Understanding how to both create and use stage and lead-sheet song charts is one of the most valuable skills of any serious guitar player. Once this ability is well developed, a large list of songs can be learned for band rehearsals, studio recording, and for live performance on stage…
Q: I like your videos where it shows you going to gigs and playing at them. One thing I want to know about, is how you can learn so many songs so quickly when you have to play as a sub in a band.
You once made mention that you sometimes only get a few days notice to learn an entire evenings worth of material. This sounds incredible. I am 17 years old and I want to do what you do as a career but the idea of learning so many songs with such short notice is really intimidating.
Can you please do a video talking about this whole concept? I am very curious how musicians do this.
Bradley – Murrells Inlet, SC.
A: To do this kind of gig a musician would either receive or have to write out a quick stage chart, (also referred to as; lead sheets or slash charts).
In the video, I cover principles that are related to doing a gig like this. During the video, I also show a few of the actual charts that I have used to play gigs where I had to jump in as a substitute guitar player.
DEVELOP A ROUGH SKETCH:
When creating a chart, what we are after in these situations is simply a “rough sketch” of the harmony and overall arrangement of all of the songs that are unknown to us in a set-list, (nothing too detailed). Sometimes, due to their simplicity, I will refer to this type of chart as a, “Speed-Chart.”
Through general listening to a piece of music you can rather quickly gain a perspective for how many measures the songs; intro., verse, bridge and chorus are. Then, you can “sketch” this layout out on a piece of paper for use on-stage. Thus creating a “Speed-Chart.”
DETERMINE THE KEY OF THE SONG:
One of the first areas that you’ll need to focus on will be the songs “Key Signature.” This also includes the songs “Tonality,” (whether the piece is in Major or Minor).
Once you know the key and the tonality, then you’ll need to cross reference the original song’s key with the key that your band will be playing the piece in.
NOTE: Sometimes the key that your band plays a song in will be different from the original.
In cases where the key of the song must change, (either for the singers vocal range, or some other reason), you will need to be able to transpose the piece. Doing this will require background knowledge of “harmonic analysis,” (covered in the Creative Guitar Studio – Intermediate Guitar Program).
Transposing a piece of music involves analyzing a song’s music structure as to the nature of its chord movements and then re-locating the piece into another key signature.
UNDERSTAND THE STYLE:
Often times a set-list of songs will require certain guitar effects (pedals), guitar types, as well as other devices, (slide, capo) for playing in specific styles of music.
Make sure that you’re aware of the music style (jazz, top-40, reggae, etc).
NOTE: When organizing your charts it can pay off to make notes on the top of your lead-sheet. List whatever elements will be important to the performance of the piece at the top of the chart you create.
ORGANIZE THE SECTIONS:
The final step is all about organizing the complete song chart so that you’ll be ready for either hitting the stage or for attending your band rehearsal with the chart you’ve created.
This is a good time to use some software to play your song back and jam along to make sure everything is well organized.
In order to work alongside of a stage-chart at home using a DAW, (Digital Audio Workstation), you will not just need to have a fairly decent level of skill at song transcription, but you’ll also need to have some skill with modern computer software.
If you choose to take this route, it is helpful to have a decent piece of audio editing software. The audio editing software that you use should be able to process two critical functions.
1). The software should be able to change the pitch of a song.
2). The software should be able to slow the song down.
These functions would be important to a transcriber since some pieces are not in standard (A440), tuning.
A few Examples of this are; Eric Clapton’s – “Layla,” UB40’s – “Red Red Wine,” Michael Jackson’s – “Beat It,” Prince’s – “Purple Rain.” And, there are of course many other songs as well.
Obviously, you could do the transcriptions and the practice of your lead sheets without any software, (that’s we did 30 years ago). But, a great deal of time can be saved by simply using a good piece of modern Audio Software, (especially with respect to not having to re-tune your guitar, and also when learning any fast-paced song sections).
My suggestion for song transcription audio software is:
Even though the early days of creating lead-sheets will feel challenging, it is important to continue to persevere at studying this area of musicianship. Over time, chart reading (and notation), will start to become easier to understand.
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