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iReal Pro for Mac: A harmonious practice tool for musicians

Christopher Breen | July 3, 2014
At the risk of giving away the secrets of musicians everywhere, there are bound volumes of (sometimes legal) musical scores called "fake books." Rather than denoting every note and rest within a composition, they instead offer a "lead sheet" made up of a single melody line and chord headings. It's then the musician's job to devise an arrangement (read: fake their way through) based on this bare outline. The most well known of these fake books is the Real Book, which is full of jazz standards.

While the forums provide you with plenty of material, iReal Pro also includes an editor so that you can create tunes of your own. Just pull up the editor and enter in the chart area the chords you like. While arranging a tune, you can change time signatures, enter repeats, create sections, and mark sections as an intro or verse. You can additionally export tracks as audio or MIDI files or email charts as HTML files that other users can import into their own libraries.

Instrumentally, iReal Pro is pretty limited. Background tracks use the Mac's built-in software instrument sounds, which are only okay. Regrettably, you don't have the option to choose better-quality instrument sounds that you may have added to your Mac--via GarageBand or Logic Pro X, for example. And within each instrument, you have just a few variations. For instance, for the piano track you can choose an acoustic piano, electric piano, or vibraphone. The styles offered by iReal Pro are just as limited. The accompaniment to the jazz charts are passable, but some of the arrangements that accompany the pop charts sound like they were churned out by a cut-rate wedding band.

And that tells you what iReal Pro is really for. Though I'd be reluctant to take some of these arrangements on a one-man-band gig, they serve perfectly well when I want to run through a tune's changes--either to familiarize myself with it, practice soloing over it, or play it in a different key. I'd love to see a Pro Plus version that provides you with more (and more-intricate) styles, as well as a broader palette of instrument sounds. Until that day arrives, I'll appreciate iReal Pro for what it currently is: an affordable and valuable practice tool.


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