Equalizing and other effects

Cut or Boost?         Cut it

The less EQ boost you use, the more natural the final sound will be. The ear is much more tolerant of EQ cut than it is of boost. So if you want, say, a piano to come through better in the high end of the mix - to have more "presence" - consider a high end cut of instruments that conflict in that range instead of a piano boost.
Always check the instrument sound in the context of the whole mix, and make frequent use of the by-pass check box to find the ideal setting.
Separating sounds         Out of the way...

One of the best uses of EQ is to separate two sounds that are too similar in the mix, or overlap. Make one stand out in a higher frequency band, the other in a lower.
A well known example is the bottom end of the guitar - the lower strings may be in the same range as the vocals or the bass and cause confusion. Removing the lower frequencies will now make the mix a lot clearer, even if the track by itself sounds a little thin.
Use the by-pass tick box a lot to get the best setting.
Loudness         Smile

It is well known that we tend to hear sounds with more high and low frequencies, and a relatively weaker mid-range, as louder. The "loudness" button on a stereo system does this. You can produce this effect in GarageBand by creating the shape of a smile on the graphic equalizer. Use this only on some of the instruments though, to preserve the contrast in the mix.
GarageBand comes with a beautiful 31 band equalizer (in the Audio Units effects selection bar under the Instruments - details triangle).
Bass Boost         Boom or bust

If you need a bit more bottom end, give the bass an EQ boost around 80 Hz. GarageBand has some nice pre-sets that will do it for you, such as bass boost and stronger bass. For a more hands on and precise boost, choose an equalizer, such as the graphic equalizer. For a nice bite, boost between 600 and 800 Hz. Higher frequencies may be boosted in some cases to bring out finger and fret noises - GarageBand has a good pre-set called increase bass pluck.Always watch out for a sound that is too boomy - cut the low-mid range around 200-250 Hz to reduce boom.
Using the Equalizer for voices              ...Some are more equal than others....

Apple has thoughtfully provided several pre-sets to make recorded voices sound just right.
Use as little EQ as possible; if you find that you have tweaked the EQ settings a lot, try to go back to a flat setting for a fresh hearing (or use the checkboxes).
Experiment with presets clear vocals and reduce S
Use mid reduce or vocal presence if the voice is too muddy.
If you find that the voice sounds great on its own but not in the mix, it is probably clashing with other instruments in the same frequency range. Solutions to that clash include:
  • try panning the offending instrument and voice away from each other
  • choose a more compatible instrument, if it is not a recorded track
  • if this doesn't do the job, use some corrective EQ to cut out the overlapping frequencies.
For example, you may have a clash between a male rock voice and an electric guitar: try to cut the guitar at the low-mid frequencies around 1kHz.

Lester Young
Lester Young

Gary Burton
Gary Burton

Other Effects

We have looked at Compression, Reverb and Equalization in detail on these pages. Let's now have a look at GarageBand's other effects, the so-called Time-based effects. They are called time-based, because they apply changes that affect the sound over time.
  • Modulation is an effect that mimics the way a musician alters or embellishes the tone after the initial attack. The most common embellishment is vibrato, a subtle pitch variation. Another is tremolo, which is a volume variation. You will find vibrato modulation on many instruments, from cello, saxophone and flute to acoustic guitar and French horn. It is not used on piano, as a pianist has no control over the tone once the hammer has struck the string. Nor will you find it on vibraphone: the flaps over the vibe's resonators cause a tremolo effect, not vibrato, so the instrument is mis-named. Modulation is typically applied with the modulation wheel on a piano keyboard, but it can also be hand-written and edited in GarageBand's track editing window. Select "Modulation" from the pull down list directly to the left of the editor window.
  • Vibrato and tremolo tend to sound more musical if the modulation rate is not too fast. This depends of course on the effect you want to create, and the style of the song. During the twentieth century, vibrato and tremolo rates kept slowing down during the decades. Singers in the 'thirties used a fast vibrato, as did saxophone players like Coleman Hawkins. Later generations of musicians slowed down the rate; the first jazz saxophonist to do so was Lester Young. Three distinct generations of jazz vibraphone players can be characterized by the tremolo rate they used: first Lionel Hampton - "Hamp" -, who used a fast tremolo setting; followed by the younger Milt "Bags" Jackson, who slowed it down to 2-3 beats per second; then contemporary vibes player Gary Burton, who often dispenses with it all together, playing with a clean un-modulated sound. That is also the preferred sound of many modern sax and trumpet players.

  • Flanging is a pitch variation effect that got its name from the technique, used with early tape decks, of slowing down the reel by placing your hand on its flange. It is used mostly by guitar players. It is easily overdone - use sparingly.
  • Phasing is The phasing effect is sweeping sound that adds an artificial edge to a natural sound.
  • Other effects can be added to GarageBand in the form of Audio Units. Hundreds are available. Some examples are sweep filter, wah-wah, distortion, overdrive and chorus. For a good overview, see


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