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!).

7 comments to Free backing tracks for practicing!

  • ericdano

    Ugh,this program looks and sounds terrible. So you say “both approaches have limitations”,Band in a Box and Aebersold,and you list some of the Aebersold problems,but for Band in a Box you list that it is hard and costs a lot? Really? That is as in-depth as you are going to go? Hogwash.

    At the base price,Band in a Box at least sounds as good as this ChordPulse software,if not better. You have hundreds and hundreds of styles to pick from with Band in a Box. Chord Pulse? I dunno,sounds like a couple maybe? The videos make me want to liquid concrete my ears shut.

    Band in a Box does have video tutorials,but the average person does not need them. You simply type in the chord progression,pick and style,key,tempo,number of choruses and boom……done. RealTracks take it a step further and give you pretty darn convincing backgrounds (depends on the style). Well worth the additional cost if you are a serious student learning improv. The video tutorials allow you to get into the program and do things like switch up styles or part of styles in the song or bar,push beats,have the band do stops,etc. There are LOTS of things that the program is capable of,but if you just load it up,type in a progression,and press play…….it’s amazing.

    ChordPulse? I’d save my money and get the real deal,Band in a Box. You can practice complex chords (aug,dim,#7,13,+) with a convincing (with RealTracks) or semi-convincing (non-RealTracks) band in so many different styles,tempos……it will provide anyone with enough stuff to practice for a long time.

  • Francesco

    Thank you for letting us know your opinion,Eric. However,it seems that you focused your attention on the less important part of the post.

    I am not saying that BIAB is a bad program,to the countrary. I purchased it in 2009 and have regularly updated it since then. It has a lot of nice features and can produce much better accompaniment than any other similar program,even without RealTracks. However,it’s a fact that it starts at 129$ and it is way more complex than it should,mainly because they never updated a user interface that was conceived many years ago. Also,I find it preposterous that you have to spend 399$ for the version that includes all video tutorials,regardless of whether the “average person doesn’t need them”. I run a software company myself and would NEVER charge my users for any material that teach them how to make a better use of my own software. In this sense,I appreciate ChordPulse’s approach much better.

    Regardless of my opinion about PG Music’s selling strategy,I agree that if you already own BIAB it would make little sense to purchase a less capable program. However,it’s the fact that ChordPulse provides a 100% FREE PLAYER EDITION,which opens up a few possibilities that BIAB doesn’t offer.

    Thanks to this free player,I was able to prepare a few chord sequences that my peer musicians can download and use to improve their rhythm,melodic,and harmonic abilities WITHOUT SPENDING A SINGLE DIME! You don’have to purchase ChordPulse if you just want to practice over the chord sequences I prepared. It’s hard to beat THIS deal.

  • Dubrosa

    Thank you for these simple chord progressions and recommending the Chord Pulse program.
    Great website! 🙂

  • Unless I overlooked it on your page,you haven’t mentioned a very good set of free play-alongs on the Berklee website:

    http://learningresources.berklee.edu/public/PFD/

    Also,many people have created midi files using BIAB or by other means that are very good for shedding tunes. A good midi search engine,as well as a good midi player (allows tempo changes,muting tracks) are at http://www.vanbasco.com

  • Francesco

    Shame on me,I was familiar with neither the Hal Crook play-alongs nor the great collection of MIDI files at VanBasco. Thank you so much Barry for mentioning them. I should create a resource page for gathering all links of this sort I come across.

  • I use Chord Pad to sequence chord progressions and create backing tracks it is similar but has its own good points 🙂
    http://www.desktopmetronome.com/wpsite/products/chord-pad/

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