Free backing tracks for practicing!

Practicing can be quite boring,especially if you play sax,flute,trumpet,clarinet,or another monophonic wind instrument . Worse,practicing with your instrument alone can bring to some bad musical habits,including not being able to play “on the beat”and not being aware of the relationships between the notes/scales/arpeggios you play and the chords these notes were supposed to be playing upon.

Virtually all teachers recommend to use a metronome to prevent bad timing habits,but what about the inability to hear and “feel”the actual harmony implied by the scales you are playing?

Many players remedy to this issue by using play-along records (e.g. Aebersold,Hal Leonard). For example,Aebersold’s volumes 1,3,and 16 offer great backing tracks for practicing scales,II-V progressions,and turnarounds,respectively. Other musicians prefer making their own backing tracks with Band-in-a-Box (BIAB). However,both approaches have limitations.

Play-along CDs include realistic backing tracks,but limited choice of keys,chord sequences,and tempos. Most recording tracks are medium speed,which can be problematic for beginners,who should practice scales and arpeggios VERY slowly to master the subtleties of rhythm,such as playing “ahead”or “behind”the beat.

Band-in-a-Box and other similar programs far more flexible,in that you can enter any chord sequence as well as easily change the key and the tempo. Recent BIAB versions include features such as RealBand and RealTracks,which can produce natural-sounding tracks that are much more realistic than the computer-generated sounds of its earlier versions. However,all these additional features make BIAB quite a complex software to learn,so complex that BIAB maker PG Music had to produce many tutorial videos to let users learn how to master all these features.

Finally,both play-along CDs and BIAB surely don’t come for free. Aebersold CDs are 10-15$ each,whereas BIAB starts at 129$ and goes up to 669$ if you want all the RealTracks you might need. No pocket money,really…

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In a recent post I introduced ChordPulse,a simple yet useful Windows program that can generate backing tracks in a very easy manner.  Chord Pulse accompaniment styles are simplicistic –if compared to BIAB,at least  –yet they exactly what you need to practice rhythms over basic harmonies. More important,ChordPulse is so simple that it takes only a few minutes to discover all its features. Like BIAB,you can define chord sequences of (almost) any length,define loops inside the sequence,change the tempo,the accompaniment styles,and the key. You can even tune the software to frequencies other than the standard 440Hz.

What I overlooked in my review is that there are as many as THREE versions of ChordPulse,namely:ChordPulse (full version,$27.95 or 19.95 euros),ChordPulse Lite (freeware,has limited number of chord types and accompaniment styles),and ChordPulse Player (also freeware,can play songs created with the full version but can’t create new songs). The great thing about the Player version is that you are still able to change the tempo and the key,define loops,etc.  It was perfect for what we need!

Using the full version I created a few chord sequences that are specifically meant to be played while practicing with a wind instrument. You can download and play these files with ChordPulse Player at the speed you prefer,starting at lower tempos and going faster once you feel comfortable to do so. Most sequences are available in all keys,but you can change the key by pressing the Up/Down arrow keys.

You can download these sequences as a single ZIP file,which contains the following exercises:

Simple Chords -Major,minor,dominant 7th,augmented,diminished,and half-diminished chords,played by themselves or in simple sequences (e.g. Major to Minor). The first 12 sequences (or pages,according to ChordPulse terminology) only contain chords in C key,but you can easily transpose them using the Up/Down arrow keys. Pages from C to Z include sequences of chords of same type that raise or descend chromatically,whole tones,minor thirds,perfect fourths,etc. Great for practicing Brecker-like patterns!

II-V-I Sequences –The first 12 pages contain the basic II-V-I sequence in all keys. If you want to practice on the II-V sequence,you just create a loop that includes only the first two chords in each page. You can practice each page separatedly,until you feel confident in that key,or you can play these 12 pages as a loop (read later). The remaining 24 pages contain II-V or II-V-I sequences that raise or descend chromatically,by whole tones,minor thirds,major thrids,and perfect fourths.

II-V-I Sequences (Minor) – Same as previous exercises,except it contains IIm7/5b –V7+alt –Imin sequences. (Unfortunately,ChordPulse can’t easily generate complex chords such as dominant augmented chords,therefore the sound of the V7+alt chord isn’t perfect.

Turnarounds –Contains many variations of the common I- VIm7 –IIm7 –V7 turnaround,including variations with tritone substitutions. The first 10 pages contain only turnarounds in C key (use arrow keys to transpose),the remaining pages contain turnaround in all keys,in ascending or descending sequences. When creating these turnarounds I used this page as a reference.

A few tips for using ChordPulse and these chord sequences:

  • Use the File-Session Notes menu command (or just press the N key) to read a description of the contents of each file.
  • Use the Up and Down arrow keys or the commands near the bottom-right corner to transpose to different keys.
  • Use the Repeat All command to play the entire sequence,or the Repeat Page command to loop over the chords in current page. (You can alternate between these modes by clicking the third button from the right,near the top border.
  • You can loop over chords in the same page by clicking the mouse immediately under the first chord of the sequence,and then dragging the mouse to the last chord in the sequence.
  • You can loop over chords in different pages by right-clicking the first chord and selecting the “Loop from this Bar”menu command,then right-clicking on the last chord of the sequence and selecting the “Loop to this Bar”menu command.

ONE LAST WORD! If you find ChordPulse useful,consider purchasing the full version! Even if you don’t do it immediately,at least send its author Laszlo Oroszi an email saying how much you appreciate his work and his generousity (don’t forget that the Lite and Player editions are completely free!).