HOW TO TRANSCRIBE a monophonic audio melody to MIDI in BIAB and RB

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You can transcribe a single-note vocal or instrumental line and produce a MIDI file by using both Realband (2018) and BIAB (2018)

Below is how to do it… 

How to do it In BIAB 

1. Ensure the vocal is on the Audio track 

2. Open “Audio Edit” 

3. Select the whole track 

4. Select transcribe under the “Edit” option in ‘Audio Edit’,  

To make sure you have it right, try opening the file LISTEN.MGU that’s found in… 

“\bb\Documentation\tutorials\Tutorials_audio_harmonies” 

How to do it in Realband 

1. Open the Audio on a track 

2. Select the whole track 

3. Select “Edit | MIDI | Pitch to MIDI Convert” 

You will realize that the MIDI transcription will appear on a blank track called “Conversion from track x” where x is the track number of the audio. 

How to record a cover song using Band-in-a-Box and RealBand

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1. Determine meter, tempo, chords and key of the original song

The first task is to figure out if the song is in 4/4 time (ie it has four beats in every bar of four beats). Many many many MANY songs will be in 4/4  so try this first. If you can count ONE, two, three, four, ONE, two, three,four etc..then the song is in all likelihood in 4/4. (It may be in 2/2 or 2/4 but don’t worry too much about that). If you end up counting ONE, two, three ONE two, three then the song is probably a waltz and is in 3/4 time. If you feel like you want to count ONE, two, three, four, five, six, ONE, two, three, four, five, six then it is most likely in 6/8 time. There are other more unusual types of meter but you will probably survive with these for now. This particular song is in 4/4 time.

Next you need to figure out if the original song is a “swinger” or not and whether you want your cover song to “swing” or not. Now I am not talking about the type of party you sometimes go to where you put your car keys in a hat and go home with the person whose keys you later draw out of said hat. I am rather talking about the feel or “groove” of the song. Does it make you want to sashay across the room or does it make you want to bunny hop across the room. If you feel like sashay-ing then it is probably has some “swing” in it. If it feels like the notes are alternatively lengthening and shortening then it probably swings. Anyway, the point it is you should decide on an even or a swing beat and stick with that decision throughout the song. For this song, I decided on an even beat.

Next determine the tempo of the original song. Simply count the number of beats for one minute and that is the tempo.

Now is the tricky part (well for some of us anyway) which is to figure out the key and the chords. If you can figure chords out by ear then by all means go ahead and do it that way. For the rest of us, we can use some tools at our disposal. Firstly get hold of the  MP3 of the original song and use the Audio Chord Wizard inside BIAB to help you figure out the basic chords, key and structure. Open the MP3 in the Audio Chord wizard. Play the MP3 and set the first bar of the song. Double check that the tempo is more or less what you have already determined. Then select “Ok – send  to BIAB”.

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Band-in-a-Box will be populated with the chords from the Audio Chord Wizard. You will need to set the key as suggested. In the 2018 version of Band-in-a-Box, it will ask you if you want to set the key but otherwise just pull down the key and set it to the suggested key (without transposing).

Now, to start with I always simplify the chords and get rid of all the off-putting “sus” chords, the “9th”s, “6th’s and “7th”s plus all the “double” chords. So where it says A/C# I will make it A and where is says G/B I will make it a G. I will then put all the part markers in. I generally use the blue markers for the verse and the green for the chorus. Then I will check the chords on http://www.ultimate-guitar.com. I will also play along with the original recording on my guitar and make any changes I deem necessary.

If you battle to figure out the key and the chords to the song you can always find the sheet music. I use http://www.musicnotes.com quite a lot.

After a bit of fiddling around, here is what I ended up with in Band-in-a-Box for Auld Lang Syne.

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2. Pick a Style

Next go into the style picker and try and find a suitable style for the song.  First try and find the song itself in the song database. 

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Now, for this particular song, I didnt expect to find the James Taylor version in the song database so I also tried just looking for James Taylor.

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After spending a bit of time auditioning the various suggested styles, I settled on the Lite Pop w/ songwriter guitar as the basis for my song.

3. Find the best key for your voice 

Now play around with the key until you get it right for your voice. In this example, the original song was in D, For me, I needed it to be in F. So I pulled down the key tab and selected to transpose the song into F.

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4. Continue project in RealBand

Save your project as an SGU file and fire up RealBand. Open up the SGU file. The first time you do this it will take a while for RealBand to generate the tracks from the SGU, so a little patience is required. However, once you have saved your project at a SEQ file (RealBand’s file type) it will open very quickly.

5. Record, edit and tune lead vocal and harmonies

Now, start with the recording of your vocals and harmonies. Note: you will need either a USB microphone or an audio interface to record into RealBand.

Here is a picture of what my RealBand session looked like after I had finished recording, editing and tuning all my vocals and harmonies. As you can see, I do a fair amount of editing of the vocals and harmonies and I also use a mixture of generated and sung harmonies. I use Melodyne to fine tune the vocals as well as to line up the sung harmonies with the lead vocal but that is a personal choice. If you don’t have or don’t believe in Melodyne you will get along just fine without it. I also use the Izotope Nectar plugin on the lead vocal but failing that you should at least apply PG Dynamics and a touch of PG Reverb to your your lead vocal (to taste)

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6. Sweeten your arrangement

Now comes the creative bit! Listen carefully to the original song and make notes on how the song is arranged. Ie, what instruments play where, when and how loud. Then make notes of how you want your own arrangement to sound. For example, you may have something like this:

Bar 1   : Intro: Just piano and finger picked guitar playing 
Bar 5   : Lead vocal comes in. Piano very low but still there. Mainly finger picked guitar 
Bar 13 : Bass starts. Piano comes back in. Soft accordion comes in 
Bar 21 : Drums start 
Bar 41 : Second chorus has some vocal harmonies 
Bar 49 : Drums change and electric guitar comes in 
Bar 57 : Last chorus. More harmonies and background vocals are added 
Bar 65:  Outro. Just piano and finger picked guitar again

Listening carefully and making notes about the original song does not necessarily mean you are going to copy it. Rather it just gives you some ideas of how great songs are arranged and how you may want to apply some these techniques to your own version of the song.

Now audition additional Realtracks and add them to your project. For this song I used the style Lite Pop w/ songwriter guitar as a basis. I then added the accordion, the electric guitar, different drums and a couple of midi super tracks for the piano.

After you have all the instruments that you need you can start editing your tracks according to how you want the arrangement to sound. So for example, I wanted the bass to come in at bar 13 and the drums to come in at around bar 21 so I deleted those sections that I did not want to hear. Note; when editing drums you may find you want to leave in the drum roll that Band-in-a-Box generates before the bar you want to the drums to start playing in. Note also that working inside RealBand means that if you later decide you do actually want the bass playing in the intro after all you can simply regenerate the bass Realtrack. Here is a close up of where I deleted the bass and drum parts inside RealBand.

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Next, I will do some volume editing on the tracks. Say I want a specific track still there but very quiet, I will just permanently reduce the volume of that track in that particular section.  I have found the volume envelopes in RealBand to be slightly unreliable. Plus, if I ever decide I want the original back I can just regenerate the track. To make volume edits just select the part of the track you want to edit, right click and choose “audio effects” and then “gain change”. 

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I almost always add some “holds” to make my arrangements more interesting. Here is a picture of where I added holds to certain instruments in certain places in Auld Lang Syne.

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Using holds is a wonderful way to very easily add interest to your arrangement and can make the song sound a lot less like the other songs made with Band-in-a-Box.

Finally, I will add some effects to the RealTracks. I must say that I do not do very much processing on the Realtracks themselves because I feel that all these tracks have been recorded by world class musicians by world class engineers in a world class studio. Thus, any processing that I do is more likely to mess them up than anything else. I will usually just put a 3 to 6 db cut in all the instruments in the mid range so that they do not compete with the vocal. I may sometimes add some reverb to one specific instrument if I feel it needs it and also I may sometimes add a small amount of compression and some EQ where competing instruments need some space. But other than that, I leave well alone!

Here is a picture of the final version of Auld Lang Syne.

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7. Render to WAV 

First listen to the song all the way through and watch the output meter at the bottom right hand side of the screen. It should be kissing the yellow, but never getting too close to smooching the red. You may need to adjust the master slider or even adjust some of the individual tracks to make sure that you don’t see red on playback.

I always use WAV files as much as possible and only use an MP3 where I cannot use a WAV file. If I am uploading to Youtube or Soundcloud I will always use the WAV file.

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I use the free program Audacity to do the final preparations on my song. I import the WAV file rendered in RealBand, give it a hair cut at the start to make the intro not more that 1/2 a second and to get rid of the clicks. I normalise the volume to 0.0 db and then apply an Izotope Ozone preset to the song. The preset I use the most is “Country basic”. I then save the song as a wav and an Mp3 and apply some metadata tags. Then it is done. My cover song is ready to go. 

This particular song was a public domain song so there was no problem releasing (or even selling) the final result. If, however, the cover song that you have recorded is not in the public domain, then you will need to obtain the correct licenses in order to distribute, sell it, put it on a CD or upload it to Youtube as a back drop for your cousins wedding photographs. That said, Youtube is quite tolerant of this unless you try to monetize your video. Uploading it as a native Facebook video is not advisable.

I hope you enjoyed this post and please feel free to drop any comments as well as your own tips and tricks in the comments section below. I would love to hear any songs you manage to record using these techniques so send them over to me. Remember also that all of the techniques described here are explained more fully in the course First Song with Band-in-a-Box video course

How to use Band-in-a-Box in your songwriting

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1. Decide on a lyrical direction and genre

I usually start with a lyrical idea and a genre that may suit this idea. I may have a full set of lyrics, just a few phrases or even just a title. 

Here is a basic idea for some sunny lyrics I was playing around with the other day 

Paradise is everywhere 
For us to share 
I’ll see you there 

Fly with me and close your eyes 
We’ll take a ride 
‘cross rainbow skies 

Corny I know, but it is a start! 

I think these sunny lyrics would suit a folky swing type thing , maybe with a ukulele.

2. Select your key, Band-in-a-Box style and tempo

Open up a blank song and choose your most favourite key. Mine is G or A.

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Now open the style picker and spend some time exploring suggested styles of songs you hear when you think about these lyrics. I am thinking a country, folky, banjo, ukulele type thing for this song.  Sort of like Jason Mraz and “I’m Yours”.  So type in “Jason Mraz” and press enter.

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Band-in-a-Box will bring up a couple of Jason Mraz songs so select the one you want and press enter. Now Band-in-a-Box will bring up a list of styles that would be suitable if you were making a backing track of this song. Listen to a couple of the suggested styles and see if any  inspire you. Can you “see” your lyrics in any of the suggested styles. If not, pick a different song and try that.

Now, I heard a ukulele on the song so I can put a filter on ukulele and press enter.

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The UKES140  one is a great suggestion! Press enter and your Band-in-a-Box  session will be populated with that style and tempo, in the key that you chose earlier. So I have a folky, swingy type thing going on. 

3. Generate chord and melody ideas

Now go into the “melody” option and then select “Melodist – Generate Melody and/or Chords” to help generate some chord ideas for your song.

Select the right key , in this case “G”, select a suitable style, “Bouncy swing pop” is a good one for this one, uncheck the “allow style changes” box, update the tempo, in this case 140 and hit enter.  


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Now you have some chord and melody ideas in Band-in-a-Box.  You can see that Band-in-a Box has automatically generated an intro, two different progressions for the verse, another different progression for the chorus and then the first progression again (with some variations). This common song writing progression is known as AABA (in case you want to know).

It also generated 3 repetitions of it and it is 2:58 long, which is in the ball park . I will usually simplify the chords.  For example I may change the generated the “E7 flat nine” to a simple “Em” but that is probably more due to my own personal preference and the type of songs that I am writing.

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I now have an excellent start for some chords for a pop song. 

4. Sing over the generated chords

Now this is what I do. I listen to the generated melody a few times just to get a few ideas in my head. Then I mute the melody and just sing over the chord progression again and again and again until something sticks. If you play piano it may help you to pick out a melody on the piano. I think it was Lennon and McCarthney who said that they used to write a song one day and if they could still remember it the next day then they knew they were onto something good.Today we have so many more tools than they had. We have OUR PHONES! I simply turn on the voice recorder on my phone play the chord progression and sing over it again and again. Often I will start with the chorus, which is usually easier than the verse.  

If you find you don’t like the chord progression much then try regenerating it a few times. If you find the “melody” is putting you off, then just mute it.I usually strum along on my guitar at the same time while making changes to the chords in Band-in-a-Box on the fly. Sometimes I will switch off Band-in-a-Box and just play the chords on my guitar, updating Band-in-a-Box with the chord changes as I go along. I keep the lyrics open in Windows Notepad on my computer and make lyric changes also as I go along. 

5. Get melody ideas using RealBand

Here is an idea suggested by Mario DeLaura on the PG Music forum. If you are stuck in finding a good melody, here is a tip you can use that may help. Save the Band-in-a-Box file. It will save it as a .MGU file which tells you that there is a melody included in the file. Now open the Band-in-Box in RealBand. Just be aware that the first time you open a Band-in-Box file in RealBand it will take a while to generate because it has quite a bit of thinking to do.

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Listen through the generated melody (the blue track highlighted above) and find a melodic phrase that appeals to you (usually 2,4 or 8 bars). Delete the rest of the melody and copy the selected phrase throughout the rest of the song. Now sing along, make changes, additions and changes to fit your lyrics.

Thanks for the tip Mario. I am definitely going to give this a try. .

6. Decide on the structure of your song 

Once you have the chords,a melody, a rhythm and some lyrics for at least the first verse and the chorus then you can work on deciding on the structure of the rest of your song.

For this one, I am going to have

  • intro (4 bars)
  • verse (16 bars)
  • chorus (16 bars)
  • verse (16 bars)
  • chorus 16 bars)
  • instrumental first half of the verse (8 bars)
  • bridge (8 bars)
  • chorus (16 bars)
  •  repeat second half of chorus (8 bars)
  •  outro (4 bars)

Pretty standard stuff.

To get Band-in-a-Box to reflect this structure I will get rid of the 3 repetitions that Band-in-a-Box automatically created and increase the end bar to something arbitrary (say 100).

Then copy and paste the chords for your versus and choruses down the song. I will then insert a blank 8 bars for the bridge at the correct spot. Finally I will set the ending to the correct bar. I will then recheck that the length of the song is less than 4 minutes.(I know you are saying a song will be as long as a song wants to be but history has shown that hit songs are generally between 3 and 4 minutes. I know there are exceptions like “Hey Jude” and “Hotel California” but if you can write a song as good as either of these two then by all means make it 7 minutes long).

Here is  screen shot of my initial song structure (with blank bars for the bridge). Of course all of this may change and change and change….

7. Compose Bridge

So now to compose the bridge for the 8 blank bars in the middle of the song. I can re-generate some chord ideas for the middle 8 by selecting those 8 bars and then regenerating “part of the song”.

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Or if I already have some ideas I can simply type them in. I will usually make the lyrical structure and chords for the middle 8 completely different from the rest of the song. That what makes the middle 8 so nice. If you had an idea or some different chords or lyrics or rhyme schemes that didn’t fit anywhere in the rest of the song then you can use them in the middle 8! 

8. Finalise lyrics

So now you have a great song structure to work with that will help you to finish all your lyrics.  The writing of lyrics is another whole topic and if you would like me to write a blog post on this enormous topic then please let me know.

9. Finalise the song 

In order to finalise the song I will sing it though many times. I will usually strum along on my guitar. Often I end up changing some of the chords, modifying the tempo and, nearly always, trying out a different key to see what suits my voice best (rather that sticking with the key that is easy for me to play on the guitar!!!). I try to make sure the song stays under four minutes, which may sometimes mean making tempo changes or cutting out whole sections of the song…..

And still I sing it through many many more times until I am finally ready to start recording.  

So there you have it. That is how I use Band-in-a-Box in my songwriting. I would love to hear your own methods and tips

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