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Jam Your iPad Full of Chord Charts

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Ever since I started playing music I've carried notebooks around with me to write lyrics and chords in. These days I'm just as likely to type then onto my laptop. I've finally got hold of my own iPad (now I don't have to "borrow" my wife's), and thought that it's a great size both for both carrying and reading chord charts. So my search for the perfect app began.

This is our third look at the iPad. You can see the previous two articles here:

We've already touched on the idea of using iPads for reading sheet music, and listed a few apps. But chord charts are a bit different to sheet music. They're simpler. They give you just enough information so you don't clash with the band, without telling you every note to play. And you'll definitely prefer chord charts if you can't read music. (Though I say it's definitely a skill worth working on.)

Not everyone collects chord charts - or sheet music. Some people prefer to play by ear, and become very talented at it. (By the way, watch out for a great Basix series on playing by ear coming real soon.) But as I searched the Net I came across story after story of grateful musicians. Musicians who have been lugging folders full of music around with them for years. Now they just carry their iPad.

Sounds tempting! So my search for the perfect chord chart app began. Here are 8 apps that might do the job. They include two general apps that handle PDFs and other relevant file types, two iPad chord chart apps I've bought and am trying out, one other iPad app I haven't tried yet, and three iPhone apps - they look interesting, and work on the iPad too.

1. GoodReader

$1.99 in the iTunes app store

I quite like GoodReader. It can read a variety of file types, including types I have chord charts in - PDF and DOC. What I really love is the way that it displays everything in my Dropbox, and lets me view them from within the app. That makes things very easy to get all my chord charts onto the iPad.

In a recent update, GoodReader now allows you to annotate, highlight and mark up PDFs, and save these within the file. That can be really handy when wanting to remember some particulars about how the song goes, or highlight where that tricky chord goes you keep forgetting.

This is quite a good option. The app is flexible and cheap. It might suit many of you, though doesn't have some of the features included in apps particularly focused on chord charts.

2. Notebooks

$8.99 in the iTunes app store

This is one of the handiest and most flexible iPad apps I've found. It's my iPad Swiss Army knife:

  • It can read a wide variety of file types, including PDF and most office suite files.
  • It connects to my computer like a wireless USB stick, allowing me to drag all sorts of files (including chord charts) right into the app.
  • It allows me to organise the files and notes in a hierarchical structure with endless depth - so I can categorise my chord charts to my heart's content.
  • It lets you tag any file with a due date, which is a handy way of creating sets.

I've been using the app for weeks, but only recently realized how useful it is for storing my chord charts. But again, it doesn't have all the features of the apps that are designed specifically for handling chord charts.

3. OnSong

$4.99 in the iTunes app store

This app looked interesting enough in the app store for me to buy. Here are some things I like about it:

  • You can import chord charts and tabs directly from Ultimate-Guitar.com - from within the app. That site has a ton of songs, which means I don't have to start from scratch, and often have a choice of different people's versions.
  • You can change the relative size of chords and lyrics, so I can make the chords really big and lyrics really small (or vice versa). I can also highlight chords.
  • I can transpose songs to any key by using a slider.
  • I can put post-it notes on my chord charts to help me remember key information.
  • I can organise the songs into sets, and change between songs by swiping.
  • There is a Play button at the top of the app, which I can configure to play either a metronome or MP3. This gives me something to play along with while practicing, and I can use it to play backing tracks while gigging.

Overall it's a fairly solid app.

4. iChordChart

$2.49 in the iTunes app store

This one also looked interesting enough to buy. It looks and acts quite different to OnSong. The app has three modes that look quite different from one another:

  1. When you view a chord chart, around a third of the top section of the screen is taken up with database fields for the song's title, artist, key, rating etc. The bottom two-thirds of the screen show the chart.
  2. When you are editing a chart section, the display turns to a grid for entering the chords and lyrics on alternating lines.
  3. When playing a set, almost the whole screen is given to displaying the chart. There is a handy "Low Light" button that sets the background color to dark gray, the lyrics to a lighter gray, and the chord symbols to blue. That way your iPad won't act as an unwanted spotlight when in low light conditions on stage.

Overall I enjoy the app, but find myself turning to OnSong more. iChordChart also lets you share chord charts with other band members, and people around the world. But its implementation doesn't compare with being able to import from a huge existing base of songs on Ultimate-Guitar.com.

5. iReal Book

$19.99 in the iTunes app store

iReal Book is the ultimate chord chart for Jazz musos. I don't know how many Jazz fans read Audiotuts+ - give us a shout out in the comments if that's you.

iReal Book stores chords, but not lyrics. I love that it displays bar lines, and has a broader range of notation than the other apps. And iReal Book comes with a long list of 900 chord charts, including Jazz standards and pop songs.

But where the app really stands out, is that it can accompany your playing with its own piano, bass and drums accompaniment. It comes with the Medium Swing Jazz style included, and at an extra cost you can purchase the Jazz Styles Pack, which includes another 10 styles. Even more styles should become available in the future.

I can imagine a Jazz guitarist taking this app along to a gig - not just as a chord chart, but as the band!

6. GigPal (iPhone)

$1.99 in the iTunes app store

This is a chord chart app for the iPhone that offers rapid entry of chords, as well as providing a metronome and playing the guitar chords you entered. It's probably more of a practice tool than gigging tool, and looks very useful.

Here is a video of it in action:

7. MySongbook (iPhone)

$1.99 in the iTunes app store

This app looks a little similar to OnSong, but for the iPhone. It allows you to import songs from the Net, displays lyrics and chords, and allows you to transpose.

8. Jam Genius (iPhone)

$0.99 in the iTunes app store

This is another iPhone app that displays chords with bar lines. When you tap the chord symbols, chord and scale diagrams pop up at the bottom of the screen.

The app is designed with jamming in mind - instead of playing mindlessly, the band can all follow the same chord chart. It's a more basic app than some of the others listed.


Which app appeals to you most? For me, it's OnSong. It's clear display, easy navigation, and huge library of charts to import won me over. But some of the other apps also look interesting, and I may end up buying most of those listed above.

I haven't covered all of the iPad apps that can do chord charts. Which do you use? Which do you recommend? Which aren't worth bothering with? Let us know in the comments.

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