Like a lot of guitarist I collect songs. This used to involve playing the same record repeatedly; listening hard and writing the words into a school exercise book. The chords were then worked out with a guitar and discussion with friends and then the chord names were squeezed in above the words.

At some time in the 1990s I started using coloured pens to add the chords. If the song was in the key of C, I wrote the Cmaj with a red pen and Fmaj in green. From here it was a short step to just underlining the words instead of inserting the chord names.

Rainbow Song Notation had arrived..

The next stage came when I got access to a computer with a word processor and a colour inkjet printer. The Songbook matured to a spiral bound A4 sized book. The first copy was produced in about 2001 and handed out to friends and anybody who was unwise enough to express an interest.

In 2003, my daughter, who was teaching in St Lucia, said she would like to learn some songs on the guitar to use with her class. I produced a version of "We Three Kings" in PDF format, put it onto my website and sent her the link. This was the first appearance of the rainbow notation on the web.

The Web seemed an obvious place to put the whole songbook, but the time was not ripe. The tools were not ready. HTML was primitve, CSS was in its infancy, JavaScript still belonged to NetSurf, all the browsers behaved differently and I was in full time work.

In 2013 things are very different. The web technologies have matured, the browsers are all well behaved, and I have time to do the work.

So here is the result. The choice of songs obviously is personal. They are all songs I have known for years. Some have been added at request of family members and friends. They all belong to somebody else and I have not sought permission to publish them in this form. I am not seeking to profit by them and if any song copyright owner objects I will remove his or her song on request. Likewise it is very easy to markup new songs and add them.


Font Size

Web browsers make it easy to change the text size. This can help make the songs easier to read, but for those who have difficulty distinguishing between colours it is not much help.

Font styles

The use of colour is at the heart of the notation but there are other visual clues which identify the chords. See Use of font styles below . There is also the possibity of developing the notation further by using different font sizes.

Playing in the Dark

Although not strictly an accessibility issue this system makes it possible to play songs when it is too dark to read the pages of a paper based song book. With an iPad, or Android tablet you can sit round the campfire and play songs till long after the cows have come home.

Use of Colours

The words of the songs on this website are multi-coloured. The colours are used to show the chords that should be played to accompany the words. When the colour changes a different chord should be played.

The colours are easy to remember as they are the colours of the rainbow, and are in the familiar sequence using the mnemonic ROYGBIV. That is Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, Violet. Each colour represents a chord built on a note of the scale.

Red is I,Orange II, Yellow III, Green IV, Blue V, Indigo VI and Violet VII.

The chords in C are:    C •   Dm •   Em •   F •   G7 •   Am •   Bdim7

Whatever key you play in the tonic is always red, the sub-dominant green, and the dominant seventh is blue .

three chord trick

For a basic 12-bar blues, you need a Red, Green, and a Blue chord.
For example:-  • EAB7
To play the same song in A, it is still red-green- blue:-    ADE7

Use of font styles

As well as colours the Rainbow tab method makes use of different font styles to distinguish between major minor and seventh chords, including major sevenths and dominant sevenths.

major chords I and IV

Chords in the first and fourth positions are by default major chords. The words to be accompanied by major chords are written in standard font.

minor chords II III VI

Orange, yellow, and indigo, or second, third, and sixth position chords are by default minor chords. To distinguish these from major chords they are shown in italic style. Italic style is also used to represent diminished chords.

seventh chords V and VII

The default blue and violet chords are dominant seventh and diminished seventh respectively. Sevenths are shown in bold, diminished sevenths are italicised bold.

Major sevenths are distinguished from dominant sevenths by being underlined.


It is possible to extend the system to include other types of chords, for example augmented fifths and ninths etc but to keep things simple enough for beginners these and other complex chords are not represented. Expert guitarist can use the supplied chords as a guide and extemporize with substitute chords.

Although each chord position has a default chord type this can be changed as shown by in the following example.
Playing in E, the shift from E to E7 is shown by changing the red text from normal to bold font, and the shift from A major to A minor by going to italics.

I don care what Momma dont allow play that gittar anyhow
E E7 A  Am

Rainbow Notation Uses Less Space

The rainbow style mark-up is economical. You do not need extra lines to show the chords, so you can get more lyric lines on the screen. This matters if you are using a device with a limited screen area such as a tablet or a mobile phone, and even on a large screen it means you won't have to scroll to see the bottom part of most songs.

song with rainbow notation

Wise men say only fools rush in
but I can't help falling in love with you

song with normal chord name markup

C    Em  Am       F     C    G7
Wise men say only fools rush in
    F G7    Am   Dm         Em   G7   C
but I can't help falling in love with you

Easy to Play Song in Different Key

Rainbow lyric markup makes it easy to change key without a using a capo. You just need to use a different line in the rainbow key. For example to play the above Elvis Presley couplet in a different key change the chords by selecting a the key you want in the drop down list below:

Not Just for Guitar

The notation is suitable for instruments other than guitar. Ukulele chords can be chosen from the drop down list. It is possible to extend the choice of chords to include most fretted instruments, eg banjo and mandolin, although the sitar is probably a step too far.

Index to the songs

© JR 2013