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, CF.. would be one beat of C followed by three beats of F in the same measure. Check out the song chart for Start Me Up.

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. Alternatively, some songs with simpler rhythm are easier to read and follow as 2/4, as in I Can’t Make You Love Me.

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. Phrasing refers to the deliberate arrangement of measures and lines within sections so they are more readable and easy to play. Some musical phrases can be set apart as instrumentals as in the familiar riff in Something About You. In Africa, the longer riff is shown as three-measure phrases within the verse.

12. An Outro is a simple instrumental section, often after repeated chorus sections. Many times an outro can be just one measure of a chord.