garageband

Making Just Intonation Play Along Tracks for Your Performing Ensemble (Using Tonal Energy and GarageBand)

There are a few things that would be helpful to know about my music teaching philosophy before reading this post.

1. I believe that tone production, intonation, balance and blend are central to teaching performing musicians. I prioritize them much higher than fingering technique, rhythmic precision, and even reading comprehension.

2. The way I structure my band classes starts with, is focused on, and always revisits those core ideas.

3. I have accumulated a vast variety of tools and teaching strategies to meet my goals of having superior tone quality, intonation, balance and blend. One of the most essential tools I use is the Tonal Energy Tuning app.

Tonal Energy Tuner

What is Tonal Energy? A hyper charged, power-user app for musicians that has many advanced features, including...

- Tuning drones that can be triggered polyphonically

- Feedback as to how in tune a performer is, which includes a delightful happy face to depict good or questionable intonation

- Drones and feedback can be adjusted to different temperaments

- A metronome (with more features than nearly any alternative on the App Store) that can be used separately or at the same time as the tuning drones

- Analysis tools that depict amplitude and intonation on an easy to read visual graph 

- Recording and play back practice tools for musicians to listen back to their performance

- Automated metronome pre-sets that can be sequenced 

See the video below. I will first depict the tuner playing a Bb drone, then I will show how it can model a Bb major triad all at once. Then I will turn the tuner to just intonation mode, and you will hear that the third and fifth of the chord are appropriately adjusted so that they are in tune with the Bb root. Next, the video will demonstrate how the metronome can be used in combination with these drones.

Imagine now that a student is playing a scale along with Tonal Energy. By leaving the tuner in just intonation, and centering around the key area of Bb major, every note of the scale that I touch will resonate accurately with the Bb, giving the student an accurate reference to blend into.

Developing An Inner Ear for Diatonic Intervals

Much of music is made up of scales. For a student to learn how to most accurately tune different intervals and chords, I have the drone running in the background during most of my teaching in whatever key area we are working in. I then move my finger to the correct notes of the melody to model and reinforce what good intonation would sound like. See below for an excerpt of a song my beginning students might play.

In the video below, watch as I play this song by dragging my finger along to the melody. This happens with a metronome to reinforce the beat. I like that TE has the option to speak counts out loud. In my experience, this really reinforces a concept of strong beats, weak beats, where in the measure the performer is. Other tuning apps have the counting feature as an option, but the sounds in TE sound more natural and less computerized.

Making Play Along Tracks in GarageBand

As you can imagine, I am doing a lot of dragging my finger along while students play for me. This gets tedious. I also want my students to be able to hear these pitch relationships when they practice, so I have begun recording them into play along tracks. How do I do this?

Inter-App Audio Apps and Audio Extensions in GarageBand

In the iOS GarageBand app, audio input is usually performed using either software instruments or by recording audio directly into the device with the microphone. But what you might not know is that you can also create a track that is based on the audio output of a third party audio app. If you have ever used a DAW, think of Inter-App Audio Apps and Audio Extensions like plugins. Once launched, you are kicked into a third party interface (much like using a reverb plugin from Waves or a synthesizer from Native Instruments) which then adds to or alters the sound of your overall project. In a more recent GarageBand update, Apple categorizes Inter-App Audio and Audio Extensions under the External option when you create a new track. 

Audio Extensions are effects that alter your tracks like reverbs and EQs, while Inter-App Audio captures the audio of a third party app and records it into its own track in GarageBand. You can browse the App-Store for Audio Extensions that work with GarageBand. 

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Recording an Inter-App Audio App Directly Into A GarageBand Project

Watch in the video below as I set up an Inter-App Audio App track with Tonal Energy. What I am going to do next is press record, and record my justly in tune play along of Lightly Row into my GarageBand project. I will do this using the euphonium sound. The euphonium drone is one of the roundest, darkest, and fullest sounds, while also containing a great range, so it is effective for most instruments to play along to while also modeling a rich, full, resonant sound.

Accurate Note Input with MIDI Controllers

In this video, you can really hear how sloppy the transition from one pitch to the next is when I drag my finger. Notice also that I did not play repeat notes. It is difficult to play the same pitch twice in a row without Tonal Energy changing itself to that key area. One way around these challenges this is to set up a portable MIDI keyboard with Tonal Energy. The one I have settled in is the CME X-Key with Bluetooth.

It has a sleek look, is very small, and has low key travel. It has buttons for pitch shifting and octave jumping. And Tonal Energy adapts to it in just intonation mode! Watch in the video below. As I change which chord I am playing, TE automatically snaps the third and fifth of each triad in tune, relative to the root. For my Lightly Row performance, I can now hold a Bb drone on in one hand, while playing a melody in the other.

Embellishing The Track with Other Instruments

The resulting play along track is alone pretty useful for students. Let’s make it more fun by adding a drum track.

We can make it even more fun by embellishing with bass and other instruments. I like to change up the style of these play alongs. Sometimes I don't even pre-record them, I just improvise along with my students to keep things fresh. Be careful though. These software instruments are NOT justly in tune, so too many of them can defeat the purpose. I try to combat this by having the drone be the loudest thing in the mix. Notice in this recording I have tried not to create any motion in the accompaniment that interferes with the consonant intervals in the melody, so that the listeners ears can remain focused on the drone for their reference.

Conclusion

Well, that's it! I can trigger these in rehearsal, sectional, and even share them with my students for home practice. Regular practice with tuning drones has really turned around my band's sound, and gives students the foundations for long term ear skills that will help them to HEAR what is in tune, not just respond to the commands “you're sharp!” and “you’re flat!”

Ravenscoft 275 for iOS, a Fantastic Piano App

The Ravenscoft 275 is a piano app for iOS that I just learned about. It sounds truly fantastic. I do not do any of my audio power lifting on an iPad so I am not sure the price ($35.99) is worth it.

Apps like this make me dream for a day when the iPad can run a real digital audio workstation with full plugin support. I have dumped a lot of money into Waves and Native Instruments plugins over the years and I like having them at my disposal. iOS technically does support something like audio plugins. It is called inter-app audio apps (a mouthful,I know) and it allows third party audio plugins to be run in GarageBand. The app Audiobus allows you to make third party plugin apps work with third party DAWs (and more). I did a brief video demonstrating the feature a few years back. You can watch it here.

GarageBand on Mac Now Syncs Projects with iOS

Read Cult of Mac's overview of the new GarageBand update for macOS. I think this is essentially adding the feature to the Mac version of GarageBand that Logic added a few months back. I played around with it for a few minutes last night, trying to sync a project between the Mac and iOS version of GarageBand. Unless I am missing something, this workflow runs into all of the same issues as the Logic feature that I wrote about when it was released. The process is not direct as you still have to manually prepare the file for syncing and create a duplicate copy whenever you go from Mac to iOS or iOS to Mac. And I really wish I could edit the audio on my iPad too. My iPad Pro is powerful enough!!!

Syncing a File Between Logic and GarageBand (iOS) Through iCloud - First Test

I have taken it upon myself to test out the latest updates to GarageBand on iOS and Logic on Mac. Specifically, I have been pushing this new feature where you can prepare a Logic file you have started on the Mac for use on the GarageBand app on iOS.

This feature is compelling to me because a lot of my audio editing these days requires the power tools of Logic, but also the ease of simply booting up a project and making lots of light edits. For example, when I podcast, I usually only manage 2-6 tracks, not 30+. I need Logic for the control over my plugins, quick workflows, etc… but I also need a light and efficient way to make small edits on the go. I am constantly moving around between a busy schedule of public school, private lessons, concerts, gigs, and other miscellaneous commitments. It is nearly impossible to get any editing done on a Mac alone. The iPad is the perfect platform for this. Press the wake button, launch the app, and make a couple of quick cuts. There has not been a great way to work with Logic projects on the iPad, at least until this recent feature announcement.

Testing the First Project

Here is how I ran my first test of this feature. I created a Logic file on my Mac and added some software instrument tracks and audio tracks. I tried two audio tracks and two software instrument tracks for the first test. I wanted to keep it simple for the OS to handle and simple for me to keep track of how precisely it was syncing my edits (or not). 

After recording some MIDI notes and audio into these four tracks, I went to the File Menu and selected “Share->Project to Garage and for iOS.” This act creates a GarageBand version of the file in the “GarageBand iOS” folder which is stored within the iCloud Drive folder.

File Management is Messy as Usual

Ok, so this is where things get weird. It saddens me that Apple’s iCloud Drive model continues to overcomplicate the file syncing process. In my book, Digital Organization Tips for Music Teachers, I ponder why iCloud Drive does so little to compete with file services such as Dropbox, which has been simpler, more intuitive, and more reliable since the start. The same issue I describe in my book is at play in this Logic->GarageBand workflow. 

It is still weird to me that iCloud Drive has container folders within itself that are app specific. It seems to me that this is an unwelcome abstraction for users who are accustomed to putting files in whatever folder they want. You can do this in iCloud Drive, by the way, but then the counterpart apps on iOS do not practice the syncing the same way. For example, if you sync a Keynote file from a Mac to an iPad by placing it in the “Keynote” folder, you can instantly see it when you boot up Keynote on the iPad. However, if you save it somewhere else in the iCloud Drive folder, it will not appear in the file viewer on iPad. You have to manually go looking for it by clicking the “new” button and then selecting it from within iCloud Drive. I wrote more precisely and clearly on this topic a few years back.

Things get murkier when you consider that iCloud Drive has two GarageBand folders. One for iOS and one for macOS. I get why they did this. Projects made on an iPad and shared with an iPhone are automatically saved to the iOS folder which makes that process less convoluted. And the same is true of two Macs working on the same project that was started on macOS. Mac projects have to do some prep work to get files ready for iOS so it is important to make the distinction. But since macOS is capable of this prep work, why can’t it happen automatically when the Mac version of a file is closed? And why, if iCloud is capable of syncing complex GarageBand projects, does the Mac version still try to save projects to a local folder called “GarageBand” that is stored within the “Music” folder by default? 

 

iCloud Drive still sports these strange, app specific, folders, including two segregated folders for GarageBand projects. This does not even include the local GarageBand folder that is stored within the Music folder on the computer's hard drive.

iCloud Drive still sports these strange, app specific, folders, including two segregated folders for GarageBand projects. This does not even include the local GarageBand folder that is stored within the Music folder on the computer's hard drive.

This process only gets more complicated with Logic thrown into the mix. Here is why…

Back to the Story

Ok, so I prepped my Logic file with four tracks to be worked on from an iPad and it saved it as a GarageBand project and placed it into the “iOS GarageBand” folder within my iCloud Drive. Now I go to my iPad and boot up GarageBand. Hooray! The file is already waiting for me in the file browser when I launch the app. I tap on it, and it opens, reliably! Except my two audio files have been compressed into one track. I can understand this because audio tracks take up far less processing power when they are collapsed. But what if the audio part is what I wanted to edit on my iPad? Shouldn't this be an option when I prepare the file for GarageBand? The iPad version can definetely handle more than one audio track at a time.

Next, I fool around with this project on iPad for a bit, adding audio effects to the vocal track I recorded. In this case, I am adding the effect that makes the voice sound like a monster and the audio track is just me saying “YAAAAAAAAASSSSS” over a funk beat. So my wife is now rolling her eyes from the couch. 

This is the only edit I make, because again, I am trying to keep this simple. I go back to my Mac and find the “GarageBand iOS” folder. Certainly, I can open this file right back up in Logic, right? Wrong. I double click the file and it opens in GarageBand. Fair enough, but wait, now GarageBand wants me to save the file to another location because it has to reformat it for the Mac. So I have to create a duplicate copy elsewhere? Doesn’t that sort of defeat the point of this new feature? Ok, fine. I click “Save As…” Where does GarageBand want to save the new version? The “GarageBand” folder within my “Music” folder. Seriously? Not even the “macOS GarageBand” folder in my iCloud Drive? Ok, I get it. Most users have only 5GB of iCloud space. Apple is making the right decision here. So now I have two versions and have already interacted with four different folders just to manage this one file. 

  1. The Logic file was originally stored in the “Logic” folder from within my “Music” folder.

  2. The “macOS GarageBand” that I saved the GarageBand version of that Logic file to.

  3. The “iOS GarageBand” folder that I had to send the iOS version of the file to.

  4. The local “GarageBand” folder that I am now being prompted to save my GarageBand for Mac file within.

“Sigh.” Am I done yet? Nope, because I have to open the local copy and prepare it to go back to Logic, which then offers me to save a third copy of the file. Where? In my local “Logic” folder, also located in the “Music” folder… Are you keeping up? My original Logic file was created in that folder, so now I have four copies.

I am not really sure what I expected. If GarageBand and Logic can do all of this heavy lifting, it seems some of the file management stuff could be automated. My dream scenario would have been that I could save the Logic file right to the iCloud Drive from the Mac, open it from the same location on iOS (using GarageBand) and then just seamlessly go back and fourth between the two, but who am I kidding. I guess we just aren’t there technologically. 

Conclusion

It seems like this feature is just laying the ground work for a future where either Logic exists on the iPad and can sync projects over iCloud (my iPad Pro is certainly powerful enough for it). Or for a feature much like I just described above, where the iOS never gets Logic but the two become closer and closer in feature parity until it doesn’t matter.

That second scenario is what happened with a lovely app Apple used to make called Aperture. Aperture was to iPhoto what Logic is to GarageBand. iPhoto and Aperture became so compatible that at one point, you could even direct both apps to edit the same photo library. Want to know what happened to Aperture? Apple discontinued it a few years back. Now we have the Photos app to replace both iPhoto and Aperture. And while I miss some of my pro photo editing tools from Aperture, photos are an area where I can get by with most of the features that are still left over in the Photos app. But Logic is NOT an application that I could get by with if it were ever dissolved into GarageBand. So lets hope Apple is not following down that same path…