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Posts Tagged ‘music notation’

…your lead sheets, that is…

I’ve been writing music for a very long time, and I’ve used a variety of methods to get my songs written down, from notating on staff sheets to using full-blown music notation software. The notation software I’ve used extensively in the past is called “Mozart,” and it provides a full range of staff-based and even guitar tab notation features. I’ve used it for orchestral work and songwriting, and it has been a real life-saver. But as guitar is my primary instrument, Mozart is a little overkill, especially when all I want to do is put a lead sheet with chords together for my band. Furthermore, nothing can shake me out of my creativity when I have to focus on the minutiae of notes. So having a quick way of putting lead sheets together so I don’t lose my creative spark is critical.

Enter ChordPro

This is where a text-based notation system called “ChordPro” has been so instrumental for me in quickly assembling lead sheets. ChordPro is a very simple markup “language” similar to wiki markup, but far more limited. All it does is provide formatting directives to programs that can parse the ChordPro markup for easy output, either to print or PDF (depending upon your system setup). If you look at the ChordPro format, you can see that there just aren’t that many formatting commands. But that’s its power. Why be inundated with a bunch of features? That’s just more to learn, and the point is to get a lead sheet together quickly.

The most sophisticated feature of the ChordPro format is the ability to define chord shapes. Not all ChordPro parsers are created equal, but one thing they all do is optionally print chord shape grids, and if you use alternate or altered chords, having the ability to notate them is vital – especially if you’re sharing your songs. In my latest song, “The Breakup,” I needed to get a lead sheet together to send to people to look over. In that song, I used both alternate and altered chords, and needed a way to show them.

For instance, I have a B7b9 in the song. People who know altered chords could easily figure it out, but it’s so much easier to see a grid. In that case, I notated the following {define:B7b9 base-fret 1 frets x 2 1 2 1 0} to tell the parser to draw out the chord. The syntax is very simple:  define:<chord name> base-fret <fret of the lowest fretted note> frets S6 S5 S4… <position of fretted notes relative to the base fret. The base-fret is one (1), not zero. So for the B7b9, the base fret is the first fret, or 1, then I set the fret positions of each string relative to that position. Zero (0) denotes an open string, while x denotes a muted string.

Here’s the whole song notated in ChordPro format:

{t:The Breakup}
{st:Brendan Delumpa}
#Chord definitions
{define:B7b9 base-fret 1 frets x 2 1 2 1 0}
{define:F#7#9 base-fret 8 frets x 2 1 2 3 x}
{define:C#m7b5 base-fret 4 frets x 1 2 1 2 0}
{define:Em7 base-fret 7 frets 0 1 3 1 2 1}
{define:Cmaj7 base-fret 3 frets x 1 3 2 3 1}
{define:Am7 base-fret 5 frets x 1 1 1 1 1}
{c:VERSE 1}
[Em7]Why don't you say just what's 	[Bm7]on your mind
[Em7]instead of leaving clues for [Bm7]me to find
Been on the [Cmaj7]trail to your [Bm7]heart but I'm [Am7]lost from no [B7b9]direction
[Em7]you've been turnin' me a[B7b9]round[F#7#9]

{c:VERSE 2}
[Em7]The way to your heart used to [Bm7]be so clear
[Em7]Now I can't see past this fog of [Bm7]doubt and fear
I'd like to [Cmaj7]reach out to [Bm7]you but you've [Am7]left me in iso[B7b9]lation
[Em7]I don't know where to turn... 

{c:CHORUS}
{soc}
We've taken our [Cmaj7]hearts as [Bm7]far they will [Em]go
our summer of [Cmaj7]love has turned to [Bm7]rain and snow[Em]
no more [Cmaj7]rays of hope to guide us
there's [C#m7b5]nothing left to hide [B7b9]behind[B7] (let it ring)
{eoc}
{c:Chorus Endings}
1st: You take yours and I'll take mine...
2nd: We wasted all this time...

{c:VERSE 3}
[Em7]Expectation was our [Bm7]deadly sin
[Em7]It's a game that we could [Bm7]never win
"You can [Cmaj7]do what you [Bm7]want, just make [Am7]sure you do it [B7b9]my way."
[Em7]You know I'm always [B7b9]right...[F#7#9]

{c:VERSE 4}
[Em7]We see the world from our [Bm7]point of view
[Em7]Where nothing changes, nothing's [Bm7]ever new
We hold [Cmaj7]on to a [Bm7]vision and [Am7]never seek a [B7b9]better way
[Em7]and we never see the light...

{c:CHORUS}

{c:VERSE 3}
[Em7]Here's to the end, here's to [Bm7]being free
[Em7]No more blame for each other's [Bm7]misery.
I will be [Cmaj7]strong and sur[Bm7]vive and I [Am7]won't be shedding [B7b9]any tears[Em]
I will be [Cmaj7]strong and sur[Bm7]vive and I [Am7]won't be shedding [B7b9]any tears[Em]
I will be [Cmaj7]strong and sur[Bm7]vive and I'll [Am7]fly from all these [B7b9]wasted years.[Em]

{c:Brendan Delumpa}
{c:(c)2010 Brendan Delumpa}

Pretty simple, right?  When I’m first constructing a lead sheet with chords, I normally insert the chords first into the lyrics, then do the chord definitions, then add the rest of the formatting. It keeps the process fairly simple.

Another advantage of having a standard notation method is that band members can quickly put together lead sheets to share with their bandmates. If everyone has a ChordPro parser, they can easily print out stuff someone else in the band has sent them. Now that’s really powerful!

Songsheet Generator by Ten By Ten Software

There are number of ChordPro parsers on the market right now, but the one I like to use is called “Songsheet Generator” by TenByTen Software that runs on both Mac and Windows. Click here to see the PDF of the output that Songsheet Generator produces. As I said, parsers are not all created equal, but Songsheet Generator has some good formatting options that make customizing your output a breeze; not to mention that it’s donation-ware, so you have the option of paying for it. It’s only $18.00, so I recommend supporting the creator. I sure am. It makes the printing and managing of songbooks so easy.

I realize that some people might be turned off by doing things so manually, but believe me, using ChordPro notation is MUCH faster than pointing and clicking.

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