Alan David Gould

Writing Charts for Rehearsals and Recording Sessions

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                                       Writing Charts for Rehearsals and Recording Sessions


                                                                     Alan David Gould

As studio time is always at a premium, it is critical to walk in prepared. As an arranger, producer or leader, one of the smartest ways of accomplishing this is to have charts prepared and ready to go for all the musicians on the rehearsal or session. There are several standard ways to write charts, and you need to consider who’s going to be reading them. Lets briefly discuss some of the ways to write readable charts, oriented to various levels of sight reading ability.


Simple Synopsis: Before you even decide what format the chart is going to take, you need to come up with a road map for the tune. This might look like: Intro/ Verse1/ Verse 2/ Chorus/ Verse 3/ Bridge/ Chorus/ Inst solo/ Verse 4/ Chorus/ Repeat/ Tag.

Once you have your basic form, then you can proceed to “flesh out” the sections, either with (1) simple chords (2) chords over rythymic bars to delineate the duration of each chord (3) A “Nashville” number chart which can be played in any key without transposition, or (4) A more involved chord chart with scored melody and harmony lines beneath it on a staff, as well as dynamic markings and other qualifiers.


Simple Chord Chart:  Use your sysnopsis of the tune to determine the order of the sections as they naturally occur in the tune. Put a key signature at the top of the page. Use a time signature (i.e. 4/4, 2/4, 3/4, 6/8) to signify the number of beats per par and which note will stand for one unit of measure. Use repeat markings to signify a verse or chorus repetition, in order to avoid rewriting any given section. Use abbreviations for the various parts of the form (i.e. I for Intro, V for Verse, B for Bridge, C for Chorus, etc..) Chords are generally written in upper case with qualifiers (Maj, Min 7th, Aug, Dim, b5, b9) written after the primary part of the chord symbol (i.e. Am7 or Fdim.)  In this basic format, the chord changes are just written down on paper and the musicians are left to figure out the rythym and duration of the chords in rehearsal, which leaves the execution of the tune to trial and error in a sense, but at least the players can see the key, note the changes and take it from there. This is not recommended for more involved chord charts, where the rhythmic details really need to be in the chart, along with tempo changes and stops. If the musicians involved already have some grasp of the tune, however, it will suffice to get them through a rehearsal.

Chord Charts with Rhythm Markings:  With this chord chart, we also include a key signature, time signature, the chord changes, obviously, but also crucial to this form are the rhythm markings below the changes, designated with back slashes.  (See Example 1) 

Example 1:      Am  G/B  Cadd9     

                          /        /        /   /


With this method of charting the tune, the player is to understand that, in this bar, with 4 beats to the measure, the Am chord gets one beat, followed by one beat of  G/B, followed by 2 beats of Cadd9. These 3 changes comprise one bar in 4/4 time.

The Nashville Number System: The Nashville Number System is an ingenious method of charting a tune numerically, with which one can play any given tune in any key without having to switch charts. The numbers and their qualifiers simply represent the chord symbols in any respective key (i.e. 1 4 5 1)  We call the root of the key 1 and the rest of the notes in the scale are named numerically (2-8 and then we start over) according to their relative position to the root. (For example, in the key of C, Dm would be known as 2m and F would be known as 4.) It now simply becomes a mental exercise for the player to make the changes  in any given key. This method takes some practice and some real chops, but once perfected, is a very efficient way of utilizing a minimal songbook for a variety of singers that need to sing the tune in a variety of keys.


Scoring the Tune: Finally, there's the more traditional method of actually scoring the chart with melody, harmony and counterpoint lines, leaving virtually nothing to guesswork. Even the bass, drum and solo lines can be written verbatim, helping to assure that the tune is going to work rhythmically and harmonically from the outset. The composer/arranger does all the pre-production work on the tune up front, and then the players simply play from the individual parts derived from the score, or read the score itself. This does presuppose that the musicians are fluent readers and not all musicians are at this level, but for a majority of professionals in professional studio circumstances, this is the tried and true method. It's fast, cost effective, and it certainly makes the most efficient use of studio time. We’ll talk about The Nashville Number System and scoring complete tunes in much more detail in a future installment.

Whichever method of charting your tunes you select, it is always important to remember to write the chart legibly, visibly, proof read your work, edit out the mistakes; then check it again. You would be surprised at how inspiration and positive energy are sabotaged in the recording studio with badly written charts that inevitably need to be revisited. This shouldn’t have to happen. Time is money and preparation for a smooth recording session is simply a smart move. You're saving everybody else's time and effort as well! More importantly, you’re making that favorable impression that’s going to get you the return call for the next one.


©2012 Alan David Gould. All Rights Reserved.