Can GarageBand for iPad Make You a Rock Star?

During the iPad 2 (s aapl) announcement event, I was possibly most impressed by the preview of GarageBand for iPad. With its so-called “Smart Instruments,” it seemed like it might be able to bring out the latent musical talent in even the most unmusical of users. GarageBand is live in the App Store now, so I decided to see if it could make good on its claims.

I am bad at music. I can’t sing, and friends consistently regret it when they manage to convince me to get up at karaoke and take a turn at the mic. I’ve tried playing guitar at many stages throughout my life, but I can barely manage finger exercises. Because of my experience with the real world guitar, I decided to try GarageBand’s Smart Guitar first.

To my intense surprise, I made a decent sounding snippet of a “song” in about 30 seconds. It isn’t fancy, and in fact, it’s probably incredibly derivative, but it sounds pleasant, and you might actually catch yourself humming along to it. I was able to make this so quickly because GarageBand for iPad does a pretty great job of offering a range of tools that cover the user spectrum from absolute novice to serious professional.

I created my brief track (see below) by not changing any of the default settings, including the type of guitar (acoustic), the length of the track, the song tempo or equalizer settings, or the key of the overall tuning. I just dialed up the Autoplay to 4 (each number represents a different strumming pattern) and tapped the chord I wanted to play whenever the included metronome hit four beats.

It may not be anything fancy, but now that I have this, I could loop it and sing over it, for instance, if I happened to be any good at that but not particularly good at playing an instrument. And for casual users just messing around for their own benefit and the benefit of their friends, this is much better than what I’d be able to come up with on even the desktop version of GarageBand. The touch interface just makes an absolute perfect match for what GarageBand is designed for, and it’s truly amazing to note the difference in the sound you produce depending on how hard you tap the virtual instruments. It really seems quite sensitive, and is an amazing use of the iPad’s built-in sensors.

I’ve only just begun to explore the various options available, and I’ve managed to create impressive-sounding riffs using drums, piano, guitar and bass. People might disagree with me on the definition of what constitutes “impressive,” but it certainly sounds better than anything I’ve been able to put together using GarageBand for OS X, Fruity Loops or any other digital audio program. And it beats the pants out of what I can do with real-world instruments.

Am I on my way to becoming a rock star? Well, I’ll probably never sell out Madison Square Garden, but I can definitely see jamming with a small group of iPad-wielding friends in my near future. And if I can accomplish as much as I did with GarageBand, I can’t even imagine what professional musicians might come up with. Kudos, Apple, for providing some of the most fun available on the App Store for under 5 bucks.