I purchased a license of Band-in-a-Box in 2009 and recently updated it to version 2011. Overall,I am quite satisfied with it but I have some complains.
BIAB is surely a great piece of software,but at times I feel overwhelmed by all its features. After all,I purchased it mainly to practice over common (and not-so-common) chord progression,or improvise over jazz and rock tunes that weren’t available as an Aebersold play-along,or improve my playing over any key and any tempo. I wasn’t the least interested for 90% of the remaining features,that were added mostly for song writers and composers. For example,I don’t really care for the ability to generate a solo over a chord sequence,or add lyrics,recording vocals,etc. Granted,BIAB lets you precisely define every minor detail in its music,but many of these advanced features require some effort to learn,which I don’t have. I prefer spending my time playing,not learning how to use this software. To make things worse,BIAB user interface isn’t exactly modern and intuitive.
More recently I have found myself more at ease with simpler programs,such as the fantastic iRealB (formely iRealBook),which is available for iPhone,iPad,iPod Touch,Android,and Mac. If you own an iPhone,odds are that you already know this app. If you don’t,let is suffice to say that it’s a sort of pocket Real Book (only chord sequences,no melodies) that has been enhanced with additional play-along style packs (jazz,pop,latin,fusion,etc.) that let you practice over more than one thousand popular songs,or define your own. (iRealB enthusiasts often post new songs to iRealB forum.). The quality of the computer-generated accompaniment is good:it can’t match BIAB’s Real Track feature,but it’s more than sufficient for practicing. For less than 20 euros –including the main app plus all style packs –I have all the BIAB features that I like most in my iPhone,and I can often leave the Real Book home when I join a jam.
iRealB isn’t available for Windows so it seemed to me that no viable alternative to BIAB is available for some million players that have neither an iPhone nor a Mac,until I found this little gem named ChordPulse. Its feature list is so short that I can summarize it in a few lines:
- you can quickly enter chord sequences of any complexity;it supports 16 common chord types,plus inversions,slash chords,and bass notes
- chord sequences can be arbitrarily long and are subdivided in “pages”that can contain up to 16 bars;chord length can be modified with the mouse
- you can repeat the entire sequnce,or just the current page,or play the sequence only once
- over 100 comping styles are provided,and new styles are added on a regular basis at each new minor release –styles range from jazz,blues,rock,pop,and fusion to more traditional styles such as waltz,shuffle,and bluegrass
- chord sequences can be transposed to any key and BPM value can be changed very quickly,with the mouse or keyboard
- limited ability to customize the accompaniment style on specific measures and beats
- mixer for the four instruments,export to MIDI file,precount,fade out,tuning
- resource-savvy:takes only 5M on disk and 64M of memory,downloads and installs in a few seconds,works on all Windows versions starting with XP,works at 1024×768 resolution…runs nicely on a 300$ netbook
and above all
- very simple and intuitive user interface,no real need to study the manual.
- only 28$ / 20 euros
Again,the best thing about ChordPulse is that it’s so simple,easy and intuitive that you need less than one minute to use it,and less than five minutes to explore all its features. Watch these videos for more information.
According to its author Laszlo Oroszi,the software is also good for songwriting,but I don’t fully agree with this as it lacks a few features that might be necessary. For one,you cannot change style,time signature,and BPM in the middle of the chord sequence. These minor limitations,however,don’t decrease ChordPulse’s usefulness as a great tool for practicing and improvising.
You can download ChordPulse and use it freely for 14 days. After the trial period,you must register. The trial edition has all the feature of the real product,including the ability to save your chord sequences.
Quite generously,the author makes a Lite version available for free. The Lite version has only 5 chord types and 24 styles,and fewer options to customize the comping style,but is otherwise as powerful as the complete version. If you just want a better metronome,it’s more than enough. But if you are looking for something more inspirational,have a look at the complete version.