• Review: SongSheet for iPad

    I'll just get straight to the point. Exhibit A: this is my folder of song sheets for ONE particular cover band I sometimes play along with. And on top of it is my iPad. Make no mistake, this folder is a beast. 3.1kgs in fact, four times as heavy as the 3G iPad 2—even with leather Smart Cover attached—which comes in at 757grams total. It's a bitch to transport, it's a bitch to flick through hundreds of pages to find the song I want, and it's busting at the seams like an escaped Fat Camp kid in a Krispy Kreme factory ... meaning there's no room for any more songs. There has to be a better way. And there is ...



    Enter SongSheet, App-baby of developers Gabriel and Paul; both of which reside on the magnificent Sunshine Coast in Queensland—making this App as home-grown and Aussie as BBQing slabs of meat while pouring an ice-cold VB over Miranda Kerr. Mmm ... fizzy. These guys have given me a pre-release updated version of the App, so one or two of the features mentioned in this review aren't in the App that's available right now on the App Store, but the official free update should be available within about a week or so.



    Now many people who are proper 'musicians' like to read music off large sheets of paper covered in lines, dots, notes and markings ... all of which freak the hell out of the average muso such as myself. I had a piano teacher when I was about ten years old who was a dopplegänger for Mrs Hyacinth Bucket from 'Keeping Up Appearances' ... let's just say, I have some negative associations with sheet music, and much prefer the freedom of playing from chord charts with lyrics to match. This is what my physical music folder consists of, sheets and sheets of chord charts and words. I've been using an awesome App called Ultimate Guitar (they also have a website) where you can access user submitted charts and words. It's a fantastic starting point to get some music together very quickly, however the system falls down when you need to take the charts offline, and in very large quantities, plus due to the nature of the user submitted charts they often need to be edited and corrected. This is where SongSheet is a gem.



    First I simply tried typing out a song (which is what many budding song writers way back in 2012 used to do on a blank sheet of paper). SongSheet makes sorting the chords, stanzas and various bits of the song easier than kicking a sleeping cat over a fence. Basically you type the verses out, then by adding an additional return at the end the App automatically starts a new stanza—which you can then change to one of the presets such as 'chorus' or 'bridge', or add your own custom phrase such as 'second verse', 'piano solo' or 'verse 347 of American Pie'.



    At the top of the onscreen keyboard (or just at the bottom of the screen if you're using a BlueTooth keyboard) there is an additional row of buttons which are the available chords for that particular song. You can edit the existing chords and also add to these by tapping the plus button to create all the chords you need to write the chart. There is a good assortment of buttons when creating a new chord to make it quick and easy, or in the case of the song I chose to test—Ben Folds’ 'Brick'—I needed to make a few custom chords such as Dsus2/G. To my surprise and satisfaction, it accepted these as a 'custom' chord and modified it into a neat little two-level chord notation complete with a smaller raised 'sus2'. Chords, whole lines of lyrics, and even whole stanzas can simply be touched and dragged to a new location within the song.



    Next I tried copy and pasting music directly from the Ultimate Guitar website into some blank new songs to see how the app interpreted the website data. I also tried making a 'set', which means particular songs in a particular order (whereas the 'all songs' view puts every available song all in alphabetical order). The 'MacTalk Songlist' I created consisted of artists including Amy Macdonald, Florence and the Machine, Macy Gray, Macklemore and of course: Fleetwood Mac.



    After recovering from acute pun overdose, I have to say I was very surprised at how well it handled all the different songs (each one was typed and formatted slightly differently), automatically recognising and colour-coding the chords, sorting the verses and choruses into stanzas, and provided the title and artist were at the top of the copied chart, it even automatically set them as the title and artist in the info section. I threw in a couple of really dodgy charts just to see what happened, and although they needed touching up a little, overall it still did a much better job that I was expecting. Even verses where there are no chords noted it just displays a verse without the chords. And it's very quick and easy to make some minor corrections to get the chart looking schmick.



    All of the fonts, font sizes, distances between lines, background colours and textures, are all customisable with the ability to save multiple theme presets that you can switch between quickly. There is also a function where you can not only add the original song or backing track from your iTunes library, but you can drop key points along the track that relate to a particular verse or chorus—meaning as the track plays it moves down the chart and highlights the stanza you are up to in the audio track. Once you've set this up, you can also plug in a monitor or TV through the HDMI adaptor and it will display just the lyrics of the selected stanza in a different display theme on the big screen. Not sure where you would use this exactly, unless you were doing some kind of karaoke or sing-along such as Christmas Carols, but hey, the feature's there if you need it.



    So that's it. Like many things in life, it's the well thought out and simplified that makes for the most useful. And if you're into writing songs and/or performing live music, I think this App will come in very handy. SongSheet's clean layout means it doesn't get in the way of writing and playing music, yet it's highly intuitive features makes it very powerful and easy to use. As you saw at the beginning of the article, being able to take your entire music folder neatly inside your iPad is a massive bonus in anyone's book.

    SongSheet by iSharp is available from the App store for AU$5.49.

    SongSheet - iSharp



    Ben is marketing communications manager for Britax Automotive Equipment. He also owns and runs his own creative company called Evocative (www.evocative.cc) that does graphic design, photography and creative writing. Holding an Honours Degree in Design majoring in Corporate Identity, Ben has over ten years commercial experience—most of which was achieved using a Mac. He's also into technology, audio gear, drums, music, cars and coffee.



    Follow Ben on Twitter @BenJohnston_ or on Google+
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