There are places you can begin when you sit down to write music, but for most songwriters, it all starts with chords and progressions. These days, thanks to a plethora of apps and online tools, you don't need to be a trained musician to come up with a great chord progression. Here are the best chord apps for Android, iOS, and iPad.
Guitar chord apps, in particular, tend to fall into two different camps these days. There are those for deciphering the chord progressions of your favorite hit songs, and those that aim to help wannabe musicians create original chord progressions. The reason I am covering both in this best list is that the lines are very blurred between the two here. Allow me to explain.
You cannot copyright a chord progression. In fact, the world of popular music is littered with examples of hit songs with the exact same chord progression. Changing the key, playing the chords in a different position on a guitar's fretboard or on a different instrument, or changing the timing can dramatically alter the sound and feel of a set of chords, but a great chord progression is a great chord progression. If you are new to writing music, starting with something you've heard that sounds great to you is an excellent place to begin. Remember, it's really just inspiration, rather than theft.
The different types of chord apps
The market is full of all different types of chord apps for mobiles, but there are several styles that have become popular and are the most useful for budding musicians. Apps that simply give you basic chord charts can be useful if you don't know anything about musical theory and just want to know the fingerings for guitar chords in the open position, for example. Some apps take this one step further and have a library of different inversion that can be played all over the fretboard. A chord is essentially just three notes, so these charts are not complete, but some of them offer more than enough to get you playing and writing interesting chord progressions.
There are also guitar chord ear training apps that can help you train yourself to be able to hear different chords, usually by picking out the root note. This is not an easy skill to learn and can take years of practice to be able to master. Being able to identify chords by ear is a hugely beneficial skill to have as a musician, but it is by no means essential. Plenty of famous bands and artists have gotten by over the years without being able to do this.
In recent years, chord identifier apps have surfaced and often use AI to identify the chords and chord progressions of your favorite songs automatically. This is essentially getting a computer to do the hard work for you, and is useful for niche tracks or songs that you cannot find the chords or guitar tab for online.
Then there are the song libraries or tab books. These are essentially platforms where users can work out the chords of a song and transcribe them to share with the community. Whilst incredibly useful and often the fastest way to learn a new song on guitar, for example, they rely on the accuracy and skill of the people who use them. There's also no real true answer or solution to transcribing a song. Even the artists who wrote the song may play it in a different key live, or mix up which inversions of the chords are played over time. The best way to use these chord and tab apps is to try out a couple of highly-rated posts, and if it sounds good to you then go with that.
The best chord apps for iPad and iOS
My favorite chord app for iPhone or iPad is without doubt Chord!, from Thomas Grapperon. The unique thing about Chord! is that it doesn't rely on a database of charts. You can still search for a chord by name, but you can also use the intelligent keyboard to enter the chord by selecting the precise fingering of the notes on a guitar. After all, music is not an exact science and the most creative songwriters break the rules. Fancy throwing a flat seven into that chord? Go for it!
One hundred tunings shipped with the app, and you can also import your existing songs into the app to create print-ready PDFs for your bandmates or guitar students. The user interface is clean and slick, and the app is intuitive to use. Chord! costs $4.99 from the Apple App Store.
The best chord apps for Android
All Chords Guitar
All Chords Guitar is a fantastic free app that can cover most of your chord needs on Android. Whilst not as flexible as Chords! on iOS and iPad, All Chords Guitar is a quick and easy way to look up chords from a library of 5,000 variants. You can either search for chords by name of shape, and favorite chords you like to quickly recall how to play them later.
I use All Chords Guitar for finding interesting chord variants on different places of the guitar fretboard. I often find myself in a situation like this: I know I want a C major chord, for example, but the open position sounds too heavy and fat, so I'll open up the app and find a C major somewhere higher up the fretboard. By playing an E major shape barre chord on the 8th fret, I've got a nice bright version of my C major.
Chordify: Guitar, Ukulele and Piano Chords
One of the innovative chord apps of recent years is Chordify. The app is great for acoustic players and musicians who want to cover famous songs. The app uses AI to identify the chords and chord progression of any song. Simply enter the song or artist you want to cover or play along with and the app with transcribing the chords and demonstrate the chord changes in real-time as you play along.
It uses YouTube as its source, so any song that is posted on Google's video platform is available to be 'Chordified'. Songs that have already been processed by other users are available immediately, but if you are the first to transcribe a song there is a short pause will the app does its magic. The developer says it now has more than 16,000,000 songs in its catalog. It's also a great tool for working out the chords for a live version of a track, which may be different to the way it was recorded for the single or album. Simple Chordify the live version from YouTube and away you go!
Chordify is free to use, but there is also a premium tier that allows you to transpose the chords if you want to play in a different key, use a capo to change the way you play a song, loop difficult parts for better practice, and download chords as a MIDI file for audio editing.
How to use Chordify for free
The base version of Chordify is free to use, but you will need to sign up for an account in order to use it. Fortunately, the animated views for guitar, piano, and ukulele are included in the free tier, and I haven't really found a whole lot of need to upgrade to premium yet. You also get the cross-platform library integration on the Chordify free tier, meaning that you can sign in on desktop or mobile to and have access to your library anywhere. I prefer to use Choridy on either my tablet or laptop computer, as I find the larger display makes it easier to follows the chord progression along with the track.
Best Chordify alternatives
Ultimate Guitar: Chords & Tabs
Ultimate Guitar is easily the largest guitar tab archive online. It started as a website and online community for people to submit and share their own guitar tabs - a simplified form of transcribing music for guitar - for famous songs. For any guitarist just starting out, the best way to discover your sound, playing style and improve your skill on the instrument is to learn a wide variety of songs from all different styles to expand your knowledge and muscle memory. Ultimate Guitar: Chords & Tabs is the easiest way to quickly and easily find tabs for the most popular and well-known guitar tracks of all time.
There are a couple of caveats I feel inclined to add, however. Firstly, you will need to learn how to read guitar tab to be able to use the app. Secondly, tabs are submitted by users, and therefore can vary widely in terms of accuracy and quality. Having 20 versions of a song can be intimidating to a beginner who just wants to know how to play a song. However, once you advance in your playing you will be able to take the best bits from multiple tabs to create your own way of playing a song and Ultimate Guitar is a great tool for doing that. Finally, there is a premium version of the app and the marketing push to get you to upgrade can often be a bit in your face and overbearing.
Yamaha Chord Tracker
A good alternative to Chordify for iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch (it's also available on Android) is the Yamaha Chord Tracker. With such a big name in musical instruments behind it, you can trust the Japanese to have gotten a lot right here.
The Yamaha Chord Tracker works in much the same way as Chordify, but rather than use YouTube as the source, it can extract the chord sequence from an audio track stored on your device. For those of us who still have old-school iTunes collections and gigabyte after gigabyte of mp3 files, this app is a great way to decode the music in your library of songs and start paying them on either guitar, piano or ukelele.
What chord app or tools do you use to play or write music? Share your recommendations in the comments section below.