I remember the first time I picked up my guitar. It was Christmas morning, and I thought I was a natural. Much to my chagrin, I didn’t know anything really, and I had zero musical training. I sat down with my tuner, tuned the guitar, then tried to pluck out my favourite tracks from Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged album. That went on for about a good month and a half until a friend of mine introduced me to OLGA (the online guitar archive), and then proceeded to show me how reading tabs worked.

At that moment everything changed. Then it changed again when the NMPA, and MPA and every other corporation standing to make money from suing tab websites decided it was in their best interests to take down one website after another. Luckily by that point I was able to play most songs that interested me by ear, as well as take a couple of guitar classes in high school.

When I noticed Songsterr being featured on the App Store I was plenty interested. Not only did it bring me back to the days of printing off one song after another on my parents bubble jet printer down in the basement, but it also reminded me how much fun it was to thumb through hundreds of tabs, finding new songs along the way.

Songsterr is a tab book for your iPad (or iPhone), and frankly put, I wish it had been around when I was beginning my life-long love affair with my guitar. The application is built around the website, but the iPad interface certainly provides a better user experience than the experience on my MacBook Pro ever could.

Merge Songsterr and the iPad with the iKlip from IK Multimedia and you’ve got yourself a pretty powerful teaching aid.

Getting at the tabs

Right as the application launches you’re met with a listing of the most viewed tabs. Immediately you’ll find the typical classic rock gods that everyone wants to be when they pick up their first guitar. You’ll see AC/DC, Queen, Pink Floyd, and the Rolling Stones. There are hundreds of new songs to learn, all at your fingertips, and a scroll away. Finding tabs has never been this easy.

Tag Based Searches

You can also thumb through the tab listing by checking out the “category” listing, deemed tags in Songsterr. This view lists all the musical genres you can think of: rock, classic rock, j-rock, anime, viking metal, and hundreds upon hundreds more.

Clicking the genre reveals a list of songs that have been tagged with the category. Sometimes there’re hundreds of songs, and other times there’re hundreds of songs from one artist alone. The tagging system isn’t the best solution, but it certainly works better than nothing.

Bringing up Funk Rock reveals hundreds of Red Hot Chili Peppers songs, and nothing else with the exception of three Chancho En Piedra songs. Clearly you can see my point. The category listing needs some heavy moderation. I found myself wondering if people were making up their own categories instead of using ones that made sense.

Favorites

There are two other ways to get directly to the tabs that I find much more useful than the tag based approach: search and favourites. Search is self-explanatory, so I won’t go into any depth on that one, but the favourites are a great way to keep track of songs you’re learning. It’s as simple as tapping the star at the top of the TABLATURE.

View Independent Tab Tracks

Here’s the best part about this application: Songsterr lets you choose between the stems (or tracks) for each song. If it has them on file, you can chose between the different guitars, the bass, the drums, or other instruments that are available. For instance, if you check out Led Zepplelin’s Whole Lotta Love, there’s a track for the Oboe. I’m not completely sold that there’s an Oboe in that song, but if I wanted to, I could play along with my Oboe.

It’s mighty handy when you’re trying to break down a song and figure out the timing and notes for particular tracks. Songsterr is pretty much a must have for all those kids starting up a band in the garage these days.

Playback tabs in real time, or slow them down to 1/2 time

Songsterr is available as both a free app and a premium application. Reading the tabs and seeing advertisements are part of the free model. It’s great as is, and I honestly haven’t even noticed one advertisement yet. The pro application is currently $4.99 and comes with playback and half-speed playback.

If you’re relatively new to tabs and you find yourself wishing you could have the tab move along to the music or your guitar, you may want to think briefly about the pro edition of Songsterr. Personally I prefer to learn one part of the song until I can play it in full, and then move on to the next part. Some prefer to have time push them a little bit, forcing them to speed up to either 1/2 the speed of the real track or full speed.

These two features are a great way to pace yourself as well as learn how to keep up with a song from beginning to end. It’s a steal at $4.99. I highly recommend checking it out.

What’s Macgasmic

Being able to have a bible of tabs at your disposal on the iPad is invaluable. Learning the guitar is hard enough, and carrying sheet music from practice to home and back again can be a pain.

Seeing the tunings and stems, and being able to control playback is pretty amazing. I can’t put it into words, and since it’s free, you can just try it out for yourself. Trust me though, the $4.99 version is worth every penny. I’d just jump right into that one.

What’s Not

Like I mentioned previously, the categories need to be pruned by someone who knows what they’re talking about. As much as I’m sure Viking Metal may be a thing, I’m pretty sure it could be streamlined a bit better.

Also, tabs aren’t fail proof. From what I’ve seen, Songsterr has some pretty accurate tabs at their disposal, but keep in mind that a lot of these tabs are user submitted on their website, so don’t be surprised if that face-melting solo you’re learning sounds a little off. The scale could be wrong. It’s been known to happen from time to time.

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