(Cover Photo by Dayne Topkin)
How many times have you been caught beat-boxing a drum part in practice to your drummer? Have you ever resorted to 'bohm bohms with accompanied finger plucks? 'neenerneeners'? 'doo-doos' or 'wakka-wakkas'?? If so, it might be time for you to learn how to write music, or at least write a simple chart.
It’s hard to feel confident as a band-leader when you’re forced to resort to vocal descriptions. Plus, it can slow practice down and create more work for everybody involved. Imagine walking into a rehearsal with your band for the first time and handing everybody a chart (cue the angel choir). Can you imagine how smooth your practice is going to go when everybody knows exactly what part they’re supposed to play? If you can get the notes out of the way, now you can start practicing the music.
Oh so you want me to try to learn every instrument and how it works and what notes it can play and all the terms for each instrument?! That’s crazy!”
To that I say, no. That’s an arranger’s job. But you could learn a little bit about each instrument, and your chart could be as simple as a piece of paper with sharpie measures.
With that being said, when you stretch outside of your instrument and try to understand the inner workings of bass playing or guitar playing or flugelhorn, you become better almost instantly and you’ll make your bandmates very happy. This will allow you to write better songs, better parts, and in the long run, have a better band.
Also, you should delegate. (Click Here). If you don’t want to spend the time charting out your songs, that’s okay. I’m sure somebody does. (We offer that as a service at Fox Tracks). As great as it sounds to have charts and provide your band members with the exact template they need, we have to keep one thing in mind:
Charts are never, ever perfect (which should be a relief for you!). It’s the same struggle as with music theory. Music theory will always be an approximation of a musicians infinite techniques and abilities. Writing out expressions or musicality can be impossible in some situations and nothing will be quite as good as listening to the part to understand it. The problem with listening to a part, however, is the same situation as not reading from books, but only listening to a story before trying to tell it again. Music theory and notation allows us the freedom to understand the part without forgetting anything, and allows for quick communication between musicians. The problem I see today is that composers and musicians overthink things, and it causes confusion. So one thing to keep in mind when creating your charts is that you are simply communicating with another human being, and that’s the cool part!
I had a conversation with somebody recently about swing and swing percentages. He recommended writing out the definitive rhythmic base for each beat to represent exactly what kind of swing the composer wanted. (imagine dividing a beat into 3’s 5’s 7’s and so on just to get a certain feel.) My personal opinion is that if you want a musician to play something a certain way 1) just tell them 2) they probably know how to play it better than you do if it’s their instrument. Instead of trying to get a bass player to play the 4th note of a 5th note subdivision slightly accented by writing out every single Quintuplet into a 4 page piece of music you could just write “Swampy” at the top. Get past the notes as quickly as possible. There’s so much more to explore with your band.
So, if you want to excel in the music industry and put together a band, or come up with better ideas for instrument parts on your song, then I would strongly recommend learning how to chart. We live in a time where you can pop online and type 'how to write charts' and you'll be an expert by the end of the day. Plus, I promise you it's going to be easier that what you're expecting. Music notation can be as simple as chords and measures, or it can be as complex as writing out every single note in every single chord. Find what works best for you and your style of music and remember: don't overthink it.