How do I play that chord? Part 3: Desktop tools.

Desktop chord softwareDid you realize there were so many resources available to help learn how to play an unfamiliar guitar chord? This is part 3 in my series and it isn’t the end. I’ve been reviewing chord lookup resources I use or have discovered, mostly those I recommend but occasionally I’ve include some just because they are popular. This article is on desktop software tools. (Still to come will be books, charts and devices – including smart phone apps).

My criteria for a good chord reference:

  • The resource should include major seventh chords of the form of this 1 Fmaj7: 1_x_2_2_1_x. Any resource should have many different ways to play each chord. However the chord form I just described for major seventh chords is quite common in jazz. It’s sometimes called a Freddie Green style chord. Freddie Green was the rhythm guitarist with the Count Basie Orchestra. He often simplified even this chord to be just the low 4 strings – or in other words a 3 note chord which gave the essential feel of a major 7th. I can’t trust a resource that doesn’t have this chord to have the best fingering positions for other chords.
  • The resource must include diagrams for minor seventh flat fifth chords, e.g. Gm7b5. These are also sometimes named half diminished chords and sometimes notated as GØ.
  • Bonus points for showing diagrams for seventh flat 5th flat 9th chords (as in G7b5b9). I encountered a G7b5b9 in a lead sheet while on vacation and wanted to know how to best play that chord. If a resource includes these chords it indicates a fairly comprehensive collection of guitar chords. But it is an uncommon chord so you shouldn’t worry much if the resource does not include it.

You may have different criteria. That’s OK. I just want you to understand my criteria.

Although today’s topic is desktop guitar chord software and my previous post was guitar chord lookup websites, the first tool I want to mention today might have better been included in the online website group. It’s an iGoogle gadget. In other words, it’s a plugin for your browser which runs on IE, Firefox and Chrome.

Daccord iChord iGoogle gadget
iChord showing Gmaj7

iChord gadget for iGoogle page is from Daccord Music and free. You can find it at the iGoogle apps site or it can be downloaded from Daccord Music. It is web based but not a website per se – at least not visibly. It connects to a database on the web invisibly in the background. It does not have G7b5b9 but passes Gmaj7 and Gm7b5 tests. It also shows advertisements beneath its window which is a bit annoying. The display is horizontal with the lower numbered frets to the right. There are no settings to change this. I find this arrangement distracting. But it is free and works.

Do you have a guitar tablature editor on your computer? I reviewed tab editors in a previous post. If you do have a tab editor, you may also already have a chord dictionary.

TuxGuitar ($Free) was my recommendation as one of the best tab editors with the added benefit of being free. Press “a” on your keyboard to open the chord editor window, or from the menu choose Beat > Chord > Insert Chord. The menu option includes recently used chords so they can be inserted more easily.

TuxGuitar - G7b5b9 chordYou build the chord name you are looking for by selecting options from the area at the top left of the Chord Editor window. The different fingering diagrams which match the chord name are shown a scrolling area at the bottom of the editor. Click on the diagram you want to use and it is displayed in the large diagram area next to the name selection area. Finally, different names for those notes are shown at the top right. If you click on OK, the chord will be inserted at the cursor position in the tab. On the main tab menu, after you’ve inserted the chord, choose View > Chord Style then choose to display the diagram in the tab if you want a collection of chord diagrams. Be warned, the diagrams are a bit small for my taste. However, you could export the tab to LilyPond and then edit the LilyPond file to customize the chord display.

TuxGuitar failed my Gmaj7 test. It had many Gmaj7 diagrams, but none were of the Freddie Green form. It did pass my Gm7b5 test as well as being able to show diagrams for G7b5b9. TuxGuitar also does reverse lookups. You can also enter a diagram the software will try to name the chord.

GuitarPro (59.95). TuxGuitar obviously liked the way GuitarPro worked. The Chord Editor in GuitarPro 5 works almost identically to TuxGuitar, including failing my Gmaj7 text but passing the G7b5b9 bonus point test.

TablEdit ($59.97). You can create your own chord diagram catalogs, save them and share them. You can download chord diagram catalogs from the TablEdit website. However, it isn’t a great source for determining how to play a new chord name you’ve encountered.

TablEdit: Standard Chord Catalog
TablEdit Catalog

PowerTab (free) has a chord diagram dictionary. Click on the chord diagram button or from the menu choose Guitar > Chord Diagram List. This lists chords that have been inserted into the tab document you are working on. When printed, chord diagrams from the chords in the list are printed before the tab. You can’t insert the tab for the chords or the diagrams into the score itself. In order to find chords from the Chord Diagram List window, click on the “Load Chord from Chord Dictionary” button. The dictionary works similarly to TuxGuitar (though PowerTab came first). Choosing a chord diagram in the dictionary and double-clicking on it adds the diagram to the list for the current document. PowerTab passes all my tests including the bonus question.

PowerTab Chord Diagram List
Chord List
PowerTab Chord Dictionary
PowerTab Dictionary

Guitar_Chords.exe ($Free). This was designed for high school jazz band students. But it’s useful for any guitarist. You pick a list of chords you would like to save or print in a chart form and the software creates a webpage with images of the suggested chord diagrams. Passes Gm7b5 test. Almost passes Gmaj7 test if you mentally edit diagram (less important finger positions are shown as open circle – these can be omitted according to help file). It gets the bonus for showing G7b5b9.

Guitar-chords (REBOL): Choose a list of chords
Choose your chords here.
Guitar-chords- Results in your browser
Chart of diagrams for chosen chords

Guitar Chord Dictionary 3.0 by Daccord Music $29.99. Also available at CNET.com.
This is the desktop, commercial version of the browser gadget I described at the beginning of the article. I haven’t tried the current version and I’m not impressed with the combination of features from the gadget and the price of the desktop product. Considering the other good desktop and online sources available, I can’t recommend this. But, remember, I haven’t tried the current version so maybe you’d find it just perfect for your needs.

Platform Information. The DAccord iGoogle gadet runs anywhere the browsers run. I’ve tested it on Linux in Chrome and it runs just fine. TuxGuitar is available on Windows, Mac and Linux. TablEdit and Guitar Pro run on Windows and Mac. PowerTab and the REBOL Guitar Chords tool only run on Windows.  DAccord Guitar Chord Dictionary is Windows only but is not one of the programs I recommend.

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Footnotes

  1. If you haven’t seen this streamlined chord notation before it lists the played fret numbers for each string (E_A_D_G_B_e).

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