Apple GarageBand '11

GarageBand '11, the latest version of Apple's amateur musician software, builds on an already impressive, easy-to-use app, with more ways to help your band play better together, more amp and pedal styles, and better tools for teaching you how to play instruments. It was already a bargain as part of the $49 iLife 'll suite that comes free with brand-new Macs, but now that you can cherry pick suite members on the Mac App Store, you can snag GarageBand for just $14.99 as a standalone—of course, that's after you've paid the Apple tax of a high-priced computer. While it's no match for pro-level studio software such as Reason, Ableton Live, or Pro Tools, those apps cost hundreds of dollars instead of just $15, and they don't offer GarageBand '11's well-designed instrument lessons.

GarageBand has had instrument lessons in the past couple versions, but '11 adds some useful tools for keeping track of your progress and a bunch more lessons. There are now 40 lessons for piano and guitar, and for $4.99 a pop, you can download video lessons by famous performers like Sting and Norah Jones showing you how to play one of their hits. I counted 23 of these in all.
Most of the regular lessons have to be downloaded, usually at a sizable half gig or so. After a video lesson, it was my turn to play, and GarageBand kept a real-time percentage of my accuracy while playing—in sort of a Guitar Hero motivation. For this to work, my instrument had to be directly connected to the computer—it won't use the computer's mic to detect acoustic playing accuracy.
Once I made a few attempts at playing lesson songs, I could easily view my progress by clicking the history, which showed a line graph of the accuracy of my attempts. While these tools can never completely replace an experienced musician-teacher, they can get autodidacts surprisingly far. The only competition I saw in the Mac App Store cost $50 for each instrument, and though that included over 180 lessons, it didn't have the polish of GarageBand's lessons.


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