Recently I bought the iReal B app for my Iphone. I am so excited about it that I wanted to write a post.
iReal B is an app which turns your mobile device into a jazz fake book. It has chords for thousands of jazz and pop standards, any of which can be transposed into any key. Unfortunately, it doesn’t include the melody, but in most cases the tiny musical staff would be impossible to read. But for me, the real genius of iReal B is the play-along function that generates background accompaniment.
Whenever I practice music, I don’t like to have a bunch of stuff around. Usually, I have a metronome, flash cards with scales and chords, and perhaps sheet music. Several weeks ago, I started to realize that it would be helpful to have play-along background tracks which could simulate rehearsing with a band. I checked into the Band In A Box software, but I would have to spend over a thousand bucks, and have a laptop and external hard drive for it to work. I gave up on that, and started to wonder if there was a stripped-down version of Band In A Box that would run on my iPhone.
Then I read that iReal B has an accompaniment function built in. I thought that the background tracks would sound really cheesy, but the app was only $7.99, so I installed it to give it a try. What I found out is that iReal B is an incredibly useful practice tool and an impossibly great value.
I don’t want to get technical here, so I’ll say that basically what happens is that iReal B installs on your phone with limited functionality. Just a few ‘exercise’ chord charts, and basic swing, latin, and pop accompaniment styles. However, you can download a free package of 1200 jazz standards instantaneously into iReal B, and suddenly you have the chords to almost any song you can think of. You also have the capability of easily adding charts for additional songs. Next, I bought the ‘jazz styles’ accompaniment package for $5.99 which added several other useful styles such as Fast Swing, Straight Eighths Ballad, etc.
Now I use iReal B on my iPhone to practice every day, sometimes for several hours. Here are some of the main reasons I love it:
- In the play-along accompaniment function, you can mix any level of bass, drums, chordal instrument(usually piano), and overall reverb on the mix. As an organist, I usually play bass with my left hand and lead with my right, so I will dial out the bass on the accompaniment, and it sounds great.
- You can slow songs way down, so you can figure out something slowly and speed it up gradually.
- The background tracks sound like real people comping behind you. Well, maybe not exactly, but good enough to be helpful and not annoying. Definitely whatever patterns they use were programmed by professional musicians to sound authentic and supportive. My only minor qualm is that the piano tone is a bit aggressive. The drums swing pretty hard!
- I play with iReal B and my Nord C2 mixed through my headphones. It helps with my expression pedal technique to be able to hear how my organ sounds along with ‘drums’: I tend to come up with a tone which sounds good on stage rather than just sounding good alone in my living room.
- You can set it to loop specific measures in the form, when you want to spot practice. I love this, because when I’m working on a song, I always identify my rough spots, and go back to drill them for a while.
I also like the fact that the software makes it easy to add and modify songs. That’s a major advantage over simply having fakebooks on PDF.
The iReal B website is a little short on information about who developed it and how, but I have heard rumors that it was originally conceived and written by a jazz bass player living in New York City. Brilliant, and I hope he gets rich from this!