One of my Year 8 students recently had to play keyboard in a band for his music performance class at school. The song the band chose was Baker Street (they had a good saxophonist!) and my student’s role was to play the chords on the keyboard.
As this student is pretty new to piano, he had taught himself all the triads in root position (using my “B.S. method”) with the right hand.
While this is the easiest way to begin playing pop music, is also the most boring when practising solo. The main problem is that without the other instruments and/or vocalist to play-along with, this kind of practice can get really boring, and ultimately be quite unmusical and unrhythmic too.
Enter another must-have music teachers’ app for iPad: iReal Pro – perfect for just this situation! (ps. This app used to be called iReal B in case you see references anywhere.)
The app works by creating backing tracks in a chosen style (eg. Latin, Pop, Rock, Jazz) based on any chord chart or standard lead-sheet. You can download thousands of songs in-app from the linked iReal b forums or you can enter your own chords into the app (or via online editor) as I did today for a student playing Hotel California (which I’ve since found was available in the forums anyway!).
Best of all, the instrumental parts in the backing can be volume-controlled (want more drums, less piano – easy!) and the tempo easily adjusted. You can also loop sections and change the key of the written chords and the backing track instantly. Oh, and it’s under $10.
I’ve started using this for my 12-bar-blues teaching as a backing track in lessons and, if the student has an iPad at home, they can download the chord chart and play along. If they don’t have an iPad or iPhone, you can export your backing track to WAV and email it or share it through DropBox.
The main features (from the iReal Pro website – my favourites in bold):
Have fun with it! You can download it from the app store here.
Leave a comment below to let us know your favourite backing track apps and how you use them.
Tim Topham is the founder and director of TopMusic. Tim hosts the popular TopCast show, blogs regularly at topmusic.co and speaks at local and international conferences on topics such as pedagogy, business, marketing and entrepreneurship. Tim has been featured in American Music Teacher, The Piano Teacher Magazine, California Music Teacher and EPTA Piano Professional. Tim holds an MBA in Educational Leadership, BMus, DipEd and AMusA.