OnSong for iPad: A Tidy Solution for the Working Musician

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onsong header

As many working musicians will know, most of what is created, stored, organised, accessed and performed start their lives on paper – chord sheets, lyrics, sheet music, set lists, etc – and many will stay on paper for the entirety of their lives. Some of these get organised; others rot at the bottom of the guitar case pocket, only to be rediscovered when desperately looking for a scrap piece of paper (because your ‘phone battery is dead, of course).

OnSong promises to “replace the mess of paper and binders with performance-ready, interactive, digital chord charts on your mobile device” – no question, this it intuitively does with distinction. And in this process of cleaning up guitar case pockets, it manages to streamline other off-stage tasks as well, either by default or by providing more functionality strings to its bow.

Some of my favourite features, selected and edited from iTunes and OnSong’s website, are as follows:

• Simple song and chord entry
• Highlight or bold chords for visibility; change font size and style easily
• Add sticky notes to songs
• Import, export and synchronize with Dropbox and others
• Print your set wirelessly to an AirPrint printer (for other band members yet to get with the program)

onsong display preferences

Live use:
• Flip or tap through all the songs in set
• Pull and change songs for set lists fast
• Go hands-free with foot pedals (eg. AirTurn BT-105, Griffin Stompbox, iRig Blueboard)
• Share on-the-fly with band members over Bluetooth, or use master/slave setup (for band members who have seen the light)
• Project lyrics or use a stage monitor with VGA, HDMI or AirPlay video support

onsong set list

• Transpose and capo with the brush of a finger
• Play along from song library
• Use chord tablature library
• Practice with a click track to a metronome (err, drummers, take note)

onsong tablature

Although the list of features does go on much further, like me, I suspect that most musicians will care most about the ease of setting the App up prior to an event, and how it performs live.

Made me smile

The UI is clean and well thought out; you can keep the layout as spartan as you like to help with quick on-stage referencing, or load up the screen with even a picture of a kitchen sink, if that rocks your boat. In short, it’s customisable to the nth degree, via a simple menubar at the top. The low light mode is a nice touch, too.

Multiple events can be organised within song ‘Folders’ to create a ‘Folder list’, and each event can be loaded with as many sets as necessary. Each set can then be populated with songs by simply using the ‘+’ button, and selecting from a song list (these songs can either be imported via iTunes sharing or directly via the Internet). And as if by magic, the selected songs are added sequentially. Change your mind? It’s as easy as entering ‘Edit’ mode within the set – move or delete to your heart’s content.

Once on-stage, each page can be set to ‘Autoscroll’ based on the tempo of the song, or can be scrolled manually by setting up shortcuts under ‘Navigation Zones’, and tapping away. And page turns are just as simple – single taps flip the pages this way and that.

And once you’re done for the night, archive the event for prosperity if you wish.

Made me frown

Since I use sheet music only very occasionally, I have yet to test it on this App. I have however seen some digruntled users complaining about difficulties scrolling back and forth when faced with repetitions and codas, especially with hands full of instruments, and even with a Bluetooth pedal. Something to think about.

Also, quick word of advice if using a pedal. If you’re trying to conserve your iPad’s battery and decide to flick the Airplane Mode on, be sure to re-establish Bluetooth connection with the pedal before the start of a set! Yes, I learnt that from experience.


After 3 years of weekly on-stage use, I can happily say that I never leave home (for a gig) without it. This App has done to my live music performance what word-processors did to my pens and paper.

Here’s a UK and a US App Store link for OnSong; it’s priced at £8.99/$12.99 and is a universal App designed for both iPad and iPhone.

One more thing: This App was independently purchased by the post author. He has no affilliation whatsoever with the App maker, but will confess that this App was the main reason he purchased his first iPad.



Part-time MD, full-time Creative - I'm either performing on-stage, writing backstage, or practising off-stage, using as many of those shiny things they keep designing in Cupertino as I can. Shame they aren't waterproof yet - it's always a challenge against the elements here in the Northeast of England.

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One thought on “OnSong for iPad: A Tidy Solution for the Working Musician”

  1. I used to use notecards, like a rolodex but flat. The band I played in for ten years flat out refused to use set lists — ever. That meant any of 150 songs might be called out and immediately started. That made it impossible for me as a keyboard player to have special sets of sounds set up for each individual song as, at the time, I could only have five presets easily accessible per “page” on my keyboard, and I could only remember in an instant two such pages.

    I would have loved set lists as it could have made my contribution worlds better, even if the set lists changed often because I could arrange the sounds ahead of time. A solution would be something where I could quickly change, on a moments notice, to any of 100 or so setups where not only a reminder of the chord progressions would pop up but also would automatically jump to the keyboard setup for that song.

    What would work for me is something like Apple’s Contacts or even iTunes where I could first tap the first letter of the song name and then select the song, like a two-level quick directory system. I have used to iPad since to perform with the iPad using a sheet music app called forScore, but still the best way is to know what you are going to do and in order beforehand.

    One other thing I noticed looking at this app, from a pure keyboard player’s perspective, is that I never had a need for all those lyrics. All I needed was a reminder of the progression — I did know the songs after all. Here’s “Let it Be”, enough to remind me what to do, even after not having played it for many years:

    C – G – Am – F – C/G – G – F->C
    Am – G – F – C – C – G – F->C

    Verse and Chorus, reminder if needed. What would be really cool would be to write out the Roman Numerals instead of chords so that transposition on the fly would be easier, although an app that would literally transpose the chords to another key with a quick tap would be even better.

    If you need the guitar tabs, then it seems to me the performer is really winging it, and doesn’t know the song well enough going in to the gig.

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