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In-depth Feature:  Apple Garageband
Mike Beaudet writes: .

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The heart of the matter
At the core of the program are the concepts of Real and Software instruments that can best be described as audio and MIDI tracks, respectively. Real instruments include any audio loop that you wish to include in your song or any sound recording you make into your arrangement and can include effects, including Audio Unit plug-ins. As you may expect Software instruments are all of the virtual instruments that can be controlled from within the software, including AU plugs.

To create either type of track you simply click on the add track button on the control bar and a dialog window opens with a tab for either Real or Software instruments. If you select a Real Instrument you are provided with a Column list of different categories of instruments that you may be using - this is used to quickly navigate effect preset blocks, such as British Invasion under Guitar. You can also choose to not use effects as you create your track. The internal sample rate for the Real instruments is 16bit/44k.

If you would prefer to configure your own effects block you do so by first creating a track and then opening that track’s properties and twisting open the optional "Details" view. Here you have the options available to any of the effect presets including gate, compression, equalizer, echo (delay) and reverb. You also have the option of using two user defined effects blocks between the equalizer and echo in the signal path. There are 24 options including EQ settings, bit rate reduction, amp simulation, and filters. You can also choose to insert an audio unit plug-in to one, or both, of these blocks.

Creating a Software Instrument track is very similar except that instead of selecting an effect you select an instrument from the same Column-style select list. Instruments are nicely organized into categories such as "Guitar, Bass, Keyboard & Piano" and several basic styles are represented. A nice touch is that once you’ve selected an instrument you'll see a representative icon. For instance one of the bass synthesizers looks remarkably like a 303.

In addition to the default presets, which are organized by instrument type (e.g. Bass, Drum Kits, Guitars, Horns, Strings) with Software instruments you can customize your own Software instruments by expanding the Details portion of the window. With the Details window expanded you have access to the tone Generator, which includes basic tone generators (e.g. Analog Basic, Digital Stepper, Tone wheel Organ, Piano, etc) or the ability to load your own Audio Unit plug-in instruments. You also have the option of applying any of the installed effects (including AU plug-ins) that exist within the Real instrument tab. While the Software Instrument presets do include effects processing it is not possible to apply the Real Instrument presets, such as the aforementioned British Guitar.

Oddly, with both the Real and Software instruments you cannot expand Details section of the track properties and edit the tone generator or effects until after a track is created.

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