Tutorial: How to make a new loop in GarageBand

This is a request of many GarageBand users who have moved beyond the basic loop and MIDI functionality of this program.  This is a technique we use in Level I music tech.

…click read more to start!

Let’s start by defining a few things about how GarageBand handles music regions in the arrangement pane.

Above is four color-coded loops which each have different meanings:

Green: MIDI data

Blue: Library loops

Purple: Recorded material

Orange: Music from a file (i.e. dragged in from iTunes

Green and Blue are sensitive to tempo and pitch changes, while purple and orange are not.  What we need to do is take something from purple/orange (we’ll use orange for today’s example) and change it to Blue.  It’s impossible to convert any audio file to a green MIDI loop.  Don’t even think about it because it’s just plain wrong.

First step is to identify the loop you want.  GarageBand can make loops out of any clip that is an even number of beats above 4.  (For instance, I can make a 4 beat loop, a 12 beat loop, etc.).  For the sake of the tutorial, I’m going to make a 4-beat loop out of the beginning of “Crazy” by Gnarls Barkley.

Making loops is a type of sampling, and a good rule for sampling is to start with a clean peak – no silence at the beginning.  Otherwise there will be a delay before the loop plays.

I’m going to zoom in,

turn off snap to grid (in the control menu) and drag the bottom left corner of my region until I don’t see any flatline.



After you make this edit, scoot the loop all the way to the left.

Now we’re ready to do some real work.

Zoom back out, and turn Snap to grid ON – you’ll need it on!!!!

Click the “Cycle” button and make a cycle region from the beginning to measure 2. This should snap to an even 4 beats.  The bar should jump slightly as you move it – if you are able to glide it smoothly, turn snap to grid on!!!

Now is where you use your ears.  We’re going to cut the loop from this region, so we need to make it sound exactly how we want it.  This is a real easy clip to use – it should just sound like even notes if it loops correctly.

We’re going to adjust the tempo to fit our music in the yellow loop region.  “But wait!  Won’t that make the music sound funny?”  Good question.  Actually, it won’t – since orange regions aren’t affected by tempo change, this will basically tell GBand how fast the ticks are going by in relation to the song.  Now get back to work….

Adjust the tempo to fit all 4 peaks within the 4-beat cycle we made.

Hint – the tempo isn’t 120 (select below for answer)

the answer is 124

Now that the loop sounds right, we’re going to make the incision.  Put the timeline cursor right at the “2” mark, and go to Edit -> Split (you can also do this with Apple-T).

Click somewhere else to deselect, and select the nice little 1-bar chunk.  Go to Edit -> Add to Loop Library…

This brings up the menu where you can describe all the metadata for your loop.  Being detailed here will help you find your loops in the future.  Now, here’s the test if you did it right:

Notice if it says “Loop” or “One Shot”. Does it say Loop?  Good!  Oh wait, what’s that?  You say that Loop is grayed out and you can’t click it?  Guess what?  YOU DIDN’T HAVE SNAP TO GRID ON!!!! (or it was an odd number of beats – either way hit cancel!)  If you don’t make it into a loop, it won’t get the benefits of being a loop, like sensitivity to tempo and pitch change, and well, that’s kinda the point!

Now, you should be able to search for and find your loop in the loop library.  To just look at a library of loops you made, click the menu above the library and change to “My Loops.”

Now start sampling and remixing away!  Let me know if this tutorial was helpful to you!

Author: Will Kuhn

I teach music technology to high schoolers. I do some other stuff too. @willkuhn on Twitter.

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