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iReal B: A Look Into the New Real Book App for iOS

iReal BiReal B, formerly known as “iReal Book” and as you may have guessed, is the Real Book in digital form. This app is an iOS universal app, compatible with iPad, iPhone and iPod touch and available for $7.99. This is one of my most used apps on my iPad.

In the most recent version, iReal B only provides chord charts, as the written melodies are copyrighted. It turns out that while chord progressions are not subject to copyright laws, they received a “take down notice” and decided that they could not afford to fight it, so anyone who buys the app as of now will miss out on the wealth of tunes initially included with the app. Anyone who had it pre-installed retained any charts they had loaded, and the company has added 50 “demo” progressions to the new version, so you have something to work with before downloading tunes from the forums or making your own. These tunes are geared for practice.

But there is a work-around to this problem…

One of the beautiful things about this app is the app forum (which is accessible within the app) in which thousands of users had already uploaded charts they had made themselves as well as backups of their entire library so it is actually quite easy to just find the old Real Book charts in one file, which you can simply click and all of the contained charts will be loaded and stored for future use! Pretty cool. In fact there is a sticky post in the jazz section of the forum which will automatically load 1,200 standards to the app when clicked from within the app. Problem solved!

So let me tell you about the app.

Essentially, it simply displays the chord chart to any tune pre-installed or any tune you wish to add. There is a built in editor so you can make your own charts from within the app. The website also provides you with an online chart editor (to make your own through the site) or a downloadable (free) application for your Mac.

While it is easy enough to make a detailed chart on your iPad, the iPhone screen real-estate makes it a bit challenging so I would suggest doing it on the web or desktop editor.

A recent addition to the app is a “Band-in-a-box” style play-along feature that is just plain amazing. You can set your tempo, style and use sliders to change the volume of accompanying instruments. For example, if you want to practice a tune, simply pull up the chart, hit the note icon and you are presented with a pop-up which allows you to choose the style, tempo (also with tap tempo), number of times you want the song to repeat, number of bars to count in, a button to export the playalong file as a WAV or AAC (VERY cool) and a mixer to turn up, down or off the piano, guitar, bass, drums and reverb level. In short, this feature ALONE makes it more than worth the price of admission.

The second coolest feature (but possibly most useful on the bandstand) is the ability to transpose ANY chart to ANY key very quickly with the press of a button. This is immensely helpful when playing with singers or when someone just calls a tune in a different key. I’ve actually transposed the tune on a gig WHILE playing the tune once I realized a few beats in that the guitarist started in a different key. It is so fast and easy that I could simply hammer my bass line with my left hand while transposing the tune with my right hand all within the span of a bar or two (once I figured out what key he was in, that is).

You can organize charts by title, composer or style. Some of the style packs will cost a few bucks extra for the play-along, but it comes with the Jazz pack pre-installed. I also bought the Latin style pack and it’s wonderful.

You can also email, print or post to the forum any chart from within the app (I’ve use it to email chord charts to people and to print from my iPad – very handy).

For any jazz musician or student, this is one of the few apps that I can genuinely state is a must buy. For more, check out the iReal B app page on the app store.

iReal B Demo: