Band-in-a-Box Review/Tutorial

by John Kuzmich, Jr.

September, 1999

As we rapidly approach the year 2000, creative computer music software applications are ordering on true "artificial intelligence. If I had to make a definitive decision for the most useful software application of all time for musicians and music educators, Band-in-a-Box® by PG Music is my choice because the software can generate play-along accompaniments in several musical styles and in any key and tempo in a matter of seconds. If you have not yet seen it, you can purchase it on a 30-day trial basis with the option to return the product with a full refund if you are not pleased with it.

What makes this product so dynamic is that it works as advertised. The latest version, 8.0, even works on all computers including older 386, 486 and first generation Pentium CPU's as well as with the latest Pentium II and III computers. That represents major compatibility with both old Windows 3.1 and Mac computers and the latest high-end computers. If you should have a computer with version 5.0 DOS or later operating system, contact PG Music as they do have DOS versions available if though they don't regularly advertise it.

Band-in-A-Box is "the single most significant teaching material contribution to jazz education since Jamey Aebersold's play-along recordings." With it you can create play-along recordings and instantly change tempo, key and musical style. Students can adjust the tempo to practice lines, voicings, or intonation and they turn off the piano or bass part on the software's song and create their own. Singers and instrumentalist alike will appreciate being able to play the same tune or exercise in all twelve keys, allowing them to master their favorite improvisation patterns.

User-Friendly: Running The Program From Scratch!

Running Band-in-a-Box is delightfully easy. When I first received the product, I purposely did not read the manual. I simply ran the program and while I do not recommend this unorthodox procedure, I had easily finished a musical play-along accompaniment in five minutes to playback to my students. With the pulldown menu design, this product really is that simple to learn and use, and besides, there are no less than 9 different tutorials on-line plus an in-depth manual over 150 pages. For playback, the program requires a MIDI interface. The PC version needs a MIDI interface. To authentically reproduce bass, piano and drum parts, a multi-timbral sound module is suggested that can be found in newer soundcards or in the external units.

To begin, load the program by either click on the icon and as the opening screen appears, you hit any key to continue. If you want to select a prerecorded tune, hit the F3 key and you will have a library of tunes to choose from. Hit the return key and the changes for the tune appear on the screen. Hit the F4 key and the tune is played out the MIDI interface to your synthesizer with piano, bass and drum parts. If you want to change the tempo or musical style, hit the "Tab" key and you will have a menu of options that will customize the playback of the tune, even for controlling the MIDI playback options. Imagine playing "Giant Steps" as a ballad, as a medium bossa nova, as a medium fast up tempo and as originally recorded at 300 beats per second all in a concerted effort to get one to practice in graduated speeds as one gets more proficient. There are presently 24 musical styles from the pull-down menu to choose from: jazz swing, country 12/8 feel, country 4/4, bossa nova, ethnic, shuffle blues, straight blues, waltz, pop ballad, shuffle rock, light rock, medium back beat rock, heavy rock, Miami sound, milly pop, funky/dance, jazz waltz, rhumba, cha cha, bouncy 12/8, Irish, pop ballad, and reggae. Tempos can be varied from 10 to 500 which greatly expands the playback capabilities of the standard play-along compact disc and tape cassette recordings.

To create your own tune, simply hit "Alt D" and the screen is cleared of any chord changes. You can enter the chords of your choice and the tab key will move you to the next two beats or next measure. For a complete list of chord symbols, go to the help pull-down menu and click on "topic search" and type in the empty box, "list of valid chords" and you instantly have examples of every chord type and different ways to spell them. With just these two help screens, there isn't much that an entry level user can't quickly understand. If you don't understand the many on-screen icons, go to the index and all of the on-screen functions are graphically illustrate and defined as well a table of contents that quickly introduces you to how powerful Band-in-a-Box is. Below is a listing of how well the table of contents is organized for your convenience.

Getting Started:

Basics

Setting Up MIDI Or Sound Card

Installing a MIDI Driver in Windows 95

Automatic Patch/Drum Kit configuration

Matching Drums, Patches & MIDI Channels

ReadMe for Latest information not in Manual

Tutorials for Using the Band-in-a-Box Program

Tutorial #1 Interface/Driver Setup

Tutorial #2 Loading/Playing Songs

Tutorial #3 Inputting New Songs

Tutorial #4 Creating Custom Drum Kit/Patch Map

Tutorial #5: StyleMaker: Editing Existing Styles

Tutorial #6: Making a New Style

Tutorial #7: (Notation, Printing, Harmonies, Rests etc.)

Tutorial #8: Using the Soloist

Tutorial #9: Using the Melodist and the other New Features of Version 8

How to ...

USING KEYSTROKES INSTEAD OF MOUSE

Keystroke List

Hot Keys

New Hot Keys in Version 8.0

New 3D Dialogs and more Hot Keys

MAKING A SONG

Typing in chords

Enter/Recognize Chords Automatically

List of Chords

Using Roman Numeral, Nashville , or Solfeggio Notation

Using Part Markers to change Substyles or insert drum fills

Copy/Paste sections of chords

Copy From... to Bar...

Intros/Endings/Begin/End/# of choruses

Erasing Chords and Melodies

Song Embellishment

Vary Middle Style of Song

Tags

Rests, Shots and Held Chords

Copying Rests

Pushes

Entering Chord Options (Rests and Pushes ) with Mouse

Lyrics Entry

Selecting/Changing Styles

Recording Melodies

Additional Melody Track

Humanize Melody Track

Changing the Number of Choruses

One BIG Chorus

Saving Songs to Disk

Making MIDI files (Clipboard or Disk)

Song Settings (title, key, etc.)

Volume, Panning, Reverb, Bank Settings

Instrument ON/OFF selection

Automatic Fill of instruments w/patches

EZAccess to Patches +

NOTATION AND PRINTOUT

Notation Window

Notation Enhancements for Version 8

LeadSheet Window

Printout of Chords, Melody, Solo and Lyrics

Looping Notation

Notation Scroll Ahead

Intelligent Accidentals

Automatic Tick Offset

HARMONIES

Setting Up Harmony Channels

Selecting Melody or THRU

Harmony Maker making new harmonies

Using the Harmonies

SOLOIST

Using the Soloist

Selecting and Playing a Soloist

Soloist Maker

Editing a Soloist

Soloist Wizard Play-along

MELODIST

Using the Melodist

Melodist Maker

Melodist Tutorial

LOADING AND PLAYING SONGS

Opening Songs from disk

Loading Songs by Full Title

Quick Access to Songs

Loading Favorite Songs

Choosing a New Style Using "Style Picker" Window

Loading Favorite Styles

Playing/Pausing/Stopping Songs

Muting Instruments

Changing Tempo

Tap-in Tempo Change

Changing Key ( Transpose)

Transposing PART of a Song

Watching Piano Keyboard Display

JukeBox Playback

Wizard Play-along feature

Recording to External Hardware sequencers

Vocalist and Realtime Arranger support

CHANGING SETTINGS

Changing Program Color Scheme

Changing Patches (instruments)

Changing Patches at any Bar

Harmony Change at any Bar

Style Change at any Bar

Style Aliases

Using Favorite Patches

Changing Volume

Changing Reverb/Chorus/Bank

Changing Combos/Master Volume/Reverb/Chorus

GS functions

XG functions

Preferences (for all songs)

Preferences (2)

FILES ASSOCIATED WITH BAND-IN-A-BOX

Transferring between IBM/Mac/Atari

Essential Program files (BBW.EXE,*.DLL,ZZ*.STY,BBW.TIP)

Config files (MYSETUP.DK,INTRFACE.BBW)

Song files (*.?G?)

Style files (*.STY)

SysEx files (*.SYX)

Soloist files (*.ST2,*.SOL,*.S1)

Style list text (BBW.LST)

Style Alias files (*.ALI)

Patch list text (*.PAT)

Color Scheme Files (*.BBC)

Harmony Files (*.HAR, *.H1)

Troubleshooting

To playback, hit the F4 key and the tune with parts will be instantly generated and played back. The program allows the user to type chords onto a leadsheet-type screen using standard chord symbols like Bb13 or Gb7b5. It will then automatically generate professionally sounding bass, drum and piano parts in the style chosen. Your tune can be saved to disk as a "Band-in-a-Box" chord file or as a standard MIDI file to be imported into a sequencer or composition program for later editing or printing.

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.

The three most frequently used editing features are to delete, copying and inserting measures which can be easily accomplished with single stroke entries. I really like how the user has full control of looping the intro, the number of repeats and an optional tag ending. With any of these editing features, you are prompted from the screen to identify the selected measures that you wish to edit.

Perhaps one of the most appealing features of the program is the flexibility in controlling the playback. For example, you can adjust the tempo, the MIDI channels and even the octaves of the piano and bass parts up to two octaves higher or lower than the original settings. Band-in-a-Box is fully General MIDI compatible which allows you to take advantage of custom playback as to which kind of sounds you want for piano, bass, drum-set, etc. By selecting patch number 65, adjusting the bass line two octaves lower and putting the piano part on MIDI channel 1 where I have a Roland electric piano connected, the composite playback sound was authentically amazing. The three parts sounded as if they were each coming out of separate speakers! It is also possible to select a variety of accompaniments so the bass, piano and drums differ on every chorus. Even drum fills are possible. You can make use of 29 different drum sounds so, and specify details for other drum machines so they don't have to be reentered each time you use the program. I appreciated the palette of 128 timbres which the software automatically triggers from General MIDI playback power. Because the tunes are compressed when saved, it is possible to store up to 800 of your own songs per 720 K floppy or 20,000 songs of 20 MB storage space on your hard disk.

It is possible to program up to four different chords per measure. Tunes can be up to 255 measures in length. Believe it or not, a few of my jazz band arrangements required more than 255 measures, so this large capability is practical for educators. I particularly like the Notation menu and selecting the Transposing feature so the Bb, Eb and/or F players can view the chord progressions in their own key while practicing with Band-in-a-Box. This allows inexperienced improvisers to practice through the changes of a tune while the computer's screen provides constant reinforcement and stimulation which I find promotes the memorization of the changes. Installation is very straightforward. Over 70 synths are built-in, with drum and patch maps as well as General MIDI, Roland GS, and SoundBlaster soundcard support included. Playback can be adjusted to up to 40 choruses.

While Band-in-a-Box offers many creative applications for musicians and music educators, its printing options should not be overlooked. They include chords, notes, lyrics, bar numbers, treble clef, bass clef, clef split at a specific note, key signature on every line, print range (first chorus, last chorus, or the entire song), lead-in, number of staves per page (the title taking one stave), margin settings (so you can make a left margin compatible with a three hole binder), the title/style/composer/copyright information and any combination of chords, notes, or lyrics. An autofit feature can set the number of staves per page for you. Titles are limited to 50 characters; the copyright symbol is available; and lyrics can be printed either above the chords, below the staff, separately at the end (on a separate page), or not at all.

Important Whistles and Bells!

But this product doesn't stop with generating rhythm section accompaniments for play-along practice. It can generate improvised solos in 255 different artistic styles from Charlie Parker in eight or sixteen notes, , Joe Henderson, Mile Davis, Freddie Hubbard to John Coltrane, Wes Montgomery and hundreds of others in Klezmer, country, blue grass, pop, rock, and Latin styles. 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 49 different harmonies from Paul Schaeffer to Nashville saxes, Singer's Unlimited, Wes Montgomery, Glenn Miller, Supersax, BigBand 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 in any diatonic key and any tempo.

Unique Educational Opportunities!

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 with pertinent information available at a click of the mouse. Seeing the rhythm section parts in notation format is great for analysis to more fully understand comping skills.

Recently, a brand new novice bass player joined my jazz band. I immediately recorded the play-along tunes so he could listen to bass comping styles. Knowing that his reading skills were weak, I also printed out the bass lines for his music reading skills practice. By printing out the bass parts, he was soon able to read the bass lines as well as analyze the chord and nonchord tones in the construction of various bass line styles. The pace of learning was remarkable as he saw and heard the difference between jazz, Latin and funk bass lines.

My advance students love the chance to play their improvisation solos in many different keys with Band-in-a-Box accompaniments. Changing the tempo doesn't alter the pitch since the music is digitally constructed.

Rhythm section players will be pleased to have their particular instrument Band-in-a-Box part turned off so they can jam without comping parts conflicting with their own playing. To turn off a give part such bass, piano or drum part, simply mute instruments by clicking on the desired part with the RIGHT mouse button to mute or unmute it. When the part is muted, the instrument name turns to red You can also use keystrokes to mute the instruments as follows ALT 3 mutes the bass, ALT 4 mutes the piano, ALT 5 mutes the drums, ALT 6 mutes the guitar, ALT 7 mutes the horns, ALT 8 mutes the strings, and ALT 9 mutes the horns. You can even program drum fills.

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 autogenerates a title for your song. It is possible to go from nothing to a completed song in less than one minute.

New Improvements Over Version 7.0!

Impressively, 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 sightreading. 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 8bar 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.

Third-Party FakeBook Products

There are two find third-party software products published by Norton Music (Fort Pierce, Florida) and Juan Cruz (Puerto Rico)that offer Band-in-a-Box users a wealth of tunes for fakebook use. Norton Music provides five style and five fakebook disks at $29.00 each. The song collections are well described on their home page. This publisher pushes the envelope for what you can do with Band-in-a-Box : some of the styles will do things that Band-in-a-Box styles will not. This also means that some styles are not compatible with all the chord progressions; for example, some do not work well with busy chord progressions. It is also important to turn off the "Allow Embellishment of Chords" feature in the Song Settings menu. This feature comes on by default and can result in sharped or flatted ninths randomly inserted into any seventh chord, clashing with some of the styles and thus sounding like wrong notes. Check out the Norton Music home page for its wealth of jazz MIDI files and other related materials at (http://members.aol.com/NortonMIDI/index.htm).

Juan Cruz at Salsa King offers PC Band-in-a-Box users a 3.5" diskette of 10 salsa styles for $29.00. You can listen to a sample on his home page: (http://home.coqui.net/juancruz/). In addition, you can download a sample WAV file and RealAudio Player 4.0. All salsa files can be converted to Standard MIDI files.

You can also find Band-in-a-Box users offering additional styles on the Web. A good place to start looking is the forum page on PG Music's Web site: (http://www.pgmusic.com).

Great Future for Band-in-a-Box!

Where is Band-in-a-Box going with future updates? Presently, it is evolving towards a full sequencer which makes it a powerful composition/arranging software application. Not only can harmonize melodies with a variety of pre-set ways as previously stated, but now you can more easily import new additional melodies to creative your own unique harmonic lines, including contrapuntal lines. Notation features are becoming more prominent than ever before including notating all rhythm section parts, improvised solos, melody, and string parts with printing capabilities as well. Playback capabilities are likewise becoming more powerful and flexible including the ability to control reverberation and stereo volume panning. The jukebox feature allows one to program a complete concert repertory for a public presentation going automatically from one tune to another with full control of how many choruses, click track introduction or not and much more. Composers/arrangers love to export Band-in-a-Box data files as Standard MIDI files directly into their notation and sequencing programs to incorporate them into larger compositions.

Band-in-a-Box Specs!

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 CDROM video tutorial disk and all on CD-ROM format. The add-ons can also be purchased separately in an a la carte manner at $29.00 per CDROM. There are more than 350 styles on the Styles disks one through 14, more than 70 MB of hot solos on Soloist 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 Inc. at:

PG Music, Inc. 29 Cadillac Avenue Victoria, British Columbia Canada V8Z 1T3 Phone: 800-268-6272 Web: http://www.pgmusic.com

Closing Comments!

This product is a no-nonsense program that delivers exactly what it claims: automatic accompaniment generator. The price and availability on the Macintosh and PC computer systems makes this product the very best buy for contemporary musicians and music educators in my opinion. Knowing how simple the program is to use and how authentic the playback can be, you can't lose it. Version 8.0 has automatic support for English, Danish, French, Italian, Spanish, and Swedish. Where Band-in-a-Box particularly shines is in styles that traditionally use acoustic instruments found in jazz, Latin, and country. The comping and soloing capabilities of Band-in-a-Box are outstanding. Try it on the 30-day full return policy and you will be very pleased with the power and creativity that this product offers.



About the Author:

Internationally known music educator and author John Kuzmich, Jr. is a regular columnist for School Band & Orchestra magazine and for Jazz Educators Journal, the magazine of the International Jazz Educators Association.