Spinning off from the discussion of 'irrelevant skills', and particularly the subsection about what to call the chord spelt: B D F A C (Dm7/B... or Bm7b5b9) brought back to mind a question I asked at a gathering of my worship team last Sunday afternoon: what would you like to see written down to help you?

We've got some people who are very notation orientated - they want the dots (vocal parts / piano part specifically). Others like chord charts, although that's flexible term - I think I might be the only one, at the moment, who'd relish unpacking Bm7b5b9. As we're making more use of software like OnSong, I sometimes find it frustrating when the chords I'm shown are missing the little tweaks and inversions I'm used to using as a guide although I'm also not averse to avoiding or changing chords that don't sound right. We've also got some who don't use any music (yep - the drummers) or tend to play just from a lyrics sheet (an experienced guitarist).

As you can see, that's rather a lot of ground to cover. What do you hand round in your setting to give people a firm foundation for playing the music?


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What would I like as an electric guitarist? If there's specific lines to play I'd like staff notation in the correct octave for guitar. Not Likely. Nashville notation would be fine as I'd have some sense of rhythm and timing of changes. Again, Not Likely, so I'm good with a lead sheet and chords. I suppose it would do me good to do these myself, but it wouldn't benefit anyone else who's currently playing. Thus are some of the trials of an electric guitarist occasionally in a trio with full score acoustic piano and roots bass, without drums, and with occasional full strum open chord acoustic guitar added in on Sunday morning. And keyboard pads filling up empty space, again occasionally.

I have always used chord charts for the band. Full scored sheet music I find to be overkill for the contemporary worship band. Plus, it makes it more difficult to be more flexible and "on the fly" in a service. I have generally used full 3-part scoring for choirs and teaching vocal parts. Even when people don't fully read music, it can still be helpful as they see the "dots" moving up or down. When working with a smaller "praise team", I've rarely given notated music. Generally, people on a team like that are there because they have at least enough natural ability to be able to learn their parts without having to have it all spelled out for them.

But as we are all working with different groups of people, and volunteers, we all have to just find what works for our situations. At the same time, in my opinion, trying to push everyone to learn too.

For example, years ago, I had an electric guitar player that could only play in a small number of keys. So when I had a chart in a key that he didn't know, he couldn't play it. This was before iPads and OnSong by the way. So I would specifically make a separate chart just for him that he could set a capo and then play. I babied him like this for a bit, but little by little pushed him to start learning and getting comfortable in other keys so he could broaden his capabilities.

Chord charts are sufficient for non-piano instruments, with the piano still mostly needing written music. But are we a contemporary worship band? We have electric guitar, piano, acoustic guitar, bass, rarely drums, acoustic guitar, keyboards, and acoustic guitar with varying availability. Oh, and acoustic guitar. We are contemporaries, I suppose, and we worship, but depending upon denominational distinctions this might be questioned. Are we cohesive enough an ensemble to be called a band, though? That's the question. :)

I provide chord charts and think that score music does not flow well and is so limiting when you desire to 'feel' the music and be spontaneous.  I also don't like chord charts written in stone as what appeals to me one week may not be what I'm feeling a few weeks down the line.  I like to be flexible with chords and also mess about with them to give the song a different feel.  Not always, but sometimes, I prefer to keep things simple and lately I have cut out some chords if I feel that too many changes are making the song sound choppy and mechanical.  Another thing, on alot of songs I have cut out the introductions and play what I feel is in my heart to bring a song in.

What do you guys do in between songs?  Do you keep the flow going or do you stop one song and start another?

I've typed out, edited, and backspaced over, and even posted and deleted several responses that sounded too harsh. I'll keep trying if this one doesn't work out either. If I get a chord chart, I get no sense of melody or rhythm. From a recording I get 3 indistinguishable parts obscured by reverb, delay, and ambient keyboard pads. From a lead sheet at least I get a sense of where the song is going rhythmically. From printed music I have an unambiguous instruction, which can be further enhanced by indications for effects and dynamics. Experience is very specific. A guitarist experienced in classical studies and sight reading, and who is well versed in musical structures and theory can be frustrated by the rote learning required of a modern worship environment, and even see a strong irony in being encouraged to play EXACTLY like the CD, but FREELY and with FEELING.

If you are in an accompaniment role, how much of the rhythm and melody do you need written down as compared to what you *hear* from the person leading the song? Of course, I am assuming a decently written chart - ideally with barlines or, if it is a lyrics and chord sheet, laid out in such as way that you understand what changes quickly and where there are longer gaps.

I think all forms of notation - including a full set of dots - has to avoid two general problems. The first is that it is misleading because it is inaccurate. Last week, I was given a lyrics and chords sheet which was fine until v.3, where the chords were misplaced compared to the words. Fortunately it wasn't a complex tune and I was mainly just reading the lyrics by then but we hadn't rehearsed the whole song before so it could have been nasty.

The other is when there is an attempt to be too precise and the resulting chart either ends up being wooden, impossibly to play because it tries to show every nuance of the source performance or, perhaps worst of all, comes a cropper because not everyone else is following their part. At church I'm generally busking from chords, even when there is a piano arrangement but one of the bands I'm in has a lot of scored parts but they often need to be taken with a pinch of salt because not everyone is using them.

When I'm leading, it is generally chord charts (unless I know there is someone on the team who needs dots) but I do spend quite a bit of time on the layout and also checking *all* the verses work!


I have heard that about notation from others also, but I sensed irony in their claim that notation encourages rigid, wooden playing when those same people would offer as the alternative playing back lines memorized from recordings - to a click track.

Segovia demonstrates how to play from notation. Imagine someone putting that score into a midi player, perfectly quantised, or how it would look if you wanted to write more precisely what he played down to the nearest hemi-demi-semiquaver (64th note)?

No argument from me though that a good musician can play from a good score well or that avoiding a score doesn't necessarily make you better.


It would be unlistenable played dryly without dynamics. Unfortunately, I'd have to agree that many of my contemporaries should not play from notation for that reason.

Been a while since I've answered this one, so, the image below is what everybody in the band gets.  I used one of my own songs so there won't be copyright issues.  This is something I laid out in Microsoft Publisher, I'm not sure if you could do this in Word or not.

The part marked in orange is what we play for an introduction, one or more times, until the singer is ready.  Upper left is our CCLI number, left margin is the author / copyright / youtube video information.  The lyrics and chords are in 18 pt. type (occasionally slightly smaller).  Toward the left is a column that indicates the structure of the song, if there was a repeated chorus, there would be a "c" each time.  The chords are shown just once for each section.  At the top is the title and the key we do the song in (and if the song is in 3/4, I include a big ?3/4" somewhere.  There are holes punched on both sides of the sheet so that if we're going to do two songs right together, we can put the pages side-by-side in the book to make the transition easier.  If a song is going to take more than one page to display, I generally cut a verse or something.

I deliberately do NOT show any complex chords, even if I (as the guitar player) play something more complicated, and I do not show any specific bass notes.  Each chart has a place for the person's name, so that if a song goes off-rep for a while, when it comes back, people can get their own marked-up charts back.  Everybody gets the same charts, they are on plain paper so people can add their own marks.  

Everything is kept in binders; I bring the books home with me every week and set them up for the Sunday's setlist (we hardly ever change songs on the fly, as that would mess up the mediashout person as well).  Songs that we use during communion are printed on green paper, "outro" songs are on yellow paper, and if we are doing a special "one time only" offering song, I've been printing those on pink paper lately.  The notebooks currently have about 1/3 of the songs we know in them (so currently about 50 songs in the books, I need to go through and cut that down to about 30, a smaller "active repertoire").

Typical rehearsal and Sunday:

Hand out chord sheets or lead sheets at rehearsal

at rehearsal

 no drums

 bass plays quarter note or half note roots/slash notes

 single electric guitar (me) covers some lines, tries to fill space with light chording, understated fills

 piano or keyboard plays full score as downloaded

on Sunday

 as above, still no drums, acoustic guitar shows up and strums open chords from chord sheet

Where to from here? John Maxwell says if you think you're leading and no one is following, you're just taking a walk. It's been over ten years. Others have come and gone as de facto leaders from week to week. Thought it was possible to passively lead/support my leaders by example by trying to be familiar with recording and charts, maintaining instruments properly, updating rig from time to time, being in tune, and departing from recording when I needed to fill space. Just on a long walk by myself. Or it could all be an involved narrative that I've composed and come to believe so as to make myself feel better about just spending way too much money on a hobby for 35 years so I could justify career and academic failure. Selling is so much easier when you believe in the product. 


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