In my last post on backing tracks HERE, I discussed the benefits to using backing tracks and the technology you will need to get them up and running in your studio.
In today’s post, I’ll be sharing where to purchase backing tracks and the different formats you will find available.
What kinds of backing tracks are available?
There are a few different formats you will find for backing tracks:
- Mp3 tracks: these are what you will find if you use a play-along accompaniment CD. You may also find this option if you purchase and download backing tracks from a website.
- MIDI tracks: these are backing tracks designed to be used in high-end digital pianos such as Clavinovas. If you have an acoustic piano, like me, this is probably not the best option for you.
- Apps that have built-in backing track technology: many method books now have dedicated apps that allow you to buy digital copies of the music as well as backing track packages that you can play directly in the app. Often these apps have other features, such as built-in metronomes, video demonstrations, or flashcard games.
Where do I go to purchase backing tracks?
There are tons of backing track options out there—however, they can sometimes be difficult to find unless you know where to look. They are often sold separately from method books, and some are available only online or as in-app purchases. Here are some good places to start looking for backing tracks:
First, check your preferred method series and see if it offers optional backing tracks or has an available app with backing track technology. You will find a range of options depending on the method, including digital downloads, physical accompaniment CDs, and online audio players. The popular Piano Maestro app also offers backing tracks for many different method and supplemental books as part of their subscription fee—I have made a note of the ones available at this time next to each method series below.
Here are a few of the most popular methods that I have found that offer backing tracks:
- Alfred: backing tracks for Alfred Basic, Alfred Premier, and Music for Little Mozarts are available through the Piano Maestro app.
- Bastien New Traditions: Kjos has a dedicated app for many of its products (including band and orchestra books, too). The Kjos Interactive Practice Studio (IPS) app is free, and features backing tracks, video demonstrations, flashcards, and more. You can purchase digital copies of your books in the app, or enter the code found on your hard copy book to access the app’s content.
- Faber Piano Adventures: the Piano Adventures Player App has backing tracks and a built-in metronome. The app is free; backing tracks for each level can be purchased for $4.99. Digital sheet music at a variety of levels is also available.
- Hal Leonard: backing tracks are available online as audio files or accompaniment CDs. Backing tracks are also available in the Piano Maestro app.
- Piano Pronto: mp3 and MIDI backing tracks are available for many of the method books and supplemental books on the website. Backing tracks are also available in the Piano Maestro app.
- Supersonics: backing tracks are available for the method books and supplemental material as part of the Supersonics Plus subscription. A dedicated Supersonics app is also in development. Backing tracks are also available in the Piano Maestro app.
Next, look for supplemental books that come with backing tracks and/or accompaniment CDs. (Remember, if you are using a CD, you can upload the tracks to your computer’s music library and then access them from your other devices, as well as change the tempo of the tracks using an app like AudioStretch.)
For example, I recently used Mike Springer’s “Not Just Another Praise Book” series with one of my students who wanted to play contemporary praise music. This series has 3 volumes, and each book comes with a CD that contains both recordings of the songs as well as a praise band-style accompaniment for students to practice along with.
In researching this article, I also found a few other play along series that I was unfamiliar with and wanted to share:
- The Alfred Play-Along series (HERE) features music from The Doors, Rolling Stones, The Beatles, and more.
- The Alfred "Sitting In" series (HERE) features backing tracks and improv lessons for blues, jazz, and rock styles.
- The Hal Leonard Beginning Solo Piano Play Along Series (HERE) features music from Disney, The Beatles, Christmas, and Pop Standards.
Also, don’t forget about the demo recordings that are packaged with many method and supplemental books, too! Although these aren’t orchestrated backing tracks, it can still be helpful for your students to play along with these recordings for practice.
Finally, YouTube can also be a great resource! If you are like me, you probably already use YouTube to find demo videos of pieces your students may be learning. But you can also have students play along with the recordings, backing track-style!
A great tip I recently learned at a piano workshop—you can slow down the playback speed of YouTube videos without changing the pitch. If you are using the YouTube app on your phone or tablet, click on the 3 dots at the top right of your screen, then select “playback speed.” The teacher who shared this tip finds recordings of duets her students are working on and has her students practice their parts at home along with the YouTube video of the full piece. Isn’t that a great idea?
So, you have the technology ready to go in your studio, and you’ve purchased your first set of backing tracks. What next?
In my last blog post, I mentioned several ways I use backing tracks in my studio—for sight-reading practice, to gain ensemble experience, as a reward for mastering a piece. However, I would like to share one caveat I have found while implementing backing tracks in my studio: there may be a learning curve for your students. Since playing along with backing tracks requires listening to not only the beat, but other instruments as well, it might take a bit of time for your students to get the hang of playing along with backing tracks.
Here are a few tips I found helpful when incorporating backing tracks into my studio:
- Start with simpler pieces that your students can play really well (with excellent rhythm) for their first backing track experience.
- Have students start by first listening to the backing track and clapping along to the beat. If there is a demo of the piano part along with the backing track for students to listen to, that can be very helpful too.
- Have students play hands separately with the backing track. This is a great way to ease into the full backing track experience.
- Slow down the tempo of the backing track for students that struggle with rhythm. If you are using an app, there should be a way to slow down the tempo under the app settings. If you are using mp3 backing tracks, you can import tracks into an app like AudioStretch (which I mentioned in my previous blog post) or Amazing Slow Downer. If you are on a computer, a program such as Audacity can slow down mp3s without affecting pitch.
At the end of the day, I find that backing tracks are worth the extra effort! I tell my students that if they ever hope to play in a band or accompany other instruments, being able to play along with backing tracks is a great first step.
In my next post, "Backing Track 101: Part Three," I will be sharing some of the backing tracks I have created for my own compositions!
So, what do you think? Any tips or other resources you have found helpful for using backing tracks? I’d love to hear your comments!