My thoughts on 1 year of active use of Ultimate-Guitar.com

Over the past year I?ve been using Ultimate-Guitar.com to find and manage chords, lyrics and tabs for cover songs that I perform with guitar, vocals, drums and some ukulele as well. At the time of writing this story, Ultimate-Guitar.com has been advertising a survey on the sidebar of the site as a way of soliciting feedback on how they can improve the site for their users. What follows in this article is the full text of the feedback I provided to the UG Team.

The survey asks you to list out frustrations or things that you don?t like about the site as well as features you would like them to add to the site, so I wrote the response based on those two categories of feedback.

Frustrations with UG

Before I list frustrations that I have about Ultimate-Guitar.com, I?d like to mention the reasons I use it and my expectations for the site:

  • I use the site mostly to find song chords and lyrics that I am interested in performing and recording and not just for learning or jamming.
  • I expect the site to provide content that is 100% accurate, 100% complete and that provides a high quality printout of the music since I play in front of a music stand and don?t rely on a computer or tablet to read from while performing.
  • I do a lot of acoustic solo stuff where I sing and play the guitar at the same time, but I also use UG to learn lead guitar parts that I can use to record as separate GarageBand tracks when I?m putting together a multi-track recording.
  • With all the cover songs I perform, I try to stick to playing it as close to the original recording as possible.

Now that I?ve gotten that out of the way, here are a few things that frustrate me about Ultimate-Guitar.com :

First there isn?t a single song (chords or tab) in the public domain that I?ve tried using on the site that in my opinion is performance-ready as-is. A few things that I consistently notice are almost always wrong with the published chords that I?ve come across:

  • Chords are never, EVER placed 100% correct with the lyrics.
  • Some chords are just plain the wrong chords based on how the song was originally performed.
  • Lyrics are often not 100% correct or have spelling errors.
  • The entire content of the song is never fully completed so that you can read all the content from beginning to end and understand exactly how the entire song is structured. An example of this is choruses not getting repeated where they need to but instead referenced above in the document (mainly because of laziness or the opinion of the person writing the chord or tab). This is not good for performing because it requires the eye to jump around on the page which is difficult to do without tripping up the performance.
  • Formatting is all over the place, no consistency whatsoever so forget trying to get a good quality printout of the music, especially when you want to save on the amount of paper by printing in 2-columns.

Probably the most frustrating thing about the site is the dejected feeling I get when I post an improved song that I?ve spent lots of quality time working on but gets downvoted for whatever reason just because there are ?already too many other published tabs for that song?. When I improve a song that is based on another song already published it is precisely because every public version of that song had any number of the errors mentioned in Frustration #1 above. Also, when I spend time working on a song and go to try and publish it on UG, it means that I?ve vetted the work by actually performing and/or recording the song using the content I?m trying to publish.

The print preview has many issues where unnecessary line breaks occur resulting in tweaks needing to be made to the original text just to get the text to print correctly. As a web developer I know how to remove HTML with Developer Tools to remove some of these extra line breaks to get the printout to look right, but I don?t expect other people to know how to do that.

The chord auto-detect feature of the site is nice, but could use improvement by allowing custom chords to be specified based on exact finger positions on the fretboard. An example of this is the song ?Dancing Nancies? by Dave Matthews Band. The first chord in that song is 32X500 which according to oolimo.com is a G6(11) chord but that chord is not recognized on Ultimate-Guitar.com so I?m forced to write the chord out manually in a separate [Chords] section of the tab and can?t use the nice auto-generated picture of the chord. On songs like this that have unusual or complicated chords I usually just completely hide the chords in the printout and rely on the ones I manually type out. Also some songs have different tunings like ?Overjoyed? by Matchbox Twenty that tunes the B string up to C and plays chords based on that tuning but there is no way to specify the exact fingering for the chords in the song because UG only recognizes a rigid set of chord shapes.

Most stuff on UG is really just a ?starting point? for me to get familiar with the basic chord progressions and stuff, but because people clearly are not fully listening to the entire original recording and then trying to capture every single part of the song in its entirety, I always have to fork an existing song and change it to fit my needs.

I would contribute more of my chords and tabs to the site if there was nothing blocking the posting of the tab initially so that the tab can just get out there for others to see and then allow people to review and rate it. It?s silly to allow others to review it before it?s posted to the public. Why not just allow all posts to be public by default and rely on ratings to determine search result priority, or something like that? Other sites like SoundCloud just let you post your stuff without this intermediate step so UG should do the same. I noticed that in your tab edit mode, the UI nags you to ?Publish to UG? by prioritizing the button of the same name and adding the confirmation modals to try to encourage you to do it. Well I would like to publish them, but for the reasons I?ve stated above its definitely not in my best interest to do so.

New Capabilities

If I was to list out the top features I?d like to see, here?s what they would be:

  • Completely customizable chord shapes
  • All contributions to UG immediately go live to the public without a comment period. Rely on ratings on the tab instead to determine how ?good? a tab is
  • A Karaoke-style interaction where you can provide the chords and lyrics to a song and using a timing tool that apps like Smule and Yokee use where it plays through the song and you hit the spacebar or enter to signal when the line of the song is sung as well as when the chord changes would be a neat new feature that could greatly enhance the online experience of the site.

Despite the drawbacks I mentioned in this review, I really do like the design refresh the site recently went through. I find the general design of the site to be very clean and easy to read, and the print preview design is pretty excellent as well. I hope that putting this info out there will help improve Ultimate-Guitar.com in the long run even more than it already has.

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