Introducing ChordPulse…sure you need Band-in-a-Box?

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.

10 comments to Introducing ChordPulse…sure you need Band-in-a-Box?

  • JS

    BIAB a “GREAT”piece of SW? Maybe back in 1993 it might be considered “great”but by today’s standards it’s pretty amateurish. I’ve heard that they made some “improvements”in the last few versions,but the 2008 version I’m running looks like it is the result of an amateur thats been hacking together an app for years,and learning as he goes.

    I WISH someone would write a proper auto-accompaniment app. I’ve heard Yamaha arranger keyboards blow this piece of crap (BIAB) away.

    • Francesco

      As a software developer myself,I agree that BIAB looks inadequate according to today’s standards,and this is more or less what I say in the post,but I am aware that this consideration has only to do with the user interface and with the steep learning curve. If you are willing to spend a good amount of time on it,I believe that BIAB is capable to do anything you need.

      FYI,since the 2008 edition BIAB has been improved in thousand ways. Its Real Tracks are so realistic that it’s virtually impossible to tell them from actual musicians playing real instruments (because they *ARE* real musicians playing real instruments!),and the 2014 edition –which came after this post –finally revamped the user interface and made it easier to use.

      I still believe that BIAB is just too much if you only need backing tracks for practicing (which is my primary goal),and in fact I now prefer simpler and less expensive programs such as iReal b (which runs on iPhone and iPad),but as an all-feature auto-accompaniment software I doubt anyone will ever publish a product that can seriously compete with BIAB in the short term. Not because it isn’t impossible to do any better (it is,in fact),but because they have the 100% of the market and gaining a significant market share would be just too hard for any competitor.

      • JS

        BIAB has “improved”in a thousand ways,maybe,and what was I supposed to do? Spend money to upgrade it year after year until it finally started to approach “reasonable”quality? How many “cool”new useless features should I have paid for over they years until the dialog boxes finally didn’t look and work like they were created by someone having a seizure? Was I supposed to eventually spend $2000 on this junk? Sorry…I don’t agree. I own a couple of DAWS that are truly great pieces of modern software. Next to them BIAB is cheap Windows 3.1 software. I don’t agree that something better wouldn’t put them out of business in short time. There are far better audio programmers out there. Programs like chordbot and irealb don’t compete because they have what? 30 very limited styles? Barely any songs to download? Make these programs read common data files that are all over the web,ship them with a couple of hundred very high quality styles and they would compete.

  • Francesco

    Your observations are interesting,even though I don’t agree completely. IMHO,the main problem is that different musicians require different software. To me,a program like BIAB is above all a means to practice songs and chord progressions,and that’s why I was glad to discover ChordPulse. But I have met many musicians that actually use BIAB to create decent demos or even commercial jingles without having to pay for studio sidemen. To these professionals,the price tag of each new BIAB version is quite reasonable,as it’s less than what they’d pay of a couple hours of work of a fellow musician. For the same reason,these guys are more than willing to spend a lot of time to learn the many BIAB features (which I frankly find quite difficult to master and that are of no interest to me).

    A few additional points:

    (1) in the meantime they release BIAB 2014,which fixes most of the user interface issues that BIAB has had for all previous versions. Finally you don’t get the impression to be working with a Windows 3.1 piece of software.

    (2) I recently got a MacBook and the first software I purchased is iReal B (that runs on iOS and OSX but not on Windows). For less than 20$ you get *EVERYTHING* you need to practice chord progressions,sound is acceptable and it takes 5 minutes to master all its features. I will never go back to BIAB for practicing. With 2000+ songs ready to be downloaded from their forum,in most cases you don’t even have to create a chord progression.

    (3) I was allowed to install on my new Mac all the programs I had purchased for my PC,including Ableton Live,Max/MSP,SampleTank and SonicSynth. The one and only software company that does NOT permit to use the Windows license on a Mac is –of course –PGMusic and their Band-in-a-Box. They expect me to pay for a crossgrade (though the instructions are contradictory). Surely not a customer-friendly policy….

  • JS

    It doesn’t surprise me that they expect you to pay more.

    My experience with BIAB was so bad that I don’t care if it is finally “fixed and modern”. I paid for “modern”software the first time and what I got was a “modern”toolbar stuck on a poorly written windows 3.1 app that lacks basic functionality. Two wrong button clicks and your work is gone with,no undo. Dialogs with controls misaligned and all over the place. Pure crap.

    And FWIW,I don’t need or WANT real tracks. I want a program that will let me input chords,select a style,and then press play. What I want out of the speakers is a modern sounding lifelike ‘modifiable’band performance.

    A modern 2014 program shouldn’t be repeating cheap robotic midi patterns. Styles should be based on live performances. You should be able to tweak a specific “style”by selecting “performers”and then adjusting the “personality”parameters of the “performer”. Playback should be through a modern sound engine that plays back the performance using high quality multi-layered samples. It should have a mixer that lets you adjust the mix,add effects,etc.

    This is what BIAB 2014 should be. Over 20 years and what do I have instead? They “finally”fixed the dialogs? Oh and lets not forget the time-stretched drum loops. Please.

    These guys should make full backing track software.

  • JMW

    Agreed,the user interface is crap. Someone needs to have a usability evaluation done on it. Typically with user interfaces that look like that is a indication of the underlying code base being just as bad and is probably written so badly they have a very hard time making any changes to the software.

  • Neal

    I agree,JS.

    BIAB is the crappiest Software. If we’re only talking about features,then it is the strongest (beacause the only) competitor hands down. But great Software requires more than just a bunch of features. Me too I feel somehow cheated and won’t be buying any Updates.
    It’s ridiculous that PG claims to come up with a “completely redesigned UI”or something along those lines,and what they actually offer is a new customizable menu bar with the same shitty buttons all over the place for another 100 Dollars. Seriously? Have those guys ever heard about customer support?

  • Along similar lines there is Chord Pad chord sequencer software that has similar features ,different styles and some features not found in other similar software.
    Basically it lets you make quickly chord progressions and backing tracks in different styles,change tempo,key,instruments…Great practicing tool for any musician (for example if you are bass player you can turn off bass track and create minus one backing track for bass)

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