Take advantage of modern technology and transform your practice or solo performances into a one-man band.
There is a cycle involved in every art form–inspiration, creation, and sharing. What many musicians enjoy the most about making music is the last phase of the cycle–the performance. The satisfaction of involving an audience in the music making process is what gives you the feedback and confidence to continue creating and growing as a musician.
As you grow, your musical visions may become bigger than what you alone can produce. This is why musicians form bands. A band creates an environment where you can share music with others, while creating a bigger sound. However, a busy schedule and other commitments may make it impossible for you to join a group. But, by taking advantage of some of these affordable, high-tech gadgets, a solo performer can express themselves with a full band sound in practice or performance anytime inspiration strikes.
Easy enough for beginners and powerful enough for the most discerning professionals, Ableton Live allows you to program and sequence custom songs for performance. Pick drum beats and instrument tracks from a comprehensive list of professional sounding recordings or create your own using the built-in sampling features. You can also connect your instrument, or a vocal mike, and record musical phrases, then rearrange and tweak them into songs.
In performance mode, Ableton Live can play through different parts of a song in sections called scenes, much like a movie. Each new scene brings another development of your song. You can then queue the different scenes at will, change the tempo, and arrange songs on the fly. This allows you to react to the audience in real time.
There are downsides, however. Your show is only as reliable as your computer and its operating system.
For pianists, an arranger keyboard is the next best thing to being born with extra fingers. Yamaha’s Piaggero is an affordable and portable keyboard with many high-end features that will let you play along to professional backing tracks. Weighing only 14 pounds, it’s easy to bring along to jam sessions and gigs.
Piaggero comes stocked with tons of voices, like organs, strings, and guitars, giving you freedom to express yourself through different instrument sounds. The Piaggero also comes stocked with 160 different styles, which are more than just generic backing tracks. You can program custom intros, variations, and endings, or even repeat sections to give the audience what they want. Using the Music Database, you can load your favorite songs, and even download new songs as they become popular, so you can quickly and easily perform favorite songs with a dynamic backing band.
This is Boss’s gift to all the bedroom rock stars out there. The eBand JS-8 gives you everything you need right out of the box to start jamming along to favorite tunes and styles. Simply plug in a guitar, and browse through the 300 preloaded backing tracks to find the one you want to play over, and hit play. JS-8’s tuned playback speakers give you clean, accurate sound. It even selects appropriate guitar sounds for a song using a collection of more than 100 onboard amp and effects simulators that are based on the GT-10, Boss’s flagship effects processor.
Want to play along with a specific song in your music collection? No problem, import a song from your computer into the eBand with its USB port, and you’re free to play with any tune! Other features include a looping function, tempo and key control for learning fast or tricky passages, a recording function to capture performances, and vocal mike compatibility.
Line 6’s loop pedal is great for both practice and performance applications. With 24 minutes of loop time, you’ll be hard-pressed to hit the ceiling with your ideas. It has four dedicated foot switches for looping and playback control, and it couldn’t be easier to use. Simply hit the record switch, play through a chord progression, then hit it again when you’re finished, and the device will play it back, or loop the passage back to you. Now you can improvise over it, or layer more parts, like a bass line, percussion, or vocal harmonies. Let your imagination go wild!
Line 6 includes more than 100 authentic jam tracks and drumbeats played by real industry professionals, recorded in top studios in Nashville and Los Angeles. Having the Line 6 JM4 is like having a band of pro musicians at your disposal, anytime you need them.
Band in a Box has been around for some time, and it’s an indispensable practice tool for many musicians, especially if your computer is central to your practice studio. Band in a Box comes stocked with thousands of styles and preloaded songs. Program the chord changes of the song you want to play using the software’s simple, but powerful, interface. Set the tempo, key, style, number of repeats, and the instruments in your virtual band, and hit play. The program counts off the tune, and then, you’re off.
If you don’t know the chord changes to the song you want to play, virtually every tune ever written is available for download. With a quick Internet search, find the song you want in Band in a Box format, load it in, and like magic, the band is ready and waiting for you to give the signal.
This article is from our September-October 2010 issue. Click to order!