How to Turn your Keyboard into a Piano- GarageBand?

GarageBand is an online music production software developed by Apple Inc. One of the best music production applications in the world, it can be easily downloaded for free from the Apple Store. GarageBand is credited with having one of the best virtual pianos in the industry, the sound quality of which cannot be compared to any other. The virtual piano can be used to not only produce the sound of a Grand Piano but any other musical instrument as stored in the audio library of the application. Alongside saved tones of musical instruments, the sampler can be used to make new musical instruments with the help of pre-recorded audio clips. The sampler then puts all of it into the virtual keyboard where the frequency of every note will be adjusted according to scale while keeping the tone the same throughout.


What is the Need?– Normally music producers and professionals use the MIDI keyboard in such instances. GarageBand offers a wide range of MIDI connectivity and support features thus plugging in a MIDI keyboard into the system is very easy. All you need to do is set the tone of the MIDI keyboard from the application interface and whatever you play there will be replicated on the virtual keyboard. Thereafter, the track can be recorded and plugged into your track. However, good MIDI keyboards come at a high price and are always not affordable for everyone. Sometimes logistical problems of carrying a MIDI keyboard around also rise. In such cases, Apple has kept the provision of Musical Typing. With the help of this feature, you can easily convert the keyboard connected to your device into a piano and use it as a keyboard to record your music. While users also have the option of clicking on keys of the virtual piano on-screen with a mouse, it frankly becomes impractical if you want to play more than one note at a time.

How to OPEN UP NEW PROJECT & Enable Music Typing?

  1. Firstly, OPEN UP the GarageBand application on your device by double-clicking on the app icon.
  2. As the HOMEPAGE of the application starts up, you will have to choose whether you want to start a new Project or continue on a previous Project. If you want to open up an existing project, from the left pane of your window, click on the ‘Recent’ button. A list of all your recent projects will come up. Choose a project and continue to open up the Music Typing.
  3. Alternatively, if you want to start afresh, choose the New Project option from the same left pane followed by an Empty Project. From the bottom right corner, click on the Choose Button.
  4. A pop-up window will appear with several options to choose from. Select the ‘Software Instrument’ option. A new project will be created along with a blank track on the tracks list. By default, the virtual piano will open up. You can also manually open up the piano by going to the ‘Window’ option form the menu bar and selecting the ‘Show Musical Typing’ from the drop-down list. The keyboard shortcut is CMD+K.
  5. As soon as the keyboard opens up, a column called ‘Library’ will show up on the left side of your screen. This basically allows users to select the kind of instrument sound the keyboard will produce when played. Also, a guide on which button of your device’s keyboard plays which button of the virtual keyboard will be shown simultaneously.

How to break down the Keys?

Looking at the guide at one glance can be quite perplexing and intimidating. All the keys will be noted with a certain alphabet or digit along with other features like pitch bend, modulation, and octave manipulation. Each key and how it can be played from your keyboard are explained below- 

  • Starting with the basic notes of the virtual keyboard, they are normally aligned in such a way that it matches with the QWERTY sequence of every keyboard. In musical terms, if you want to play the C (musical) scale, the first note will be triggered by the letter ‘A’ of your keyboard, the second one with ‘S’, third with ‘D’, and so on and so forth. As C scale is the natural scale, it is set in this manner. This is how major notes are played.
  • As, C scale does not have any minor notes (smaller black keys in between the white ones), the upper row of your keyboard (starting with the letter ‘Q’) is reserved to play those keys. An interesting fact to note here, Apple has intentionally chosen this sequence to keep the format exactly similar to that of an actual keyboard. You will notice the first two black keys can be played by the ‘W’ and ‘E’ key respectively. However, the ‘R’ key has no use. The next black key is triggered by the letter ‘T’. This is because an actual keyboard does not have an E# (read: E sharp) key there.
  • Octave Manipulation can be carried out using the ‘Z’ (to down an octave) or ‘X’ (to move up an octave) key. As it is not possible to display the entire 12 octave piano on one single screen, users can use whichever part of the piano they want to. Octave changes are frequently used while making tracks to accommodate both the high notes as well as the bass keys.
  • The velocity bar mainly has to do with keyboard sensitivity. What keyboard players call ‘finger-touch’ is what is termed as velocity here. If kept dynamic, a key pressed hard will generate a louder sound as compared to a key pressed softly. the ‘C’ and ‘V’ keys are set to determine the loudness of a key if at all you want a static velocity. Otherwise, your keyboard sensitivity will decide the volume of a key if kept to dynamic velocity. To change keyboard sensitivity, go to ‘Smart Controls’ from the Control bar. From ‘Keyboard Sensitivity’ adjust the slider to get your perfect touch sensitivity.
  • Numbers 4 to 8 of your keyboard are set aside for modulation. Modulation is the muffled-ness of a particular sound. The more you increase the modulation, the more muffled the sound will be and vice-versa. The ‘3’ key will completely switch off modulation.
  • Numbers 1 and 2 control the pitch bend or frequency of a sound. This becomes very effective if you are playing the guitar on your virtual keyboard and you have to create  a ‘string pulling’ effect from a keyboard.
  • Lastly ‘Tab’ controls the sustain option. Click Tab once switches on sustain and pressing it again switches sustain off.
  • If you want to record a particular track, click on the ‘R’ key from your keyboard to start recording and the same key again to stop. Users must note that when Musical Typing is switched on, keyboard shortcuts that are generally used during editing (cutting, merging or splitting tracks) will no longer be working as it might interfere with the piano key configuration.

How to do On-Screen Keyboard Configuration?

As mentioned before, you can use a mouse to play as well. In that case, you will have to switch to the on-screen keyboard. You can switch from Musical Typing to the On-Screen Keyboard by clicking on the small switch on the top left corner of the keyboard on your display. Each note you click will be highlighted. You can drag the blue section to come to your preferred section of the keyboard. The velocity is determined by where you are pressing the note. Lower down creates a higher velocity and high up on the key creates a lower velocity.

Hope the guide helped, please let us know if you have any more questions and query.