How to Enhance Your Music with the New Alchemy Synth in GarageBand for iOS

BY George Tinari

Published 17 Feb 2017

Whether you’re a beginner to music or a seasoned professional, the new alchemy synth in GarageBand can do wonders for your music. It lets even the most inexperienced create amazing music just by tapping around on a keyboard, while experts can use it to quickly create astounding beats on their own or as a layer to a full song.

The most recent GarageBand update for iOS brings the powerful, yet intuitive alchemy synth to iPhone and iPad so you can tap away to make music you’ll want to get up and dance to. Here is how to get started with this fun new feature.

Making Music With the Alchemy Synth

To get started with the alchemy synth, just open the new version of GarageBand. Right away, the app prompts you to choose an instrument. Keyboard is first, so choose Alchemy Synth as the subcategory. Tap one of the keys and you should notice something sounds very different. You aren’t playing just any old piano, an entire tune is coming out just by playing one note.

Tap a different note to alter the pitch. Tap multiple notes at the same time to create a harmony. Experiment with different sounds and harmonies and have fun crafting the framework for your jingle.

The alchemy synth has several modes too. The default Glissando mode is the one I just described. It lets you tap keys and create beautiful music – simple as that. Tap the Glissando button to change to the next mode, Scroll. Scroll works the same way, except you can swipe left and right across the keyboard as you play. If you need to access a wider range of notes, this is the mode you’ll want to be in most of the time. Just drag your finger across to scroll, but keep in mind it can be a bit slippery at times.

The final mode is Pitch, which lets you morph the pitch of the keys for effect by dragging left or right away from the key you’re playing. You effectively slide up and down the scale in this mode without having to press new keys and get an abrupt change in pitch.

While these modes alter the sound a bit, other GarageBand tools let you customize the alchemy synth even more profoundly.

Editing Your Sound

Once you’ve learned how to master the alchemy synth at its core, then you can play around with the settings to dramatically alter the sound to something that fits your music or vision. You can do this in two ways.

First, tap the Settings icon at the top right. Here, you can change the tempo, time signature, and key signature. The tempo controls how fast the beat is, so for a slower song you’ll want a lower number on the tempo. A higher number means a faster beat. Time signature is the beats per measure and which note gets on beat. Think of it as the core rhythm. Chances are if you don’t know what a time signature is, you’re fine sticking with 4/4. Last is the key signature, which changes the key of the song. C major is the standard, but feel free to play around if you have a specific sound in mind or just want to experiment.

Next tap the editing icon to the left of Settings. (If you’re on an iPad, these tools are already shown above the keyboard.) Here you can choose between eight different effects, plus tune those as needed. Adjust delay, cutoff, reverb, resonance, swing, unison, stutter and vibrato. Again, it’ll take some time to play around with these knobs. Tap keys to hear the subtle differences and figure out whether you like them or not.

Keep swiping over to reveal more options. The last page is arguably the most important because it lets you change the sound of the synth entirely. Two transform pads that operate on an XY axis let you decide which combination you want of panning and phaser and of multimix 1 and multimix 2. Notice how when you drag your finger around in the multimix transform pad, the synth changes tune and rhythm. If you were afraid you were stuck with the same loop over and over, these pads are how to morph the sound into something totally new. You also get additional knobs here for attack, decay, sustain, and release.

The sheer number of editing tools provided plus the genius of the alchemy synth itself makes this a highly powerful feature of GarageBand. It lets you make works of art in just minutes.