Every artist and musician should be able to make a basic guitar chord chart in a pinch. This is a skill you’ll use for years to come. What do you need to know to make one? Let’s take a look.
Counting: You should be able count how many beats are in a bar. Be able to distinguish how many beats each chord is held for. How many bars there are in a section of a song. Counting is really important in music and may require some practice and patient get good at. Counting is also a good exercise to work on your concentration.
Chords: You should be able to name the chords you’re playing. it’s best if you learn the recipes to create chords. If you’re not a guitarist and you want to make a basic guitar chord chart it’s not super important you understand where the notes are on a guitar. An understanding of how scales work on your own instrument will be very helpful however.
Patience. One should take the time to make a basic guitar chord chart clear and simple as possible. You don’t want to put yourself in a position of having to guess something later. The whole point of a chart is to NOT guess. Make sure your handwriting is legible. If you don’t think others can read it, chances are you will have a problem later on.
Ink: Use black ink. There is no need to get fancy with colors if your intention is to use them in stage lighting. Red ink disappears under stage lighting for instance. Using red could turn into a case of magic ink that vanishes. You don’t want that panic moment. I often use black sharpies when handwriting charts.
Paper: I found bright white paper the best as it offers the greatest contrast to black. I prefer to use a medium gauge paper. That way the ink settles nicely on it and the paper lays better on music stands. Real thin flimsy paper flies off stands, rips easier and smears easier. This is not the basic guitar chord chart express lane.
Font: Whether you are handwriting charts or using a program, font will become an issue onstage. It’s best not to get fancy. It’s all about function. You should clearly be able to identify the letter F (or any letter) without hesitation. The size of the font is also important. You have to imagine, it may be darker than you would like on stage (for reading). You may also find that your music stand has to be placed further away or there is a shadow that darkens half your page. Make the font a little bigger then you need to read. You’re giving yourself a bit of cushion.
Information: When writing a basic guitar chord chart make sure you label everything!!!! Who is the songwriter? What is the title? What is the tempo? Make sure each additional page is numbered AND titled.. Your pages may get knocked out of order. You don’t want to be shuffling through papers trying to guess which pages belong together. Ease of use is important. You may not use a chart for months, when you pull it out it should feel like you just read it.
Order: Make sure you already figured out your song before you make a master chart. No guessing once you start with ink!! Use some scrap paper to make a draft. Just like with anything, your first basic guitar chord chart draft is not your final for a . Use paper of a different weight and color for draft copies. This way you’ll know by feel and color it’s not a master copy. This will prevent a mixup in a rushed moment to get out the door. Or if they accidentally get filled together.
Format: Try to use one format. Design a template to make all charts with. Title in the same area, artist name in the same area. Same amount of bars on a line. Same font and size. You’ll become accustomed to seeing the same format and it will make more difficult songs easier to read. After all we’re trying to make a basic guitar chord chart to simplify thing. It will also speed up a quick refresher read through.
Shorthand: You can develop your own symbols to shorten writing out parts. One of the symbols I like to on a simple guitar chord chart is a smiley face When a song goes to the Bridge after the 2nd chorus I put a smiley face in the top right corner to save page real estate. This is a very common pattern in music. Then I don’t have to write out verse/chorus two times unless they are different from the 1st verse/chorus.
Rhythms: Understanding how to read music can speed up your basic guitar chord chart process. Though not necessary, it allows you to write down melodies, or more often musical hits. It’s not even necessary to have a complete staff, just a bar with rhythmic notes in it. (example) that’s enough to trigger the memory.
Key signature: It’s nice to find a spot (perhaps upper left corner). When you can write the key sig. Quick reminder before the song if you didn’t make a chart with a clef. A lot of songs are obvious in regards to key signature but not all. Sometimes you may have a momentary lapse of reason, the key may act as a jump start back to reality.
Coda: For the sake of basic guitar chord chart and keeping thins simple, its best not to use codas. Codas are great for making detailed charts, but you really don’t want to have to move your eyes around a basic guitar chord chart that much.
Giblets: what is a giblet?!?! Exceptional drummer Sean Dixon taught me about the term giblet, and it’s a great tip for basic guitar chord chart shorthand. Think of it as one cycle of a progression. Often a verse may be based on a 4 chord progression that would be a giblet. The song may repeat the giblet four times before the new section comes in. You can simplify and save space on your chart by counting/writing giblets. example [E / G / A / D/] is one Giblet.
If you do the math you’ll see this is short for saying it’s a 16 bar verse. It’s easy to take your eyes away to gander at the swooning groupies in the audience (p.s. you’re dreaming). You’re reading less and playing more which is always better.
Programs: You can use Sibelius, Finale or Notion on you computer to make clean charts. Notion even has an app for your Ipad!!
Below is an example of a chart I made for one of the songs by Fife & Drom called Ghosts.
I hope my tips on basic guitar chord chart have made your musical life easier.