I’m a recovering chart nerd.
When it comes to music charts (sheet music, chord charts, etc.) for worship music, I’ve been known to go a tad overboard. Before the age of downloadable music was fully realized, I had file boxes and binders packed full of charts. I was a one-man SongSelect.
I remember the day I threw away my last two binders of “physical” music. I finally accepted that I could now get any song I wanted online. And everything I was currently using was now taking up a few megabytes on my hard drive (and safely backed up to the cloud).
Besides letting go of my pulp-based collection of songs, it also started my journey to relax my standards for charts. I learned to say “good enough”.
While my standards for chart perfection have relaxed, I’m still a bit of a nerd. But now the compulsion for great charts is about what serves the team, not my musical perfectionism.
As a worship leader, I lead a team of volunteer musicians who 1) don’t have a lot of time, 2) genuinely want to do a great job on Sunday, and 3) all have vastly different learning styles.
Some only use recordings. Others prefer a simple chord chart. Others like to be able to “see” the melody and rhythmic changes on the lead sheet. And some just want the lyrics.
So I provide my team with chord charts, lead sheets, lyric sheets, and MP3s for each song.
I know that sounds like a lot. But for me, it’s about serving my volunteer musicians where they’re at. I’d rather challenge them to learn their songs well rather than burden them to adapt to one particular mode of learning.
Now, you might provide your team with only a fraction of those charts. Or you might need more—like full piano arrangements or orchestral parts. But regardless of how many formats you use, you need a great process or system to serve your team well with charts.
And so let’s talk about what goes into a great system for creating, managing and distributing charts. Not every point may apply to your situation. But the point is to develop a system that serves your team intentionally. Let’s dive in:
Affordable Sources For Quality Charts
Invest in quality charts. I have two go-to sources for charts. SongSelect is the best when it comes to affordability and selection.
And why do I purchase charts? For this reason:
Unless you have hours of time you can dedicate to chart-creation, limit the “do-it-yourself” work on charts.
Occasionally, a more obscure song calls for a custom-made chart. But if it’s available, I’d rather buy the music than create it myself. Even though I enjoy it, I realize it’s not the best use of my time.
Consistency Between Formats
If you provide multiple formats (like lead sheets and chord sheets), they’ve got to match. You’ll frustrate your team when people are reading off of two different arrangements.
With so much access to downloadable music, there are few excuses for giving your musicians ugly, fourth-generation photocopies with scribbled notes from the “ghosts of Sundays past”.
So make fresh copies.
And in this era of digital devices, you want to give your team the option of digital music. Which leads to another aspect of a great chart system:
These charts and recordings are the tools your busy volunteer team uses to learn their songs. So give your team access to them whenever they need them. That’s where a good service- planning app like Planning Center Online comes in handy.
Ready-To-Go Capo Charts
With a couple of mouse clicks, I can transpose charts for my guitarists who use a capo. I’d rather have them invest their time practicing versus transposing.
It should go without saying, but have different charts for your different keys (unless your whole team can read Nashville numbers). It wastes your team’s time to have to transpose a chart manually. That’s another way the premium chart sites are helpful.
Speaking of the correct key, some players only use the recordings to learn. Pitch-shift your MP3s so they can learn in the correct key.
Also, when the recording is in the right key, it helps your other musicians to learn the song as they play or sing along with it. If your service-planning app doesn’t include this feature, use Transposr.com.
The bottom line here is that we’re serving our teams and our churches. Our songs are part of the worship experience we’re creating for our church family. So if we’re asking our musicians to sing and play with confidence, the least we can do is provide them with great tools to hear, see and learn those songs well.