I really enjoy making music. Unfortunately, I don’t have a whole lot of instrumental talent… or the money to pursue that particular hobby.
But that doesn’t mean I can’t be making music — I just need to find other ways to do it. Which is where Garageband comes in.
With the wealth of free music loops in the app and online, I can whip up a track in a few minutes or spend hours perfecting a longer one. And because there are so many free loops available, I don’t have to spend a cent.
Want to get into making music with loops? Here’s what you’ll need to do.
Get Some Loops
Garageband comes packed with thousands of loops. Just open the loop library by clicking on the loop button in the top-right corner or pressing O on your keyboard:
Here you’ll find loops for all sorts of instruments, from drum and synth to harmonica and tambourine. Click the Instrument, Genre, or Mood buttons at the top of the library to filter the loops.
If the title of a loop is grayed out, click the download arrow to the right:
In addition to the one you clicked on, you may get a few others from the same set downloaded. For example, when I clicked to download Bar Band Basic Drumset 02, I got all of the Bar Band Basic Drumset loops.
To preview a loop, just click it. Click again to pause the playback.
Downloading Loops From Elsewhere
If you aren’t finding what you want in the Apple loops library — or you just want to try something different — there are tons of places you can download free loops. We have an entire article on where you can find royalty-free music, so start there.
After that, just run a search for “free [instrument or genre] garageband loops.” Many of the results you’ll get aren’t actually free, but with a little digging, you’ll come across sites that don’t require you to pay. Macloops gives you 10 free downloads, so that’s a good place to start. Looperman is another solid option.
If you have any other suggestions for downloading free loops, leave them in the comments below!
Add an Interesting Loop to Build Around
Let’s start making music.
Note: I’m presenting the things I like to do in order, but you can use any order you want. Maybe you want to set up your drummer first. That’s cool. This is just the way I like to do it.
When I’m making loop tracks, I like to pick an interesting loop to serve as the basis of my track. I particularly enjoy mixing African and Asian instruments with Western staples. For this track, I’ll be building around the loop called “Showdown All,” a strings loop that I think will add some sonic intensity to the track.
To start, drag your chosen loop into the main editor.
It’s only two bars, so let’s click and drag to make it a bit longer.
Now we can start adding other elements to the track.
Add a Drummer
GarageBand includes a number of drum loops, but you can get a little more versatility out of your drums if you use the Add Drummer function. (Or if you make your own drum loop with a drum machine.)
Hit the New Tracks button above your loop, and you’ll be presented with a number of options. Select Drummer.
The Drummer panel will appear on the left side of the window; from here, you can select from Garageband’s drummers (I’ve selected Max, the punk-influenced drummer, here).
You may have to download a few drummers to see the differences.
Once you’ve chosen a drummer, play around with the drummer settings in the bottom panel. Going through all of the settings would take an article in itself, so just start messing around with different options. Choose different beats from the menu on the left. Drag the dot between simple and complex, and loud and soft.
Select different parts of the kit to include in the beat, and alter their speeds.
Give the Drums Some Variety
Now that you have some drums in the track, you can start varying them up through the song structure. Click the plus at the end of the drum track to add a new segment, then make some changes.
Experiment with adding different sets of the drum kit and varying the speed. You can even drop the drums out altogether for a while, or only include the kick drum or hi-hat. With different drum sections, you can start to flesh out verses, bridges, and choruses.
Apple’s drummers don’t just do beats, either. They also throw in fills, and you can tell them how often to add fills by turning the Fill knob. Higher: more fills. Lower: less fills.
Use the swing knob to add a bit of groove to your drums, too. This really starts to build a unique feeling in your track.
Add Other Instruments
Here’s where Garageband’s massive library of loops really comes in handy. It’s time to add more instruments to spice things up. For your first few tracks, you may just want to experiment with guitar and bass — but with thousands of options, you can spend hours trying new things out.
My best advice here is to play around with as many different things as possible and see what fits your style. I really like a song to have a strong low end, for example, so I enjoy loops like Apple’s Mississippi Mud Bass tracks.
When you start adding other loops, play around with the volume of each individual loop:
This can make a big difference in how your track sounds.
Everyone has their own preferences, but when you’ve yet to figure yours out, there are a few things you can try.
Add both a low- and a high-pitched loop, for example, to give your track some depth. Try mixing instruments from different genres or moods (you can use the loop library to search by both). Change up the timing on your loops: have them drop in and out at different points or change over to a related loop to provide some variety.
You could even learn a bit about music theory to bring your loops to the next level.
And don’t forget that you can cut loops down. For my accent loop (which I’ll discuss in a moment), I cut off the last third or so:
Just click and drag from the bottom right.
Add an Accent Loop
Once you have a decent sounding track on your hands, it’s time to add something to spice it up. In my own track, I added a short section of the Cali Swag Choir vocal loop, but alternated each bar with silence, and then cut the loop down a bit shorter (until the fourth repetition, which I left at a full bar).
As with any kind of making music, this is a stylistic choice. I thought the vocals paired well with the strings, so I used them to bring up the intensity of the track near the end.
Play Around and Make Music With Loops
Making music is all about experimentation. And with thousands of loops available for free directly in Garageband (plus any of the others you can find online), you’ll have enough material to experiment for a very long time. Start developing a style, build up a few tracks, and share your music with the world!
Garageband lets you export directly to iTunes or SoundCloud from the Share menu, and you can use the same menu to export your song to your hard drive. Upload it to YouTube, play it on your website, or find another way to get it out there.
Do you make music with loops in Garageband? What are your best tips and tricks? What would you recommend for beginners? Share your thoughts in the comments below!