The wonderful thing about playing guitar is that you don’t need sheet music — or even know how to read sheet music — in order to learn your favorite songs. Tablature’s clear one-to-one translation to the strings and finger positions democratizes the instrument that has dominated popular music for much of the past century.
Even better, hundreds of thousands of other guitarists worldwide write and share their interpretations online, providing vast repositories of tabs that give you a head start on just about any published song — popular or obscure.
If you want to tap into this hive mind on your phone or tablet, you could make do with a web browser or text editor…or you could grab an app like GuitarTapp Pro.
Tabs and Chords
GuitarTapp Pro puts a huge repository — the developers claim 500,000+ — of guitar tabs and chords at the tip of your fingers, along with many drum, bass, and power tabs. You can search by band/artist or song name (or both), with suggestions offered as you type.
These are the same transcriptions you’ll see on websites like Ultimate-Guitar.com and GuitarTabs.cc, with 1-5 star community-submitted ratings for accuracy. The list of results for a song gets split according to format. Power Tabs are converted to plain text. Anything in the Chords format can be converted to ChordPro, which is arguably the killer feature.
Reflow to Fit Your Screen
Anything in ChordPro format gets reformatted to make full use of your screen real estate. This is especially great for people with tablets, as tabs get shuffled into nicely-formatted PDF-style columns that make it much easier to follow along — whether you’re glancing to check what’s next or staring intently at every line.
You can tap on a chord name to learn more about it, check out its variations, or see a diagram. There’s also an option to show diagrams for all chords in a song at the bottom of the screen. And if you still need more chords, you can tap into an extensive chord dictionary.
You can always set autoscroll when in portrait orientation; landscape orientation only has autoscrolling for non-ChordPro tabs, and swiping for anything ChordPro.
If you’re on your phone, then, portrait orientation is likely to be your preference, especially with all tabs — ChordPro or otherwise — being wrapped to fit your screen. But you might find a way to make it work either way by adjusting the display options (tap on the song title when viewing a ChordPro file, or hit Menu->Settings for anything else).
Tap into Your Personal Library
If you have a big (or small) collection of tabs on your computer, you’d be well advised to pop them in a folder on Dropbox. GuitarTapp Pro includes Dropbox support, and can read files in any of several common tablature formats — although RTF isn’t one of them, much to my annoyance.
You’ll need an Internet connection whenever you want to access these files, however, because they’re not cached locally and, strangely, you can’t save copies to your phone like with tabs found through the main search. If you need reliable access to any Dropbox-saved tabs, you’ll have to go to the trouble of copying them manually to the app’s tab folder on your SD card.
A Helping Hand
GuitarTapp Pro includes a built-in metronome, with which you can set beats per minute and per measure to help you keep time as you play. The best part about this is that it flashes as well as making the traditional clicking sound. You get a green flash for each beat, except for the first beat in a bar — which is red. So even if you can’t hear the metronome, it’ll help.
There’s also a handy transpose option, which transposes chords — but not text tablature — up or down by however many steps you like. As someone who likes to play guitar tuned a half-step down, I found this great for getting me back on the original key without resorting to barre chords or capos.
I’m particularly fond of the app’s excellent YouTube integration. You can search for and watch music videos and video lessons via the menu right from the tab you’re reading — so it’s super easy to hear how it should sound and to get tips that’ll help you make sense of all those numbers and diagrams.
From there the next logical step is to try playing along with the song, and GuitarTapp Pro once again has you covered. I had trouble getting it to work reliably, but you can jam along to an mp3 of the song (if you have one in your music library) with the tab autoscrolling. It’ll probably take some work to get the timing right because the default scrolling behavior tends to lag behind.
The app can play MIDI versions of tabs from their text, which may help some guitarists get a feel for a song and the accuracy of the transcription, but it’s a dark art that misses the mark more often than not — you can adjust the tuning and tempo, but it still won’t account for the length of most notes or for rest notes.
It’s great for gigs, too, with support for setlists that you can add to on the fly (provided you have the song you want in your favorites). And if you have a Bluetooth pedal, you can set it up to turn pages, scroll, or change songs for you.
Got an Android phone and a tablet, or an Android and an iOS device? No problem — GuitarTapp Pro can sync across multiple devices, via an account tied to your email address, making it easy to use it on a tablet at home and have it ready for any spontaneous guitar playing while out and about.
I got good use out of the email functionality, too, which lets you email tabs to others (or yourself) by simply entering a recipient email address. Given that you can also edit tabs with the app, this is perfect for sharing your changes and improvements with your mates.
A No-Brainer for Guitarists
GuitarTapp Pro isn’t quite the perfect guitarist’s companion app, but it’s awfully close. It makes reading and finding tabs a snap, offers loads of handy features for both performance and learning, and an attractive UI. And you can even export ChordPro tabs to PDF, ready to be printed.
As for negatives, there’s no built-in tuning aids, the menu for customizing ChordPro appearance seems somewhat hidden, the Dropbox integration is only half-done, and autoscroll can get a bit jittery.
The free version of the app hasn’t been updated in nearly two years, and it’s missing nearly all the features I’ve described here — aside from the core find, read, and transpose tools. At this point it barely even functions as a worthwhile trial version of the full app, so if you’re on the fence it may be better to simply read more reviews — or ask questions in the comments below.
If you play guitar and use tabs or chord sheets, GuitarTapp Pro is well worth the investment. It won the Musicians category in the 2011 Best App Ever Awards, and it’s easy to see why. It’s a brilliant tool that only seems to get better.