We are delighted to bring you another inspiring edition of Pathways. In this special series of episodes you’ll hear the stories of music-learners just like you, reaching out and lending each other a hand on our musical journeys. We’re joined by Joanne Cooper, a longstanding member of Musical U, who has particular expertise in a piece of software called Band In A Box.

Joanne’s musical life has never been the same since she started using Band in a Box. She went from writing zero songs to writing and covering hundreds of songs! She has learned a lot of valuable lessons along the way, so we were excited to have Joanne on the show to share her musical journey.

In this conversation Joanne shares:

  • How Band In A Box made a life-changing impact on her song-writing and musical performance.
  • How she used performing with backing tracks as a stepping stone to accompanying herself.
  • The simple and specific song-writing process you can try if you’re just starting out.

If you’ve never tried song writing, are nervous performing, or you’ve never come across the Band In A Box software, this episode will enlighten you.

Watch the episode:

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Have you picked up useful ideas or techniques in your own musical journey so far that you think could inspire or help others on their path of exploring their musicality? Get in touch by dropping an email to [email protected]! We are always looking for new guests for Pathways and would love to share your story next.

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Joanne Cooper shares the story of how Band in a Box impacted her musical life. You will learn tips and tricks for your own songwriting and live performance.



I don’t know about you, but I love these Pathways interviews, it’s fascinating to hear the different journeys people take into discovering their musicality, and Joanne is a really interesting and inspiring example. Let’s recap all that she shared.

Joanne picked up the guitar at age 13 after she was surprised that her mum actually bought her one when she asked for it! She taught herself with songbooks and figuring out songs by ear and has been playing ever since.

She never fully gained confidence in her guitar skills though. Although she was always confident singing, she wasn’t happy with the level of her guitar playing, so as she put it “would sing loudly to drown out her terrible guitar playing”!

Since childhood she’d had the desire to write and record her own songs but felt like her guitar skills just weren’t up to the task when she decided to record a CD in 2010, when returning to music after a long break.

Fortunately she discovered Band In A Box, a piece of software which can autogenerate accompaniment in a flexible way. This helped her past that sticking point because she could take the lyrics and chord progressions she’d written, generate the instrumental parts with Band In A Box and then record her vocals over the top, producing a recording which sounded like it had really great musicians playing the instrument parts.

She shared her first Band In A Box production in the users community and got a really friendly and supportive response which encouraged her onwards, and she gradually picked up more and more tips and tricks and techniques for producing sophisticated Band In A Box arrangements. This naturally led to starting to share her knowledge with others, including a guest video for our own YouTube channel on how to make backing tracks with Band In A Box, we’ll link to that in the shownotes, as well as a dedicated eBook on that topic and a course on writing your first song with Band In A Box, which are both available for purchase on her website joannecooper.co.za.

As well as song writing, Joanne found that Band In A Box helped her with getting out and performing, because now she could create her own backing tracks and so again remove that blocker of not being confident in her guitar skills. The wonderful thing is that this didn’t prevent her from gaining performance confidence in guitar. In fact she was able to gradually transition from performing with backing tracks to playing with a guitarist and now to playing solo, with her own guitar.

I think it’s a great example of how sometimes you need to let yourself use stepping stones towards your goal – rather than deciding she couldn’t perform as a singer-songwriter because she wasn’t a good enough guitarist, Joanne found a way to begin performing without that being a barrier, and then gradually made a path for herself towards that ability to perform confidently with guitar as well as voice.

She’s now helping others to get playing by hosting a public jam session at her local music store, where she encourages anyone who wants to to pick up an instrument or suggest a song and get performing, with no pressure or intimidation or snobbery. As I said in the conversation, I think this is exactly the kind of spirit to music-making which we should be creating in the world and if we had Musical U ambassadors out there evangelising our mission, this is exactly the kind of thing they would be doing.

Joanne has continued her song writing and you can find some lovely videos of her original songs on her website. She takes part in February Album-Writing Month and her top tip for aspiring songwriters is to just start. To write a story, turn those words into something with cadence or rhyme, then begin with just the 1, 4 and 5 chords – if you don’t know what that means, we’ll put a link in the shownotes to a past episode on that – and use that harmony to start playing around with a melody for the lyrics. Later you can loop back and reharmonise that melody with something more varied than just the 1, 4 and 5 if you like. And of course, Band In A Box and Joanne’s course on writing a song with the help of the software would also be great options to consider trying out.

Be sure to check out Joanne’s website, and drop her a note if you enjoyed this episode.

Thanks for listening to this episode, and I’ll see you on the next one!

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