When Apple announced the iPad earlier this year, one of the things that made me really interested in it was how I thought it could be used for practicing and learning music. For example, I can have most of my music library directly on the iPad, and it fits nicely on a music stand. But, more interesting to me even, was the possibility of being able to have my entire library of sheet music on one device. I would potentially no longer need to shuffle books and papers off and on to my music stand. Everything would be on the iPad. At the time, there weren’t any apps that did this. However, Agile Partners have released TabToolkit for the iPad, which does most of what I wanted, plus some extra stuff I didn’t even know I wanted. Incidentally, TabToolKit received an Apple Design Award during Apple’s recent WWDC conference. This is a well-deserved honor for a very useful and well-designed app.
Importing and Downloading Tabs
As the name of the app implies, the purpose of TabToolkit is to display tablature files. By default, the app ships with several tab files, including tab of national anthems, well-known classical songs, holiday songs, and even some tabs of songs by Internet-famous musician Jonathan Coulton. However, you can also load other tab files into the app.
There are two primary methods for loading tab files: from another computer on your network or from the Internet. You can import Guitar Pro files, Power Tab files, plain text files, and PDF files. This pretty much covers any types of tab files I’ve ever used.
Importing from another computer involves connecting to the iPad from another computer on your network, opening a browser, and typing the IP address shown within the app. You are presented with an interface where you can select files from the computer to upload to the iPad.
Downloading from the Internet involves connecting to a tab download site through the built-in browser within the app. I’ve downloaded a number of tabs from UltimateGuitar.com. It’s as easy as searching for the song you’re looking for, clicking the link to open the tab details, and, if it is a text-based tab file, the app will automatically detect it and present a download option. If the tab is another type, such as a Guitar Pro file, you can download the file directly to the application from the website.
Whichever method you choose, it is very simple to add tab files to TabToolkit.
Viewing Tablature Files
Of course, it doesn’t matter how easy it is to import tab files into TabToolkit if you can’t view them in a nice, easy-to-use interface. Fortunately, TabToolKit provides a very nice interface for viewing tablature files. For text files, TabToolKit essentially displays a faithful representation of what the original tablature author intended. If the author included metadata, that information is also included in TabToolKit.
If the tablature file is a Guitar Pro or Power Tab file, the display is even better. You can even get multi-track playback of the tab right on the device. No need to load up an MP3 file. All you have to do is click the play button within the application. A fretboard at the bottom of the screen even shows the notes as they are being played.
In an upcoming release, Agile Partners are going to be adding a Tab Store to TabToolkit. Here is a quote from them about this new feature:
We’re going to integrate a Tab Store with high quality, professionally transcribed, full-score tabs for popular songs across all genres (with new songs added on an on-going basis). Agile Partners has established license agreements with music publishers so the tabs will all be 100% legal/legitimate, and artists and publishers will share in the revenue from Tab Store sales. From a user experience perspective, the TabToolkit Tab Store will be kind of like iTunes.
I’m really looking forward to seeing how this feature is implemented. It could make a very useful app even more useful.
TabToolkit fulfills most, if not all, of the features I imagined when I thought about how the iPad could help my music practice. The app and the iPad have already proven to be very helpful during my practice sessions, as I have been able to store and manage a lot of my sheet music needs within the iPad instead of trying to keep track of a bunch of books and papers. If you have an iPad and play guitar, I highly recommend checking out TabToolkit by Agile Partners.