PG Music’s Band in a Box is well known among jazz musicians 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 of the program uses recordings of real studio musicians playing real instruments (called RealTracks and RealDrums), a serious advancement in the quality of the sound.
While it is easy to get a basic backing track going, Band in a Box has a lot of features and can do a lot more compared to alternatives such as iReal Pro.
In this tutorial, you will learn how to use Band in a Box for jazz guitar practice, starting with a review of the basics.
What You Will Learn in this Band in a Box Tutorial
- Setting the Tempo, Number of Bars, and Number of Choruses
- Entering Chords in Band in a Box
- The Chord Builder
- The Chord Substitution Wizard
- Copying Bars
- Syncopation, Shots, Holds, and Variations
- Picking a Style
- Muting Instruments
- Bar Settings
- Roman Numerals & Transposing
- The Lead Sheet Window (Sight Reading Practice)
- The Guitar Window
- Direct Input Guitar and Amplitube Cab Simulation
- The Soloist Function
- The Scale Wizard
- The Ear Training Window
- Woodshedding (Speed Training)
- Popular Hot Keys
- More Features
Setting The Tempo, Number of Bars, and Number of Choruses
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:
- Tap the line next to the tempo display at least four times in the tempo you want to play in.
- Use the up and down arrows to set your desired tempo.
- 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 in Band in a Box
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 in Band in a Box:
- To enter a flat, use the letter “b” (Eb7 for example).
- To enter a sharp, use the # symbol or the number “3” (for example, F3m7b5 will result in an F#m7b5 chord).
- 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.
Here are a few shortcuts you can use to enter chords for your jazz rhythm tracks:
- 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 and jazz standards online or this file that contains all songs of the Real Book.
Here is a list of chord types that are recognized by Band in a Box:
C, C6, Cmaj7, Cmaj9, Cmaj13, C69, Cmaj7#5, C5b, Caug, C+, Cmaj9#11, Cmaj13#11
Cm, Cm6, Cm7, Cm9, Cm11, Cm13, Cmaug, Cm#5, CmMaj7
Half diminished Chords
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.
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 jazz tunes and chord progressions and learn chord theory at the same time.
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:
- 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”).
- 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.
- 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
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 arrangements.
- 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).
- 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.
- By adding two caret signs (^^), the chord will be pushed by a sixteenth note.
- 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.
- Clicking once on a bar number will turn it blue and will make BIAB play a drum fill.
- 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.
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 drums and piano to play in a bass/guitar duo.
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
- Key signature
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:
- Change the chord display to Roman numerals.
- 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.
These charts are ideal to improve your sight reading skills!
The Guitar Window
The guitar fretboard window in BIAB shows you the correct fingerings and chord voicings of what is being played in your BIAB files.
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 and audio tracks.
Recording your guitar solos over Band in a Box is a great way to improve your playing because you get to hear how your lines sound in a realistic setting.
The Soloist Function
The soloist function in BIAB generates a solo that matches the type of music and chord progression of your choice.
This is a great way to come up with new ideas that you can use in your own improvisation over jazz standards.
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 in Band in a Box.
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.
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.
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 the song to your hard drive.
- F3 – opens a BIAB song.
More Features in Band in a Box
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 in Band in a Box 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…