Reading the Song Charts

A guide to reading song charts on this site...

Terminology

Time Signature: A Time Signature is included at the start of the song. This gives you a general idea of the timing of the song in terms of beats per bar, e.g., 3/4: 3 quarter-note (crotchet) beats per bar, 4/4: 4 quarter-note (crotchet) beats per bar, 2/2: 2 half-note Minim) beats per bar, 2/4: 2 quarter-note (crotchet) beats per bar, 6/8: 6 eighth-note (quaver) beats per bar, etc.
Key Signature: A Key Signature is not always stated. This tells you whether the song is in a major or minor key. Most songs generally start and finish with their key signature, although there are some exceptions.
Capo:

Capo
A Capo is used in some songs to improve the sound of a song by using open chords as opposed to barre chords, or to make playing easier.
  • Better sound: Fingerpicking sounds better when you play open chords as each string rings true, whereas some barre chords can sometimes sound slightly muffled when finger picked. You still retain the original key of the song, while playing nicer sounding chords.
  • Easier to play: Capo's are often used to make playing a piece easier, e.g., if a song is in the key of E♭ major, you will find yourself playing chords like E♭, Fm, Gm, A♭, B♭, Cm. You will probably play most of these as barre chords which can sound quite 'ho hum', especially if you are playing a ballad or meaningful song. To play these chords in an open position can be quite daunting, and for many guitarists, off-putting... and what if you can't play barre chords? The simple solution is to place a capo on the first fret and play in the key of D Major, or place the capo on the third fret and play in the key of C major.

The result is exactly the same. To the ear, the song is still in the key of E♭, although you are actually playing the song in a much easier key. Consider the following:

No capo is used: E♭ Major - E♭, Fm, Gm, A♭, B♭, Cm... (possibly all barre chords)

Capo on the 1st fret: D Major - D, Em, F#m, G, A, Bm... (possibly 2 barre chords)

Capo on the 3rd fret: C Major - C, Dm, Em, F, G, Am... (easiest to play - all open chords)

Separation of each word into syllables: Syllables are units of sound which make up a word. Wherever more than 1 syllable is used in a word, they are separated with a dash, e.g., lov-ing, re-mem-ber, long-ing. The reason for that is that a chord change may occur on the first, second or last syllable of a word. In these cases the chord is placed directly above the syllable in question. In the above example of re-mem-ber, the chord change may occur on the -ber part of the word, therefore the chord is placed directly above the center of -ber. With one syllable words like thought, sight, love, etc., the chords are placed directly above the center of the word.
Absence of punctuation: Punctuation in the form of commas, full-stops, question marks, exclamation marks, quotation marks, etc., are not always used as they can often make the song chart too 'busy', causing confusion. Emphasis is on the song itself; the chords and lyrics, and where the chords are placed.
Use of Bars: Bars are generally used in the Intro, Outro, Instrumental sections, and wherever necessary to help with reading the song charts. Consider the following in 4/4 time.

| A | means you play the A chord for the whole bar

| A - D | means you play the A chord for 2 beats and the D chord for 2 beats. This could also be written as | A / D / | The hyphen basically splits the note count in half. In this bar there are 2 chords, therefore splitting them in 2 gives us 2 beats per chord.

| F   Em-Dm  C  B♭-F | means you play the F chord for 1 beat, the Em & Dm for 1/2 beat each (= 1 beat), the C chord for 1 beat, and the B♭ and F for 1/2 beat each(= 1 beat)...

This is a more complex example. There are 6 chords in the bar, and remember the 4/4 time which means 4 quarter-note (crotched) beats per bar. The first chord F, is on its own (1 beat). The next 2 chords, Em & Dm are split sharing equal value(1/2 beat each). The following chord, C is on its own (1 beat). The final 2 chords, B♭ & C are split sharing equal value (1/2 beat each)...

If we were to count the bar as follows: 1 & 2 & 3 & 4 & the F falls on the 1&, the Em and Dm fall on the 2 & (Em on the 2 and Dm on the &), the C falls on the 3 &, and the B♭ and F fall on the 4 & (B♭ on the 4 and F on the &).

Simile marks: / are used to repeat parts in a bar while Simile Mark are used to repeat bars...

/ is also referred to as a repeat sign.

| A / / D | means you play the A chord for 3 beats and the D Chord for 1 beat

| A D / / | means you play the A chord for 1 beat and the D Chord for 3 beats

| A / D G | means you play the A chord for 2 beats, theD chord for 1 beat, and the G chord for 1 beat.

| F C-Dm7 C / | means you play the F chord for 1 beat, the C & Dm7 for 1/2 beat each, and the C chord for 2 beats... an example of this is in Let It Be by The Beatles

Exception to the rule: where you see a forward slash between 2 chords which looks like a simile mark, e.g., C/E , that means you play a C chord leading with an E Bass note. There shouldn't be any confusion, as this is only used on its own, and not written within a bar:
/E as opposed to | A / E D |

| D | % | means you play a D chord for 2 bars

| D | % | % | % |means you play a D chord for 4 bars

| D | % | G | % |means you play a D chord for 2 bars and then a G chord for 2 bars

Key Changes: If a key change occurs within a song, it is simply written as 'key change', wherever it occurs.
Time Changes: Let's look at a song played in 4/4 time, where a 2/4 bar is used for one bar, and then back to the song in 4/4 time. The timing change would look something like this:
|    D     |2/4|    A    |4/4|    D     |...
Chord diagrams Chord diagrams are used in song charts wherever possible. If they are not used, generally the chords for the song are fairly easy. You can find charts for all chords on the Guitar Chords page.
Chord Chart Legend Chord Chart Legend
Written chords

Righties

&

Lefties
Sometimes you will see a chord written, e.g., x32010 (C chord), where each space or segment (6 in total), represents each guitar string starting with the lowest string EADGBe. Each number represents the fret played on that particular string, and the letter 'x' means you don't play that string, therefore in this example, x32010
  • String 1: x - don't play (low E - fattest string)
  • String 2: 3rd fret
  • String 3: 2nd fret
  • String 4: play open string
  • String 5: 1st fret
  • String 6: play open string (high E - thinnest string)
Although this method doesn't show you which fingers to use, you can generally work it out once you know which frets are required.


Song Charts - Common Symbols:
Fermata Fermata : a symbol placed over a note, chord or rest to extend the note, chord, or rest for an indefinite duration. It may be a short duration or a long duration depending on the discretion of the performer or performers playing the piece. You will often find it at the end of a song where a chord or note is drawn out till the note or chord fades, or sometimes when the song finishes abruptly... aka hold or pause symbol.
Glissando Glissando: a glide or slide from one note or chord to the next. It can also be drawn as a straight line. An upward slope indicates sliding upwards. This could be from a low note to a higher note, or from a barre chord on a low fret to a similar shaped barre chord on a higher fret. The same applies to the downward slope, from a higher note or chord to a lower note or chord.
Quaver Rest Eighth-Note/Quaver Rest: Sometimes you will see an eighth-note or quaver rest followed by a chord. This means that the chord isn't played at the start of the bar, but 1/2 beat after the start of the bar. Let's say for example that we have a 4/4 bar (4 quarter-note/crotchet beats per bar). Let us break each quarter-note/crotchet beat into 2 eighth-note/quaver beats. Therefore instead of counting the beats in each bar as 1, 2, 3, 4, we would count 1 & 2 & 3 & 4 & (8 eighth-note/quaver beats). In this example the chord would come in on the & after the 1.
Crotchet Rest Quarter-Note/Crotchet Rest: Rest for 1 beat equal to a quarter-note/crotchet.
Simile Mark Simile Mark: repeat the previous bar again or several times. Also called a repeat sign.
Simile Mark Simile Mark: repeat the previous parts in a bar or passage
N.C. No chord is to be played
4/4 4/4 time: 4 beats to the bar. The value of each beat is a quarter-note/crotchet .
3/4 3/4 time: 3 beats to the bar. The value of each beat is a quarter-note/crotchet.
2/4 2/4 time: 2 beats to the bar. The value of each beat is a quarter-note/crotchet.
2/2 2/2 time: 2 beats to the bar. The value of each beat is a half-note/minim.
6/8 6/8 time: 6 beats to the bar. The value of each beat is an eighth-note/quaver.


Hope this helps...