When I was growing up the house used to be full of my brother’s chord books, but when I began learning a few chords myself I discovered how expensive they were. Then along came the internet and suddenly the chords to almost any song you could think of were available, and my apartment became full of sheets of printed chords which I never got around to putting in a folder like an organised person would.
As a result, pretty much any time I wanted to play a song I either had to sit at my computer, or print the damn thing out again.
Then along came the iPhone, and with it a slew of apps you can store your favourite songs in. Save on expensive books, save the rainforest from endless printing, and save your guitar from the dents it gets from being bashed against the corner of your computer desk.
I never did get beyond learning those few chords, so bear in mind I still look at tablature and I may as well be looking at japanese. I just want to strum a few chords and sing a few songs, and luckily there’s a few apps that help me do just that.
I will admit the size of the iPhone screen doesn’t lend itself all that well to reading lyrics and chords, but on the other hand you always have your songbook with you.
I’ve got a couple of apps for guitar chords, but I’ve tried and rejected several as being too finicky or not having enough access to songs. Here are the three I still use on a fairly regular basis…
Pocket Guitar Songbook
Pocket Guitar Songbook is a free app, but it only comes with a couple of (fairly uninteresting) songs and you have to purchase extra music. The price of music is reasonable – for example the Tom Waits ‘songbook’ of 10 songs is €3.99.
The selection is limited, however the quality is good. The app is by a group called The Music Sales Group in London who “own and exploits over 200,000 music copyrights”. The other apps I have are user generated chords, and so there are times the chords just aren’t right. With this app you have more reliability on that front. You can also rest easy that these lyrics and chords are properly licensed if that kind of thing keeps you awake at night.
You can also get audio tracks to guide you through the playing of the songs, which is probably a great idea for beginners (or for keeping time a lot better than I do) but I have to admit I’ve never used them.
The interface for the music could be better – this app could really do with taking a look at the competition in terms of usability.
They’ve taken a paged approach which I find too pernickity to be dealing with when your trying to play a song, and the layout of the songs means you sometimes have to have horizontal scrolling, or scale the song down to a size you need a magnifying glass to read it.
The chords for the song you’re browsing are available at the bottom of the page by tapping a little chord symbol, with another tap needed to scroll through them. It’s a little fussy, however each chord comes with a good visual guide and an audio clip of the chord being played – again great for beginners.
This app remains in my top three because of the quality of the songs, the lyrics and chords are always full and correct, but I really hope this app develops it’s interface to be more user friendly and also increases it’s portfolio of available songs to reflect the 200,000 music copyrights the company says it owns.
Ultimate Guitar Tabs
As the app name implies this app gives you access to guitar tabs as well as chords, they have a HUGE selection of songs, often several versions of a song with ratings to guide you to the best option.
A search separates chords from tabs so it’s easy for someone like me avoid tablature which I can’t read, or you can use the advanced search and only search chords. You can also search by difficulty or rating and other options.
When you find a song you like you favourite it and can come back to it later.
The songs have an auto scroll feature with a speed setting so that you don’t have to worry about stopping mid song to flick your iPhone screen along, and the chords are presented above the lyrics in a clickable format that opens the chord diagram in a lightbox type effect, with several options on how to play the chord.
Songs also have a transpose option at the top which automatically updates the chords for you when you select how many semitones to transpose by.
You can update the app with Ultimate Guitar Tools for €2.99 with a tuner, metronome and a chord library.
The only drawback I’ve found is that you need to have a connection to use this app. You “favourite” songs to view later rather than saving them to the phone, and without a connection you can’t view or play your songs.
Most of the time this isn’t really an issue, but occasionally I like to switch off the phone (go into airplane mode) and play a few tunes – with Ultimate Guitar Tabs I can’t.
My Songbook costs €1.59 to buy and has probably been the most used of the three apps to date. It’s not as sexy as Ultimate Guitar tabs I have to admit, although it does have several of the more essential features (and has been around longer).
The app has an inbuilt browser to allow you to search for chords on Chordie.com or Google – and although I’ve had pretty dismal results with Google searches the Chordie.com results are great.
My Songbook allows you to save songs to your library, and once saved you can browse by artist or song. The songs feature an auto scroller you can set the speed of, and like Ultimate Guitar Tabs the chords are above the lyrics in a clickable format with alternative playing options.
Songs are also transposable up to six semitones, and the layout of the songs is extremely clear and makes really good use of the limited iPhone screen.
My Songbook is like an old friend to me at this stage, and I easily forgive it’s slight clunkiness and odd use of colour because I know it will always serve me, even when I’m out of coverage or when I want to be offline to the world.
Definitely get this app, you won’t regret it.
What else is out there?
So these are my three favourites as poked out over time, I’m sure you have your own favourites for your own reasons – I’d love to hear what they are and what makes you love them… please leave a comment with any tips you have!