Using Effects In Garageband

While GarageBand may be marketed as an entry-level program, it provides a surprising number of great sounding effects. In addition to sounding great, these effects are also very easy to work with. Let’s look at the different ways that effects can be used in your GarageBand songs.

Software Instruments

Software instruments come pre-loaded with four effects. Let’s look at them individually:

  • Compressor: Technically, compression is a form of dynamics processing that allows you to “squeeze” the dynamic range of a signal. In real-world terms, this means that the difference between the loudest part of a signal and the softest part is decreased. In effect, the soft parts of a sound get a little louder and the loud parts get a little softer. This allows the signal to pop out a little more in the mix. Compression is used most often on very dynamic signals like drums and vocals.
  • Visual EQ: Short for equalization, EQ allows you to increase or decrease the volume of certain frequency ranges in a sound. As you add tracks to your song you may find that your mix begins to sound “muddy” and undefined. You can combat this by removing unimportant frequencies from each track. As an example, removing some low-mids from a vocal track may help it sparkle a little more.
  • Master Echo: This slider controls how much signal from this track is sent through the Master Echo effect.
  • Master Reverb: This slider controls how much signal from this track is sent through the Master Reverb effect.

Real Instruments

Real instruments come pre-loaded with the same four effects as software instruments, with the addition of one new effect:

  • Noise Gate: The purpose of a noise gate is to keep out or “turn off” any sound below a certain threshold or volume level. A perfect use for a noise gate would be to eliminate pickup noise and hum from a guitar signal. When the guitarist isn’t playing the noise gate is closed, keeping the pickup hum from being heard in the mix, but as soon as the guitarist starts playing the noise gate opens up and the guitar signal is let through.

Guitar Tracks

Guitar tracks deal with effects in a different manner from software and real instruments. Not to disappoint anyone, but I’m going to save this for another article. I wouldn’t be able to do it justice in a few short sentences here.

Master Track

The signals from all of the separate tracks in GarageBand run through the effects on the master track. The master track in GarageBand comes pre-loaded with five effects that are broken into two groups:

Track Effects

The amount of each track that runs through these two effects is controlled by the master sliders on each instrument track.

  • Echo: An echo is a delayed repeat of a sound that usually occurs at a subdivision of the beat, like quarter-notes or eighth-notes.
  • Reverb: Put together enough separate echoes and what you get is reverb. Think of reverb as the ambience of a space. Generally, the bigger the space, the longer the reverb time.

Master Effects

These default to off so you’ll need to turn them on if you want to use them.

  • Visual EQ: Same as with the software and real instruments.
  • Compressor: Ditto
  • Ducker: Used most often in voice-over work, a ducker is designed to automatically reduce the volume of backing tracks while a lead track plays. This isn’t used too often in music.

Just Use The Presets

The effects in GarageBand are all very editable but I would suggest that you start by using the presets. Each effect comes with a very nice set of presets that will work well for about 90% of your needs. If you find yourself needing something that the presets aren’t giving you then I would suggest following these steps:

  • Pick a preset that is close to what you are looking for.
  • Clicking on the graphic on the left side of the effect will bring up the editing parameters for that particular effect.
  • Now start adjusting the effect parameters until you get the sound you want. Don’t be afraid to experiment because you can always go back to the preset if you really mess things up.