GarageBand: Needs ‘Fix Duration’ and ‘Fix Velocity’ buttons

Posted by Pierre Igot in: GarageBand
December 17th, 2004 • 5:43 am

As someone with limited experience in music making, using GarageBand to create music by trying to reproduce “musical ideas” that I might have in my head has already taught me quite a few things. One of the most important ones is probably how rhythm is so much more than just a matter of timing.

We all know that GarageBand has this very convenient “Fix Timing” button in its loop editor, which lets you make your notes snap to a predefined grid (ranging from “1/1 Note” to “1/32 Note” divisions). This is very helpful for people with limited keyboard playing skills.

More often than not, however, I find that just recording a sequence of notes approximately as I’d like them to be played and then using the “Fix Timing” button doesn’t really produce what I really want. Sometimes it’s just a matter of adjusting the grid. But other times, no matter which grid I try, after the timing has been fixed the sequence of notes still doesn’t have that rhythm that I have in my head.

And this is when I need to remember that rhythm is not just a matter of timing. There are several other aspects of how notes are played that determine how the rhythm of the sequence of notes is perceived. One obvious aspect is duration. A simple illustration of this consists of creating a sequence of identical notes played perfectly on the beat with the exact same duration, and then changing the duration of every other note to make it significantly longer or shorter than the previous/next note. It’s obvious.

The other aspect, which might be a little less obvious, is what keyboard makers call “velocity”, which is effectively a measure of how hard you hit the key on the keyboard. Velocity is also recorded by GarageBand when you play most instruments using a USB keyboard, and is indicated in the loop editor by the shade of grey used to represent the note: the darker the shade of grey, the higher the velocity. Here again, if you want to get a better sense of the impact that velocity can have on the rhythm of your sequence of notes, you can take the same sequence of identical notes and simply alter the velocity value of every other note, without changing its duration.

The problem with both duration and velocity is that, while they do have a significant impact on the perceived rhythm of your sequence of notes, GarageBand’s editor doesn’t make it particularly easy to adjust their value. In most cases, you have to do it one note at a time, which can be quite tedious and time-consuming. If you select more than one note and try to adjust the duration of the selected notes, it can have unpredictable results. Same thing with the velocity.

What we really need in GarageBand is something for duration and velocity that is as user-friendly as the “Fix Timing” button is for timing. In effect, what we need is a “Fix Duration” button and a “Fix Velocity” button.

A “Fix Duration” button would automatically fix the duration of the notes in the selection, making sure that the value is always a perfect multiple of the smallest grid division. (But we would also need a finer grid for this, with “1/64 Note” or even “1/128 Note” divisions.)

A “Fix Velocity” button would automatically adjust the velocity based on a user-defined “grid”. Right now, in GarageBand, the velocity value ranges between 0 and 127. We could have a grid that would make velocity values snap to the nearest multiple of 4 or 8 or 16 or 32, depending on what the user wants.

I don’t think it would add too much complexity to the program. But it would really be quite convenient.

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