The Seven Various kinds of Written Music

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As a bassist, bandleader, teacher, and music copyist, I've dealt with hundreds of singers throughout the years. Though working musicians know hundreds of tunes, singers must have good charts to be able 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.

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Written music is available in seven basic forms: chord charts, sheet music, songbooks, lead sheets, fake books, master rhythm charts and fully notated parts.

As being a musician has a responsibility to experience 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.

This article explains exactly what the different types of charts are, and under what ideas to use them. I hope you find it useful.


Charts can be simple or elaborate in accordance with the style of music and design of gig. Cover tunes are traditionally learned from recordings; classical and choral music are available in sheet music stores plus in various music catalogs; numerous tunes is going to be found in music books of all types; and many public libraries carry recordings and written music available.

The word "chart" refers to any piece of written music or any arrangement (music that is adapted in a unique manner) of the tune. Decades ago it was strictly a "cool" slang term to get a tune, but a piece of writing of music may be called a chart nowadays, though a classical buff might not refer to a Mozart work as a "chart."

Being aware what type of chart for what kind of tune is essential. When you're playing a gig and someone hands that you simply chart -- it is what it is and you either see clearly well or not. But, if you purchase charts, have them created for you or provide them yourself, you should know which kinds for which situations. In years past, while doing singer showcases, singers created all kinds of charts: good ones, bad ones, incorrect ones, inappropriate ones, also it was a real pain. The singers who provided the best kinds of charts got their music literally way they wanted. The singers who had the wrong kinds of charts didn't, and weren't delighted about it. Unless a musician already knows the actual parts, he can only play according to what's for the chart before him. Though a good musician can improvise a fantastic part in any style, if your specific musical line has to be played, it needs to be constructed.

As a musician features a responsibility to correctly have fun playing the chart before him, the supplier in the chart has the responsibility of providing an appropriate one.

Without getting yourself into too many music notation specifics, here are the different kinds of charts so when they are used:


A chord chart offers the chords, meter (the way the song is counted, e.g., in 4 or even in 3 (like a waltz), as well as the form of the song (the complete order of the sections). This sort of chart is primarily used when: 1. the specific musical parts are improvised or already known, but the form and chords should be referred to, 2. to deliver chords to improvise over, or 3. every time a last-minute chart needs to be written, there isn't time for nearly anything elaborate.

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


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

Many individuals have experienced the frustration to getting the sheet music into 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 that is the way it is a lot, plus it could be for a number of different reasons. To find 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 might want good ears, understand and turn into fluid with music notation for the complexity of the form of music you're working with, and preferably understand music (greater the better). Having "good ears" contains recognizing and learning the music, whether heard for the radio, played by another musician, or heard in mind.


Songbooks are compilations of countless 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 in the book for more tunes. Sheet music is generally written being played on a keyboard, but songbooks come in different styles and for different instruments. They may be compiled by artist, style, decade, and in various collections including movie themes, Broadway hits, etc.

Songbooks are the ideal reference source when other, more exact charts are unavailable. By way of example: I needed two movie themes to get 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. Written music and songbooks are pretty unusable at gigs due to cumbersome page turns and bulkiness; in an emergency you use them and do what you can. 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, in fact, this may be considered copyright infringement). Make sure to always provide a copy for every musician.

To play from songbooks and sheet music, a musician needs to be capable of read the music notation, or at least improvise a part from the chord symbols, i.e., an acoustic guitar strum, bass groove, piano groove, etc., or also, both. A vocalist can sing the words if they know the melody, or be able to read the notated melody when they don't know it.


Lead sheets offer the chords, lyrics and melody type of the song and so are mainly used by singers, accompanists and arrangers, though they seem on the bandstand now and again. Songwriters use lead sheets to copyright their songs, and very often sheet music incorporates a lead sheet with the tune as a condensed version to work with. Instead of having 3-6 pages of written music to turn, a lead sheet is often one or two pages long. Lead sheets tend not to contain any music notation except the melody and chords, so a musician needs to know how to improvise when reading derived from one of. A lead sheet is usually written out by a music copyist, who is someone who specializes in preparing written music. Playing from lead sheets minimally requires playing an accompaniment in the chords and comprehending 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 have only the melody line, lyrics and chords. There isn't any piano part, guitar part or bass part. That's why they call it a fake book. You have to may have learned your parts, or improvise them from the style of the tune. A lot of people call that "faking it." Faking it means to be musically adept enough as a way to follow along by ear and figure it out as you go: that's one good reason for ear training. Each time a person's ears "get trained", they learn to recognize and comprehend the relationship of pitches and musical elements. With this understanding you can "hear" on your path through tunes, even if you haven't heard them before, you fake it. However, when you don't hear very well, you're really faking it!

Before there is an abundance of legal fake books in the marketplace, there was an abundance of illegal fake books around the streets. (As of this writing, I've only seen a number of at gigs.) Since a practical musician needs to have access to a large number of tunes at gigs, musicians compiled books of countless useful tunes containing only melody lines and chords. A functional player doesn't need all the notes written out, as he can improvise, so large books were made with choice tunes. Some fake books are hand copied, either with a pro copyist or casually carried out with pen or pencil, although some consist of cut up sheet music where all the piano parts are removed, leaving the melody and chords, all for the purpose of condensing space.

Rather than take stacks of songbooks to gigs, you pop a replica book of a huge selection of choice tunes into your gig bag and off you go. A tune using five or six pages in songbook/sheet music form usually takes up a page or fewer when rewritten yourself or cut up, leaving merely the chords and melody. Fake books will often be used and I've seldom been at a casual where someone hasn't had no less than one.

The reason the illegal books are illegal is the laws of copyright. With the homemade books, nothing goes through the publishing houses that own the rights to the tunes, so neither the publishers nor the composers get paid for their use. The Catch-22 through the years has been the fact that there weren't any good legal fake books that pro musicians could use at a gig. Inside a songbook of 200 tunes, maybe ten were usable. So, players made their own, and gigging musicians lived happily ever after. Speculate making these books is against the law, some decades ago a number of nationwide distributors were arrested and fined for copyright infringement. However you still see the illegal books around the bandstands, nonetheless.

Over the years many legal fake books are already published and are very good. There are music books for: pop, jazz, rock, country, specific artists and movie themes, and you will find special wedding books with all the current key music that brides like. Big written music stores should have them all. And recently, one of the most popular illegal fake books happen to be made legal. (Hooray!) Your fifth Edition Real Book is definitely an example. Filled largely with jazz tunes, the novel is in the original format, but published legally as the 6th Edition Real Book.

Legal fake books are around every corner at sheet music stores, and illegal books... well, you're all on your own. Trade magazines and music union papers often advertise lots 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 good to have, but the more tunes a musician knows, the better.


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

Unless a tune consists or arranged in this style to begin with, which most are, these charts are authored by someone doing a takedown from a recording, or created from lead sheets or songbooks. Whereas lead sheets are primarily to the singer, master rhythm charts are primarily to the musicians. When a singer provides charts towards the musicians in the band, these are the basic usual ones to utilize.

A master rhythm chart contains:

• Every one of the chords

• Key rhythms (the main rhythms)

• Key melodic parts for the instruments

• Key lyrics for reference if desired

• Key background vocals if there are any

• Dynamics-how loud, how soft, etc.

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

All types of popular music use master rhythm charts, and common to have one along with a lead sheet for each and every tune when a singer is involved. Master rhythm chart reading, and writing, entails improvising fluidly from the style of the tune, and needs fluid notation reading abilities.


If the music needs to be extremely specific it will likely be fully notated. Everything that needs to be played is written for the page. What to play, when you play it and how to participate in it: the notes, rhythms, dynamics, and then for any and all notational expressions, such as tempos (how fast or slow), who cues what, etc. Most suitable recording sessions and shows require fluid note reading and offer individual parts for each and every instrument.


Though they're not written music, lyric sheets with chords deserve a mention.

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

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

My students begin using these all the time, and there are a number of Internet sites with 1000s of lyric sheets you can download. For sure situations they are very handy!


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

Technology is marvelous!


Being a musician has a responsibility to learn the chart before him correctly, the supplier of the chart has the responsibility of supplying the right kind of chart. Being aware what type of chart for what kind of tune or gig is vital.

Provide your musicians with the right kind of chart, and odds are your music will sound the method that you want. The closer you abide by this maxim better your performances will probably be.