Imagine this scenario: you have learned dozens of songs but need to remember them all, in order, for a rehearsal or a recording session. You’ve printed out all the tab sheets or lyrics sheets with the chords, and when the time comes, you have to scramble through lots of paper while rocking out at the same time.
Well, luckily we are in the 21st century and there are tools to help us. One of our favourites is OnSong, an iOS app designed to make musician’s life easier by aggregating all your music sheets in one place, on your iOS iPhone or iPad, at your fingertips. We’ve been longtime users of this great App and wanted to share our love with the world.
What it does ?
OnSong allows you to import music sheets from a variety of formats, including PDFs, Word or text files, and a variety of image formats. So whether you downloaded from the Internet or got the sheet via email from your bandmates, you can store it inside OnSong and have it available when you need them.
Lists can be massive so OnSong allows you to organise them in sets. Think of them as setlists, so you can have a few for practice, one for jamming with your mates from work, and one for playing with your band on weekends. Whatever you can think of, and it doesn’t matter in what format they were uploaded, they can all be stored sequentially in a set for easy access.
The songs can be added from a variety of online sources such as Dropbox and Google Drive, as well as some services dedicated to music sheets. They can also be added manually, if you copy the text from your browser and paste it into a new song.
If you are careful enough to add the Metadata, you will be able to search by Artist, Song Name, Key, Tempo, Time Signature and so on. There is a facility to change the key and transpose the song automatically, but this only works if the chords are coded inside brackets, a procedure that is explained when you add a new song – with a little text snippet showing an example on how to do it.
Once your songs are added, you can create sets and add them to one or multiple sets, for organisation purposes and to make the access simple when you rock up to the gig.
And what else ?
Well the joy doesn’t stop there. One of the most important differences between physical music sheets and digital ones is the ability to sync with a song or automatically scroll the sheet as it rarely fits into one page. Yes, we know, physical page turners actioned by pedals are used by some orchestras out there… but in the digital world of OnSong you can achieve this in a variety of different manners:
- By doing it manually on the screen
- By setting up a song duration and letting the sheet scroll automatically
- By setting up a bluetooth page turning pedal
By far the most effective method on our tests was using the pedal, as it is hard to synchronise the length of the sheet with the duration of the song. For this to work, OnSong supports a variety of bluetooth pedals. In our case we used the IK Multimedia iRig BlueTurn which you can buy using the links below:
Once the pedal is linked to the iOS device, you can easily configure it to work with OnSong from the App menu, as it is one of the supported devices. The pedal can be configured to perform a variety of functions, including page turns, scroll up and down and even changes in key. Add that to your pedalboard and you’re good to go. The Blue Turn is also compatible with the Blue Jam Player and a variety of other apps.
The plethora of OnSong features doesn’t stop there, as you can also link iTunes, Spotify or OnSong library songs to the music sheets so you can play them directly from inside the app. You can also edit the sheet and add notes with your finger or the Apple pencil, so you can add handwritten information about the song as a reminder.
It is a review, so was it all good ?
We did’t experience any major issues while using the app, only a few minor annoyances.
There was a bit of confusion while setting the Blue Turn initially as the pedal appears in the settings as Foot Pedal, but can also be configured by an icon at the top of the App. The latter is a better method and there is some ambiguity there, but nothing that will stop you from enjoying or using the app.
Like with other apps that access iTunes libraries you may have issues with some Apple Music songs due to DRM.
This app is very useful and can help a lot of musicians in their rehearsals, jams and gigs. There are a variety of artists supporting the app and using it regularly. If you don’t want to live in a jungle of paper based sheet music and want to get organised this app is for you.
The possible improvements we foresee are:
- Note if songs have key changes or not. We did this manually by annotating inside the song where the key changes occur.
- Allow for other modes derived of the major scale (not just Ionian major and Aeolian minor), and other modes not derived of the major scale.
- Clarify a bit better the relationship between setting tempo, setting duration and linking the sheet with a song from iTunes or Spotify. They seem to be derived from the song being used, and seem to drive how long it takes to scroll through the sheet in auto scroll mode, but this was found by trial and error.
- Support Guitar Pro tabs so we can have an all-in-one solution.
Check their website or YouTube overview for more: