You never know who you’re going to be dealing with in any new musical situation whether it’s an audition for new players for your cover, original, tribute, wedding or Vegas show band, to those times where your band needs to learn three sets of brand new material for a Saturday night gig (and it’s now Monday night). Writing charts for musicians can be an art form or it can be a simplistic handwritten single page, miss-mash of chords written above your scrawled lyrics.


There are those gifted players for whom you can just burn CDs of the music or download 45tunes to their iPods, and within four days they’velearned the songs by ear. If the musicians in your band are like musicians in my band, gainfully employed during the day time, when the hell are they going to find the time, in four evenings and a Saturday morning, to woodshed on all the songs and then rehearse with the band (not to mention, eat, sleep, go to the bathroom, etc.)? Any performing original singer/songwriter, from folk to heavy metal, should have some competency at writing charts for their music,especially if they are fronting their own band, playing regularly and alternating back-up musicians on a regular or frequent basis (since those musicians with gainful employment on their schedules will not be available for every gig).


Any performing original singer/songwriter, from folk to heavy metal, should have some competency at writing charts for their music.


In addition, you should always have ample copies of your charts ready to be scribbled upon with additional notes and comments available at every band practice for those times when you have a new musician sitting in, or for when you need to make new changes.


A chart is anything that is written out in a musical format, and that format, many times, is unique to the individuals in the musical situation. It can be as simple as a handwritten fake or chord chart, to notes on staffs, (the latter of which will get the guitar player in the band to quickly lower his volume that much faster). Usually, in rock or contemporary pop music, a chart can be a simple one or two page handwritten road map to the song, detailing out the names of the chords, written at key points above the lyrics, and how many times the chord progression or riffs that make up the verses and choruses are repeated. If you have a well written chart and a talented musician who has a knack for reading charts, the musician doesn’t necessarily have to really know the song, they can just play the song from the chart. In an audition, when a new musician can nail the song from almost any kind of chart the first time, that’s when I know I found a good musician. In one of my bands, we often have to learn three sets of music in a single rehearsal. In these cases, we’re all unfamiliar with the music that we’ve been hired to play at a certain performance, so detailed charts are required in order for everyone to be on point and learn the material quickly.


Question: “What ’s the fastest way to get a guitar player to lower his volume?”

Answer: “Put a chart of music in front of him.”


During this learning process, everyone is able to reference the chart and pick-up where we might have left off or use reference points to quickly pick-up from a specific part of the song. Legibility is critical, regardless of what kind of chart you’re writing, regardless if it’s on a cocktail napkin, yellow legal note pad or staff page. I can remember the first chart I wrote in jazz class; it was a disaster. No one could read it. You want to make your charts as clear as possible in order for a musician to read it. Musical charts are the best way to learn any kind of new musical material, but as the afore-mentioned joke alludes, not every player is educationally adept at reading charts. Next time, I will address basic chart styles and the best ways to write a chart. For instance, there are so many music notation programs on the market these days, it makes me wonder why anyone would even put pencil to paper and hand to write charts for their band members.


Originally posted 2009-01-14 04:08:33.