Is the GarageBand app too good for its own good?

Is the GarageBand app too good for its own good?

There is a problem with GarageBand.  Because students and teachers find it so intuitive and easy to use for making great sounds, they all too often kid themselves into thinking they ‘know GarageBand’.


And yes, many of them are able to pick up quite a bit on their own. Just by jabbing away on the screen you cannot help but make some great sounds. Whether you are dragging bits of percussion around in the Smart Drum matrix, creating edgy guitar solos complete with slides and string bends, jamming away on one of the many cool synths or putting some funky backings together using the drag and drop sample bank it almost always sounds great!  Students can spend many happy hours exploring GarageBand – on their own, in classrooms and beyond.


Teachers tend to react to this in one of two ways. Some will think that it is marvellous to see young people so actively engaged with this music making environment – others will dismiss it as being to easy and simplistic, where the music making is often facile….


Both camps make good points.  The problem is that use of this app is often, although not always,  superficial. Can we find ways of encouraging a deeper and more musical engagement without disengaging students?  This is not easy. Once teachers start laying out more prescriptive plans for using technology, students so often feel disempowered and would rather be left to their own devices.  However, this is a problem worth tackling because the potential musical benefits of engaging more deeply are considerable.


Inclusive Music have gone about solving just this problem and I’m deeply impressed with the ways in which they do this in their Hello GarageBand resource.  The aim of this resource is well focussed:


This eight session project is the first step in your iPad songwriting journey. Consider the ‘interlocking dimensions of music’ in the context of composition, improvisation and production. Beginning with drums, each lesson adds new layers to the composition, including sung lyrics, to create a composition every student will be proud of.

Here we have a resource which can be used as flexibly as possible. By combining text based tutorials with online video tutorials he provides engaging activities which can be used in many different ways:


  • a teacher can use this as personal CPD to learn the skills in order to teach themselves
  • a teacher can learn alongside the students
  • the resource can be used for student directed learning
  • or any combination of the above


This multimedia  format addresses many of the key aims of the Inclusive Music Academy, which are outline succinctly here . These are centred around engagement, inclusivity, relevance and quality.


Phil Heeley has said that “technology is changing the way young people learn and demands that we respond by changing the way we teach”  Hello GarageBand provides such a response.


The tutorials allow students to progress at their own pace. There are opportunities for students to try out ideas straightaway, by pausing the video tutorials at specific points, engaging in the creative tasks and then moving on.  
By combining text based resources with video, students and teachers are able to choose which learning approach works best for them. Some of us like to respond to written text instructions; others are more comfortable with instructions being explain via video demonstration – and all will benefit from regular and frequent opportunities to try ideas out for themselves.


A completed musical work gives the student something to aim for over the course of this activity and the supporting references to well known songs [via YouTube links] ensure that the activity is meaningful and relevant for our students.  And what is more they are learning so much about how to use GarageBand more deeply and developing real skills in making music.


To find out more, try and get along to the Inclusive Music Academy session at the forthcoming Music Education Expo  on 9th February, where Phil and Ben will be presenting an exclusive session on Hello GarageBand . They have also booked Stand i18 and you can talk to them directly over the course of the conference about the ways in which they can best help you get the most from the technology you can use in music education.

Phil Heeley
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