Entering the chords and melody.

Choosing a suitable piece of music.

Any piece of printed music that has chords and melody is easy to enter into Band in a Box. There are dozens of books that have only chords, words and melody and are called "Fake Books". They are usually thick with hundreds of songs and represent very good value, even though a lot of songs included may be of no immediate interest. Just make sure that there are enough that are of interest to justify the purchase.

Below is a typical piece out of a fake book. The melody is clearly written and the chords are also clear. Transcribing it into Band in a Box presents no challenge.

It is the opposite in this case. There are no chords and even if you have studied harmony, extracting them is quite difficult. There is also no clear melody line and the whole thing is written in the bass clef. It contains ornaments that were pretty much proprietary to the composer, François Couperin. The interpretation of these ornaments is the stuff that turns otherwise civil scholars into mortal enemies. It is not a task for the music-theory-challenged.
As we learned in the previous section, one must analyze the piece and enter some basic settings. We see the Victor Herbert piece is in the key signature of Bb, it is in 4/4 time and the tempo is marked andante. Andante indicates that it is of moderate tempo, but not very fast. We could start out with the tempo entered between 90 and 100, and change it later to taste. This is how we start~

The title of the piece is entered, the style PNOSIMP4 is chosen by clicking on the Style button and choosing the style from the Style Picker that opened. Bb is entered into the key signature with the drop-down menu and a tempo of 95 chosen as a start.

Loop is clicked, so you don't have to restart playback each time when listening for mistakes or auditioning styles. Once complete, you can click it off. I counted the measures and entered 16 and left it as a single chorus. It can always be expanded.

I have entered the first few chords into the spreadsheet section. Click in the first measure and just type in the chord. There is no need to use the shift-key. Band in a Box is smart enough to know that "bb" is "Bb". Since there is only one chord in the first measure, use the Enter key or cursor key to move past the second half. "Eb/Bb" is an Eb chord over a Bb bass and all you need to do is type it in.

Notice that there is a blue square and around 1 and a green around 9. The first two lines are identical, but the pattern changes at measure 9. Clicking on the number changes it. The change generally generates a drum fill in the preceding measure, and sections starting with the green square tend to be a bit more intense that those with blue.

When entering chords in the Band in a Box spreadsheet above, you will find that each measure seems to only allow two chords to be entered - on the first and third beats.

In measure 15 we have three chords, with one on the third and the fourth beats.

When entering them, put a comma between them, and they will be properly placed with the correct beats. This would be typed "bb/f,f7".

There are many shorthand ways of entering chords in Band in a Box and they are all listed in the help files. Learning them will speed up chord entry greatly. One can also copy and paste, and under the Edit menu, there are commands for copying from one part of the piece to another. For example, if the first two lines are identical to the last two lines, "Copy From..." will let you do it. Of course, you do not need to know all these shortcuts to enter music. Learn them over time, and they will make entering much more efficient.

Now click on Play and hear if you got all the chords right. If you typed B for BB, it should sound terrible, so just type over to fix it. PNOSIMP4 is just piano chords, and very boring, but it clearly lets you hear the chords with no frills and makes editing simple. We will enter the melody and then later choose a style.

Entering Notation

Click on the Notation icon and it will take you to the Notation Editor, so you can input the melody.


Once the editor opens, click on the little [N] button. This makes the notation editable. You will find the chords that you entered into the spreadsheet are in place above the staff, so you can use these as a guide.


For convenience, I will bring in that line of music again.
So now all you have to do is click the notes onto the notation staff.

At this point most people new to Band in a Box hit the panic button. You have clicked on the first beat of the first measure, and Band in a Box has filled the whole measure and spilled into the next - HELP!!!


As you can see, Band in a Box has divided each measure into four beats, and each beat into four sub-beats - 1/16th note resolution. It is a smart program and knows how much music a measure will hold. Just click on the line where the next note goes and it will take care of you. (Note:3/4 time works just the same, but with three beats per measure.)

Here I clicked on the second beat, and the first note became a quarter note, as it should. Then I clicked on the third beat - and the second note adjusted. Finally, I clicked on the second half of the final beat, got an eighth note preceded by a dotted quarter note.

No need for panic! Band in a Box is just taking care of you.

If you were to click on C instead of B in the first beat, just click on B and it will correct it. You can also drag a note up or down or left or right by clicking on it and dragging it. Very slick.

If you want to get rid of it and start over, right-click on the note and a dialogue will open that will let you delete. If you want to erase a whole bunch, there is a selection on the Edit menu that will let you erase any number of measures. You can specify what you want erased as well, melody, chords, solo or whatever.

Swing notation breaks each beat up into three - not four. This allows one to use triplets with ease. As usual whole, half or quarter notes are entered on the beat. Triplets in any mix can be entered on the middle line or on all three.

It is a bit confusing at first, since it is clearly a nonstandard notation. However it works very well. I also allows one to add the melody to jazz waltzes.

Study the example on the right, and all should become clear. When in doubt - try it and see what happens.

At WORST, it will NOT kill the neighbor's dog or make the special-other run off with a traveling salesman. (Except for a few country tunes that you might stumble onto, but then it would have happened anyway...)

Once you have the chords and music entered for a single chorus, adding more choruses is simply a matter of clicking on the button on the right and choosing how many you want.

The [1] button on the left allows you to do an intro for the first chorus, and then skip it for the remaining. Clicking evokes a drop-down menu.

I find that with a lot of music, one can copy the final four measures as an intro, specially if there is a first and second ending.

Use the first ending and it generally works very well. Whether singing or playing, a four measure intro gives you time to start Band in a Box playing and be ready for the first note. Set the [1] to [5] and it will skip the intro for the next chorus. Leave it on [1] and it will give you a bridge to get your breath.

Now head over to the Style Picker, and audition styles until you find the one that is perfect for your piece. Then bring up the fake-sheet on the screen, [Ctrl+W] and enjoy playing or singing along.

There is much more to Band in a Box. Lyrics can be entered, and played back karaoke style. The melody line can be harmonized and performance gestures inserted to humanize it with the piano roll editor. There is a Thru channel that allows you to play the melody on a MIDI instrument, and it will automatically harmonize it in many ways. You can play a jazz quartet or a big band with one finger! By hitting F5, you can change styles, instruments, harmonies and tempo at any measure.

Once you have learned how simple it is to enter notes and chords, you are free to feast upon the riches that Peter Gannon and his crew have served up to all of us.

©2005 Larry N.Bolch