From the mailbag:
I was wondering if you could advise me briefly on how complicated it is to compose music on garageband. I don't mean the musical side of it, but the technical side. I'm asking on behalf of my 82-year-old father who composes piano music for pleasure in his retirement, writes it painstakingly the old-fashioned way, and records it to an archaic cassette deck left over from the 70s or 80s. I've seen the process demonstrated at an Apple store and it looks amazing, but I wondered how difficult it would be for my father to master. We are both Mac users; I am reasonably adept, but no genius (and no composer!), and he is amazingly adept for a recent convert. I'd just love to see him be able to print his sheet music easily and make MP3s of his recordings to send to friends and family. Do you think it's realistic to encourage him to invest in a decent electronic keyboard and try this?
Thanks very much for your time,
Hey there Heidi,
Thanks for your email. So, I think you should indeed encourage your dad to use Garageband - it is very intuitive, has built-in instrument sounds (that actually sound very good), and is free(!). Garageband itself is simple for most users, but it is geared mostly for loop-based popular music. You can used it very easily for more traditional music composition, and I think your dad might find it much more easy to get his ideas down than when using pen-and-paper and cassette tapes, but it will take some getting used to.
A portable USB-powered keyboard is fairly inexpensive (i would recommend this one for its price-to-feature ratio: http://www.zzounds.com/item--MDOOXY61, $170, 61 keys; fewer-key models cost less), and very portable. Since they are powered by the computer, they are very convenient, but they make no sound on their own. Given what you describe his interests to be, I think they are a good bet.
Of course, I'd always consider the possibility that he LIKES to compose the old-fashioned way :)
Hope this helps.