How to Create a Song Chart

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

Community Jams volunteers are currently building a library of song charts which aims to be the most accurate reference from which we can later choose to edit or simplify. From this reliable foundation, we can modify charts for different types of musical interests and abilities such as jams for beginners, jazz lovers, or guitar soloists. You can help grow this library by sending us new chart files, or you may choose to keep your own versions of charts on your computer for personal use within the bsteele Music app.

Charting requires a thorough understanding of chords, timing, and song structure – hearing the difference between C and Cmaj7, knowing 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 usually represents the most popular recorded version.

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, singing the chords while tapping the time.

To study how a song chart is constructed, display the song chart and click on the Edit (pencil) button. Notice the top area for Background information, middle area for Chords, and bottom area for Lyrics. Letters like I, V, and C are used to define Instrumental, Verse, and Chorus sections. Numbers like I1 and I2 are used to differentiate sections. Study many different charts before creating your own!

– Selecting a Song to Chart –

Before selecting a song to chart, carefully consider its many factors of appropriateness for both jamming and learning:

1) Do you have a singer in mind?
2) If others are playing with you, do they know it and want to play it?
3) Beyond chord strumming, does it require special solos or riffs that need to be learned?
4) Does this song match your level of ability to chart and play?

– Creating a New Song Chart –

In the bsteele Music app, use the menu button at the top left to select New Song. Don’t worry, any charts you make and edit will only save to your local computer – never directly to the library.

– Background Info –

1. The title and artist must be typed exactly how it is published on the recording, noticing capitalization. If the song is a cover such as Alone by Heart, the original recorded artist – i-Ten in this case – should be listed as Artist.

2. The copyright is a very complicated concept in the music industry, so we currently 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. Always 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. Use sheet music or official tabs online for reference. This online music theory tool can help in tricky situations.

4. Tempo is beats per minute, which can be calculated by playing the song alongside a metronome. Try using Keep in mind, the bpm should fall somewhere between 60-140!

5. Time Signature is currently displaying number of beats per measure, an important choice for readability. You will need to study the chording before settling on time signature. A song with many chord changes is often more useful if charted in 2 instead of 4, as in Something by The Beatles.

– Chording –

6. Pull up your references – a variety of chord references are available online for almost every song, including guitar tabs, sheet music, and YouTube video tutorials. We recommend officially supporting resources like Ultimate Guitar,, and YouTube channels that prove helpful. Keep in mind, there are many different references that usually have conflicting chord information. This problem requires careful listening and comparing many notes to produce the best possible chart.

7. Listen and outline the structure of the song in the Chords area. The bsteele Music app uses letters and numbers to help display items like intro (I), verse (V), prechorus (PC), chorus (C), bridge (BR), and outro (O). A bridge is a section of musical contrast, with or without words. An outro is a very simple instrumental section, often after repeated chorus sections. An outro might just be one measure of a chord to resolve a song. Sometimes sections vary slightly and require many number variations such as I1 and I2 or V1 and V2.

8. While the bulk of most rock songs follow four measures per line, some lines may be a bit shorter or longer based on musical phrasing – like poetry, where line lengths help us identify subtle but meaningful changes. If a line musically extends to five measures, keep it on the same line for readability.

9. Repeat entire lines by using x2 or x4 after the line of chords. To repeat a pair of multiple lines, as in the chorus of Tiny Dancer, use brackets before x2 or x3. Do not repeat measures within a line.

10. 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 Twist and Shout where DG share the same measure.

11. A period that follows a chord usually indicates that the chord extends for only a partial measure. For example, in Take Me Home, Country Roads, the verse contains D. to represent a special two beats of D, not four.

12. Periods can also be used to repeat chords on another beat within the same measure. For example, C..D would be three beats of C followed by one beat of D in the same measure. Check out the verse in the song chart for Wild Horses. Since this level of detail can complicate charts, it is only used when the chord change is significant.

13. Measures with musical stabs, rests, and often a cappella (vocals only) are displayed by X. If a measure has a very significant musical stab that rests for the remainder of the measure, the chord is presented in front of the X, as in the GX measure in the chorus of Ticket to Ride. If a measure has no instrumental accompaniment, measures are displayed by Xs as in the chorus of Paperback Writer.

14. Multiply lines of chords that repeat more than once in instrumentals and outros to simplify readability. Check out the outro on Paint It Black where one line is multiplied by 12.

15. Usually bass notes are the same as the root note and the name of the listed chord. However, sometimes part of a song is best captured with different bass notes. In song charts, slash notes such as /E indicates a remarkable bass note or inversion. Check out the song chart for Let It Be and listen to how the bass walks down from F to E to D near the end of the verse. The measure shows F.C/EDm7 which means two beats of F, a beat of C with E in the bass, and a beat of Dm7. Sunny Afternoon is another great example of how slash notes give us valuable information. It’s best to consult with an experienced bass player to confirm these chart additions.

16. Phrasing refers to the deliberate arrangement of measures and lines within sections so they are more readable and easy to play. In Revolution, the first line of the verse makes sense as five measures, while the second line of the prechorus reads best as three. More complex songs require a few passes and practice play before settling on phrasing.

– Lyrics –

17. Lyrics can be copied and pasted from various sources online. Divide the lyrics into your primary song sections, usually starting with the verse after an instrumental. Be sure to check the lyrics against the song audio, as there may be subtle differences. Lyrics will need major repositioning as you find the downbeats and the musical phrasing – see below. This process may need to be done in tandem within the chording for best results. Aligning lyrics makes it easy for the singer and supporting instrumentalists to follow the charts and stay aligned with each other!

18. Remove excessive punctuation. Start lines with capital letters. Never use periods or exclamation marks, but use commas to help emphasize pauses or follow basic grammar. Try to avoid excessive contractions.

19. Identify the word that lands on the downbeat of the first line. If it is not the first word(s) of the phrase, put the preceding words in parentheses as pickup vocals. Notice in the chart I Saw Her Standing There, the verse starts (Well she was) just seventeen because “just” lands on the first beat of the line. Only use parentheses for the first line’s pickup vocals. For the rest of the section, divide the line up so that the words land within the lines.

20. Use parentheses to indicate significant backup vocals, as in Time of the Season.

21. When in doubt, look at recently edited charts for examples. Charts may take weeks or months to patiently practice and polish.

– Saving Your Chart –

21. You will not be able to save your work unless the chart is properly formatted. If things look right, click the Validate button. If there are no formatting errors, then you will be able to click the Save Song on Local Drive button at the top left. If there are errors, follow the red alert text to make corrections. Don’t worry, any charts you make and edit will only save to your local computer – never directly to the library. Check the Downloads folder for .songlyrics files that you create.

Please send song charts to for further review. Enjoy charting!