Using MIDI and Digital Audio for GaragaBand

You just got GarageBand, and your psyched to connect your guitar and start jamming. Only problem is, where to start? With this guide, you'll learn how to setup your instruments and get to rockin' in no time.

Using a MIDI Drive

Step 1: Choosing your MIDI device

Steps for connecting with MIDI:

1. First, you'll need either a seperate audio interface device, or a MIDI compatible cable. MIDI stands for Musical Instrument Digital Interface, and the device is just that-- a way to translate the notes you play into data that the computer understands, and into a format that you can manipulate within the program. Raw audio will have a different sound, and you won't be able to manipulate the notes in the same way (this will be covered more in the second section).

Step 2: Plugging in

2. For the MIDI section, we'll go directly with a cable. For my Korg Micro XL, I'll be using an iConnectMIDI. Insert the OUT cable head in the IN port on your instrument, and then plug the IN cable head in the OUT port. It may sound confusing, but remember they need to be in the opposite inputs. Next, plug the USB end into your computer.

Here we see the white cable port is MIDI IN, while the black cable port is MIDI OUT.

Now, we plug them in the opposite inputs.

Step 3: Device preferences

3. If your computer doesn't automatically recognize your device, you'll need to tell GarageBand where the MIDI source is. Once you've plugged in, go to File-->Preferences-->Audio/MIDI. Your instrument's MIDI driver should show up under Input Device. Click it, and while you're here double check that the Output Device is set to your computer system or external speakers.

In this case, Built-In Output refers to listening through your computer. If you're using a pair of headphones plugged into your device (in this case, the Scarlett), then the output device would be the Scarlett as well.

Question 1: Which input and output setting is correct?

Using Audio Interface

Step 1: Digital Audio

1. Next, we'll take a look at using live audio interface. For this, I'll be using the Focusrite Scarlett Solo.

The Scarlett Solo is a favorite among bedroom producers everywhere, for its intuitive design and ease of use.

Step 2: Going Live

2. First, you'll plug into your instrument as you normally would. The Scarlett Solo has a seperate input for cabled instruments and microphones. If you're using a microphone, plug the end of the cable into the microphone jack on the Solo. If using a regular instrument cable, plug the other end into the second section on the Focusrite. You'll want to make sure the small switch is on Instrument, since that's what you're using.

Here, we can see the microphone jack is Input 1, and the instrument cable jack is Input 2. I'll be plugging in my Fender Telecaster, so I'll use Input 2. Direct Monitor allows you to hear your music through your computer as your recording.

Step 3: Audio Preferences

3. Next, you'll again go to File-->Preferences-->Audio/MIDI. Your Scarlett should show up under the Input menu. Select it, then again make sure that your output is correct. 

Again, your output can be Scarlett Solo USB as well if your plugging headphones directly into it.

Since we're using an instrument jack, we'll want to pick Input 2.

If you want to use a microphone to record, which input should you select on the GarageBand screen?

  • Input 1
  • Input 2



Pay attention to your levels. The colored ring around the knobs on your Scarlett should be green, and never go to red. 

Green: Good, plenty of room for dynamic sound without risk of compression.

Red: Bad, compression of sound almost guaranteed. Compressed music will sound flat and unprofessional.

When to use MIDI or Audio


MIDI is best for recording if you want a more hands-on way to manipulate your sound. Since MIDI is technically instructions telling your computer what to play, you can change the instrument, sound dynamics (reverb, distortion, etc), and even the placement of notes in a chord. If your music is heavy with non-acoustic instruments such as synthesizers or drum machines, MIDI will probably be the best way to go.


If you prefer a more old-school approach to recording, you may want to stick with digital audio. You can still change the timing and placement of audio tracks, and even put filters on the audio, but you can't manipulate the audio note-for-note the way you can with MIDI. However, audio has a more natural sound, and is best for acoustic instruments such as guitar or drums. 

Since MIDI is instructions for the computer, here you can see that once you play a note you can change its actual position in the track.

Here, we see that the audio is much less flexible, though we can apply filters to the sound.


Moving on from GarageBand

GarageBand is an excellent recording tool, and its ease of use and small learning curve make it an attractive option for those new to recording their music. However, as you get better, you find the program has limitations that are exceeding by your musical vision. Luckily, GarageBand's basic user functions are a great basis for moving on to more advanced programs, such as Logic Pro (right image). Logic is also made by Apple, and looks identical to GarageBand on the surface. However, there are plenty of options worth exploring.