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Thread: iReal Pro layout conventions

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Sep 2009

    Default iReal Pro layout conventions

    Updated July 2014


    We developed certain conventions in layout since starting inputting the iReal Pro tunes so they look, function and get interpreted quickly in the same way. Mainly the reason is ... once you get used to reading the charts, you get to easily understand what is intended—we came from a jazz perspective initially so we saw the app as being something you might have to use on a gig (perhaps without a rehearsal) so clarity and consistency were important to us.
    Here are some rules we developed. Of course you do not have to adhere to them if you are preparing charts for yourself, but others in your band or here at the forum will appreciate the consistency.
    Some of these rules might change over time and we will probably develop other functions, notations and procedures as iReal Pro evolves.

    1st, 2nd, 3rd time bars
    Use a single barline underneath the beginning measure.
    If vertical space permits, we line up the first bar of the 1st and 2nd time bars underneath each other with nothing to the left. This makes it easy to read and quite clear (but sometimes there is no space to have this luxury).
    (see And the angels sing or Body and Soul or Skylark)
    For more than a 3rd time bar, the empty x time sign can be used in conjunction with Text on the appropriate beat for the number needed—move it up so it sits inside the x time bar. Font is different but it is understandable. (The player does not understand this however.)
    Always use a closing repeat (or double barline) at the end of the section.

    Check that you are not doubling up on the barlines as it is (sometimes) possible to put a barline to the right of a beat and also to the left of the following beat so they sit on top of each other or between each other. The software may tidy up for you, but we are still tweaking how it performs. Make sure you do not use a single barline on top of a repeat barline (see Repeat barlines below.) This could happen if you cut sections out and existing barlines can add on top of each other.
    Use double barlines underneath rehearsal letters (A, B, V etc.) and to end sections of the song (the player drums will play a fill to mark this.)

    No blank bars
    A bar should normally have something in it and not be blank. The player ignores empty measures. If the previous bar is to be repeated, add the repeat symbol so it sits in the middle of the measure.

    Blank spacing
    We do not usually have blank space to the right of a bar to the end of that system where there are more bars following in the next system below. In other words bars carry on after barlines and they just keep on going across and down as normal. If a section has say, 10 bars only you could have 4 bars in two systems and then 2 bars on their own on the last system.
    (see Blue Daniel or Blue in Green and Boo Boo's Birthday)
    If a section (between rehearsal letters) is 15 bars, we might lengthen somewhere some bars to fit into a complete line, so the next section can start on the left of the following system, if it looks reasonable.
    (an exception is As)
    For an introduction which is 2 bars long, we have blank space at the right end of the system
    (see Save your love for me) but you could otherwise stretch out the spacing of the bars to the right end.

    Chord placement
    If there is one chord in a bar, it is at the very left of that bar, next to its left barline.
    The repeat symbol is normally in the middle of a measure.

    The Coda symbol inside a tune is inserted at the last beat of that measure rather than the first beat of the next—for obvious reasons (although it is possible that the song has the coda in the middle of the bar—but this is more rare and not recognised by the player.) We do not use any words like "To Coda" as they are largely superfluous and take up space especially for small screens. The player knows what a coda sign is and will understand it if placed correctly.
    You can use the single vertical spacer so the (actual) Coda is slightly below the rest of the chart if there is vertical room for this. And you can indent and start the first bar a little to the right of the left margin. If the Coda is included in the form of the solos, we usually leave out any vertical spacing and continue the system as if it belongs with the rest of the systems since it visually shows that they follow on as you are playing the solos. The word "Coda" is not normally used since the Coda sign indicates it but you can add it in with Text if needed.

    Also see the new instructional guide blog:

    Composer name
    If there are several composers, use their last names and separate with a hyphen (or comma). Check the first letter is uppercase.

    Final barline
    Use the final barline symbol only once where the song ends. Where there is a D.C. or D.S. use a normal double barline if there is a Coda (as the last measure of the Coda has the final barline), or it is used in the 'fine' measure, otherwise at the end of the form.

    Always set the key of the piece in Info. When we start a new song, we first go to Info to set title, composer, style and key. The key is important because one of the features of iReal Pro is being able to transpose. If you leave the key at the default C when the chords are set for the key of A for instance, then the transpose function will not correspond. For some very rare tunes (mainly jazz) the key cannot be determined and in this case we leave it at the default C. Anyone knowing the tune enough to call it out at a gig would usually tell you the first chord they will be starting on so everyone can figure out the transposition needed.

    - related to chord sizes (see Small/Normal)

    Rehearsal letters
    We put a double barline at the beginning of the measure where a rehearsal letter is. If it appears at the very left of a system, the previous bar at the right end of the system above has one too. We try to have them start at the very left of a system where possible but there are many exceptions. To do this, sometimes you can space out the previous bar length horizontally with an extra beat or two in a bar(s) (if you have enough room for the whole piece.)
    We use rehearsal letters to give some kind of visual reference to the form of the song, so if it is an AABA form, we would only use the A and B letters and not A, B, C, D. For some songs the last A might be slightly different and in this case we might still use an A since it is similar, but you could use the next available letter if there is enough of a difference in the (melody) and/or chords.
    If a piece does not seem to have sections then we do not use Rehearsal letters at all (the blues, for instance, or short pieces like Wayne Shorter's Fall.)
    Using IN (Intro) followed by letter A where the actual song begins is needed where you want to repeat the song a few times (set in Repeats in the Player window). This will indicate to the Player to only play the Intro once at the beginning of play, but not for each subsequent repeat as you play through the song. (Hint: using D.C. will take you to the beginning if you need to do this.)

    Repeat barlines
    It is possible to have them back-to-back if the song requires it (the last beat of a bar has a closing repeat, the first beat of the following bar has an opening repeat sign.) Use repeat barlines only where needed to show the form of the song, not as an indication to repeat the song a few times for soloing (otherwise the player will do the repeat for the first chorus (the first time through) before counting for the next chorus so you will end up with twice the number of choruses you set in the player window.)
    When using a Repeat barline mid-system, you do not need to have a single barline from the previous or next beat on top of it - a closing repeat does not need a left barline from the next bar's first beat.

    Repeat signs
    For measures 4 spaces in width, they are placed in the middle of the bar (beat 2) and the double repeat is in space 4 so it runs across the barline to the next bar, but if the bar pairs are split at the end of a system, then it is best to put in the chords again for those bars for clarity (and not use the repeat sign).
    (We tend to use repeats signs as it gives you a little mental freedom for those bars—not having to look at the changes while you comp or solo and helps you understand the structure of the tune chord-wise.)

    Rhythm slash
    Often used only where it might be unclear where the chords fall on the beat. If a 4/4 bar has a D7 for the bar and the next two beats of the next bar, followed by a F7 on beat 3, use two slashes in the second measure on beats 1 and 2, followed by the F7 on beat 3.
    Sometimes you need to use them in 3/4 tunes and for rhythm indications.
    Put a slash on the first beat of the bar if the next beat a different chord.
    Useful for 5/4 sometimes (see Conference of the Birds)
    Useful sometimes for a 2/4 bar on beat 1 with a chord on the second beat.
    Also see Ruby, my dear
    Often a guitar part will show slashes in measures to mark time, but we tend to use chords and repeat symbols with slashes used only when needed.

    Slash (beat)
    see Rhythm slash

    relating to chord sizes...use Normal by default, but if there are lots of long chord qualities and/or beats in the bar (especially ballads) then use Small. You can use a mixture of Small and Normal of course, but if it is predominantly Small, we sometimes use just Small all the way through so the look is quite consistent in itself (eliminating the Normal sized ones jumping out at you visually.)

    Time signature
    You can fake a time signature if it does not exist. Use Text twice -
    1/ Top number—on the beat before the time sig using some spaces before the number to move it to the right;
    2/ Bottom number—on the beat where you want it to appear.
    Move up the Text numbers to the appropriate vertical heights.
    The player will ignore it but this is useful if you are making a visual only chart.

    Vertical separation
    You can use any of the three vertical spacers to create vertical space. This is usually done on the first beat of the first bar of that system, to move that system downwards.
    They are often used when using Text, alternate chords, inversions (bass), X time endings and Codas.
    In general, keep the vertical distances the same between all systems for consistency unless there are problems.
    No vertical spacer is necessary in the first system under the title. If a piece is quite short, we usually do not use vertical spacers. (This makes it consistent viewing from song to song.)
    Last edited by pdxdjazz; 01-12-2015 at 07:40 PM. Reason: updated July 2014

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Oct 2009


    How about making a slash on beat one if a chord falls on beat two so there is no question about the timing?

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Sep 2009


    yes a good idea, I will write something in under rhythm slash, but of course some people might still put a gap at beat 1 and we still will not know.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Jan 2010


    I didn't find this post-- a very helpful one-- while searching the forums (using the search feature).

    May be this post will help others find this thread.

    This sticky thread has a bunch of tips, ideas, idioms and usage guidance for getting started with iReal Book authoring, composition, editing, arranging, input, notation, etc.

    The iRealBook community aptly calls these ideas "Layout Conventions".

    I hope that this thread continues to be updated.
    Last edited by Thephe; 04-17-2010 at 01:51 AM.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Oct 2010


    How can you indicated anticipated chords? Eg or a half beat tied to the next bar?

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Sep 2009


    Quote Originally Posted by Sharon View Post
    How can you indicate anticipated chords?
    Because iReal book started out as a jazz improvising tool and with the limited screen size of the iPhone the chords are just an improvising guide, so any anticipations are generally ignored, since the references of the chords in a bar are for the soloing.
    Some people put in the slash / in staff text area to indicate the main beats (quarter notes or whatever it is) then put the chord a space after it, to indicate it is after the main beat.

  7. #7


    Looks to me like these conventions have had to be made stricter for the Player. In particular I have been unable to squeeze in a 2/4 bar in a 4/4 song because the bar lines go funny at line ends after that.

    Can anyone tell me the new conventions that will make it possible to fit in abnormal bars?

  8. #8


    Hi Steve,
    There are 16 spaces in each line and you can place bar-lines anywhere.

    I took a 4/4 tune, (4 bars to a line, 8 lines long) edited a copy then randomly made a measure 2/4 by adding that on the first space of a bar in the middle of the tune. (2/4 appeared ahead of that bar-line) The player went double-time from that point to the end. If there are three chords in a 4-space measure, and you try to play the tune in 2/4, you'll get an error message. (deleting one of the chords will solve it)

    Your charts will "look" better and be easier to read if the bar-lines line-up, the irb-player can still play if they don't.


  9. #9
    Join Date
    Sep 2009


    Quote Originally Posted by Steve R View Post
    Looks to me like these conventions have had to be made stricter for the Player....Can anyone tell me the new conventions that will make it possible to fit in abnormal bars?
    There is additional information on our website on the Player behavior.

    As Bob said, it is difficult for the Player to figure out three chords in a 2/4 bar... Or 4 chords in a 3/4 etc.
    For 2/4 you could have this bar occupy the same space as a 4/4 bar, just keep the bar lines where they would normally go, but put a 2/4 ahead of that bar and a 4/4 at the end of it.

  10. #10


    Ok I get it. Thanks guys. My problem was trying to make the 2/4 bar half as long on the screen, which didn't work. If I leave it as four space, it works fine, I tried.

    Almost by Downchild Blues Band

    I will post this one in Blues, thank you.


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