Use GarageBand to Teach Time Signatures

It’s not used very often by those who use GarageBand primarily for pop/rock/hiphop songwriting, but did you know that GarageBand lets you choose between at least 10 different time signatures when creating music?

Because of the instinctive way GarageBand translates music into a visual medium, it can be a great tool for exploring and teaching various time signatures.

Here are some ideas for using GarageBand to explore the concept of Time Signatures:

  1. Open up the loops screen, and explore various loops available for each time signature.  Then students can:

    • conduct along with various loops
    • guess the time signature from the sound.
    • improvise either with instruments, body percussion, or vocals to various time signatures


  • The green/midi loops generally represent time signatures more faithfully than the blue/”real” loops.
  • Some of the more obscure time signatures do not have pre-created loops.  You can create your own loops in any time signature by recording and selecting a short phrase to be looped and selecting “Add to Loop Library” from the Edit Menu.
  • Not all default loops are accurate representations of their time signature.  You may want to explore loops ahead of time, marking those you want to use as “Favorites.”

2.  Record students performing previously-learned or simple new songs in one or more time signatures.

You can use background loops as an accompaniment or just use the Metronome to keep in tempo.

3.  Include “measures” in your discussion by looking at the measure markings ruler at the top of the screen.

(Hint:  Make sure the viewing icon is set on “Project,” “Chord,” or “Measures” — if it is set to display “Time,” you will not be able to see the measure markings at the top of the timeline area.)  Notice how there is a larger line for the downbeat and smaller lines for the other beats.

4.  Add loops of various time signatures to the Loop Library.

Create a loop or ostinato for every time signature (or at least the ones you want to focus on in class) and add it to your Loop Library by selecting “Add to Loop Library” from the Edit Menu.

5.  Have students draw their own visual representation of Time Signatures.

Students can create their own Time Signature Cheat Sheet by drawing their own Time Signature Ruler (like that at the top of the song window) on a sheet of paper or poster board for one or more time signatures.  (Option:  these could be created using a computer draw program)

6.  Turn a marker or chalkboard into a real-life GarageBand window.

Divide the window into beats with a “beat ruler” and then use construction paper to create loops or phrases in various time signatures to create a visual and tactile representation of the concept.


Software used:  GarageBand ’09, Version 5.1

Amanda Louise Miller is pursuing an MM in Music Composition at Oklahoma City University.
She has a Bachelor’s Degree in Music Education and extensive experience working in online learning and faculty development.

Contact her at 

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