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OnSong and OpenSong


OnSong is my preferred iOS app for chord sheets with lyrics. It has lots of layout and transposition options and I’ve used it a lot both in worship settings and and at other events. Tonight is the first rehearsal for the worship team at Thorpe Acre church since March and, since I want to avoid the normal paper shuffling for infection control purposes, it would be ideal if I could share the output directly from my iPad.

Unfortunately, unlike St Clement’s, we don’t have stage monitors hooked up to a distribution box. I’d hoped to hook up to the projection system but, when I was looking at that after yesterday morning’s service, I realised that I’d need an HDMI adaptor. Even if I could have acquired one in time, I wouldn’t have had time to test it. However, the system is running OpenSong (which I became quite familiar with back at Hither Green Baptist) so plan B was to put lyrics – and ideally chords – up on that.

Last night I finished off my chord charts on OnSong and, this morning, I exported them as PDF charts which I sent to the players along with dots for a couple of the songs where I had them. I was pondering how to get chord charts onto OpenSong when I spotted that OnSong has a dedicated export function which I hadn’t noticed before. That quickly gave me my set list of songs in the form of files using OpenSong’s dialect of XML.

A little glitch was that, although that gave me all the chords positioned above the right places in the lyrics, they were all commented out. I could uncomment them but that bunched all the chords up at the start of each line (multiple spaces get compressed together). So, being an old programmer who knows you can bang a screw in with a wrench, I set about experimenting to see if there was any way around this.

My solution, to be tested on the group tonight, was to write the chords for each verse, chorus or other section on one or two lines at the top. I tried to keep it as compact as possible so, for example, a 12 bar blues in A would start A D A E D A |. All the right chords in all the right order but I’m relying on the player using their ears and taking cues from the lyrics about where the changes come. I can’t use spaces to lay the chords out, nor the vertical pipe character to denote bar lines (that inserts a line break, as at the end of the example, or a page break if you use two of them).

We’ll see how it works out. If it goes well, a logical extension would be to see whether the team can cope with a version of Nashville notation, using numbers instead of letters – that blues would change to 1 4 1 5 4 1 |. This would mean a new version wouldn’t be needed if we wanted to change key but it would rely on the musicians being able to resolve the numeric references. One stretch at a time though!