Practical ideas on chord charts and notation – guest post

Suggestions for notating chord charts

We had several comments on our recent post – Adding notation to chord charts – including an email conversation with guitarist Bob Crockford from Derbyshire in the UK. We really liked what Bob shared with us of his system of notation so we asked him to write a guest post explaining it:

I think there is only one answer to “scores or chord sheets?” – it’s whatever helps you to lead /play the best you can. I’ll do whatever is useful to take as much of the “stress” out of leading/playing so I can concentrate on the leading bit and trying to gauge what is going on in front of me.

For me (leading on a guitar), I find scores are impractical:

  • Too small to read at arms length (chords and lyrics), especially if the lighting isn’t great. Chord sheet lyrics can be as big as you like. There is also space around the words to add lots of jottings and notes.
  • Lyrics to verses 2 onwards are often written on scores on an adjacent page requiring head gymnastics back and fro (and losing your place).
  • Scores are often heavily “condensed” with lots of clever D.S., D.C, Coda, double dots, and bracketed numbers to cut down on paper and often to avoid page turning when printed into a book. I have a great keyboard player who has no problem with these at all, but I find them too difficult to read when “under pressure” (you know what I mean).

I use chord sheets on A4 that I then put in order in a ring binder, so papers can’t fall off the stand and I can add Post-its and other bits without it looking a mess, and all I have to do is turn over one page at a time. I also add stuff in pencil, like which lines will form the intro, the number of beats to count in (unless it’s 1-2-3-4-“GO”), which bits to be quieter etc and I also use a whole series of “Post-its” that I add for running order instructions, mainly at the end of a song like “STOP”,”Capo 3″, “Capo off”, Twiddle during prayers”. etc etc. Some songs go to two sheets of A4, but I tape them together and put the hole punch holes in the centre so the paper lies “A3” style across the binder. Having a binder is handy for having other things to hand like keeping about 5 songs in readiness for “emergencies”, for times when some extended impromptu worship is wanted there’s no rummaging around for music.

I find it helpful to add various prompts and reminders of where to go next (see below for “Our God Saves” (Baloche/Brown). This is perhaps a slightly extreme example of my notation (or the ramblings of a deranged mind), but as long as the author understands it, that’s all that matters. I mark any rhythm notes where there is any risk of confusion by the number of beats to count in my mind as a number in a bracket e.g. C(4)(2). Sometimes in a song I mark little arrows up or down to remind myself which way the melody is heading e.g. at the end of repeats in “Holy Ground” (Lou & Nathan Fellingham). If there’s possible ambiguity in melody I draw horizontal lines above the lyrics with steps up or down to remind me the shape of the melody. Also, I mark any points where I need to hold the vocal to get past any point at which someone might accidentally come back in too early (there are limits for this of course!), but the gap between verse and chorus in “Everyone needs compassion” (Morgan/Fielding) can go wrong at this point so I hold the last word of the verse to get past the danger point.


Thanks to Integrity Media Inc for permission to reproduce this song.