The Seven Different Types of Written Music

August 24, 2020

As a bassist, bandleader, teacher, and music copyist, I’ve worked with hundreds of singers throughout the years. Though working musicians know hundreds of tunes, singers need to have good charts in order to have their music played the way they want. I define a “good chart” as a piece of written music that effectively tells the musicians what they should play.  sha la la

Written music comes in seven basic forms: chord charts, sheet music, songbooks, lead sheets, fake books, master rhythm charts and fully notated parts.

As a musician has a responsibility to play the chart before him correctly, the supplier of the chart has the responsibility of providing the right kind of chart. Knowing what type of chart to use for what kind of tune or gig is very important.

This article explains what the different types of charts are, and under what circumstances to use them. I hope you find it useful.

TYPES OF CHARTS

Charts can be simple or elaborate according to the style of music and type of gig. Cover tunes are traditionally learned from recordings; classical and choral music can be found in sheet music stores as well as in various music catalogs; numerous tunes will be found in music books of all kinds; and many public libraries carry recordings and written music for your use.

The word “chart” refers to any piece of written music or any arrangement (music that has been adapted in a unique manner) of a tune. Decades ago it was strictly a “cool” slang term for a tune, but any piece of music could be called a chart these days, though a classical buff might not refer to a Mozart work as a “chart.”

Knowing what type of chart to use for what kind of tune is very important. When you’re playing a gig and someone hands you a chart — it is what it is and you either read it well or not. But, if you buy charts, have them made for you or provide them yourself, you need to know which kinds to use for which situations. Years back, while doing singer showcases, singers brought in all kinds of charts: good ones, bad ones, incorrect ones, inappropriate ones, and it was a real pain. The singers who provided the right kinds of charts got their music played the way they wanted. The singers who had the wrong kinds of charts didn’t, and weren’t very happy about it. Unless a musician already knows the specific parts, he can only play according to what’s on the chart before him. Though a good musician can improvise a good part in any style, if a specific musical line needs to be played, it needs to be written out.