This is my review for the iReal Pro backing tracks app; this is a super cool app that you can use to download chord charts for songs, create your own chord charts from scratch, and then use the app to play backing for you in multiple styles with various instruments.
What Is iReal Pro?
So what is iReal Pro? It is an app that at this moment in time is available for iOS, Android and Macs, and I will be reviewing the iOS version that I use on my iPad. iReal Pro was originally developed as a tool for jazz soloists (guitarists, pianists, horn players, etc) that would play a jazz chord progression for them to practice their soloing over. There are some things that are still present in the app including some “jazz-centric” notation that I’ll be talking about so let’s get into it.
- download a chord chart for a song from a massive library (and you can edit it if you like)
- create your own chord chart from scratch
- choose from quite a few instrument choices for backing and adjust the mix or even mute some (guitars, keyboards, bass and drums)
- adjust the tempo up or down
- transpose to different keys (you will see the chords change accordingly)
- export your song to an audio file (.WAV) to use as a backing track
- export your song as a PDF chord chart to share with others
- display piano, guitar, ukulele chord diagrams or music notation of chords in real time (great for learning!)
How Does It Work (And How Much Does it Cost)?
When you buy iReal Pro and download it to your device (I paid around $21 CDN so about $16 US), you get access to all of the chord charts in the database, and you also get access to the default “styles” for playing back your song. So you get style categories like Jazz, Latin and Pop, each of which have many sub styles within so you can customize how you want your song to sound. And you can buy additional style packs such as Blues for around $5 if you like.
To get started, the best thing to do is download some default playlists that iReal Pro has assembled. These are just pre-chosen chord charts of popular songs from various genres – they don’t take up alot of space, and this way you can search the songs on your device instead of having to search them online and download one at a time. If you click the globe in the top left and then click “Main Playlists” you will see this screen where you can either browse these playlists and download songs one at a time or you can just grab the whole list (I downloaded the pop and blues playlists so I immediately had over 400 songs on my device):
Keep in mind that these are just some default playlists of popular songs to get you started – there are thousands more songs that you can download chord charts for. iReal Pro chord charts are user contributed, and there are THOUSANDS of users constantly contributing more – at the time of this review, look at how many songs in different genres are available:
Given that the songs are user contributed, you may need to edit the one you download to your liking (transpose it, modify chords etc) but that is simple to do.
One thing I did want to mention is that while you can browse the user forums and search for songs within that interface, I found it a bit clumsy to use (I may also just have been too lay to get familiar with it 😉 ). But I found the easiest way to look for a song was just to google “song name iReal Pro” and if there was one in the iReal Pro forums, my search results would give me a link that takes me right to the song so that works really well.
How Do You Use It?
This short video will give you an overview on the basics of using iReal Pro (using chord charts, exporting audio or pdf files, displaying chord diagrams in real time – super cool feature!):
The diagram below outlines what the menu buttons on the chord chart interface are for:
Instead of trying to type out and describe with screen shots how to edit a song or how to create your own song from scratch, this is really much easier explained with a video, so I’m including that below – this video is about 10 minutes long, but it will show you how to edit an existing song, as well as how to create a song from scratch, and explain how to use sections to create drum fills/style variations as well as some helpful navigation with repeats etc. This video is also part (about half of actually) my full video review, so if you prefer to just watch the whole review in its entirety there is also a link to that at the bottom of this page.
As I mention in the video above, iReal Pro does use jazz notation symbols for chords, so you will need to get used to those (but it’s not that big a deal and hey – learning is fun!). You can tell iReal Pro to display minor chords as “m” instead of the jazz default of “-” but the rest of the symbols cannot be changed. Here is a picture of common jazz notation symbols:
My Only Negative
Now the only negative thing that I have to say about this app, is that you are limited to a one page chord chart; I’m assuming this dates back to when the app was originally made, and since it was meant for just having a chord progression to solo over, you didn’t really need a whole song. But this is still a limitation, and while it’s not the end of the world, it can make longer songs a bit more challenging to read and create if you are making your own chord charts. You will need how to read and use repeats, ending 1 vs 2, and coda symbols which allow you to bounce around to another section and replay it. For example, I wrote a song called “Walk With You” and it took me a long time to figure out how to cram all this into a page using coda symbols (I would much prefer to just have multiple pages). And to be honest if you asked me to remake this again it would probably take me just as long. But, it can be done, so not the end of the world, and most pop songs aren’t too bad to fit into a page. Here is what the chord chart for my song ended up looking like (you can see all the coda symbols, repeats etc):
iReal Pro – The Verdict
I love this app! It is SUPER easy to make very basic backing tracks with this – you can use it to help you learn and practice songs (I love that chord display feature), to generate wav files to use as backing tracks for performances, or to generate chord charts. The fact that you can get some drum fills and variations in different parts of the song really makes it a lot more realistic and a lot less monotonous. And you are able to customize things a reasonable amount by choosing different instruments, you can mute instruments (I’ll often just make a track with drums and bass), etc. While the instrument sounds aren’t the best quality in the world, they really aren’t bad and are totally usable.
At around $20 iReal Pro is totally worth the money; there are thousands of active users on this app adding new chord charts to the forums all the time so there’s always a good chance you can find a song that you’re after. I’ve yet to search for one in the forums and not find it – some of them I’ve chosen to edit a bit but not having to start from scratch is awesome. The only negative thing is the limitation to a one page chart, but you can’t have everything and for most songs its not too bad. And the fact that you can quickly export a track to a .wav file for use as a backing track is super useful.
So I plan on reviewing some other choices for backing tracks, as well as possibly creating backing tracks with an arranger keyboard so stay tuned for those (easiest way to be notified is to subscribe to my YouTube channel).
Jamzone is a very cool app where you buy backing tracks recorded by actual musicians for famous songs on a track by track basis – with Jamzone you will get VERY “song-accurate” tracks so this can be a super cool option for you. Tracks are approximately $2-4 each depending how many “credits” you buy at a time. For me, I will probably buy the occasional track if it is one I really want and it has some distinctive, hard to recreate features to it. You can check out my full review on Jamzone here.
Band In The Box
Band In The Box is a VERY feature full backing track application that uses both MIDI backing instruments (like iReal Pro) as well as hundreds of recordings by actual musicians that can be transposed, sped up/slowed down and used in your backing tracks! It is about 7x the price of iReal Pro, but you can end up with a significantly higher quality backing track (even using recordings of actual musicians), and you can customize your tracks to a much greater detail. It also includes a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) for mixing down a recording (adding in your own tracks of vocals or instruments) to the Band In The Box tracks. There is a much higher learning curve with this program, so it may or may not be a good fit for your needs. I have recently purchased Band In The Box, so I will be doing an introductory review soon.
Using An Arranger Keyboard
Many people own arranger keyboards (where you can play rhythms & backing accompaniment) on your keyboard by playing chords that the accompaniment follows along with. Depending on your keyboard, you may or may not have additional features like variations, drum fills, intros etc. IP have always been curious about how feasible it might be to make full backing tracks with an arranger keyboard so I will be doing a video on that on my YouTube channel in the near future to try it out.
Subscribing To Playiit.com – A Backing Track Service
There are many backing track websites out there, but if you have no desire to MAKE your own backing tracks, and you just want a source of easy to find and easy to play back / play along with backing tracks, there is a site I recently came across called Playiit.com – I will be looking into this as well.
So I can highly recommend checking out iReal Pro; just search for it in the app store. And stay tuned for more videos that I’ll be posting on the different options for creating backing tracks discussed above, and I’ll also probably do a comparison between different choices as well.
Here is a link to the full video review (all of the videos above on this page are within the video below):
So give this app a try; if you have any questions about my web site, please feel free to contact me! (If you have “how-to” questions on iReal Pro you will be better off searching online for solutions than reaching out to me – I am NOT an expert in this app!)