GarageBand on iOS, in-app purchases, dealing with audio, and more…

About a week ago, a music education technology colleague, Sarah Mayer (, e-mailed another music techie and I about GarageBand for iOS.  GarageBand has gone from being a $4.99 app to a free app with an in-app purchase that gives full functionality.  If you are an existing GarageBand for iOS owner, you don’t need to worry about this, because when you update your existing GarageBand (something that likely happened a few months ago) everything is unlocked, or will be if you install GarageBand again and select the “Buy In-App Purchase” option.

However, if you are part of a school or district like mine, where GarageBand was not purchased before the new version came out, you can download the core of GarageBand for free, but the rest of the app lies behind the IAP.  I have verified this: if you work through a Volume Purchase Plan, there is currently no way to manage an IAP.  Suffice it to say that Apple is aware of the issue, although there is no specific timeline for the issue to be solved.

Meanwhile, the free version of GarageBand includes set of three touch instruments (Keyboard, Drums, and Smart Guitar) and an audio recorder.  Hopefully these instruments will give students a good basis through which to learn about GarageBand and music.

I learned some things in my research and communication with a number of people regarding GarageBand and Audio.  First, I have long said that audio is the last frontier on the iPad, as the iPad’s audio library can be used by other apps (even GarageBand can import those files), but no app can write to the audio library.  The only way to get audio into the audio library is via iTunes file sharing, either linked to a computer or using the wi-fi connection between iTunes and a device.  If your school, like mine, never has students sync to a computer (the iPads are stand-alone after they are issued, unless they need to be restored), you just are not going to be able to move audio to the iPad’s library.  As I have mentioned in some previous posts, there are other ways to import audio, but it isn’t an easy process.

Second, I had been trying to use other apps to open audio into GarageBand (Using the “Open In” feature).  This just isn’t possible, although audio from GarageBand will open into other apps, including iMovie, Dropbox, and Google Drive.

Third, GarageBand supports audio cut and paste. If you find an app that supports audio cut and paste, you should be able to cut and paste audio into GarageBand.  See for more information, specifically My problem is that I am not seeing any apps that support audio cut and paste that are a) free and b) support Google Drive.

Fourth, GarageBand supports AudioBus, a way of moving audio from one program to another.  My blogging music technology colleague Paul Shimmons ( has been doing a lot with AudioBus–check out his recent posts.  The latest version of iOS 7 includes a new feature called “Inter-App Audio” in the core iOS library, allowing GarageBand to import audio inputs from other apps and effect apps.  These are things that I don’t get into very much…but in a 1:1 iPad Middle School, you never know what the future may bring.

Finally, just a couple reminders about GarageBand for iOS.  First, remember that the SmartStrings can be played bowing with your finger, or pizzicato by touch.  The pizzicato is determined by your finger release, not the press (like a real string).  Second, SmartStrings autoplay options play different patterns depending on how many fingers you use on the chord bar.  Third, you can customize not only the key you are playing in, but the chords that appear on your screen for autoplay. These are not my tips, but they are certainly worth sharing.

I would like to thank Sarah for asking the original question that led to multiple conversations and e-mail discussions literally around the world.

One final, very important thing: I have a couple of questions that I would like to ask for the sake of feedback:  I have left comments open for this reason.

1) If you use GarageBand for iOS with students, where do students run into problems?  What causes them difficulty?  What trips them up?

2) If you use GarageBand for iOS with students, what things in GarageBand get them the most excited?  What do they use the most?

Thanks in advance for your thoughts.


7 responses to “GarageBand on iOS, in-app purchases, dealing with audio, and more…

  • Jeff Cachero

    I teach middle school music in Battle Creek, Michigan. In the fall of 2012, I was given 15 iPads to use in a general music class. I teach basic composing using GarageBand. With about 30 students in each class, I have them share the iPads. Each student has a pair of headphones going into a splitter. Sharing brings about opportunities and challenges. Some kids don’t know how to share or there is too much socializing versus productivity. The nice thing about it, is that students collaborate where otherwise they might not.
    Two nagging problems issues:
    1) Since these iPads are used for more than one class, and there is no way for an individual to sign into an account, all students have access to anyone’s files. Whether it is intentional or by accident, I often times have kids come up to me and say that their project has been modified or deleted. I use a paper check list so that I can monitor their progress just in case this happens. But they will still not have a final project present class.
    2) My IT department has tight control over the iPads and is slow to address issues. They maintain the iPads using Apple Configurator and refuse to give me access to this program. My IT department is stretched thin especially now they are busy rolling out a 1:1 chromebook program which I know how you and I feel about that. So, if I want to add an app or do other modifications to the classroom set, I have to put in a tech request which takes for ever to never.

    I have loved teaching this class. GarageBand makes creating music accessible. Students who are usually not interested in music, tend to flourish this class. Students get very creative with the sampler as well as using loops. I only wish there were more loops and auto play options. We have a couple of big projects. Their favorite seems to be creating a 12 bar blues song using GarageBand.

  • choirguy

    Jeff, thanks for your reply! A couple quick questions:

    1) Are you running iOS7?
    2) Are you running the latest GarageBand?
    3) and although I doubt it, do you the students have the ability to log into their own iTunes accounts with iCloud? iCloud seems to be the option that will allow multiple students to use one iPad but still have access to only their own work (or to export their project to iCloud). My guess is that your IT department has that locked down.

    My sympathies with the Chromebook situation. That is a growing (and disturbing) trend because it features a limited view of what technology is for (i.e. mainly to run Google Apps). As I work in a school where we don’t yet have any paid apps…including Apple’s own iWork and iLife apps, I can attest that teachers simply substitute technology for paper and don’t go much further than that.

    Even so, I’m keeping my eyes out for ways to integrate Chromebooks into music education, and even gave a presentation on the topic at the Iowa MEA in November (a great little conference that brings in speakers from all over the nation…it has a value 1000 times its actual size). You may want to view the presentation in my “past presentation” area of the blog, of you haven’t seen it yet.

    As an example. I could not find one “pure” tuner on the Chrome App Store (there are lots of guitar turners). It seems to me that tuners were an immediate app on the original iOS App Store, even before the iPad.

    Thanks again for your comments!

  • Richie B

    Hiya, great article, I am currently preparing an all day (yes, all day!) workshop for 7-8 year olds on using iPads creativly in music. Not the easiest task at the best of times, but I’m having to do two plans, one for locked-down garage band, and one where IAPs are allowed and I’ve access to all the instruments.

    I’ll post back here when I have more info (got a meeting at the school next week), but I can forsee running into exactly the same problems as you – surely sharing files should be easier in 2014?? I can probably get by with the basic apps, but having all the loops and the sampler (and no need to worry about swearing with yong kids either!) would be great for a bit of easy composition.

  • Andrew at Marshall Simonds Middle School

    Hey. Great article!

    I am experiencing a similar situation. I had a great curriculum going with 2 Ipad Garageband projects (a name project using the sampler, and a 12 bar blues where the kids wrote and recorded their own lyrics), and then, the iPads were updated, and we lost many of our instruments. What a nightmare! The kids really loved these projects.

    Any ideas on any workarounds? The IT department is at a loss, as the kids don’t have access to the iTunes store. It seems like Apple should be accommodating to this issue, as schools are a huge booster of their products.


  • choirguy

    Andrew…thanks for your note. I have been in touch with Apple regarding this issue (I have actually talked to people), and they are aware of the problem; IAPs (In-App Purchases) are problematic for any institutional purchase (business or education) and they are aware of the issue. They obviously cannot tell me what their plans are, but they know at the very highest levels.

    So…you will know as soon as I do!

    I am planning to begin a short GarageBand series of lessons with my students (I’ll post them on the blog) starting May 27.

  • Liz W.

    We have 30 iPads in the Music classroom and when trying to purchase the GarageBand IAP, Apple will only allow 5 purchases with that one credit card. This means that I need to get five more credit cards (which my school won’t allow). Does anyone know how I can get around this?

  • choirguy

    Hi Liz, can you send me an e-mail? I will actually contact a person at Apple and ask them about that.

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