Over the years, learning to play songs on the guitar by way of tabulature (or tab) have certainly become more interactive. What used to be an exercise of finding books and sheets of music for your favorite songs, chords and tabs rapidly made their way onto the web. Nowadays, dozens of sites host extensive libraries of tabs to help guitar players of all levels perfect that catchy riff or solo. One such site is Songsterr, which started back in 2008. Besides being an archive of over 500,000 tabs for the guitar, bass and drums, it’s highly unique in that it’s also an online tab player that lets users follow along each tab as the song (with audio) is being played. The Songsterr app for the iPhone and iPad works much like its web counterpart and practicing tabs on-the-go doesn’t get much better than this.
For those who’ve read tab or used a tab player online before, you’ll be in familar territory with the Songsterr app. Not to worry if you’ve never tried learning songs off tabs before. The Songsterr site has a great “How to Read Guitar Tab” page that’ll bring you up to speed in no time. Tabs and chords are primarily filtered by Guitar, Bass and Drums, and songs can be found via one of five sections: Popular, Tags, Favorites (user added), History and Search.
Once a song is found and selected, the tab page will be displayed along with musical notations like time signature, any pull-offs, hammer-ons, slides, vibratos and so forth. The magic then happens when you tap the play button, which starts the song and you can hear and see the notes that are being played on the tab in real time. This is aided by a green marker that automatically scrolls above the tab notes and you can easily follow along with you guitar or other instrument.
Multiple instruments are supported with Songsterr, so you won’t just hear the guitar being played as you’re playing along. Depending on the song, there could be multiple tracks. For instance, Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody has more than 10 tracks (distorition/overdriven Guitars, Bass, Bright Acoustic Piano, Drums etc) and you can select each one to view their own individual tab. There’s even a Solo mode that will mute all other instruments except the one currently selected. Coupled with the half speed option and loop feature (playback selected measures repeatedly), you can finally nail down those seemingly impossible solos.
If reading tabs is not your cup of tea or you simply just want to strum along with a guitar, the Chords section (if available for that particular number) will display lyrics and chords to the song. Each chord letter can be tapped to reveal a chord diagram (with multiple finger/fret positions), meaning you’ll have all the visual aid needed right your fingertips.
The app does require internet access to pull all the tab data from the Songsterr servers to your iPhone or iPad, though favoriting a song will keep it right on your device. In other words, offline access when no internet is available. The cache size can be adjusted in the settings area, ranging from 50Mb to 1Gb. And being a universal app, it’ll run on both the iPhone and iPad. Naturally, it’s much easier to use on the iPad/iPad mini with it’s bigger screen and more real estate for multiple lines of tabs being displayed at one time.
With regards to song selection, there are over 500,000 tabs available and chances are you’ll find the artist/song you’re looking for. Songsterr is like the Wikipedia of guitar tabs; users can contribute new tabs and even make edits to existing ones. The major differences between the web version and the iOS app is that the web flashed based player is more elaborate in that you can enable Solo/Mute and adjust the volume on multiple tracks. Whereas with the app, you can only “Solo” with one instrument at a time.
Pricing wise, the Songsterr app follows a subscription model and is free to download. Initially it’s really just a demo of sorts as it’ll only play the initial part of any song. To fully unlock the app, it’ll cost $4.99 per month, using iTunes’ own recurring subscription payment system. Meanwhile Songsterr on the web is completely free to use (including the entire library of songs, albeit with limited features), and there’s Songsterr Plus, which costs $9.90 per month and includes all the extras like Solo, Tempo/Volume control, Loop and more right from your web browser.
Songsterr for the iPhone and iPad is a great tool for all levels of guitarists. It’s one of the best apps out there on iOS for learning tab and playing along with your guitar or bass. It’s not the cheapest option mind you as it’ll set you back $60/year, but it’s worth the investment if you’re serious about your tabbing and want access on your iDevice. I have encountered the occasional crashing when slowing down songs and I do wish that subscribing to the app will unlock Songsterr Plus as well on the web (you do get one month free of Plus membership), but overall I’ve really enjoyed taking my 2 Ovation guitars out of semi-retirement and learning some new riffs and solos with the app.
On a final note, if you are using Songsterr with an iPhone, the Guitar Sidekick should come in handy while reading tab.
What’s to like:
- Huge catalog of tabs for guitar, bass and drums
- Guitar engine sounds good
- Half speed and Solo modes
- Learn different parts of song depending on instrument
- Favorite songs to access them offline
What’s not to like:
- $4.99/month will add up over time
- Doesn’t transpose chords
- Occasional crashing
- Subscription doesn’t include Songsterr Plus on the web