Songbook - what do you do once you get to more complicated songs?

Waaaay back in grade 1 Justin encouraged us to keep our own songbook, which I’ve been doing. I’ve found it worked well. I have a plastic sleeved binder (now two actually) that for the songs I play a lot, I’ve printed out lyrics and chords and put them in the songbooks.

My songbook doesn’t contain picking patterns, embellishments, etc. That just stays in my head. Lyrics and chords only. It’s kind of like an external brain that helps with remembering what songs I know well and the song structure.

Now I’m playing more complicated stuff at times, I’m not sure how this songbook format works. E.g. Enter Sandman. It’s riffs, not chords. And there is a guitar solo in there (not that I can do it, way too hard, but there is a rhythm backing).

Printed out tabs take up WAY too much space, and are far too detailed. I’ve got the song in guitar pro etc which is fine, but again detailed and keeps me at the computer.

I’m curious what others do with more complicated songs to remember the song structure concisely in a songbook format?


I use an app called Songbook LinkeSOFT SongBook Songs and Chords uses Chordpro, pdf and tabs formats. Easy to edit Chordpro and tabs.

Toby uses songbook pro different app so maybe he’ll chime in

1 Like

i use an app that’s only available for iPhone and iPad called onsong. I also memorize virtually all songs I play so I only need the onsong song sheet when I’m first learning or if I’ve not played the song for a long while.

I used to use the song sheets like you say and another more experienced musician nudged me to memorize my songs, it’s one of the best pieces of advice that I’ve followed. Try it, it’s easier than you think.


I’m starting to write out riffs and vocal melody lines in TAB, as a supplement to my chord and lyric lead sheets.

I just write them out by hand on blank TAB sheets, in pencil. Justin advises against using software when learning how to transcribe, and that has worked for me.


Great topic, and gonna throw up some great ideas.
Although technology’s a great thing, and I make use of as much as the next bloke, I think there’s a lot to be said for a few coloured pens and some paper.
For me, I do it like this;

  1. Write the overall song structure at the top
    Eg Intro
  2. Chords and lyrics
  3. Tab out any riffs, lead lines, solos, separately, and create markers for them in the song.
  4. In red pen, I’ve usually got little notations, symbols etc throughout the song, that are meaningful to me.
    It might sound a bit busy, but its not really as it becomes like a referential system, with the main document being fairly straightforward.
    And, being a very tactile process, I think it reallly helps the learning process. The physical, portable nature of it also means you can whip it out of my folder anytime without technology getting in the way.

Cheers, Shane


So this is where I’m at Tony… I do memorise all the songs I learn. Not all the words, but definitely the entire song on guitar. I mainly use the songbook as a prompt of what I know. To give me an idea of what I should play, and what I know how to play.


Some great ideas already, thanks guys, I’m going to refrain from commenting for now and let the conversation run for a bit :smiley:.

1 Like

That’s super!

1 Like

At this point in time and a couple of years in with this guitar playing thing I would say that I haven’t memorised one complete song, and actually don’t see the point due to my lack of singing ability. I can play bits of lots of songs though!


I’m like Guitar George, (without knowing all the chords :wink:)
It’s strictly rhythm- I don’t want to make it cry or sing :rofl:
(Lyrics and chords only in my word processor)


I’m a bit like Shane but electronically as If I wrote something down a few months down the line I would need someone to help decipher what I wrote.

I’ll produce a song and lyric sheet on word. Take for example. At the top of the sheet I’ll paste the chords used in the song from my chord book generated using Neck Diagrams. If the intro is a picked pattern I’ll put it together on Guitar Pro and simplify the view and then paste that onto the song sheet. Then for the verses I’ll just write the lyrics with the chords annotated above the lyrics. If there is a specific strumming pattern I’ve decided on using I’ll just add that above the verse. If the instrumental repeats I’ll just make note and refer back to the intro picking etc.

Edit: for fingerstyle songs I just use Guitar Pro


As @stitch mentioned earlier I use Songbook Pro.

I used to write everything down manually in a journal including tabbed riffs etc not just lyrics and chords. Then I think @Rossco01 recommended Setlist Helper which although it runs as an independent app uses a browser interface to manage and populate. I moved to Songbook Pro, as it runs as an app on the desktop and all my mobile devices and can be kept in sync by backing up to the cloud. The feature I liked was the ability to import chord sheets direct from UltimateGuitar, along with Chordpro and txt files (see examples below). The ability to edit allowing for corrections. There is automatic scrolling which can be adjusted tempo wise to provide a visual aid while you are playing.

Add to that the ability to create and edit setlist it was a no brainer and portable across all my mobile device on a single licence. :sunglasses:

I would add there is a weird “drone” for the song Key that can be select, which will play as the song scrolls from start to finish. I really need to find out more about it, as its not something I use. I added a new song yesterday evening clicked on it by accident and found it served no benefit than to stop me playing. So I suspect it could be a feature my wife somehow added ! :rofl:

From UG

From TXT file


Oops nearly forgot, you can import via PDF as well. So this means you can take a song based on GuitarPro, export that as PDF and add it to Songbook Pro !


I’m not a rote player and I’ve moved away from being an archivist (aside from just recording my playing). That’s it, record and then move on to the next thing. It’s far more interesting where I’m going than where I’ve been.

I’m not going to forget the building blocks of songs and progressions. The fretboard, chords, chords in a key, Nashville numbering, scales, etc are all going to be there. The words to songs can be mucked around with as needed. The fact that a particular song moves to an E min in this particular spot is less important than we all think. :slight_smile:

EDIT: I worked for an early Internet music related company where I learned the saying, “Relax! It’s only music.” LOL


I guess it’s a question of what’s it for?

I’m not that organised, so have a random collection of mainly YouTube bookmarks with my ‘favourites’.

I’m with CT here, I find it a lot easier to remember songs if I learn them ‘my way’. I’ll learn from a few sources and just take elements from each, - with the elements usually being the least complex :shushing_face:
As long as I’m happy with the song ‘vibe’ I’m good.

For performing, I usually stick to practicing a couple of songs in the run-up. If I can’t get to the point of remembering those at home I’d have no chance playing them live, with or without a songbook. That said, the last time I tried an impromptu ‘second set’ for songs I’d play all day at home just vanished with the nerves, so I now take a backup lyrics book…

But think it does take away from your performance if you’re staring down at a music stand.

I have noticed, when attending the open mics, most other performers have both lyrics and chords in their songbooks and most do use them… but they are at a more advanced stage I guess where they just rock up and decide, literally as they are setting up, what they are going to perform from a large ‘back catalogue’.

Finally, I stick to songs I love. It’s maybe bad form or short sighted but that way it’s not a chore.


With you on that Dave. I tend to use the Songbook as an aid to practice and rehearsal, if you like. For the first few OMs here I used it as a crutch, it was then on the tablet but not referenced. After the first half dozen or less I no longer felt a need for it come kick off. But that was more time spent learning a new song or playing songs written in my soul. My 2 cts.


I still use setlist helper and it works well on my tablet and I like the browser interface. I suspect Songbook Pro is better but I’ve not looked. One big plus is importing chord sheets. I tend to use a “song formatter”. I copy and paste into it from ultimate guitar and then it will reverse format for setlist helper. The SongPro feature to do this sounds a definite bonus.

It’s an essential tool for me now because we’re running at 35+ songs for the band. The setlist builder allows me to build different set lists for each gig and during a gig it’s a useful crutch if your mind goes blank on a song… plus for those songs played less frequently it’s easy just to revisit the chord sheet during practice.


Song Formater/Importer (Beta) from UkeGeeks Labs this one maybe ? Should folks be interested. :sunglasses:

1 Like

Do you use a foot control to turn pages and move to the next song? Also, do you find it a distraction to turn pages, read and such while staying on time and in the pocket?

1 Like

Setlist Helper is digital and autoscrolls, so no need to turn pages and a single swipe takes you to the next song in the set.