Create a Band-in-a-Box backing track with melody from a lead sheet

If you want a detailed step-by-step guide on how to make and perform with Band-in-a-Box backing tracks, have a look at my eBook "Band-in-a-Box 101: A  beginners guide to making and performing with Band-in-a-Box backing tracks"

Well the year is nearly over and I can't wait until the new version of Band-in-box is released. It always forms part of my Christmas present from myself to myself and I absolutely love exploring all the new Realtracks that come with the new version.

In this blog post I am going to be taking you through the steps on how to use Band-in-a-Box to create a great backing track from a lead sheet. You do not need to play a musical instrument and you do not need to know any music theory. It is really quite a simple process and is very useful. Maybe you have a pile of old sheet music that you would just love to put into Band-in-a-Box. Or maybe you are like me and have a favourite song book (like my very first John Denver songbook) that is prop-full of songs you would just love to cover using Band-in-Box. Perhaps you are learning to read music or even learning to play by ear?  This can be a great way to do it.

Step 1 - Select your song

Spend a bit of time on Youtube finding the your ideal song. Have a look at the various cover versions that have been posted. Don't worry too much if the key is not correct for your voice. Band-in-a-Box takes care of all your transposition headaches for you.

Step 2 - Get hold of the lead sheet 

So first things first. What is a lead sheet?  A lead sheet is a simple form of musical notation that shows the essential elements of a popular piece of music. That is; the key, the meter, the melody, the lyrics and the chords. All on one sheet of paper (well, in some cases it may go over a couple of pages). It allows you to play the chords of that song on chordal instruments such piano, keyboard, guitar, ukulele or even a xylophone and to sing the melody at the same time. It also allows you to play along to the melody of a popular song using a polyphonic instrument such as flute and clarinet.

Here is the first page of a lead sheet for Judy Garland's "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" in the key of C major.

Step 3 - Determine key and meter

You can tell that this piece is either in C major or in its relative minor (a minor), by looking at the number of sharps (#) or flats (b) in the key signature

Zero # or b  = C major or a minor

1 # = G major or e minor

2 # = D major or b minor

3 # = A major or f# minor

4 # = E major or c# minor

5 # = B major or g# minor

6 # = F# major or d# minor

1 b = F major or d minor

2 b = Bb major or g minor

3 b = Eb major or c minor

4 b = Ab major or f minor

5 b = Db major or bb minor

If you are not big into music theory, you can generally tell if a piece is in the major key or in its relative minor by looking at the chords. If the first and/or last chord is the relative minor then, in all likelihood, the piece is in the key of relative minor. Otherwise, it will normally be in the major key. (Do not worry too much if you don't understand the concept of the"relative minor" at this stage. You will get along just fine without it!)

The meter of this piece is 4/4, which in simple terms means that there are four beats in each bar and each beat is worth a quarter note. Again, don't worry about it too much if you don't understand this completely at this stage.

Step 4 - Set up Band-in-a-Box Session

Now open Band-in-a-Box and set up your session by selecting your start bar, end bar, number of choruses, key and meter.

Step 5 - Select a style

Go into the "Style picker" tool and try and find a suitable style. Many of the well known songs can be found in the song database. Type in the name of your song into the search box on the right hand side of the screen and see if it can be found. Judy Garland's version of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" is in the song database and shows that it is a "swing 8" beat and that the tempo is about 90. It also gives you some suggested styles for this song. Spend some time auditioning the styles to find one you like. If your song cannot be found, try typing in another similar sounding song or even the artist. If you still have no luck, you will need to find a suitable style using the style filters on the left hand side of the style screen

Step 6 - Type in the chords

If the lead sheet does not have an introduction then set up a two or four bar intro just using the first chord.  Then put in a blue part marker and type in the chords as per the lead sheet. 

Note; If you need to put a chord on beats 2 or 4 then right click in the correct bar, select "Chord settings", then select the correct beat and type in the chord you need.

Step 7 - Create the melody track

The next step is very tricky the first time you try it. But the good news is that you get better at it! In this section I will show you how to create the melody track using MIDI and your computer mouse. Select Window, Notation, Notation/Edit/Note Roll Mode. 

Then select the little button highlighted below to get the view that I have found easiest to enter notation with the mouse.

You will see that each beat is divided into a number of "sub" beats depending on the style chosen. Some styles will have four "sub" beats. This particular one has three "sub" beats. Now simply copy the notes on the lead sheet by clicking your mouse in the music staff where the note should go. You will notice that Band-in-a-Box automatically calculates the timing of the note (depending on what comes after) but don't worry too much about that because as soon as you click your next note, Band-in-a-Box will adjust the timing of the previous note. There are a couple of other things that I found quite useful when entering the notation using this method. The first is that if you right click on any note, you get a box that gives you various options that you can change about that note. I found it quite a bit easier to use this functionality when I clicked in the wrong place on the staff and wanted to changed the note by say one, two or three semitones or if you want to delete a note completely.

So, in this example I righted clicked on the first "C" note on the staff and chose "Edit". I then got this option box where I could change certain aspects of the note without using the mouse (like, for example, changing the pitch from C to G)

The other useful thing to note when you are entering notation with your mouse is that you may want to change the number of "sub" beats. For example, in the section of the song pictured below I needed four "sub" beats instead of three. Just right click in the space above the bar in question and you will be given the opportunity to change the "sub" beats (for this particular bar only) from 3 to 4.

The best and quickest way to get to know how to do all  this is to watch PG Music's video tutorial.


And there you have it! Now that you have the song in Band-in-Box there are so many things you can do with it! You can print out the lead sheet, you can change the key, you can change the lead instrument, you can experiment with changing the style and the tempo. A single song will give you hours of practice and fun!

Here is a quick video of the resulting backtrack.

If you would like to download the Band-in-a-Box file and play around with it you can do so here Download Somewhere over the Rainbow Band-in-a-Box MGU file