Apple has posted the details of GarageBand ‘09. Most of the new improvements are in the form of the new Lessons feature, both built-in “Basic Lessons” and a la carte, $5 “Artist Lessons.” The basic specs:

  • Basic lessons: Included with the program, these teach you the fundamentals of piano and guitar, with side-by-side notation, frets, and graphical representations of where to put your fingers if you’re an absolute beginner. The lessons include video and play-along music with adjustable tempo.
  • Artist lessons (US$4.99): Available separately, the Artist Lessons include one song each, taught to you by the celebrity artist that created it. Sting teaches you “Roxanne,” and so on. There’s a step-by-step video with side-by-side visual representation, finger positioning, and chord notation, as in the Basics section. There’s also an interview with the artists talking about what the song meant to the artist (a nice addition), plus exclusive individual tracks so you can, for instance, listen in on just the guitar solo. (These sound as though they come from the original recordings.)
  • Additional amp, stompbox models, plus 3D view. There’s a gimmicky new visualization of amps and stompboxes, and it’s a good value if you use the rest of iLife, though Apple doesn’t quite stack up (pardon the pun) to modeled offerings in dedicated guitar amp software.
  • Improved GarageBand Jam. This visualization of 3D instruments playing along pretty much puzzled people in the last version of GarageBand – pretty, but what was it for? Now, this view navigates arrangements, shuffles instruments (not sure why that’s useful), and applies styles. It’s basically a dumbed-down way of taking loops and applying musical styles, but it is slightly improved in ‘09 and may be at least fun for casual users who are intimidated by the full program.

It’s a huge win for Apple in really focusing on what people need to get into music. Seeing a friendly artist face and getting no assumptions about what they know could motivate people in a way no music software has in the past.

Of course, I always find thing to complain about. I find it a little odd that the artist lineup is all white. I mean, not that we just elected our first African-American President and African-Americans had some impact on American rock, folk, pop, and jazz, or anything like that. (For that matter, there’s no Latin-American representation. Or Classical Music. Or quite a lot of other things.) I assume this complaint will be addressed as Apple beefs up its library, but I’ll say it again – this is an opportunity; Apple alone can’t teach everyone to make music, and that’s fine!

My main complaint is that you do need to buy the $79 (or even $99) upgrade even if you recently bought a new Mac, just to buy the $5 videos. But even that’s not a complaint: it’s a hint to everyone else who could be shooting interesting videos like this. You hear me, I hope?

And despite my gripes, I really do think this is very nicely done, and I hope it does attract new people to music. For existing GarageBand users, whether you upgrade or not really depends on whether you want the videos and if the rest of the suite is useful to you.

GarageBand ’09 Product Page

More analysis (and why some competitors do have an opportunity, if they will take it): GarageBand ‘09 Celebrity Lessons, US$4.99; But How to Really Learn to Play Music?

Funniest response to this announcement: kaden_harris on Twitter replies:

“Gawd, think of the hipster name droppin at rehearsals…" Here’s a riff Sting showed me the other day…”

I can see the TV ad already.