Content, Part 8: Text-Based Sheet Music Apps for iOS

by airturn

Text files are like Cinderella stories in the digital world.  At first glance, their simplicity and utter lack of eye candy makes them look as worthless as a gumball ring in a Tiffany store.  Ah, but it’s precisely their lack of excess code that makes them able to magically transform into the widest array of digital bling.  Barebones text files make them universally readable and readily adorned with malleable properties to make even Audrey Hepburn blush.  Resize your words!  Slap on a vibrant coat of color!  Dress it up with an eye-catching font!  And with the right setup, even transpose your text chords into any key on the fly!

Whenever possible, you’ll want to try to make sure your lyrics and chords are saved as text files (typically identified as file names with .txt at the end).  That will ensure your previous words are given carte blanche to the widest availability of digital wardrobes.  But even if your text-based music was created in Word (.doc files), Pages (.pages files), or Rich Text Format (.rtf files), you’ll be able to find apps that can accommodate your digital flavor.

While you can work with word processing programs to read your text files right off of a standard Mac or PC computer, you’ll want to check out text reading apps that are specifically designed for today’s digital sheet music musicians.  Here is a sampling of apps that work with iOS devices (iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch), with a look at the text file formats they can work with and a spotlight on one cool feature for each.


My Lyric Book –

File Formats: Pages 09 (.pages), Word (.doc), PDF (.pdf), Rich Text Format (.rtf), Text (.txt)

Cool Feature: If everyone in your band is using iPads running My Lyric Book, you can have everyone sync together so that the band leader can open everyone’s iPad to the same song.  No more errant band members blaring the intro riff to the wrong song!


OnSong –

File Formats: PDF (.pdf), Word (.doc), Pages (.pages), JPEG (.jpg), PNG (.png), TIFF (.tiff), ChordPro (.cho – we’ll talk about this format in the next article), Text (.txt)

Cool Feature:  OnSong is such a Swiss-Army knife app that it’s hard to pick just one cool feature, but a particularly handy one is OnSong’s ability to search and pull down text lyrics right from within the app.  It’s built-in compatibility with Rockin’ With The Cross (, an online Christian Worship Song Resource, is a great example of synergy between app and content.


Set List Maker –

File Formats: PDF, Word (.doc, .docx), PowerPoint (.ppt, .pptx), Pages (.pages), Keynote (.key), Rich Text Format (.rtf), Text (.txt), JPEG image (.jpg)

Cool Feature: Set List Maker is really all about its namesake: making and managing set lists.  You can attach text documents containing your chord charts and lyrics to audio files and set the order of your songs for your shows accordingly.  A musician’s database dream come true.


Setlists –

File Format: Text (.txt)

Cool Feature: Setlists is designed to show your lyrics a phrase at a time.  You can sync your iPads together in a band and not only open everyone’s iPad to the same song, but also advance the lyrics a phrase at a time simultaneously.  I’ve used this pun so many times it’s wearing a groove in my keyboard, but here goes:  this is a great way to – literally – keep everyone on the same page!  (insert circus seal laugh here)


SongBook Chordpro –

File Formats: Chordpro (.pro, .chordpro, .chopro), Text (.txt), Tab (.tab, .crd)

Cool Feature:  A true “gumball ring at Tiffany’s” app.  SongBook Chordpro’s simple interface belies it’s ability to manipulate text files in multiple ways, from transposing keys on the fly, to changing font sizes and displaying fingering options for multiple instruments.


iReal b –

File Format: Just like the cool kats of Jazz, iReal b is an app that – while technically text based – really stands in a league by itself, due to its proprietary file format.  You can edit or create your own iReal b files either within the iReal b app, or by using the iReal b web editor at

Cool Feature: iReal b for iPad can play audio accompaniments to your tunes in any key.  You can customize the output by adjusting the volume for (or muting) different instrument tracks, so that you can riff and shine like the star you are.