Band in a Box Tips & Tricks

PG Music’s Band in a Box is well known in the jazz world as intelligent automatic accompaniment software that makes it easy to produce backing tracks on the fly. I have been using BIAB since the late ’90s and while the earliest versions only used MIDI, the modern version uses recordings of real musicians playing real instruments (called RealTracks and RealDrums), a serious advancement in the quality of the music.

While it is easy to get a basic backing track going, Band in a Box can do a lot more than that and a lot more than software alternatives similar to Band in a Box, such as iReal Pro.

In this tutorial, you will have a look at some of the ways I use Band in a Box for jazz guitar practice, starting with a review of the basics.

 

Support this site and buy your copy of Band in a Box 2020 here + you get a 10% discount on the regular price by using the coupon BIAB2020 during checkout.
 

Band in a Box

 

Setting The Tempo, Number of Bars, and Number of Choruses

Band in a Box tempo

 

When you first open BIAB, you start with a blank canvas.

The first thing you will do is set the tempo of the song we are creating a backing track for (Autumn Leaves in this case).

You can do this in three ways:

  1. Tap the line next to the tempo display at least four times in the tempo you want to play in.
  2. Use the up and down arrows to set your desired tempo.
  3. Click the tempo display and type your tempo in the popup box.

Next, we will set how many bars our song will have, 32 in the case of Autumn Leaves. We will do this by entering “32” in the “End” box (4).

Finally, we will set how many choruses Band in a Box should play by entering a number in the “Choruses” box (5).

Entering Chords

Now we are ready to enter the chords of Autumn Leaves into BIAB.

To enter a chord, you simply type the root and extension of the chord and then click enter.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when entering chords:

  1. To enter a flat, use the letter “b” (Eb7 for example).
  2. To enter a sharp, use the # symbol or the number “3” (for example, F3m7b5 will result in an F#m7b5 chord).
  3. It doesn’t matter if you type upper or lower case. Typing “d7” will give you a D7 chord, in fact, you will never have to use the Shift key when entering chords.

 

 

Chord Shortcuts

Here are a few shortcuts you can use to enter chords:

  • J = Maj7 (typing “fj” will result in an Fmaj7 chord)
  • H = m7b5 (H for half-diminished)
  • D = dim7
  • S = Sus4

Another great shortcut is that you can download many free Band in a Box songs online or this file that contains all songs of the Real Book.

 

Chord List

Here is a list of chords that are recognized by Band in a Box:

Major Chords

C, C6, Cmaj7, Cmaj9, Cmaj13, C69, Cmaj7#5, C5b, Caug, C+, Cmaj9#11, Cmaj13#11

Minor Chords

Cm, Cm6, Cm7, Cm9, Cm11, Cm13, Cmaug, Cm#5, CmMaj7

Half diminished Chords

Cm7b5

Diminished Chords

Cdim

Dominant 7th Chords

C7, 7+, C9+, C13+, C13, C7b13, C7#11, C13#11, C7#11b13, C9, C9b13, C9#11, C13#11, C9#11b13, C7b9, C13b9, C7b9b13, C7b9#11, C13b9#11, C7b9#11b13, C7#9, C13#9, C7#9b13, C9#11, C13#9#11, C7#9#11b13

C7b5, C13b5, C7b5b13, C9b5, C9b5b13, C7b5b9, C13b5b9, C7b5b9b13, C7b5#9, C13b5#9, C7b5#9b13, C7#5, C13#5, C7#5#11, C13#5#11, C9#5, C9#5#11, C7#5b9, C13#5b9, C7#5b9#11, C13#5b9#11, C7#5#9, C13#5#9#11, C7#5#9#11, C13#5#9#11

Sus 4 Chords

Csus, C7sus, C9sus, C13sus, C7susb13, C7sus#11, C13sus#11, C7sus#11b13, C9susb13, C9sus#11, C13sus#11, C9sus#11b13, C7susb9, C13susb9, C7susb9b13, C7susb9#11, C13susb9#11, C7susb9#11b13, C7sus#9, C13sus#9, C7sus#9b13, C9sus#11, C13sus#9#11, C7sus#9#11b13

C7susb5, C13susb5, C7susb5b13, C9susb5, C9susb5b13, C7susb5b9, C13susb5b9, C7susb5b9b13, C7susb5#9, C13susb5#9, C7susb5#9b13, C7sus#5, C13sus#5, C7sus#5#11, C13sus#5#11, C9sus#5, C9sus#5#11, C7sus#5b9, C13sus#5b9, C7sus#5b9#11, C13sus#5b9#11, C7sus#5#9, C13sus#5#9#11, C7sus#5#9#11, C13sus#5#9#11

 

The Chord Builder

Another way to enter chords into Band in a Box is by using the Chord Builder.

The Chord Builder lets you choose a root note, a chord extension, and a type of voicing (root position, closed voicing, or open voicing) and can be accessed by clicking the “Chord Builder” icon.

 

Band in a Box Chord Builder

 

The Chord Substitution Wizard

The Chord Substitution Wizard is accessible by going to Edit > Chords > Chord Substitutions Dialogue (choose your own).

This dialogue gives you suggestions on all possible chord substitutions that you can use for a given chord progression.

This is a great way to bring variety to your chord progressions and learn chord theory at the same time.

 

Band in a Box chord substitutions

 

Copying Bars

Because jazz standards usually have recurring sections, it’s a good idea to learn how to copy bars so you don’t have to enter the same chords multiple times.

There are three ways to copy bars:

  1. Highlight the section you want to copy by click-dragging with your mouse. Press “CTRL + C” (or right-click and choose “Copy”), go to the bar where you want to insert your copied chords, and press “CTRL + V” (or right-click and choose “Paste”).
  2. Another method is to click in the bar you want your chords to be pasted and type “K”, followed by “Enter”. This will copy the previous eight bars to the bar you are in now. You can also type “K4” (or any other number) and this will copy the previous four bars.
  3. Yet another method is to highlight the section you want to copy, then click and hold the first bar number of that section and drag it to where you want it to be copied.

 

 

Syncopation, Shots, Holds, and Variations

Band in a Box variations

 

Now that you know how to enter chords into BIAB, let’s have a look at some ways to bring variation into your backing track.

  1. By default, BIAB uses two chords per measure, but you can also put chords on every beat by using a comma between chords. BIAB also recognizes slash chords such as Am7/G (Am7 with G in the bass).
  2. You can add syncopation to the chords by adding a caret sign (^) in front of the chord. This will push the chord by an eight note.
  3. By adding two caret signs (^^), the chord will be pushed by a sixteenth note.
  4. You can add shots and holds to a chord by right-clicking a chord and going to “Chord Options”. You can shot or hold certain instruments while others continue playing. An alternative way to do this is by typing periods after your chord: Cmaj7. (a pure break), Cmaj7.. (first a shot, then a break), Cmaj7… (holds the chord until a new chord). Breaks are, besides being an arrangement tool, a good way to practice your timing and tempo control.
  5. Clicking once on a bar number will turn it blue and will make BIAB play a drum fill.
  6. Clicking a second time on a bar number will turn it green and will make BIAB play a variation of the current style, usually a bit busier. This is ideal for a B section of a jazz standard, for a chorus, or for a solo section.

 

Picking a Style

BIAB 2020 Pro has over 900 styles spread over genres such as jazz, ballads, bebop, bossa nova, smooth jazz, gypsy jazz, jazz-funk, swing, crooner, blues,  bluegrass, pop, rock, country, reggae, folk, praise & worship, …

With so many styles available, it’s a good idea to organize your favorite styles, which you will learn in the next video.

 

 

Muting Instruments

Another useful feature of Band in a Box is the ability to mute instruments.

You can do this by right-clicking an instrument in the instrument bar on top and selecting “Mute”.

Some examples of what you can use muting for:

  • Mute the bass to practice walking bass lines.
  • Mute the piano to practice comping or playing themes or solos in chord-melody style.
  • Mute bass and piano to play in a bass/guitar duo.

Band in a Box - How to mute instruments

 

Bar Settings

By right-clicking a bar (or pressing F5), you can open the Bar Settings dialogue.

In the Bar Settings dialogue, you can change the following:

  • Number of beats in the bar
  • Tempo
  • Key signature
  • Style
  • Instruments

 

 

Band in a Box

 

Roman Numerals and Transposing

 

You can access the “Display Options” dialogue by right-clicking anywhere in the chord window and selecting “Display Options”.

You can change all kinds of options here, but I usually use this dialogue to:

  1. Change the chord display to Roman numerals.
  2. To transpose a standard I’m working on to another key.

 

The Lead Sheet Window (Sight Reading Practice)

By clicking the “Lead Sheet” button, the lead sheet window pops up.

There, you can select any instrument and the notes played by that instrument will show on an animated lead sheet.

This is ideal to improve your sight reading skills!

 

Band in a Box lead sheet window

 

The Guitar Window

The guitar fretboard window in BIAB shows you the correct fingerings and chord voicings of what is being played.

It also has a function to generate guitar chord solos based on the notes in the Melody or Soloist track.

The fretboard window has support for left-handed guitar players and 11 alternate tunings such as DADGAD, various open tunings, and drop D.

 

 

Direct Input Guitar and Amplitube Cab Simulation

Band in a Box comes with a free version of Amplitube, a VST plugin that you can use to add cab simulation and effects to your guitar input.

 

 

The Soloist Function

The soloist function in BIAB generates a solo that matches the style and chord progression of your choice.

This is a great way to come up with new ideas that you can use in your own solos.

Here’s a small selection of soloist styles that are available in the 2020 Pro version: John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, Barney Kessel, George Benson, Pat Martino, Joe Pass, Django Reinhardt, Wes Montgomery, Pat Metheny, Toots Thielemans, and many more.

 

 

The Scale Wizard

The BIAB Scales Wizard is a great tool for practicing jazz standards because you can see the scales that are used for each chord of a given progression.

You can access the Scale Wizard by going to Soloist > Scales > Generate Scales.

The generated scales will be shown on the Soloist track and can be viewed in notation, on the guitar fretboard, or in the piano window.

 

Band in a Box Scale Wizard

 

The Ear Training Window

Band in a Box features a full-fledged ear trainer in which you can practice chords, intervals, music replay, and even play a game (with UFOs!) to practice pitch recognition in chords.

 

Band in a Box Ear Training

 

Woodshedding with Band in a Box (Speed Training)

You can access the “Woodshed” window by going to Window (in the top menu) > Practice Window > “Woodshed” Tempo.

Here, you can practice your guitar playing at increasing tempos.

Specify a “Woodshed” tempo (5 for example), a bpm value used to increase the tempo after each loop.

 

 

Popular Hot Keys

To make your workflow more efficient, it’s a good idea to start using hot keys.

 

 

The following list shows you the hot keys I often use:

  • Space Bar – play or pause
  • T + number + enter – sets the tempo. For example, typing T85 sets the tempo to 85 bpm.
  • TR + key + enter– transposes your chords to another key. For example, typing TRC transposes your song to C.
  • S + enter – opens the style picker.
  • Ctrl + shift + G – opens the guitar neck window.
  • Alt + 2-9 – mutes or unmutes instruments. For example, alt + 4 mutes the piano.
  • F1 – opens the help window.
  • F2 (or Ctrl + S) – saves your song.
  • F3 – opens a song.

 

More Features

There’s a lot more to Band in a Box than what is featured in this tutorial, but it’s too much to describe it all here (the user manual is over 600 pages long).

Here are some more features that I didn’t include above:

  • The Melodist – creates songs in a specific style with an intro, chord progression, melody, …
  • The Audio Chord Wizard – finds out the chords of an mp3 file.
  • The Reharmonist – creates a chord progression based on a melody.
  • Video Slow Downer – you can load a video in BIAB and slow it down while staying perfectly in sync. Very handy for transcribing!
  • iOS App – with this app for iPhone or iPad, you can remote control BIAB.
  • VST plugin – allows you to use BIAB inside your DAW of choice (GarageBand, Reaper, Cubase, Pro Tools, Ableton, …)

 

Do you have questions about how you can use BIAB for your guitar practice or tips that I haven’t covered in this tutorial? Let us know in the comments below…

 

Support this site and buy your copy of Band in a Box 2020 here + you get a 10% discount on the regular price by using the coupon BIAB2020 during checkout.

 

Band in a Box

  • TaS says:

    Hi Dirk, really appreciate the tutorial on how to use Biab, which I already have and learning to use. I downloaded the Real Book for Biab from your lesson website, but how do I open it in Biab?

  • Ken Bahadur says:

    Hello Dirk,
    I have been a BIAB user for years and, more recently, been making tracks for a friend. I usually generate MIDI files for him to add his vocals since the MIDI allows individual instruments to be turned on or off in playback. Please note that BIAB RealTracks are not usually exported with the MIDI since those tracks are WAV files. It may be a small point but good to know.

  • Heiner Mitza says:

    Hallo Dirk. I really love your work although it comes 30 years too late for me. I needed your help when I tried to figure out what jazz guitar is in Germany in the seventies.
    Concerning BIAB, is there any chance to get out a mp3 or wav file to play it back on an other device than my computer?
    Keep going on that way and best wishes
    Heiner

    • Dirk Laukens says:

      Hi Heiner, 30 years ago I was playing my first chords on guitar 🙂 Sure, you can export the complete backing track or separate instruments to mp3 or wav. Cheers!

  • Christian Wohlert says:

    Hello Dirk – congrats on the site which looks and holds much more interesting material than last time I visited which is quite some time ago. I would like to know whether this tutorial works the same way for MAC as for Windows? I really appreciate the work you are doing. Best Regards from Christian W

    • Dirk Laukens says:

      Hi Christian, I believe most, if not all, things featured in this tutorial also works on the Mac version.

  • Graham says:

    Hi, I use cheap laptops and throw them away when they break, would I be able to transfer BIAB to another laptop if I buy it? Thanks, Graham

    • Dirk Laukens says:

      Sure Graham, you can use BIAB on three computers simultaneously and after that, you can transfer your license to a new machine.

      • Graham Swire says:

        OK, Great, does it display in TAB form too?

        • Dirk Laukens says:

          Yes, guitar tabs are supported in BIAB.

  • Bill Hallworth says:

    Hey Dirk
    Thanks for the tips, It looks like a great tool and I will get it soon. At the moment my main problem is getting a good lean tone on my uploads to you tube. Can BIAB be used for this.
    At the moment I’m using. A Gibson ES335 slim neck with burstbuckers via Boss 300 looper, through a Roland Blues cube artist and recording directly from the amp into my IPad using the video . Do I change the sound after recording and save before I upload ? I’m confused!!

  • Alexandros says:

    Very helpful thanks

  • Lamarche Christian says:

    I have one question : how create a Band in a box score , let say from 32 measures, one time with only bass and piano for my first improv, second time with a saxo from Band in a box, third time with bass, drums for my second improvisation, fourth with by exemple trumpet and saxo?

    Best regards

    • Dirk Laukens says:

      Hi Christian, to do that, you set the “Choruses” field to 1, you input your 32 bars and copy them another three times. Then, at the relevant bars, you press “F5” (bar settings) and you make the changes you need… Cheers!

  • Jack says:

    It is stated that I can input my own guitar playing “live”…can I also input a vocal track? And most important, will BIAB generate the sheet music for either? Notation on staff paper?
    Jack

    • Dirk Laukens says:

      Hi Jack, yes, you can record a vocal track or any instrument for that matter. BIAB can’t generate the sheet music for these recordings though. The only audio to notation conversion it can do is extract the chord progression from an audio file.

  • Sebastien Pierre-Marie says:

    It would be fine to have it in french.

    • Johannes Widi says:

      There are BIAB versions in French for both Windows and the Mac

    • Dirk Laukens says:

      Hi Sebastien, BIAB for Mac is available in English, German, French, and Italian. BIAB for Windows is available in English, Danish, German, Spanish, French, Italian, Dutch, Polish, Portuguese, Swedish, Japanese, Korean, Chinese, and Russian. Languages can be changed at any time…

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