Lengthy Lead Sheets

I was talking to a music director about chord charts. He mentioned how his bass player was playing from some kind of bass guitar hymnal supplement. I remember those from years ago when I used hymnal orchestrations. Some orchestration hymnal editions actually have a specific book for bass guitar that has notes. When was the last time you had a bass player who reads notes?

Some churches are still using complex, pages-long rhythm charts. A drummer friend of mine was telling me about a Texas megachurch where he used to play. He’d cringe when they’d regularly hand out 8 page charts – the page turns killed him.

At a recent megachurch visit I noticed each player in their band had a mammoth music stand with lights – complete with those add-on thingies that further extend the stand, which, of course, holds those 8 page charts. I don’t know about you, but I think I’d rather have a praise band look more like a real band as much as possible, and less like the Tonight Show studio band. I’d prefer a praise band to be free, singing along and moving (worshipping, even!) – not glued to their music stand.

Ginormous rhythm charts are fine for the occasional complex tune (for instance, more elaborate pieces like my Resurrection Overture and Christmas Concerto) but they’re unnecessary for 95% of the praise songs and contemporary hymn arrangements in the current contemporary worship repertoire.

A good praise song chord chart is on 1 page… 2 pages in a few cases. You only really need to notate the “meat” of the song – the intro, midtros, a verse, a chorus, maybe a bridge. Then, once these parts are learned, they can be easily referred to when the worship leader spontaneously decides to repeat a chorus or verse.

Many church pianists need the notes and pages, but that’s another article on improvisation.

If your band suffers from note-itis, it’s time to start weaning them away from the pages and into chord charts. Start them off easy. If they’re used to lengthy lead sheets, try substituting a simple chord chart for just one song, preferably one they already know. Rinse and repeat. Before long your band will be avoiding problematic page turns and preserving wood pulp to boot.