Exploring the GarageBand Window

Exploring the GarageBand Window

One of the many advantages of GarageBand is the simplicity of the interface. As with all the iLife applications, GarageBand uses one window as the base of operations. This window is your recording studio.

Let's take a quick tour of the GarageBand window:

  • Track headers Show the instrument icon and name to the left of each instrument track. The track headers also include a Mute button to silence a track, a Solo button to silence all other tracks, a Record Enable button (which allows you to record to a specific track), and a Lock button to protect the track and its contents from unintended changes.

  • Track Mixer Includes a Volume slider to adjust the track volume and a Pan wheel to adjust the position of the track in the left-to-right stereo field.

  • Timeline Acts as your music recording and arranging workspace. The Timeline is made up of horizontal tracks for each individual instrument. The Timeline graphically represents linear time from left to right using a Beat Ruler at the top of the window. The far-left edge of the Timeline represents the beginning of a song.

  • Zoom slider Zooms in to or out of the Timeline.

  • Add Track button Adds a new track in the Timeline.

  • Loop Browser button Opens the Loop Browser.

  • Editor button Opens the editor.

  • Transport controls Provide the standard recording and playback buttons to navigate in the Timeline, including Record, Go To Beginning, Rewind, Start/Stop Playback, Fast Forward, and Cycle.

  • Time display Shows the song's tempo and current playhead position in musical time (measures, beats, ticks) or absolute time (hours, minutes, seconds, fractions).

  • Instrument tuner Located in the same space as the time display; use it to check the tuning of any Real Instrument, including vocals.

  • Master volume slider Adjusts the output volume level of the project.

  • Level meters Indicate the output volume level of a project and include red warning lights if levels are clipping (too loud).

  • Track Info button Opens the Track Info pane.

  • Media Browser button Opens the Media Browser pane. The Media Browser is a new feature in GarageBand 3.

Window Basics

GarageBand was designed for Macintosh OS X, and the GarageBand window works the same as other OS X windows. If you're new to the Mac or to OS X, it's a good idea to know the GarageBand window basics.

You can use the Zoom, Minimize, and Close buttons to resize the window, minimize it to the Dock, or to close the window and the project. Double-clicking the title bar at the top of the GarageBand window will also minimize the window. You can use the wooden side panels, top edge, or bottom edge to drag the window to a different location on the screen. To resize the entire window, drag the resize control in the lower-right corner of the window.


If you're using a laptop or a large studio display, the Zoom button is a very useful tool to maximize the size of your workspace. Also, any time you can't see the entire window because part of it is offscreen, you can click the Zoom button to bring the entire window into view.

Now that you know how to adjust the full GarageBand window, let's play the project and take a closer look at some other features, starting with the Timeline.

Playing a Song in the Timeline

There are several ways to play a project in the Timeline. In fact, many Garage-Band features can be accessed by menu, button, or keyboard shortcut. For example, to play a project you can click the Play button in the transport controls (the mouse method), or you can press the spacebar (the keyboard method). For this exercise, you'll start with the transport control buttons located at the bottom of the GarageBand window, below the Timeline.


In the transport controls, click the Go to Beginning button to move the playhead to the beginning of the song (if it is not already there).

The Go to Beginning button is the first button on the left of the transport controls. It looks like a vertical line with an arrow pointing to the left.

Transport control buttons turn blue when they are active.


Click the Play button, located in the middle of the transport controls, to play the project. Listen to the song 1-1 Alaska Sunrise.

While the song plays, watch the playhead (vertical red line) as it moves left to right along the Timeline.

The playhead simultaneously plays whatever regions (musical parts) it scrubs across in the Timeline.


If you get a warning message that part of the song was not played, your computer may not meet the system requirements to play this song. Move the playhead to the beginning and try again. If you still get a warning message, read "Strategies for Minimizing Processor Load" (Bonus Exercises > Minimizing_Processor_Load.pdf) on the accompanying DVD.

For more information on system requirements and performance, see the introduction to this book, "Getting Started."


Click the Play button again to stop playback.

Now you'll do the same thing using keyboard shortcuts.


Press the Return, Home, or Z key to move the playhead to the beginning of the song.


If you're working on a laptop, use the Return or Z key to get to the beginning of the Timeline. On a laptop, the Home key is also the left arrow, so you need to hold down the function key first. The function key for Mac PowerBooks and MacBook Pro laptops is located in the lower-left corner of the keyboard and is labeled "fn."


Press the spacebar to begin playback.


Press the spacebar again to stop the playhead.


Press Z, or click the Go to Beginning button to move the playhead back to the beginning of the Timeline.

I composed and recorded the original version of this song for a project I edited and scored in 1988 during the wildfires in Yellowstone Park. At the time the song was called "Splendor" and was inspired by the incredible wildlife and scenery, despite the charred ground and smoky surroundings. That was two decades ago, using what now seems like ancient recording technology, an audio engineer, and a studio full of equipment. If someone told me back then that I would be able to record and mix music with a simple program on my home computer, I probably would have laughed and said something skeptical like, "We'll have flying cars and robot maids before that happens!" Of course that was before GarageBand. (I'm still waiting for the flying cars and robot maids.)

I rerecorded and arranged the song after a trip to Alaska in 2002 where I was once again inspired by the scenery and wildlife. This book includes a portion of the song recorded and arranged using GarageBand.