The Seven A variety of Written Music

the only one

Like a bassist, bandleader, teacher, and music copyist, I’ve worked hundreds of singers through the years. Though working musicians know countless tunes, singers have to have good charts as a way to have their music totally way they want. I define a “good chart” being a piece of written music that effectively tells the musicians whatever they should play.

fly away
Written music will come in seven basic forms: chord charts, written music, songbooks, lead sheets, fake books, master rhythm charts and fully notated parts.

Kanary Young
Like a musician has a responsibility to experience the chart before him correctly, the supplier in the chart has the responsibility of giving the right kind of chart. Being aware what type of chart for what kind of tune or gig is essential.

This article explains what are the different types of charts are, and under what things to use them. I hope you think it is useful.


Charts may be simple or elaborate in line with the style of music and type of gig. Cover tunes are traditionally learned from recordings; classical and choral music are located in sheet music stores along with various music catalogs; numerous tunes will probably be found in music books of all types; and many public libraries carry recordings and written music to use.

The word “chart” refers to a piece of content of written music or any arrangement (music which has been adapted in a unique manner) of an tune. Decades ago it was strictly a “cool” slang term for a tune, but a piece of writing of music may be called a chart these days, though a classical buff may well not refer to a Mozart act as a “chart.”

Being aware of what type of chart for what kind of tune is vital. When you’re playing a gig and someone hands which you chart — it is how it’s and you either read it well or not. But, if you buy charts, have them made for you or provide them yourself, you must know which kinds to use for which situations. In the past, while doing singer showcases, singers introduced all kinds of charts: honest ones, bad ones, incorrect ones, inappropriate ones, and yes it was a real pain. The singers who provided the right kinds of charts got their music literally way they wanted. The singers that had the wrong kinds of charts didn’t, and weren’t very happy about it. Unless a musician already knows the actual parts, he can only play according to what’s on the chart before him. Though a good musician can improvise a good part in any style, if a specific musical line needs to be played, it needs to be constructed.

As a musician has a responsibility to correctly take part in the chart before him, the supplier of the chart has the responsibility of providing an appropriate one.

Without engaging in too many music notation specifics, here are the different kinds of charts and when they are used:


A chord chart offers the chords, meter (how a song is counted, e.g., in 4 or perhaps 3 (like a waltz), as well as the form of the song (the complete order of the sections). This type of chart is primarily used when: 1. the particular musical parts are improvised or already known, nevertheless the form and chords should be referred to, 2. to provide chords to improvise over, or 3. whenever a last-minute chart needs to be written, and there isn’t time for nearly anything elaborate.

A chord chart won’t contain the melody or any specific instrumental parts being played. To play from simple chord charts an artist basically needs to have steady time, understand the chords, and improvise his part in whatever style the tune is.


Written music is a store-bought version of a song printed by a publisher, which has the instrumental part, chords, lyrics, melody and form. An instrumental piece will, needless to say, have just the music. Sheet music is written for both piano and guitar. Guitar written music is in standard notation (often classical), along with TAB. A good piece of sheet music will always say whether it’s for piano or guitar. Most written music is not meant to be completely associated with the actual recording, and also the actual arrangement you have heard on a recording is seldom present.

Lots of people have experienced the frustration of having the sheet music to a song they like, playing it, and discovering that the chords aren’t the same as the recording, and sometimes the shape is too. Unfortunately this is the way it is a lot, and it could be for a number of different reasons. To obtain the exact arrangement and chords, you must do a “takedown” of the song: learn it by ear. A takedown is when you listen to a piece of music and record. Takedowns can range from simple chord charts to elaborate orchestral parts or anything in between. In order to do good takedowns, you need to have good ears, understand and turn into fluid with music notation to the complexity of the form of music you’re working together with, and preferably understand music (the greater the better). Having “good ears” contains recognizing and understanding the music, whether heard for the radio, played by another musician, or heard in mind.


Songbooks are compilations of many tunes and often retain the same information that written music does, along with the chords and arrangement being not the same as the recording most of the time. Written music commonly has full introductions and endings, whereas songbook tunes are usually shortened to create space from the book for more tunes. Written music is generally written being played on a keyboard, but songbooks can be found in different styles and for different instruments. These are compiled by artist, style, decade, as well as in various collections including movie themes, Broadway hits, etc.

Songbooks are a fantastic reference source when other, more exact charts are unavailable. As an example: I needed two movie themes for a gig once (client request). Rather than spending $8 for two tunes of sheet music, I bought a book of movie themes for $16 that contained more than a hundred tunes. Sheet music and songbooks are pretty unusable at gigs as a consequence of cumbersome page turns and bulkiness; in an emergency you use them and do what you could. If having to use sheet music or songbooks for performance, either: 1. recopy the tune onto 1-3 pages or 2. photocopy it and tape all pages together (although, strictly speaking, this may be considered copyright infringement). Make sure you always provide a copy for each musician.

To play from songbooks and written music, a musician needs to be capable to read the music notation, or at least improvise a part from the chord symbols, i.e., a guitar strum, bass groove, piano groove, etc., or in addition to this, both. A vocalist can sing the language if they know the melody, or perhaps be able to read the notated melody if they don’t know it.


Lead sheets support the chords, lyrics and melody line of the song and therefore are mainly used by singers, accompanists and arrangers, though they appear on the bandstand now and again. Songwriters use lead sheets to copyright their songs, and extremely often sheet music carries a lead sheet from the tune as a condensed version to make use of. Instead of having 3 to 6 pages of written music to turn, a lead sheet is generally one or two pages long. Lead sheets don’t contain any music notation except the melody and chords, so a musician needs to know how to improvise when reading from one. A lead sheet is mostly written out by a music copyist, that’s someone who specializes in preparing written music. Playing from lead sheets minimally requires playing an accompaniment from your chords and understanding the form directions and symbols (the markings telling you to go to the verse or perhaps the chorus or the end, etc.) and maximally having excellent accompaniment skills and reading notation fluidly.


An artificial book is a large book of tunes that contain only the melody line, lyrics and chords. There isn’t any piano part, guitar part or bass part. That is why they call it an imitation book. You have to know already your parts, or improvise them inside the style of the tune. A lot of people call that “faking it.” Faking this means to be musically adept enough in order to follow along by ear and figure out a solution as you go: that’s a primary reason for ear training. Whenever a person’s ears “get trained”, they discover how to recognize and see the relationship of pitches and musical elements. With this particular understanding you can “hear” the right path through tunes, even though you haven’t heard them before, you fake it. However, when you don’t hear so well, you’re really faking it!

Before there was an abundance of legal fake books on the market, there was an abundance of illegal fake books about the streets. (As of this writing, I’ve only seen a number of at gigs.) Since a practical musician needs to have usage of a large number of tunes at gigs, musicians compiled books of numerous useful tunes containing only melody lines and chords. A practical player doesn’t need all the notes written out, because he can improvise, so large books were made with choice tunes. Some fake books are hand copied, either by way of a pro copyist or casually done with pen or pencil, and some consist of cut up sheet music where all the piano parts are removed, leaving the melody and chords, all with regards to condensing space.

Rather than take stacks of songbooks to gigs, you pop an imitation book of numerous choice tunes in your gig bag and off you go. A tune taking up five or six pages in songbook/sheet music form will take up a page or fewer when rewritten yourself or cut up, leaving merely the chords and melody. Fake books are often used and I’ve seldom been at a casual where someone hasn’t had a minumum of one.

The reason the illegal books are illegal is copyright laws. With the homemade books, nothing experiences the publishing houses that own the rights for the tunes, so neither the publishers nor the composers get paid for their use. The Catch-22 in the past has been the fact that there weren’t any good legal fake books that pro musicians might use at a gig. Within a songbook of 200 tunes, maybe ten were usable. So, the gamers made their own, and gigging musicians lived happily ever after. But as making these books is prohibited, some decades ago a number of nationwide distributors were arrested and fined for copyright infringement. Nevertheless, you still see the illegal books for the bandstands, nonetheless.

Over the years many legal fake books have already been published and are excellent. There are music books for: pop, jazz, rock, country, specific artists and movie themes, and there are special wedding books with the key music that brides like. Big sheet music stores should have all of them. And recently, many of the most popular illegal fake books happen to be made legal. (Hooray!) The 5th Edition Real Book is surely an example. Filled largely with jazz tunes, the ebook is in the original format, but published legally as the 6th Edition Real Book.

Legal fake books are plentiful at sheet music stores, and illegal books… well, you’re by yourself. Trade magazines and music union papers often advertise a wide variety of music books and also joke books, ethnic music and other related entertainment materials. Sometimes instrument stores carry fake books at the same time.

Fake books are great to have, but the more tunes a musician knows, the better.


Master rhythm charts are charts made for the rhythm section (piano, bass, guitar and drums). It really is one chart which has the general idea for everybody to play from: a sketch with the tune, a master copy of it all for each player. These charts are like elaborate chord charts with simply enough specifics with them to make the music either feel and sound similar to the original recording, or to provide just enough specifics to restore interesting and recognizable, leaving the remainder to improvising.

Unless a tune is composed or arranged in this fashion to begin with, which the majority are, these charts are published by someone doing a takedown from the recording, or made out of lead sheets or songbooks. Whereas lead sheets are primarily for your singer, master rhythm charts are primarily to the musicians. When a singer provides charts on the musicians in the band, fundamental essentials usual ones to work with.

A master rhythm chart contains:

• Every one of the chords

• Key rhythms (the principle rhythms)

• Key melodic parts for the instruments

• Key lyrics for reference if desired

• Key background vocals if present

• Dynamics-how loud, how soft, etc.

• Any style, clarifying instructions and symbols necessary to ensure a good performance from the tune.

All forms of popular music use master rhythm charts, and it’s really common to have one plus a lead sheet for every tune when a singer is involved. Master rhythm chart reading, and writing, entails improvising fluidly in the style of the tune, as well as fluid notation reading abilities.


In the event the music needs to be extremely specific it’ll be fully notated. Everything that needs to be played is written on the page. What to play, when to play it and how to listen to it: the notes, rhythms, dynamics, and then any and all notational expressions, including tempos (how fast or slow), who cues what, etc. Most courteous recording sessions and shows require fluid note reading and offer individual parts per instrument.


Though they aren’t written music, lyric sheets with chords deserve a mention.

Singers who play a musical instrument often use lyric sheets with chord symbols written over the words. For a singer/musician these are generally very useful, and are often used. I’ve used them myself.

Musicians reading these charts, however, are able to do well if they are knowledgeable about the song, however, this leaves a very large margin for error. Often the chords are over the wrong words, or perhaps the chords are wrong or incomplete: very dicey business. Musicians like specifics.

My students start using these all the time, and there are many Internet sites with a huge number of lyric sheets you can download. For certain situations they are very handy!


Together with the presence of smartphones, tablets, and other alike devices, it’s common to determine a musician with all of their music scanned into a device! Though this will never replace paper, it really is convenient! A solo pianist can leave the suitcase of music in your house, a jazz player can load the 6th Edition Real Book on their smartphone, and a singer could get last-minute lyrics via the Internet while you’re on the bandstand.

Technology is marvelous!


Being a musician has a responsibility to learn the chart before him correctly, the supplier with the chart has the responsibility of giving the right kind of chart. Understanding what type of chart to use for what kind of tune or gig is essential.

Provide your musicians with the proper kind of chart, and chances are your music will sound how you want. The closer you comply with this maxim the better your performances is going to be.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s