Band-In-A-Box by PG Music is an incredible computer music software application that borders on "artificial intelligence" because the software can generate play-along accompaniments in several musical styles and in any key and tempo. Many music educators have had an opportunity to see this innovative product in action. If you have not yet seen it, you can download a Mac or a PC demo version free of charge at: http://www.pgmusic.com. It is a current version minus some of the whistles and bells, To my surprise, version 8.0 works on all computers including older 386, 486 and first-generation Pentium CPU's as well as with the latest Pentium III computers. That represents major compatibility with both old Windows 3.1 and Mac computers and the latest high-end computers.
Band-In-A-Box is amazing and almost too good for words. Simply select the style of song for which you'd like to create a rhythm section accompaniment and it will automatically generate a complete song in that style, in the key and tempo you want, complete with intro, chords, melody, arrangement and solo improvisations. Or just type in the chords to any song, using standard chord symbols (like C or Fm7), choose a musical style (jazz, blues, ballad, rock, Latin, etc.) and press play. Band-In-A-Box then generates a complete, professional quality five piece accompaniment with bass, drums, piano, guitar and strings to be played back through your MIDI system or PC sound card. Features include high quality notation and printout, automatic solos and harmonizing of a melody, and more.
But this product doesn't stop with generating rhythm section accompaniments and solos. It can generate improvised solos in 255 different artistic styles from Charlie Parker, Mile Davis, Freddie Hubbard to John Coltrane, Wes Montgomery and hundreds of others. Or, you can have the software to generate the rhythm section accompaniment while you add a melody via MIDI input and then Band-In-A-Box can harmonize the melody in up to 48 different harmonies from Paul Schaeffer to Nashville saxes, Singer's Unlimited, Wes Montgomery, Glenn Miller, Supersax, Big-Band Brass, and many more. Band-In-A-Box is a great opportunity to get your students listening to improvised solos without all the extra expense of purchasing recordings. You can legally duplicate rhythm accompaniments with and without improvised solos to give to your jazz students for study and practice at home. As a band director, I regularly duplicated rhythm section accompaniments and tested my jazz bands in preparation for upcoming concerts and jazz festivals. I would also give them several cuts at different tempos, so my students progressed from slower more practical tempos to the concert/festival tempos over a gradual period of time. Try testing students with a rhythm section accompaniment and you will quickly find that playing entire jazz band pieces with only a rhythm section accompaniment can be quite challenging since there are no other horn parts on the tape. Helping students play swing, Latin and rock lines musically and correctly can be a challenge better conquered with ;this practice tool. I went one step further and imported the generated solos and/or rhythm section parts into a notation program and printed them out for students to analyze and read them. Imagine having nearly instant parts to analyze and master in preparation for upcoming concerts. Version 8.0 reduces the need for the notation software since it can display any part instantly in the notation window. This is jazz education in the 21st century.
But general music teachers can also use this software program with their students at the novice level analyzing the chords and learning how to perform simple songs, such as "Twinkle, Twinkle," "Mary Had A Little Lamb," "Happy Birthday," "Row, Row, Your Boat" and "When The Saints Go Marching In."
One of the things about computer technology is that product updates can vastly improve the original product several levels beyond the original, earlier versions. Version 8.0, the latest version of Band-In-A-Box, offers many new and better upgrade features that go dramatically beyond the capabilities of earlier versions. Most prominent is the Melodist Maker which does two important things. First it allows you to define or edit your own melodies without having to perform it. You can choose the parameters to control the type of chords, melody and intro to be generated, as well as, a number of settings controlling song form, theme continuity, endings, type, anticipations, feel, style, harmony, soloist, patch changes and more. Perhaps the most powerful feature is that Melodist which can compose a new song in the style of your choice complete with intro, chords, melody, arrangement and improvisations, all created by the program! It evens auto-generates a title for your song. It is possible to go from nothing to a completed song in less than one minute.
There are many more enhancements (more than 80 new features over version 7.0) to make version 8.0 better than ever. Band-In-A-Box now supports Windows 95/98 long file names up to 255 characters. The Soloist feature has been improved so that it can generate solo improvisations to any chord progression. Now there is the ability to generate and regenerate parts of the solo, so that you can redo any part of the solo that you don't like. The StyleMaker enhancement allows you to import more than one MIDI file at a time when creating your own compositions. The Undo option can now accommodate most operations in Band-In-A-Box with a single keystroke. The new window displays a full page of notation, with lots of options like a selectable number of staffs per page, which clefs to show, font size, margins, scrolls ahead the notation and lyrics. These Windows are great for sight-reading. You can even use large fonts and read the notation from across the band room in front of the jazz band. And since the notation scrolls ahead, you can read ahead without waiting for a page turn. You can even customize the number of bars per line and always put an intro/chorus/part marker or any chosen bar on a new line. With a single button, you can generate a 2, 4 or 8-bar intro for any song. The chords will be different each time, and you can keep pressing until you get the progression that you want. There is an instant style change feature which allows you to quickly change styles without stopping the playback of the song. This is useful for auditioning new styles as you continue to play the song. Lyrics can be copied to the Windows text clipboard and auto-formatted to remove extra spaces.
Band-In-A-Box has lots of add-ons. There are currently 14 styles disks, eight soloist disk sets and more. The add-on option scans your Band-In-A-Box directly and displays which add-ons are found. I like the many new buttons that are placed on the middle right of the screen dealing with placing memos in the music, launching a guitar fretboard window, a drum window that can be animated, the intro button which allows you to insert an intro to the song automatically, a Song Title button that generates a song title, and a button that connects to the PG Music web site. There are three buttons for SoundBlaster users that launch the SoundBlaster AWE Control Panel for your synthesizer, SoundBlaster Mixes for controlling volume controls and the AWE Editor allowing you to edit sounds on your AWE controlled synthesizer.
Band-In-A-Box is published by PG Music, Inc. for $88 for a Pro version and $249 for a MegPAK ultra-professional version. The MegaPAK version comes with all the Band-In-A-Box add-ons including every Style disk and Soloist disk available plus the MIDI fakebook and PowerGuide ED-ROM video tutorial disk and all on CD-ROM format. The add-ons can also be purchased separately in an ala carte manner at $29.00 per CD-ROM. There are more than 350 styles on the Styles disks one through 14, more than 70 MB of hot solos on Solist disks one through 8, 300 traditional/original jazz and pop, classical, and bluegrass songs from the MIDI fakebook The PowerGuide CD contains both volumes' I and II of the popular "Inside Band-In-A-Box" videos featuring Peter Gannon. PC system requirements include: Windows 3.1 with a 386 processor and 8 MB RAM and Windows 95 or 98 with 16 MB RAM. Mac system requirements include: 68030 CPU or a PowerPC , 16 MB RAM. For more information, contact PG Music at:
PG Music, Inc.
29 Cadillac Avenue
Victoria, British Columbia
Canada V8Z 1T3