Many thanks to the category lead, NC10 for adding this item.
I’ve been using Band In A Box (BIAB) software for PC by PG Music for many years now. The new version, 2007, which I’ve had for about a month, is no exception. While it is very feature rich, I end up using the following features most often:
1. Generates great-sounding musical backgrounds with which to play along.
Entry is very easy. Start a song, determine the tempo and rhythm (using styles, which are based on rhythm), enter the chords, enter the number of choruses, choose the rhythm instruments and it generates the background. For years, the backgrounds have been improving. They are at the point where they sound ALMOST as good as live musicians. For 2007, the drum part now consist of samples of live drummers. PG Music, the publisher, calls it “RealDrums”
2. Easy entry of melodies and melodic compositions
It’s done through a very easy mouse interface. I’ve gotten pretty fast with it. You can also choose which instrument sample to use in playing the melody
3. Easy import of musical files
If you have a midi file, you can import the melody and/or have BIAB determine the chords based on the file. For 2007, the program is now able to enterpret chords from MP3 files and make BIAB files out of them.
4. Prints Great looking lead sheets (chords and melody)
While BIAB occasionally will report a sharp or flat opposite to where I think it should be (for example, a D flat where I would prefer a C sharp), it’s notational choices are usually spot on and it prints out great looking, easily read lead sheet (chords and melody). I know my band likes the sheets a whole lot better than what I was using before I got BIAB. You can transpose from one instrument to another easily through a matter of clicks.
5. The files can be burned to CDs for students or myself
You can save files to .wav and save those to CDs. I will make backgrounds for my students to play over. I’ve even made backgrounds for me to play over as a one man band for senior groups.
If file size is a concern, export to midi files is an available option.
Other features include a choice of many computer generated soloists, based on instrument, player and style, which are used to generate fairly interesting solos for fun or to practice with or even to interact with for me (one man band) or my students (trading fours back and forth). It has a melodist which can generate a melody based on a particular set of chord changes. I’ve used this on occasion to consider compositional or improvisational possibilities.
That just scratches the surface. There are plenty more features, however, these are the ones I use the most.
Other people have recognized the robust nature of the program. I am aware that my local high school uses BIAB as one of the programs featured in their electronic music class.
Year ago, I purchased the megapak program which adds lots of extra styles and features. The prices for the 2007 version, for new buyers are as follows:
Base program $99 (includes style sets 0-3, melodist set 1, soloist set 1, real drums set 1)
Megapak version $269 (includes style sets 0-66, melodist sets 1-8, soloist sets 1-11 and 16-18, real drums sets 1-3 and a video tutorial) The megapak offers hundresds of styles in dozens of feels to apply to the compositions. Extra soloist and melodist sets also add hundreds of possibilities.
The megapak is expensive. However, upgrades are not. Buying as soon as the program is available each year, I get a great deal on upgrades. This year, the price to upgrade the 2006 megapak version to the 2007 megapak version was $69. Sure, there is an upgrade charge every year.
The program is very flexible in terms of number of choruses, styles, repeats and endings. It’s very easy to tweak a song and see what the effect is of a change in key or tempo. There are plenty of sources of midi files and BIAB files, for that matter, on the internet. The program has a nice cataloguing feature, too, called the songlist. Give it a few minutes and it will generate a list (including name, rhythm, tempo and key) of all the BIAB songs in a particular directory, even an entire hard drive.
There are many other features available, but these are the ones I find most useful.
There are plenty of commercial play alongs for jazz practice, however, the ability to change key, tempo and rhythm makes this progam invaluable.
I am using this on a Dell Dimension 8400 with SB Audigy 2 sound card and Klipsch ProMedia 5.1 speakers. The program sounds great.
PG Music’s customer service and support is great. I’ve never had any problems getting to a live person with my technical issues. There are also a couple of Yahoo groups out there than I’ve found helpful.
5 stars is not enough. This program helps me provide practice sets for my students, backgrounds to play over for my clients, a way for me to hear my compositions while composing, a way to learn and practice new tunes in whatever key I want. I couldn’t do what I do musically without it.
There is a free download available from www.pgmusic.com. You will be able to play files, but not save them.
If anybody has any questions about the program or how I use it, please contact me through the email listed on my member page.
Thanks for reading. God bless!
I have a new CD release available from my web site, http://www.jazzobsession.com/. Samples are on my Epinions member page. Please check them out.
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