Introduction to Improvisation Using Apple’s GarageBand

Introduction To Improvisation Using Apple’s GarageBand

Steve Reisteter
[email protected]
Whitehall-Coplay School District

TI:ME Technology Areas Addressed:

Electronic Musical Instruments


Middle School




Macintosh Computer, Garage Band


30 Minutes

Prior Knowledge and Skills:

Need to know at least three notes on their instrument

MENC Standards Addressed:

MENC 2: Performing on instruments, alone and with others, a varied repertoire of music.
MENC 3: Improvising melodies, harmonies, and accompaniments.
MENC 7: Evaluating music and music performances.


MIDI compatible keyboard, Speakers. Optional: Microphone (computer’s internal mic may be used), Optional: Firewire breakout box, e.g., Firebox, MOTU 828 or Traveler (computer’s built-in audio may be used)


Th students will start to improvise melodies on their instruments, one note at a time, by playing along with GarageBand



1) The teacher will find an uncomplicated, rather straightforward, drum loop in 4/4 time and place it in a track.
2) On a MIDI keyboard, the teacher will record one major chord in quarter notes for one measure on a new track. If the chord the teacher has chosen is in an unfamiliar key for the students it may be transposed later.
3) If necessary, make both loops of the same length by dragging one or the other loop. When both are of the same length, click one track/loop and the shift click the other. Drag to the right so that this loop goes on and on.


4) Explain to the student(s) what improvisation is (making up music on the spot).
5) Ask the student to play a note; make sure that this note (tonic) is comfortable enough for the student to play a third and then a fifth higher than it. When the note is chosen the teacher must change the key of the loop to the comfortable student key.
6) Ask the student to improvise a melody using only one note (tonic). Encourage them to be rhythmic.
7) Ask them to play the third of the chord (don’t use that terminology with them yet; just tell them the note) and repeat step 6 using this note.
8) Ask them to improvise a melody on these two notes.
9) Repeat step 6 using the fifth of the chord.
10) Ask them to improvise a melody on these three notes.
11) Play the GarageBand sequence for them at a comfortable speed.
12) After they listen to the sequence ask the student to improvise a melody on the one note they picked in step 6 (tonic) to the GarageBand sequence. Make sure that they stay in the same tempo.
13) As their comfort level increases add the third and fifth of the chord to their improvisations.
14) Record the student(s) playing along with GarageBand on a new Real Instrument track. They may use one to three notes (depending upon their comfort level).
15) Listen to the playback. Ask the students to comment upon their own performance. After their self-evaluation, mute their first track and have them improvise onto a second new Real Instrument track.
16) Listen to the new track; compare it to the old track and have the student evaluate. For fun, play both improvised tracks at the same time.


Students should: Display a degree of comfort when improvising on at least one note both alone and with GarageBand Be able to improvise using different note values.

Follow Up:

The students could add passing tones (second and fourth notes of the scale) to their improvisations. Seventh and other extended chords may be added later.

Items to Purchase:

$0 if an Apple computer is used

When budget should be submitted:

If $0 — never!


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