I just got done with a class where, as a vocalist, I was require to provide and understand lead sheets... Honestly, normally I just print out chords and remember the song (more or less) -- but I saw first hand how effective lead sheets were in getting a band full of strangers to play a song they'd never heard.

I'm looking for a good software to help me better understand lead sheets and try to use them to learn a few songs. Eventually, I'd like to transcribe them for my own music... but I think playing along with a few would be the first step.

I looked at Avid Scorch (an ipad app) which sounds great in the description (download music sheets, switch instruments, play along on the ipad keyboard... etc) but the reviews don't seem to favor the software...

Can anyone give me some pointers on great apps, websites, books etc to understand lead sheets?

2 Answers 2


Grab a fake book and start digesting them!

"Fake books" were historically completely illegal compilations of lead sheets (containing chord changes and melody lines) used by musicians as a quick reference for any one of the hundreds of charts they'd never seen before. These were completely illegal because no one was paying to license these songs from the original composers, and you could see upwards of 1000 charts in the same book. Being illegal bootlegs, the quality and accuracy of the notation was always suspect, and it took decades before Hal Leonard and other legit publishers got their act together and went through the arduous task of licensing every chart and publishing their own compilations.

A "real book" is another term for the same thing -- the original real books were no more legal than the first fake books, but they were ostensibly more accurate, and those particular books became very popular.

Certain books are specifically geared towards vocalists, and include lyrics, but most do not.

The underground culture of fake books continues to this day -- even though there are now many legally published books like the one linked above (and related items), illegal PDFs can be obtained through shadier channels.

You will learn how to create your own lead sheets by understanding existing ones -- this is a basic literacy process that applies to any kind of language acquisition. Probably the most challenging aspect of lead sheets is chord symbol notation. There are many different "dialects", but at the end of the day you will gain the best understanding by listening to recordings and matching your ears up with your fingers, and finally both up with your eyes (the symbol on the page).

Some other helpful resources for understanding chord symbols are actually available for free from Jamey Aebersold's website. The Aebersold series is another incredibly useful source of lead sheets -- each of the 100+ volumes of play-a-long books comes with a CD recorded by a professional rhythm section.

The only apps I'll mention are my favorite score reader, into which you could load any lead sheet PDFs you have, and iReal b, which doesn't contain any melodies for copyright reasons, but can be used as a "Band-in-a-Box" (competing software), to generate rhythm section accompaniment for any set of chord changes. (Chords are not limited by the same copyrights as melodies, so iReal b is able to distribute a package of 1000 songs' chords from their website for use with their software.)

  • 1
    For an app, you may want to look at MuseScore - it's for creating sheet music on your PC, and there are apps for both iOS and Android.
    – Hannele
    Jul 12, 2013 at 18:57

Ultimate Guitar Tabs is a good app. It is free and is suitable for guitar, piano, vocals. There is usually standard notation available as well as tab notation for guitar.

The only problem with it is that they are user submitted, and you are likely to find some errors from time to time in the chords.

Luckily, all submitted songs are voted on by the community, so it is easy to find the most accurate arrangement.

Again, it is not the best, but it is free and contains a layout similar to a fake book.

  • Does Ultimate Guitar Tabs have lead sheets?
    – Sergio
    Jul 11, 2013 at 23:13
  • I believe for the most part it is just the lyrics and the chords. I don't recall ever seeing a melody line written out. But you might find that is all you need. And you can feel out the melody on your own, using the chords to guide you along. Just wanted to throw it out there, because it is free. But again there are some inaccuracies sometimes.
    – osakagreg
    Jul 12, 2013 at 4:08
  • Welcome to the site! Don't get too discouraged by the downvotes here, since the question is rather straddling the line of topicality. Post some answers on "good" questions, and you'll soon get that rep up. Jul 13, 2013 at 4:35

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