Plugins, Virtual Instruments

Tips and Tricks For Using the Drummer Track In Garageband

Written By : Andrew Siemon

Using the drummer track in Garageband is really quite simple.

All it really takes is for you to make a riff/melody, and then load up the drummer you think sounds the best.

It doesn’t get more sophisticated than that, really. However, through the adjustment of some parameters, you can make a big difference in the way it sounds.

For the first few months of using Garageband, I almost never used the drummer track simply because I was trying my best to figure out how to make songs right from scratch.

I would recommend for you to do the same thing. And by “make songs from scratch,” I mean, creating drum tracks on your own.

Once you’re much further along, you can throw in the drummer track if you need something quick, or replace a drummer entirely.

Garageband’s Drummer Track, whether you’re using it on your iPhone or with Mac OS, really is good, and most people won’t be able to tell the difference.

In other words, the drummer can be used as a more crucial part of your production tool-set, or it can just be a jumping-off point, so to speak.

Moreover, it’s a great way to quickly make a backing track to jam with if you’re a musician.

Before we begin…

First things first, if you want to access the drummers available in Garageband as well as the pre-sets, make sure you’ve downloaded all of the available sounds.

Sound Library (1) Drummer Track

Just click on Garageband, in the top toolbar, then Sound Library, and then “Download All Available Sounds.”

In the image above, you can see that I’ve already downloaded all of the available sounds. As I’ve stated in other tutorials, you want to make sure you do this in a place with great internet.

Maybe even set it up while you’re sleeping.

How To Use The Drummer Track

If you want to throw in a drummer track, just go into your project or a New Project if you so choose.

Then, hit the (Option + Command + U) button to bring up a Drummer track. You can also do this through right-clicking on the track-pad and choosing the option manually as well.

From here, you’ll notice that Garageband gives you many drummers. I believe there are 28 of them in total.

It’s definitely worth noting that you can change the actual drum kit behind the drummer, but keep the style of percussion the same.

To do this, just click on whatever kit you want where it says “Sounds,” underneath the “Drummer” heading.

Drummer Track and Sounds (Edited)

Three Main Settings of the Drummer Track

You can adjust the parameters of the drummer in three key ways, the individual drummer, the genre, and the sub-genre.

There are seven key genres to choose from: rock, alternative, songwriter, rhythm and blues, electronic, hip-hop, and then percussion.

Each sub-genre has between 3-6 drummers within it, depending on how big and popular the genre is. And each drummer name, for example, “Kyle,” or “Dez,” is classified using a sub-genre title within that genre.

Here’s the list:

Rock – Pop Rock, Retro Rock, Hard Rock, Punk Rock, Funk Rock, and Brit Pop.

Alternative – Indie Pop, Indie Disco, Indie Rock, Garage Rock, Modern 80s, and then Synth Pop.

Songwriter – Funky Songwriter, Pop Songwriter, Experimental Songwriter, Roots Songwriter, 60s Songwriter, Roots Brush, and then Pop Brush.

Rhythm and Blues – Modern R & B, Neo Soul, and Modern Motown

Electronic – Big Room EDM, Tech House, Dubsteb, Electro Trap, Modern House.

Hip-Hop – Trap, Modern Hip-Hop, Boom Bap

Percussion – Latin Percussion, Songwriter Percussion, Pop Percussion.

If you float your cursor above the drummer, the cursor will give you a quick description of each drummer, the type of person they are, and the style of music they play.

Drummer Track Description (Edited)

For the sake of this tutorial, we’ll choose Ian, who plays Britpop, and then we’ll use the stock drum-kit that comes with him, the Manchester.

Sub-Settings Of The Drummer Track

From here, you’ll notice that each drummer actually comes with a series of patterns to work with.

Garageband calls them “Beat Pre-Sets.”

Once you’ve selected the genre, the individual drummer/style, and then the beat preset, you can move on to adjusting more sophisticated and specific parameters.

In the image below, you can see what Garageband calls the X/Y Pad. It’s the trackpad that we can adjust by four parameters, Simple, Complex, Loud, and Soft.

Obviously, what you intend on using depends entirely on the style of music, but in my case, I usually air for Complex and then Soft, which means I’ll move the ball to the bottom-right-hand side of the X/Y Pad.

On the right side, there is the Swing and Fill option.

The Fill option just means the parts of the drumming that aren’t a main portion of the pre-set. They’re the little stylish patterns that you use to transition to other parts of the music.

9 (Edited) Tutorial For Garageband Drummer Track

If you split the drummer track using the (Command + T) function, you can add whatever fills you want to the last bar of the measure without changing the sound of the rest of the track.

If a noticeable rhythm section is integral to your style of music, then you’ll probably want to turn the “Fill” knob up. Turning it up to “Complex” on the X/Y Pad is a good move for this as well.

The “Swing” adjusts the amount of syncopation, which in other words, means the degree at which notes are played between the beat.

If you’ve created something that you like but want to switch drummers or drumming styles, make sure you’ve hit the Lock button beside where it says Fill and Swing. This will save your settings.

Also, make sure to adjust the drummer track region so it corresponds with the time signature of your music.

For instance, if your melodies are 4 measures, make your drummer track 4 measures, 8 measures, 16 measures, or another divisible of 4.

Drummer Track Measures

One of the great things about these drummer tracks is the fact they’re not static like loops. They’re essentially like artificial intelligence. They adjust themselves according to the music well.

Some people also like using the “Show Arrangement” option within the Track setting in the toolbar.

Additionally, you can actually use the Drummer Track to follow certain instruments over others.

In the Smart Controls of the Drummer Track, you can see the check-box which says, “Follow,” above the Kick and Snare parameter.

Drummer Track

Click on the box, and it’ll ask you what instrument you want to follow. I actually don’t use this function ever, but I can definitely see how it’d be useful for others.

In case you don’t know, the drums typically work with the Bass, rather than the melodies, so keep that in mind.

Whether you choose to follow pre-determined standards is really up to you, though. Someone has to break the mold.

Considering all of its parameters, it’s really not hard to understand some of the ways that the Drummer Track comes in handy.

For instance, you can create separate Drummer Tracks for each part of the song, adjusted by complexity, the genre, the actual drum kit, as well as what instrument the Drummer Track follows.

The X/Y Pad is very sensitive as well. A simple move of the knob by a small measurement will make a big difference, in fact, I have a video in my other drummer track article that really demonstrates this feature.

You don’t always have to use the drummer track in such dramatically different ways; the changes can be very subtle.

You can also change the number of pieces to the kit using the picture of the drum-kit beside the X/Y Pad, rather than sliding the numbers.

Important Tip: Perhaps, one of the most important things here, especially when it comes to recording instruments in Garageband, is the fact that playing on time is crucial.

If you’re just using MIDI, then it’s really quite simple to place the notes on the grid-lines as you need to.

However, if you’re recording actual instruments, it’s very important to play along to a metronome like this one, that way you’re actually on time.

And then when you introduce a drummer track, the drummer will actually sound good with what you’ve played.

In order to figure out the appropriate tempo at which you’re playing, you have to do it through trial and error.

The instrument that you’re playing, tap along with your foot to find out how fast it is, and then set the tempo to that BPM using the control center of the Top-Center of the DAW.

Another great tool for music production concepts like BPM and tempo is PianoForAll (on my Product Page), which is an excellent way to become acquainted with the connection between melody, timing, and rhythm.

You can also adjust the volume of each part of the drum-kit as you see fit, including turning off one part of the kit entirely. You can see the dials I’m talking about in the image 8 paragraphs down.

Just as an added tip for creating drums is to include plug-ins on the drum and rhythm section whether it be a Compressor, a Channel EQ, distortion, delay, or reverb.

To do this, just hit the “B”- key on your keyboard.

That should bring up your Smart Controls.

Then, go into the plug-ins and EQ whatever you need to, or add up a distortion plug-in to your snare if you need to.

When it comes to the drummer track, you can only load up a plug-in on the entire drum kit, rather than plug-ins on each part of the rhythm section when you’ve created the drums yourself.

For instance, one of the more common things that engineers do is they add a little bit of distortion to the snare drum. Especially for hip-hop and electronic producers.

Also, if you turn off and eliminate the Compressor and Channel EQ that comes default with the Drummer Track, you’ll have the option to adjust the “Dampen Kick” and “Dampen Snare” options.

Drummer Track Dampen Kick and Dampen Snare (Edited)

Basically, what these knobs seem like they’re doing, is they’re moving the microphone away from the drumkit in the recording studio.

The “Dampen” knobs are trying to mimic the experience of an actual recording studio I guess.

These little details, while are great for really making your final mix sound amazing, aren’t super important for beginners.

But they’re worth keeping in mind for the future.

Moving on.

Let’s say for example, you wanted to introduce another fill, in addition to using the arrangement track and the “Follow” button to specify how you want to customize the kit.

You can just cut the drummer track wherever you want the fill to be.

Drummer Track - Cuts For Fills (Edited)

After you cut a little piece of it out, select the new drummer track region, and turn up the fill to however high you want.

At this point, you could even change the drummer entirely if you wanted. Wouldn’t be a bad idea to keep the same kit though.

Through the use of the numbered features, “Percussion, Hi-Hat,” and “Kick and Snare,” you can determine how much of the aforementioned instruments are included in the fill/verse/chorus/outro, and so on.

Clickable Drummer Track (Edited)

In other words, the drummer track is extremely customizable and in a variety of different ways.

The only two things that are missing really, are the ability to add plug-ins to only one part of the kit, as well as the inability to adjust precisely note by note.

I have a feeling this is just beginning though, and as the years ago by, the artificial intelligence will only be getting better.

Another important thing to add is the use of the “Groove Track.”

a) To access that, head into the “Track” region in the top tool-bar.

b) Select the option, “Configure Track Header.”

c) Now click the check-box that says, “Groove Track.

d) From here, you can tell whatever Software Instrument to following the drums, or vice versa.

Personally, I don’t enjoy doing this because I feel like it’s pulling too much of my song out of my control, but I can imagine where it’d be useful for others.

If you tell Garageband to have one track follow another, you’ll notice that the MIDI notes actually shift in placement.

Groove Track Follow (Edited)

How To Turn The Drummer Track Into MIDI Notes

Perhaps one of the more useful features of the drummer track is the ability to quickly take the drum section and turn it into a MIDI file, that way we can separate each part of the kit into individual track regions for the sake of a better mix.

It’s incredibly simple. Here’s how to do it:

1) Select your drummer track, either through the (Option + Command + U) command or by selecting it manually.

2) Copy the track using the (Command + C) function, and then paste it into a new software instrument track.

3) Change the software instrument track to your drum kit of choice.

And that’s it.

Right away, you’re going to notice that the notes have been turned into MIDI notes, which is incredibly useful.

The next part, however, is far more time-consuming.

In order to mix the drums properly, you want each part of the kit to be in a different track region, including the hi-hats, each tom (tom 1, tom 2, and tom 3), the snare, the kick, the crash, and so on and so forth.

How To Separate Each Part Of The Drum Kit For A Better Mix

1) Use the cursor to select the same MIDI notes that represent each part of the kit, for instance, the snare.

2) Select all of them by clicking on your trackpad and dragging a box over each part of it.

3) Use the (Command + C) function to copy them.

4) Now, determine what grid-line the very first MIDI note of the selected instrument falls on.

5) Paste the selected notes into the new track region.

6) Repeat this step for each part of the drum-kit.

When you’re done everything, it should look like what’s shown in the image below:

As I mentioned above, this can be quite time-consuming, as it probably takes around half-an-hour to do it. Perhaps someone in the comments could point out a faster way to do it (I found a better way to do it in my latest guide on the drummer track).

How To Separate The Drums For Mixing In Garageband


Obviously, having a real drummer is the way to go, but Garageband’s Drummer track is very good and it works amazing as a replacement in the meantime.

Through the adjustable parameters mentioned above, as well as the use of the Cut function, (Command + T), you can create varieties of fills, and you could even temporarily swap in a new drummer if you really like a particular fill or pattern.

Anyway. That’s all for now, thanks a lot for tuning in, and make sure to share it on your social media if it helped you out.

Andrew Siemon is the principal creator of, a website dedicated to all things music, including music production, music theory, recording, and how to use the most popular DAWs. Starting out as a metal guitarist, Andrew has since moved into other areas of music production including hip-hop and fusion

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