Practising Jazz standards: Band-in-a-box vs Garageband?

Posted by: halfmoonbay

Practising Jazz standards: Band-in-a-box vs Garageband? - 08/12/10 08:15 PM

Hi all,

I just got a Macbook pro and I am about to buy a virtual piano.

I would like to practise a bit with jazz standards and jam with friends and I am not sure what is the best way to go.

Having zero experience of doing this with a computer, I have been doing a fair bit of search and have so far identified 2 main options:

1) Band-in-a-box

Seems pretty good, both for sound quality and "sophistication" when in Real Tracks. Also gives maximum flexibility. Main downside is the price, as the more complete versions do not come cheap.

2) Garageband

It comes with the Mac and, if I understand correctly, it is possible to build a library of standards by getting good software instruments and well made midi files of standards. A lot less flexible but it should work out a lot cheaper.

How do you guys rate one against the other for my specific objective?

Are there better alternatives?

Do you know of high quality MIDI files for jazz standards?

Thanks!
Posted by: BazC

Re: Practising Jazz standards: Band-in-a-box vs Garageband? - 08/13/10 03:59 AM

If you can find the right midi files Garageband will do fine, even the instruments which come as standard are plenty good enough for jamming. If you have to write the midi files yourself though it will mean an awful lot of work!

BIAB is obviously much simpler since even the cheapest version comes with loads of styles.

Since you already have Garageband why not just see how you get on with it and buy BIAB later if you feel the need?
Posted by: halfmoonbay

Re: Practising Jazz standards: Band-in-a-box vs Garageband? - 08/13/10 04:10 AM

Fair point, but I wanted to get a feel for the two options before starting to buy stuff for Garageband. I mean, if a good MIDI Library is $30 then it's well worth trying GB first and see how it works. On the other hand, if it's more than $100 then I might end up spending on GB, be unhappy with the result, buy BIAB and think I should have got it in the first place...

The critical point is, as you mention, to find high quality MIDIs
Posted by: BazC

Re: Practising Jazz standards: Band-in-a-box vs Garageband? - 08/13/10 04:46 AM

There's plenty of free midi on the web, I'd start with that. If you find that you have to buy midi arrangements they'll soon add up to one of the cheaper versions of BIAB.
Posted by: HooDoo

Re: Practising Jazz standards: Band-in-a-box vs Garageband? - 08/13/10 11:06 AM

Band-In-A Box works very well for practicing new songs. A few years ago they introduced "Real Styles" -- real recordings of session musicians -- which sound much better than midi files. Another useful feature is that you can watch the chord changes go by on a lead sheet as you play along. It plays any type of altered or complex jazz chord in any key or tempo.

Once you've learned a tune you can export the arrangement into Garage Band for playback and recording yourself if needed.

The problem with BIAB is the horrendous interface right out of the Windows 95 era. The program looks like a joke until you realize what it can do. I've found the Mac version (despite the way it looks) much more stable than the Windows version.
Posted by: halfmoonbay

Re: Practising Jazz standards: Band-in-a-box vs Garageband? - 08/14/10 04:56 PM

which version of BIAB do you use?

The one with all Real Tracks is $469 - do you think that is the one to go for or maybe the $269 is enough? Is it possible to upgrade from one to the other in case? I am asking as their website only show upgrades from older to newer versions, while there is no mention on upgrading from a lower end to an higher end version
Posted by: Edtek

Re: Practising Jazz standards: Band-in-a-box vs Garageband? - 08/14/10 06:54 PM

I have been using BIAB for many years now. It's great for practicing and also for printing out scores. Easy to change keys (I print out arrangements for piano(concert pitch) and sax (Eb or Bb) for my 2 man jazz band).

There are tons of jazz and other genre scores available on the net (all the Real Book songs for example) so I very rarely have to enter notes and chords for a song. It has lots of other features (eg:chord recognition from mp3 or midi files).

For practicing I don't think it is necessary to have the $469 version. I have always used the Megapak ($269). Usually I upgrade every year or two for less than a hundred when PG has a special on.

Regarding Garageband, I've only had a mac for a couple of weeks, but I don't see where it has any of the capablities of BIAB (please correct me if I'm wrong). You can't just enter chords and pick a style and start playing along with it. Also the mass of songs available for BIAB which display melody, lyrics, and chords (in other words, a full fake book type presentation) do not appear to be available for GB.
Posted by: HooDoo

Re: Practising Jazz standards: Band-in-a-box vs Garageband? - 08/15/10 12:24 PM

Halfmoonbay,

If I'm reading the PG music site correctly, the $269 version comes on a DVD which is not large enough to hold all the RealTracks which are large WAV files. I have all the RealTracks (excluding the latest update and they take up 86 GB on my computer. With the DVD version you'd be stuck with midi playback (or maybe a few Realtracks -- not sure). True, you can use midi for practicing but I find it a lot more fun to play along with what sounds like a real band. For better sound I would consider coughing up the extra dough for the hard drive version.
Posted by: halfmoonbay

Re: Practising Jazz standards: Band-in-a-box vs Garageband? - 08/15/10 01:03 PM

With regards to GarageBand, it could be used if you could find "high quality" MIDIs of, say, the full Real Book. Importing those and using good quality virtual instruments would substitute BIAB. Obviously this would be a lot less flexible (but also a lot cheaper than $469!). Also, I am not sure where one could find well arranged MIDIs of jazz standards, the key point being the arrangement and not the sound quality as you could override that with your own sounds.

With regards to BIAB, which sounds to me more and more the way to go given your comments, from PG Music's website:

MegaPAK RealCombos:
40 RealTracks in 10 Bands
Jazz Swing 140, Country Ballad 65
Pop Rock 120,Bossa 140, Bluegrass 130
Blues 120, American PopRock 120,
SmoothCool Jazz 100, JazzBallad 85,
HardRock Thrash 85
+ RealDrums Sets 1-6

So MegaPAk has got all the MIDIs plus 40 Real Tracks.

Now I do not know how many are jazz: if the tracks are evenly distributed by band, it should be 3 bands times 4 tracks = 12 variations of jazz styles. Does that offer enough variety in your opinion?
Posted by: HooDoo

Re: Practising Jazz standards: Band-in-a-box vs Garageband? - 08/15/10 02:00 PM

Yes, that should be enough. You could always buy a particular RealStyles disk ala carte if you need something extra.

If you end up getting BIAB there's a learning curve since the interface is so cluttered. You just have to be patient.

I wish Steve Jobs would buy PG music and give it a makeover!
Posted by: halfmoonbay

Re: Practising Jazz standards: Band-in-a-box vs Garageband? - 08/15/10 05:27 PM

Originally Posted By: HooDoo
Yes, that should be enough. You could always buy a particular RealStyles disk ala carte if you need something extra.

If you end up getting BIAB there's a learning curve since the interface is so cluttered. You just have to be patient.

I wish Steve Jobs would buy PG music and give it a makeover!


smile

Alternatively a merger of BIAB and Capo could work... I've just read about this app - while it's got chord recognition in common with BIAB, it would add:

a) spectrogram and tablature (why not a proper music sheet?)
2) a proper Mac interface

Maybe an idea for BIAB 2011?
Posted by: Edtek

Re: Practising Jazz standards: Band-in-a-box vs Garageband? - 08/15/10 08:50 PM

Another alternative is One Man Band by Jos Maas. It has features similar to BIAB (type in chords, select a style and play) and also allows a connected kb to change the style chords based on what chord you hit on your kb (like an arranger kb). It's less expensive ($49) but just plays midi styles, not audio (not so important if you're just using it for practice)

OTOH, if you really want to get the feel of jazz, why not just play along with original recordings? That was the only way I finally got the timing right for Brubeck's "Take Five".
Posted by: frapal

Re: Practising Jazz standards: Band-in-a-box vs Garageband? - 09/20/10 01:08 PM

I am guessing that neither BIAB or GB have the arranger feature mentioned by edtek?
Am i right?
Is there any connection between the DP and the software?
Thanks
Posted by: ChrisA

Re: Practising Jazz standards: Band-in-a-box vs Garageband? - 09/20/10 02:08 PM

Originally Posted By: halfmoonbay
...I have been doing a fair bit of search and have so far identified 2 main options:

1) Band-in-a-box
2) Garageband


The best way to think of this is to think of GarageBand as a tape recorder, you can very the playback speed and edit the recording but once yo hit "go" it is not interactive.

Band in Box is much the same except it can write the tape for you withoput having to create the recording or. You tell it basically what you want and it writes and plays the music.

You can use both, BIB can make a MIDI file you play in GB.

There is a third option, Play along with an audio file. Maybe one of your CDs or from iTunes. MIDI does have the advantage that you can adjust the tempo without changing the pitch. That is much harder with audio But with audio you can play along with the actually musicians who made the song a "standard"

Another option is to use Garaband to make a loop. GB come with a whole library or recorded loops in both midi and audio format. You can drag these onto the score and make a borring, never ending 16 bar drum and bass loop with any time signature you like. Use it as a fancy metronome. Or let BIB make the loop rather then pull it from a library.

There is another class of software that will create auto accompany, either with loops or automatic "one finger" chords. Google "one man band" and it will be about the 12th hit.

What you should do is go slow Time time to learn what Garage Band can do. Make some really bad music by cutting and pasting loops, try that. then use BIB to make some slightly less bad music and then if you still need better hunt down some MIDI files of the standards. Finally just play the CD.
Posted by: Edtek

Re: Practising Jazz standards: Band-in-a-box vs Garageband? - 09/20/10 09:48 PM

frapal:

1. that's right, neither GB nor BIAB have the arranger feature where you change the accompaniment with your dp. One Man Band will do that.

2. Yes, you can connect a dp to GB or BIAB and both will record what you play either as midi or audio. You can also use your dp connected to GB or BIAB to play the instruments included with them. I've done that with GB but had problems with latency when I tried it with BIAB on my Vista PC (as usual). I talked to a tech at BIAB and he said I just need to DL a driver from Germany, change my settings etc etc. That's why I bought the Mac Mini just for piano use :-)

BTW, the live chat is a great feature of BIAB, I've used it many times (BIAB can be a little complex)
Posted by: Coldsalmon

Re: Practising Jazz standards: Band-in-a-box vs Garageband? - 09/23/10 10:02 AM

<Rant>

As a word or warning, practicing with machines can ruin your time feel. I've been playing upright bass with many people for many years and it's always totally obvious when you're playing with guys who practice with Jamey Aebersold recordings or other non-humans, because their time feel is totally off. When you're playing with other musicians, they will listen and react to what you play in very subtle ways. That means that you have to be on the ball in terms of your rhythms. When you play with a recording, it will keep on chugging along whether or not you are swinging. Developing your time feel is the most important part of playing jazz, and you will not even know whether you have a good feel if you are not playing with other people. Non-humans can be useful tools for certain aspects of practicing, but don't delude yourself into thinking that you can make real all-around progress with them. The only reason I can really think of to play with non-humans is to try out new harmonic concepts and see how they sound over a full band. For general practice, you would be much better off learning to play unaccompanied so that you learn create a swing feel by yourself. After you can do that, a mechanical band will just be an annoyance.

</Rant>