How to Create a Song Chart

Making song charts for the bsteele Music app is a very unique and rewarding way of learning about music and the structure of our favorite songs. The job of a good song chart is to subtly guide us through a song’s changes with enough detail so that solid musicians can easily capture the essence of the song.

Charting requires a thorough understanding of chords, timing, and song structure – knowing and hearing the difference between C and C7, knowing and hearing the difference between 2/4, 3/4, 4/4, and 6/8 timing, and how to identify parts such as verse, chorus, bridge, and outro. The song chart is created to represent the most popular recorded version.

Song charts must be made for all musicians, so you may need to address issues that pertain to instruments that you may not normally play or consider.

First, study good examples of charts already in the system. Check out something simple like Have You Ever Seen the Rain. Listen to the song as you follow the chart, tapping out the chords while counting time. Notice that most songs follow four measures per line.

Here are some basic guidelines to follow when charting:

1. The title must be written exactly how it is published on the recording, noticing capitalization.

2. The copyright, a very complicated concept in the music industry, currently needs to display the year of release and the record label. For example: “1970 Columbia”. Please use the Wikipedia page for the song or album to gather this data.

3. Measures that feature two chords are called shared measures – the first chord plays for half of the measure and the second chord plays for the other half. Check out the song chart for All You Need Is Love.

4. A period that follows a chord usually indicates that the chord extends for only a partial measure – usually a half. Periods might also be used to repeat chords on another beat within the same measure. For example, F..C would be three beats of F followed by one beat of C in the same measure. Check out the song chart for Learning to Fly.

5. Please chart using the original recorded key. The key of the song is not always the same as the chord that it starts on. If charting a cover, chart in the key of the cover.

6. BPM is beats per measure, which can be calculated by playing the song alongside a metronome. Try using

7. Cover versions must be described in the title, precisely as in the example: After Midnight, cover by Eric Clapton. The original recorded artist should be given credit as in this example written by J. J. Cale.

8. Choose timing appropriately. For example, if you see too much repetition on a line, you may be charting in 2/4 instead of 4/4.

9. Condense sections that repeat more than twice, to simplify readability. Check out the song chart for The Boxer, where C2 is multiplied x8.

10. A slash note such as /G indicates a chord inversion and bass note where the lowest note (G) is not the root note. The slash note is necessary for keyboardists and bass players to capture more detail in that measure. Check out the song chart for If by Bread, and listen to how the slash note walks the melody down the scale.

11. An exception to the rule: try to chart the outro accurately but jam-friendly as possible. For example, rather than fade for several lines, it is often best to end a song after a few repetitions, and often on the final chord of the previous measure.