Editing, MIDI Editing

GarageBand’s Drummer Track Is More Useful Than You Think

Written By : Andrew Siemon

I feel that GarageBand’s Drummer Track is under appreciated for its ‘Convert to MIDI’ function, so I’m going to rectify that today.

Essentially, this allows you to load up the drummer track and then copy and paste the yellow region onto a new instrument track, effectively converting it to MIDI. Here’s a better explanation and a picture to help you with the process, in case you’ve never done it before:

An explanation of how you use the Convert to MIDI function in GarageBand
To turn a drummer track region in GarageBand into MIDI, use Command + C to copy the yellow region, open a new software instrument track, select a drum kit, and then paste it onto the new track with Command + V.

This will allow you to control every parameter of the drummer track after initially adjusting it in the Drummer Editor and X/Y Pad.

Make sure you use a drum kit to ensure compatibility and the correct sound, instead of an instrument like the electric piano.

The Most Underrated GarageBand Feature

One nice thing about this feature is that you can use any drum kit you’d like to use. You aren’t limited by whatever the drummer was using before.

So why is this so useful and why do I like it so much? The first and most important reason is that it’s amazing as a learning tool. And the second is that it’s ideal for customization. The first reason is what we’re going to talk about the most.

1) As A Learning Tool

Genre and Sub-Genres of Drummers in GarageBand
GarageBand’s drummer has approximately 6 different genres and each one has around 5-7 sub-genres within it.
GarageBand Drummer Parameters & Controls
The Presets, X/Y Pad, Drum Kit, Swing, and Fill Option in GarageBand’s Drummer

With the Drummer Track, the Drummer Editor, X/Y Pad, Swing option, Drum Kit, and drummer presets you can customize your sound to your liking and then use the Convert-to-MIDI function to understand how drums are made.

Follow in the GarageBand Drummer Track
You can also use the “Follow” button which I neglected to mention the first time.

This was an instrumental feature for me when I was first familiarizing myself with how to use music production tools, particularly while programming drums, which I have a whole guide on, by the way.

Because of this tool, it put me into a position where I can analyze basic and intermediate drum patterns in songs and then figure out how to replicate them in my own projects.

For example, I figured out how to create the drum pattern that Travis Scott used in his song “Coffee Bean.” You can check that out here:

Wes and a Cello (prod. andrewATXK]

There’s nothing wrong with relying on loops and samples for your drum patterns, however, knowing how to make similar patterns from scratch has helped me later on.

For instance, I recently had to make a project for someone who wanted an Amy Winehouse-style song. Particularly the song “F*ck Me Pumps” which you can find here on YouTube.

Using the Drummer Track gave me the foundational knowledge to pull this off. Now I can make songs that other people require of me without much difficulty.

If I had to do it with metal or jazz drums, on the other hand, it would be much harder. I use this tactic for basic and intermediate patterns only. Like the patterns that are found in hip-hop, rock, and other popular music genres.

We have to talk about the potential for customization and specificity too.

2) For Additional Customization & Specificity

Piano Roll, MIDI Editor, Note Velocity, Time Quantize
If you can’t get the AI drummer to work the exact way that you want, you can always use the Convert to MIDI feature to be more surgical.

Once you’ve figured out how to get the Drummer as close as you possibly can, you can convert it to MIDI and fix whatever errors there are with it.

Often, I find there are too many fills and irregular kick and snare drums in GarageBand’s Drummer AI. It’s as if the AI is programmed to be more complicated than what’s necessary. (You can let me know what you think in the comments. It might just be me).

In these cases, I find it’s useful to convert the Drummer to MIDI and then make the changes from there.

Additionally, you can add more snares, kicks, hi-hats, etc, if you need to. The Convert-to-MIDI Function is actually how I figured out how to make grace notes which I initially talked about in my guide to creating drums in GarageBand.

In simple terms, a grace note is a note that’s played extremely softly or quietly just before or after the drummer hits the note much louder.

The RHCP drummer, Chad Smith, explains it well in the following video:

Chad Smith: About Grace Notes - Drum Clinic Instruction

I always used to wonder how to make the drum pattern a bit more interesting but I had no clue. Using the Drummer Track, I eventually figured out that it’s just an “off-the-grid-line”-note, so to speak, with the velocity set low.

Snare Grace Note in the GarageBand Piano Roll (Drummer)
Put another snare note right before or after the main note, and then drop the velocity down to 20-25.

If you want to hear what this sounds like, check out the short video that I made for you down below (turn down the volume on your speakers for the first second because the crash symbol is loud):

Grace Note Example

As I said earlier, GarageBand’s Drummer Track has proven useful to me in a number of ways, and I think my experience is unorthodox. Let me know if there’s anything you like (or don’t like) about it in the comments.

If you need more help, or maybe you just want to talk smack about music, join the forum here.

More on Drums & GarageBand

Andrew Siemon is the principal creator of ProducerSociety.com, 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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