FretBud is the simplest, most useful guitar-scales app ever | Cult of Mac

FretBud is the simplest, most useful guitar-scales app ever


Fretbud is super-simple, and that’s what makes it so useful.
FretBud is super-simple, and that’s what makes it so useful.
Photo: FretBud

If you’re learning to play the guitar, then you will constantly be looking up two things: Scales and chords. After you get a bit further into it, you’ll add arpeggios to that list. And you will keep referencing them for years, becasue there are a zillion way to play each chord, scale, or arpeggio on the guitar. And here’s the problem. Reference materials for these three essentials are a pain to use. Either you spend more time clicking around an app than you do practicing, or you have to keep a ton of PDFs around, and try to keep those organized. Now, though, a super simple (maybe too-simple) app finally ge ts it right. It’s called Fretbud, and I love it.


Fretbud is so simple that it could even be a first-app project, but that doesn’t make it any less useful. It launches to one screen, and stays there. Everything you see is already in front of you. You get a sliding guitar fretboard, with a circle-of-fifths diagram above it, plus some buttons to access drop-down menus to change settings.

Upon launch, the app defaults to the C Major scale, showing all its notes on the fretboard. The circle of fifths is also set to the same key, and shows you which chords are in the key. To change keys, tap the Key button and use the picker. You can also pick the kind of scale — major, minor, and many, many more (from modes like Dorian, to “eight tone Spanish,” and “Prometheus Neopolitan”!).


It’s pretty straightforward. Pick a scale, pick a key, and there’s the diagram. But there is also a Mode button, which makes things even more useful. Just to avoid confusion, this has nothing to do with musical modes. It just changes the mode of the app.

The Mode button lets you pick between showing the entire scale on the fretboard, or showing arpeggios in the same key. So, you can choose to show only the notes that make up the C Major chord, all up and down the fretboard. Or all the C minor notes. But you can also see the arpeggios for dominant 7 chords, minor 7 sharp 5, and so on. Pretty much all the arpeggios you will need are here.

Arpeggios, if you’re wondering, are just the notes of chords played separately, instead of all at once, and are very important to making melodies.

Now, many apps can do all of this, but none that I have seen does it so simply. I really like that I can just slide this app (it supports slide over and split view) onto the screen, and very quickly get exactly the information I want. I’m currently putting in a lot of hours training myself on arpeggios, so a fast, easy-to-read reference is essential.

Wish list

That’s not to say that Fretbud is perfect. It’s far from it. As I said, it comes across like a first app project. The use of drop-down menus to pick key and so on is really clunky, for example. So, here’s a wish list for some changes:

  • You should be able to turn the circle of fifths to adjust the key.
  • Notes at the same fret should be shown as individual notes, not run together into a black bar.
  • I’d like an option to view scale degrees, instead of note names. i.e C is the first note in the C Major scale, and is represented as the number 1. G is the 5th note, and so on. Notes could also be color-coded.

Despite these few shortcomings, the app is fantastic, and costs just one dollar.

Price: $0.99

Download: Fretbud from the App Store (iOS)