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How to master the Drum Machine Smart Controls in GarageBand on Mac

With each software instrument featuring Smart Controls, we take a close look at shaping sound

Within GarageBand 10, our software instrument tracks and patches are more customisable than ever. Instead of treating them uniformly we have access to Smart Controls, a changing array of knobs, dials and sliders for tweaking sound. Virtually all the built-in presets here offer totally new options depending on the type of instrument selected. For example, a bass guitar will have markedly different Smart Controls to say, a vintage organ and so on.


Some selections are therefore more complicated than others and unfortunately GarageBand fails to fully explain what each control does or how best to use it. Unsurprisingly, most of these settings can have a profound effect, so here we’ll start by demystifying those associated with the Drum Machine, identifying key controls. You can download our source files here.


Step-by-step: Learn the Drum Machine Smart Controls


1 Show Smart Controls

We begin with a software track and a Drum Machine model patch selected, such as our accompanying ‘DM Smart Controls’ project file. Click the Smart Controls button in the top-left.


2 Mix Controls 1

The eight Mix controls alter the volume levels of individual Drum Machine sounds. This is useful for accentuating bass beats like Kick, Synth Bass and Tom to provide more thudding rhythms.


3 Mix Controls 2

Raising the Snare gives a more severe snap, and Hi-Hats or Cymbals can be feathered or have a sense of shimmer enhanced. Percussion and Cowbell might need pronouncing.


4 Tone

The four Master controls apply across the whole track. Tone typically refers to adjusting frequency to alter character, and here it tends to make certain beats sound more crisp.


5 Distortion

Distortion on electronic drums is fairly synthetic, adding a dirtier fuzz tone. Here the individual beat sound effects are made more buzzy and more aggressive at high levels.


6 Compressor

Like all of GarageBand’s Compressor controls, this one works in reverse. The name suggests a squeeze in sound but as you increase the dial, the track in fact feels louder or wider.


7 Delay

Delay, Echo and Reverb are often confused. Delay here basically repeats the signal for a variable amount or duration. Here, this is useful for adding extra ‘ghost’ beats within intervals.


8 Filter

Filter appears on certain Drum Machine models and is terrific for club track effects. When increased the sound becomes dulled and muffled as if emanating from behind a wall.


9 Crush/Ring-Verb

You will encounter some additional master effect Smart Controls. Crush applies a more fragmented, dispersed feel. Ring-Verb can be applied to enhance this.


In-depth: Drum Machine controls

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