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The latest version of PG Music’s well known Band-in-a-Box software is a great tool— not only for practicing, but also transcription and composition. Like previous versions, the program is deep, capable, and comes with plenty of documentation. But the centerpiece of BIAB is the ability to type in any chords you want and have the program craft a stylistically appropriate accompaniment using audio recorded by real musicians (called RealTracks). In my band, we are working up a version of the Band’s “Ophelia,” which has a rather tricky solo section. Within a few minutes of starting up the program, I had a useful backing track in a driving bluegrass style featuring some of Nashville’s finest playing some killer rhythm parts and fills. (Head over to the online version to hear an example.)
Not all styles have RealTrack capabilities, and that’s where the MIDI-sounding tracks come in. However, I found that nearly all of the examples I’d use had some form of real audio accompaniment. Another fun feature was the ability to export animated videos of the chord chart synced up with the audio. It was a great help to send the videos to bandmates who don’t have BIAB to play along with. If you can get around the clunkier aspects of the interface, BIAB is one of the most useful tools for inquisitive musicians out there.