ll see that you can make adjustments to the Organ that is selected here. This is a great way to tweak software instruments to your liking.  

Having some experience playing keyboards can help you better control software instruments, but it isn’t necessary. You can still quickly put these into your projects and play them using the Musical Typing window with limited musical experience.  

Chapter 6: Editing

Editing audio is critical to making music in a DAW tool like GarageBand. Once you have the basic tracks recorded, you’ll want to shape them however you see fit for your project to come together in various ways. 

Audio editing is a fairly complex task that can get really in-depth and overwhelming. But GarageBand has some tools you can use to perform basic editing functions with limited experience. 

One of the most basic functions of editing in GarageBand is splitting tracks. This essentially cuts a recorded track into several tracks so you can move them around or edit them differently. You can use the Command T function in macOS GarageBand to make this happen. 

Once you split a track, you can click and drag the clipped sections around to adjust or adjust things like EQ separately. This gives you more control over each section of your project and is a simple editing function. 

You can also slow down audio in GarageBand if you want to play around with tempo. This is easy to do on the iOS version of the app by going to the track settings and adjusting the tempo. It can have a cool effect on your projects or just provide a different feel. 

Another command you should get very familiar with during the editing process is Undo. When you press Command Z in the macOS version of GarageBand, it will undo the previous action. This can be very useful when you make an edit you didn’t like or make a mistake. 

You also need to understand that editing typically focuses on one track at a time and often one small section of a track at a time. You need to highlight each track you want and learn what a waveform looks like in the project window. 

When you double-click on a track you want to edit, it will bring up the Audio Editor window at the bottom of the screen. This window gives you more control over the track and allows for better edits overall. Take advantage of the feature during editing. 

Looping is another cool feature in GarageBand that you can use during editing. This isn’t necessarily something you will do for every project, but it does have a place and can add a lot to your projects. 

This one might seem straightforward, but utilizing copy and paste in GarageBand is a great way to start editing projects. You can press Command C to copy a track or region and Command V to paste it in a different location.  

The editing features in GarageBand are great for beginners because they aren’t highly complex. If you want more control over editing or feel like you don’t have enough tools in GarageBand, you’re probably ready to move on to a higher-level DAW. 

Chapter 7: Mixing

Mixing is another super important aspect of audio production. For all of your recorded tracks to sound good alongside one another, they need to be properly mixed. This is an art form all to itself and can take a lot of time. 

GarageBand gives you several tools to learn how to mix music. You don’t have a ton of pro-level mixing tools, but you do have everything you need to get mixing done on a basic level. And that is plenty for beginners to work with. 

Mixing vocals is a great place to start when you are new to the mixing process. When you have multiple vocal tracks, you need to mix and balance them for everything to blend properly. This can take a lot of time and experience to master. 

On a basic level, you want your lead vocals to stand out more than any backing vocals. This usually means that the leads will be at a higher volume and centered in the stereo mix while backing vocals will be quieter and possibly panned to either side. 

Adding reverb and other plugins is also part of the mixing process. Reverb is a commonly used plugin on nearly every audio track and can really affect the vocal mix in a lot of ways. Adding reverb in GarageBand is easy and effective. 

Another cool thing you can do to help with your mixing in GarageBand is adding crossfades. Doing this adds volume automation to your tracks and is a good way to add texture and blends to a mix.

You can add all of the features and plugins to any track type, not just vocals. You’ll need to mix every element of your project, including all vocals, instruments, and anything else you’ve created along the way. 

There are also more simple aspects of mixing that you can consider, like using Autotune and changing the pitch. These features skirt the line between editing and mixing, but they are other ways to alter the mix to your liking.

Remember that mixing can take time and that it should. It’s not something you want to rush through because that can reduce the quality of your project in the long run. Be patient as you mix, and you’ll learn a lot along the way.    

Chapter 8: Using Microphones and Instruments with GarageBand

If you want to use GarageBand more like a real recording studio, you’ll want to know how to connect microphones and other instruments to the app. This will expand your possibilities and allow you to make more complete recordings. 

The first step to recording with microphones and instruments is having them. You’ll need to purchase any of the gear and equipment you want to use. This can get expensive in a hurry, but you don’t need the priciest options when you are just learning. 

There are a few microphones out there that can plug right into your Mac or iPhone. These are USB-style options that are designed to be used without an interface. But you’ll likely need an audio interface to connect most instruments and mics. 

To start a new GarageBand project, you can select the Audio Tracks option described above. Connect your interface to your Mac before this, and then click on “My instrument is connected with” below the input option.

Screenshot taken from GarageBand on my Mac

This will open up the Preferences window, allowing you to select the device you want to use. Select the interface you have connected as the Input Device. This will then enable GarageBand to use the interface and the connected mics and instruments. 

You can add as many mics or instruments as your interface allows. And you can also record tracks separately if you don’t have enough inputs to record everything at once. If you’ve never done it before, it can take time to get used to this setup. 

You can also connect some instruments, like a guitar, directly to GarageBand. Sometimes you don’t need an entire interface to do this. This can be great if you are a guitar player and looking for a quick and easy way to start recording.

Connecting microphones and instruments to GarageBand will give you many more possibilities than just working with the software instruments that come with the app. And if you are a musician, it allows you to dive into the recording process and take advantage of your skills.  

You can also use more than one microphone at a time, which can be ideal if you want to record in a live band type of setting. There are also many different ways to set up and record with instruments and mics, so it’s time to start experimenting.  

Chapter 9: Tips and Tricks

Learning to use any new app can take some time, and GarageBand is no different. Luckily, there are a few tips and tricks that you can put into action to streamline the learning process and improve your skills as a producer or engineer. 

The first tip that I always tell people who are beginners is that there is no substitute for practice and experience. If you want to improve with GarageBand or any DAW, you must spend time working within it. It’s as simple as that.

Another tip I’ve utilized many times in my career is learning from others who have more experience than me. If you know someone who is a professional musician or producer, see if you can sit in on a session with them. 

Even if you don’t know any professionals, ask some friends who are familiar with GarageBand if they can provide you with any advice or instruction. This is a great way to soak in knowledge and get hands-on experience. 

Another trick is learning some basic tasks before diving into complex projects. Knowing how to delete projects or how to export stems may seem like fundamental actions, but they are essential, and you need to know how to handle them.

Taking advantage of the Project Templates and Virtual Drummer in GarageBand is another trick that can save you a lot of time and effort. A template will give you a full project already set up, so you can just plug and play your other parameters. 

The Virtual Drummers and other beat-making features in GarageBand will help your projects stay in time and sound great, and I highly recommend them to anyone who isn’t a drummer. These tools will help you stay in the groove and improve your projects. 

I also use the various guitar amps a lot in GarageBand. If you play guitar and don’t have access to an amp, this is a great way to get in some practice – even if you aren’t recording a complete project. You need a way to connect your guitar, but you’re ready to rock if you do.    

Chapter 10: Troubleshooting

Even though GarageBand is designed with beginners in mind, there is always the chance that you get stuck or frustrated with something. Typically issues are pretty easy to resolve, so don’t get too upset if you run into one. 

If you are experiencing any random issue or glitch while recording in GarageBand, closing the app and relaunching it is a quick fix for many problems. Just be sure to save your project, so you don’t lose anything you’ve created. 

You may also run into an issue of not having any sound when GarageBand is open. If a reset of the app doesn’t fix this, you can explore other troubleshooting fixes and should be able to get things up and running again quickly. 

If you are trying to connect an audio interface to your Mac and use GarageBand, you need to ensure you have selected the input source, or you might run into issues. Selecting an input source is a commonly forgotten issue that is easily resolvable. 

For any podcasters out there, you can use GarageBand to record these and add any effects or other elements. But it’s always a good idea to know the best GarageBand settings for podcasts and how you can utilize them to your advantage.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, GarageBand is only available for Apple devices. But there are alternatives for Windows that offer similar features, even though I think GarageBand is the best for beginners.

If you run into other random issues that seem weird or you just can’t figure out, you can also take advantage of the help feature in GarageBand. Simply move the cursor over the Help tab from the top of the window to access this. 

Any issues you experience within GarageBand are typically pretty easy to navigate, but sometimes you might hit a wall. If you encounter a problem that can’t be fixed, you can reach out to Apple directly or start a new project.   

Final Thoughts

If you’ve made it this far through the guide, you’re more than ready to start using GarageBand. Keep all the information above in mind as you open a new project, and remember that a little trial and error is part of the process. 

The more time you spend using GarageBand, the better you will get at it. The basics can be picked up in minutes, but more complex tasks will take time. Be patient, and you’ll be well on your way to becoming a skilled musician and producer. 

Do you have any other helpful tips, tricks, or advice for beginners who want to use GarageBand? Is there anything I missed in the chapters above? Let me know in the comments below.

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  • Mike

    Thanks Donavon, I usually watch youtube tutorials rather than reading for my online learning, but I have found this super helpful, easy to follow and a well written beginners guide. I work as a film maker so understand the track /timeline features but have not used garage band for anything other than recording instruments, and a few hours of reading and following your tips have helped me be ready to get started producing, using recorded instruments and built in features. Thanks for the links throughout the text as well, I’ll be referring back to these as I go deeper into each section.

    Thanks for the time and attention you put into this beginners guide. Much appreciated.


    • Donovan

      Thanks for reaching out, and I’m super happy to hear this guide has helped you out. It’s always great to get some feedback, and sometimes the written word still has a place when you’re learning new production skills and such. I hope you got what you needed from the guide or are at least headed in the right direction, and that’s awesome you’ve incorporated some of these skills in your film productions.