Congrats! You scoured the web and found the perfect new worship song for the upcoming sermon series. Or maybe you just put the finishing touches on a killer new original. To make the process of teaching a new song to your band as smooth as possible, you will need a good chart.
There are many automated chart tools and lots of ways to make charts, but good charts share a few common characteristics. In my opinion, good charts are:
- one page.
- easy to read in low light from five feet away.
- lyrically and musically accurate.
- clearly marked with sections & musical cues.
- copyright compliant & honor the songwriters.
With these characteristics in mind, don’t rely on prefab charts that make teaching the song more difficult. Here’s my template:
Glimpse – A.zip Pages (iCloud)
Begin by collecting all the info about the song like title, author, copyright info, CCLI number, tempo, meter, lyrics, and chords. Many worship songwriters provide charts on their website. Other resources include CCLI SongSelect (I can provide our church’s login info), WorshipTogether.com, and if all else fails, Google.
Once you’ve collected all the song info, just plug it into the template and format it for real-world use. Double-space the lyrics to leave room for the chords above the words. Be sure the placement of the chords above the words reflects the rhythm of the chord progression. Sometimes you may need to space a word out using hyphens to make room for multiple chords that all occur while a single word is sung. For example:
G – E7 – Am – D/F# – G – C – D7
G D7 G C G D
In ex – cel – sis de—o
Other times, you’ll need to indicate the rhythm of chord changes without lyrics. It’s helpful to use slashes or dashes to indicate beats and “pipes” to indicate bar lines. Use a colon and double bar line to make the repeat sign. For instance, in 4/4 time:
Em / C / | G / / / ||
Chart Formatting Hints
Choose a font based on its readability in normal, bold and italics. I use Helvetica, Myriad Pro, or Georgia. Make the title and key easy to spot at the top left. Use the right margin to include cues and directions. Use boldface and/or indents to accentuate song sections like the chorus. If a song is particularly long or wordy, you may need to utilize columns rather than using a second page. And don’t forget to honor the songwriter by including accurate author, publisher, copyright info, and the song CCLI number.
Charting Chords By Ear
If you can’t find the chords, listen to the song with your instrument handy. Start by listening specifically to the bass guitar and the lead instrument. Try to identify the key by identifying common chords, then trying scales over the song. Once you know the key, you’ve narrowed the chords to five or six options. There are a few songs that are rare exceptions and use more chords.
The most common chords will be the major chords built on the 1, 4 and 5 of the scale. You may also find minor chords built on 6, 3 or 2. Many songs use the same progression every time a verse or chorus is played, so isolate each section of the song to figure out the chord progression. Once you have the gist, pay special attention to inversions when the bass guitar plays a note other than the chord root, or other standout moments. You can sharpen your ear to make this process quicker using interval recognition exercises like these.
Consistent File Names
When the chart is ready, name the new file with “Title – key.” This allows you to sort the files alphabetically and easily search by key. I also create a PDF file of the chart to allow everyone to open the file regardless of device or platform. Store your chart files in the same directory so you can easily search for lyrical content, etc.
In the next post, we’ll discus transposing charts into different keys.