The Seven Distinctive Forms of Written Music

As a bassist, bandleader, teacher, and music copyist, I’ve worked with hundreds of singers all through the years. Although operating musicians know hundreds of tunes, singers have to have to have great charts in order to have their music played the way they want. I define a “good chart” as a piece of written music that proficiently tells the musicians what they ought to play.

Written music comes in seven simple types: chord charts, sheet music, songbooks, lead sheets, fake books, master rhythm charts and totally notated components.

As a musician has a responsibility to play the chart before him correctly, the supplier of the chart has the responsibility of providing the right type of chart. Understanding what kind of chart to use for what sort of tune or gig is really essential.

This write-up explains what the diverse sorts of charts are, and beneath what circumstances to use them. I hope you locate it useful.


Charts can be straightforward or elaborate according to the style of music and kind of gig. Cover tunes are traditionally learned from recordings classical and choral music can be discovered in sheet music retailers as well as in different music catalogs quite a few tunes will be found in music books of all kinds and quite a few public libraries carry recordings and written music for your use.

The word “chart” refers to any piece of written music or any arrangement (music that has been adapted in a special manner) of a tune. Decades ago it was strictly a “cool” slang term for a tune, but any piece of music could be named a chart these days, though a classical buff may well not refer to a Mozart operate as a “chart.”

Knowing what variety of chart to use for what sort of tune is very vital. When you are playing a gig and a person hands you a chart — it is what it is and you either study it well or not. But, if you obtain charts, have them made for you or provide them yourself, you will need to know which types to use for which situations. Years back, even though undertaking singer showcases, singers brought in all kinds of charts: superior ones, negative ones, incorrect ones, inappropriate ones, and it was a true pain. The singers who supplied the suitable types of charts got their music played the way they wanted. The singers who had the wrong sorts of charts did not, and weren’t quite pleased about it. Unless a musician currently knows the certain parts, he can only play according to what is on the chart prior to him. Even though a good musician can improvise a superior part in any style, if a distinct musical line requires to be played, it requirements to be written out.

As a musician has a responsibility to properly play the chart prior to him, the supplier of the chart has the duty of supplying an proper a single.

Without the need of having into as well many music notation specifics, here are the various kinds of charts and when they are used:


A chord chart consists of the chords, meter (how the song is counted, e.g., in 4 or in three (like a waltz), and the kind of the song (the precise order of the sections). This type of chart is mostly utilised when: 1. the particular musical components are improvised or currently identified, but the type and chords need to be referred to, 2. to deliver chords to improvise over, or 3. when a last-minute chart requirements to be written, and there isn’t time for something more elaborate.

A chord chart does not contain the melody or any distinct instrumental parts to be played. To play from uncomplicated chord charts a musician generally demands to have steady time, know the chords, and improvise his element in whatever style the tune is in.


Sheet music is a store-purchased version of a song printed by a publisher, which contains the instrumental element, chords, lyrics, melody and form. An instrumental piece will, of course, have just the music. Sheet music is written for each piano and guitar. Guitar sheet music is in regular notation (typically classical), as nicely as in TAB. A very good piece of sheet music will always say irrespective of whether it really is for piano or guitar. Most sheet music is not meant to be fully representative of the actual recording, and the actual arrangement that you have heard on a recording is seldom present.

Lots of people have knowledgeable the aggravation of obtaining the sheet music to a song they like, playing it, and discovering that the chords are different from the recording, and occasionally the type is as well. Unfortunately that is the way it is a lot, and it could be for a quantity of unique factors. To get the precise arrangement and chords, you want to do a “takedown” of the song: discover it by ear. A takedown is when you listen to a piece of music and write it down. Takedowns can variety from straightforward chord charts to elaborate orchestral parts or anything in between. In order to do excellent takedowns, you want to have great ears, understand and be fluid with music notation to the complexity of the kind of music you’re operating with, and preferably have an understanding of music (the more the much better). Having “great ears” consists of recognizing and understanding the music, regardless of whether heard on the radio, played by a different musician, or heard in your head.


Songbooks are compilations of a lot of tunes and usually contain the exact same information and facts that sheet music does, along with the chords and arrangement being distinctive from the recording most of the time. Royalty Free Music has full introductions and endings, whereas songbook tunes are commonly shortened to develop space in the book for much more tunes. Sheet music is typically written to be played on a keyboard, but songbooks come in distinct designs and for diverse instruments. They are compiled by artist, style, decade, and in several collections which includes movie themes, Broadway hits, etc.

Songbooks are a excellent reference supply when other, additional exact charts are unavailable. For instance: I necessary two movie themes for a gig once (client request). Instead of 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 fairly unusable at gigs for the reason that of cumbersome web page turns and bulkiness but in an emergency you use them and do what you can. If possessing to use sheet music or songbooks for reside performance, either: 1. recopy the tune onto 1-3 pages or two. photocopy it and tape the pages together (despite the fact that, strictly speaking, this may perhaps be considered copyright infringement). Make confident to often deliver a copy for every single musician.

To play from songbooks and sheet music, a musician wants to be capable to read the music notation, or at least improvise a portion from the chord symbols, i.e., a guitar strum, bass groove, piano groove, and so forth., or superior but, both. A vocalist can sing the words if they know the melody, or be able to read the notated melody if they never know it.


Lead sheets include the chords, lyrics and melody line of the song and are mostly utilized by singers, accompanists and arrangers, although they appear on the bandstand now and once again. Songwriters use lead sheets to copyright their songs, and very usually sheet music consists of a lead sheet of the tune as a condensed version to use. Instead of having 3 to six pages of sheet music to turn, a lead sheet is generally a single or two pages long. Lead sheets do not contain any music notation except the melody and chords, so a musician requirements to know how to improvise when reading from one. A lead sheet is typically written out by a music copyist, who is somebody who specializes in preparing written music. Playing from lead sheets minimally demands playing an accompaniment from the chords and understanding the form directions and symbols (the markings telling you to go to the verse or the chorus or the end, and so forth.) and maximally getting outstanding accompaniment abilities and reading notation fluidly.

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