A Quick Course In Reading Chord Charts


In cases where sheet music is not available, chord sheets are used to write out the songs. For those who
may not be familiar or used to reading chord sheets, here is a quick overview.
1. Chord sheets are a kind of short-hand way to write out songs. The rhythm is NOT written out, although
sometimes the bass notes are given. The rhythm would need to be figured out by listening to the CD. If
that isn't easy at first, it's okay, it will get easier with practice. Many of you, especially guitar players, are
already used to reading music in this format. Our experience is that often, many keyboard players and
bass players are not. Don't let it frighten you into wondering if you are musician enough to pull this
whole team music thing off! Many people are unaccustomed to reading music in this format, and we'll
work more on it together at training.
2. How to read the symbols:
The name of the chord is placed above the word where it is (approximately) played. If the chord
has no qualifiers, (e.g. "A", or "B
"), it is simply the major chord listed.
Qualifiers are:
The minor chord is played. This is also notated by simply adding an "m" to the letter
name of the chord, (e.g. "Cm")
A sustained chord is played. The third in the chord is dropped and a fourth replaces
it. For example, C
contains the notes C, F, and G. The third of a "C" chord is an
E, but it is dropped and replaced by the fourth, which in this case is an "F."
A note is added to the chord. If each note in a chord were given a number, the root
of the chord, (which is also the name of the chord), is "1", the middle note is "3", and
the top note is "5." So in a C major chord, C is 1; E is 3; G is 5. In a C minor chord
(Cm), C is 1; Eb is 3; and G is 5. Thus, a "C add 2" chord would consist of the notes
C, D, E, and G, since D is 2. A "C add 4" would consist of the notes C, E, F, and G,
since F is 4. "A" in a "C" chord is 6, B is 7. Each chord has this number system,
rather than each key, so as you move from a "C" chord to an "F" chord, "F" becomes
1, with A as 3 and C as 5.
Rather than "add 7", since seventh chords are so common, a 7 is simply added to
the letter of the chord to indicate a seventh chord, (e.g. C
, B
). Most often, the 7
that is added is flat for the key, so a B
is played in the key of C rather than a B; and
a C is added in the key of D instead of a C
. But this is not always the case. Just
play whichever note sounds better!
A diminished chord is played. The minor chord is played with a flatted fifth. For
example, "C
" means Cm played with, in this case, a G
An augmented chord is played. The major chord is played with a sharped fifth. For
example, "Caug" means C major chord played with, in this case, a G
. (If you don't
get dims and augs, we'll cover this more at training. They are here for reference.)
Letters after slash (/) marks:
The letter that appears after a slash mark is the note that is played in the bass. The bass
guitar plays this note and the keyboardist plays this note in the left hand. For example, if the
chart had "C/G", that would mean to play a C major chord with a G as the bass note.


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