Did I ever tell you I like free software? I guess I did. In fact, I love it. Now, here’s a piece of software you might really like.
Every musician, one day, will learn about Band-in-a-Box. It’s a great software program allowing you to create backing tracks with ease. Just like ChordPulse, btw, my favorite (cheap) “backing track generator”.
However, Chordpulse and especially Band-in-a-Box come with a price tag. So, if you’re on a tight budget or, if you’re not looking for all the bells and whistles BIAB offers, .. what’s the alternative? If there is any?
When looking for a trial version for BIAB (because I’ve seen and heard so many good things about it) I found out there was no such version anymore but on some forum someone was pointing out there was an alternative: Impro-Visor. Since I don’t believe in stealing software and didn’t want to download BIAB trough PirateBay, I decided to give that a try before spending a lot of money on a program that I can’t test before I buy it.
The website for Impro-Visor doesn’t look very slick. In fact, it’s design is pretty much “outdated”. Don’t let this fool you (it’s a pitty though, since it will turn away a lot of people). It’s clearly aimed at being functional and no-frills. And it has this one special program you will want to have … Impro-Visor. The “downloads” links will send you over to SourceForge, the well-known source for public domain, freeware and open source software.
What it does
The website says the following about it:
Impro-Visor® is a music notation tool for producing monophonic lead sheets. Chord symbols are used to generate backing tracks automatically. Improvisation advice exists in the form of note coloration, database of licks, and automatic lick generation from grammars. Grammars can be learned automatically from transcriptions. Styles can be edited and created by the user. Other features include generation of roadmaps for understanding keys and idiomatic chord progressions, chord voicing keyboard, MIDI and MusicXML export.
How it works
I gave it a first try. Installation was a snap, and it ran without any problems on my windows7 powered computer. It starts with a ‘music sheet’. Now that scares me.. I can’t read sheet music! But I decided to play around a little and see what would happen if I simple entered “E | A | B | F#m F#m E E ” in the “textual entry” bar and would press [enter] ..
Now that was cool! The chords appeared on the screen, above the lines where the notes would need to be entered. I ‘resized’ it to 12 bars (top right), and filled in the other chords. More or less random. Next I clicked on the [IMPROVISE] button at the top. And there the notes came, .. wow! Click on “play” and you hear the musical piece you’ve “composed”!
Next I ran a midi-export and imported that into Mixcraft. After some editing there was a niece piece of instrumental Jazz. Not that I like Jazz.. but it’s the default for this program so it seems (mind you: I haven’t read the manual yet — I like to judge software based on it’s easy of use and the interface should make clear, imho, how a program works or what it has to offer).
So, that’s a good start. Next, .. would it work if I would hook up my midi-keyboard and play something on it? Yes, this worked but not as good as I hoped for. I don’t know what was causing it, but I’ve had a lot of latency issues when playing along. Latency of 500 ms. to be exact. That’s a lot!!
The “Gervill” for output has the best sound as far as I’m concerned but also the highest latency.
I almost gave up on the idea to use my keyboard for this after trying to tweak the settings for some time. But suddenly when looking at the menu button’s I’ve found the button “Step input”. Now that is a great idea!! I mean, I’m not that good at keyboard, so I play slow… this allowed me to play extremely slow, a few notes at a time, a single note, another note,…
Don’t laugh, here it is.
It sounds okay to me,.. but there might be some serious errors in it. Well, I have to go by ear, and as I’ve said before, I can’t read sheet music so I trust the program wrote it as it was played. Anyway – this is a great feature! Even if you have latency issues or are simple not good or fast enough in playing, the step input will put the notes where they should be, and will play them back the speed you’ve set. Cool.
There’s a lot more…
There’s a lot more. A whole lot more to discover with this program. I probably will need to read the manual after all. As soon as I’ve got some more time, I will. This program is a “killer app” I think for many musicians. For me, it’s a little over the top I’m afraid. I’m looking for something more basic, like ChordPulse but with some added functionality. More visual perhaps.. This program however is one of the best I’ve seen, for free, for a long time.
So, in the end, you might want to hear how it sounds. What can it do for you? Without reading the manual, and goofing around a little, this is what I created. In less than 30 minutes after I started the program (and after some editing with Mixcraft).