Making notes on chord charts.

For my first blog, I would like to discuss how I make notes on guitar chord charts. If you’re like me you often get charts in an email sometime early in the week. Maybe Tuesday or Wednesday. Often times these chord charts are PDF files that are taken right from the CCLI website. The PDF files are accompanied by a Word file that lays out the song orders and a “roadmap” for each song.

I start by printing out the PDF files and then tape together the pages so that I have one single page per song. Then with a dark marker I lay out the “roadmap”. I also like to use colored markers to identify where the verse, chorus, and bridge sections up. I use different colored markers so that my eyes see them clearly well I’m playing. Throughout worship rehearsal I make notes including beats per minute, volume levels, and various rhythms.

After rehearsal, I will make more notes or possibly remake the chord chart altogether.  It is not uncommon for arrangements to change during Sunday morning rehearsal, so be prepared with another dark marker so that your new notes are visible and recognizable from your old notes. Often times I like to use a green or brown marker so that I can see what is new and what is old. Typically what is old will be in black or blue. I never use red because it is not as easily visible when you’re glancing from side to side at your music.

When Sunday arrives I arrange my music on a music stand, not on the floor, because it is easier to see and manipulate. I placed the song sheets in order from the first to the last and then I dogear the upper left corner of each sheet of music. This gives me something to grab onto when I have to get rid of a song sheet after it’s been played. Typically I just throw it on the floor behind me. I arrange them so that the last song is on the left most part of the music stand and then stack them so that they work a bit like a fanned deck of cards. This allows me a bit of space between the dog ears, so that I don’t have to fumble around between the sheets of paper.

Note taking is more than just a formality. It shows that you care about what you’re doing and that you are striving to achieve excellence. You might notice that musicians that do not take notes typically make a lot of mistakes. Very few musicians, those that I like to call the 1% ers, don’t need to take notes. That leaves the 99% to take notes. That definitely includes me.

You will notice on the picture above that I have created my own shorthand, if you will, that relate to various instruments or patterns. The letter identifiers relate to various instruments. An example of an instrument might be HH for hi-hat.  An example of a pattern might be 40F. This is my shorthand for “four on the floor” also known as quarter note beats for the Bass drum. To denote various volume requirements I use the standard Italian musical notation (p, mp, f, mf, ff). If you are not familiar with some of that style of notation I would recommend buying your self a book like “music theory for dummies”.

Unfortunately using a device like a tablet or an iPad is not feasible at this time. I have tried using an application for the iPad called “MyMusicStand” that allows the user to place sticky notes on a PDF and put the PDFs in a song list. It also allows a music file to be attached to each PDF file. I think this is a great practice tool, but not a good tool for performance. Unfortunately, there is often a 2 to 3 second delay between pages when scrolling is required. I have made a recommendation to the application developer requesting that they figure out how to improve the scrolling speed between the pages PDFs. If the developer could rectify this problem then I see a potential for using the iPad rather than sheets of music.

This method is something that I developed after many years of being frustrated by being given directions on multiple sheets of guitar chord charts. I hope that it helps you toward your goal to achieve excellence for the Kingdom of God (Philippians 4:8).

One thought on “Making notes on chord charts.

  1. Thanks for your tips! Very helpful to me and drummers out there. I forget to write enough notes and would get messed up after a while. Great system! God bless.

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