Strum your way to Stairway to Heaven, you Wild Thing!

First impressions

We had learned to play the guitar when we were a mere youngster and had nervously strummed our way through various school recitals, but it had been years since we’d picked up the instrument. As we got older, we had felt that having nice long fingernails was more important, and as Joe Satriani will tell you, long fingernails (certainly on your fret hand) simply won’t work with a guitar. We downloaded the Songful app onto our iPad and when the image of the guitar strings came up, we were thrust back to the days of our youth. As we drew a line down them with our finger, an extremely realistic strumming sound came from the speaker. We were instantly hooked.

How it works

After the app has loaded and you launch it, a list of songs comes up on the screen – 100 in total. It does offer you the chance to go and look at the tutorial, or you can just try to wing it by getting started immediately. The songs are many and varied, from old classics right up to modern day hits. You’ll find Smoke on the Water, Wild Thing, Wicked Game and Hotel California along with very recent tunes like Adele’s Someone Like You. Of course there is a smattering of Elvis and the Beatles in there and what set of hits would be complete without Stairway to Heaven by Led Zeppelin? Anyone who has walked into a Guitar Center shop over the years will know that the top song any guitar amateur or aficionado plucks to death somewhere in the store is Stairway.

Once you choose your number, the screen brings up the image of an acoustic guitar’s soundhole with the familiar six strings across it, the words to the song, and the chords that change as you go along. All you have to do is touch the first chord and begin to “strum” the strings by using your finger like a pick. Sing the words, and when you see a chord change coming up, simply touch the arrow key in the top left of the screen which will do it for you.

It doesn’t take long to get the hang of this; balancing the coordination of strumming and changing chords. Before you know it, you’ll be starting to go all fancy pants with different picking. There is also a “Hit the deck” option on the body of the guitar image, which allows you to add some rhythm to your efforts, a Vibrato effect when you shake it, and if you want to mix up the sound of your instrument, you can switch to a ukelele.

The list of songs is designed to appeal to a high percentage of people, so chances are you’ll find a large number that you’ll want to try out. They are rated as Easy, Medium and Hard depending on the complexity of the song and the rate of chord changes.

When we played

Apparently determined to drive everyone in the house batty, we got right into this by muting the television so our efforts could clearly ring out without interruption. We started off with Hotel California, which was pretty easy, although our strumming sounded dreadfully amateur. By the time we had made our way through Wicked Game and Jamming by Bob Marley, we felt ready to tackle Stairway. Gosh, here the chords were coming thick and fast: Fmaj7, Dsus4, Em … crikey! We realised that perhaps we were flying too close to the sun at this point and we needed to dial it down a notch until we became more familiar with the app.

Despite the fact that our flatmates were initially annoyed with this newfound toy, they ended up joining in despite themselves, trying to harmonise on Wicked Game and handing out instructions on how THEY would strum it. It didn’t take long for us to figure out that this app would be incredibly popular with everyone from young children to older adults.

Final thoughts

Karaoke is incredibly popular for a reason – whether people have good or bad voices, odds are good that they like a singalong. This takes it a wee step further by allowing the singer to have an idea of the chords involved and be able to add a personalised touch to his or her performance. If there is a budding musician in the family this might be a great way to introduce them to the sounds of a guitar and to familiarise them with the basic structure of a song. For the price, this is a terrific app, and best of all, you can plug in headphones so your young Mozart can strum away in peace.


Cost: $2.99

Seller: Ultimate Guitar

Devices: iPad with iOS 5.0 or later

Rating: E for Everyone

Four stars


  1. Karaoke Guitar for Christmas lets you play Christmas carols on an iPad guitar easy enough for anyone to play (even if you don’t play guitar).
    It’s a chance to experience the magic for free, before deciding whether to buy Songful (which includes over 80,000 songs)
    Enjoy and happy holidays!

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