[Originally published on AirGigs on 3/08/15]
Also known as “Nashville number charts”. In Nashville, simply known as “charts”.
Who needs them, anyway?
Say you’re a songwriter/producer and would like to create a recording of your latest composition. You may not necessarily regard yourself a virtuoso musician, but you’ve got what you believe is the makings of a hit song. So you’re thinking of hiring some monster session players and singers to help bring your song to life. Maybe even do 2 versions of it – a powerhouse guitar rocker with a male lead vocalist and a sweet piano ballad for a female voice (your latest song is THAT versatile!).
To ensure that everyone is on the same page, no pun intended, you jot down the chord progressions of the song right there on the lyric sheet. That oughtta be enough. Right? Well, maybe.
Let me ask… Did you write your song on a guitar? Is A major chord on your chart really A major, or should your placement of a capo be taken into account? What about any special tuning you might have used? That information may be self-explanatory to all guitar players, but not to keyboard players… Most likely, they do not have the proper appreciation of a drop D. Or what you lovingly refer to as C# major, they might only accept as Db major… And so the chart may need to be re-written.
[I know this because I used to be one of those pain-in-the-ass keyboard players… But after hours and hours of therapy, I have mellowed out.]
Next. When basic rhythm section instruments are laid down, there may not be a singer present to sing the scratch vocal, so chords jotted down over words on a lyric sheet will not help the musicians at all. What is infinitely more important to them is the sense of your song’s overall structure: how long every individual chord is held, how many bars there are in the intro/verse/chorus/turnaround/bridge, which sections repeat, not to mention the general dynamics of the song. Simple chord progression sequence does not shed any light on those things. Another re-write needed, on a separate piece of paper this time, with all the sections marked.
But that’s not all… If you’re considering hiring a lead vocalist, you are probably wise enough to contact them to inquire about their preferred key for your song – BEFORE you have the track recorded. So you send the rough work tape to your chosen singer and, alas, the chart needs to be re-written in a key that fits them better. Twice. (You wanted 2 versions, remember?)
And even that may not be the end of it. You later decide to also hire a few local musicians and perform the song live at your favorite neighborhood club. But on the day of the show you start to feel a little under the weather and aren’t sure if you can hit all those high notes in that third chorus… So you make a last minute call to perform the song a half step or a full step lower than the chart. Another chart re-writing? How many darn charts do you need???
With number charts, the answer is “1”.
Stay tuned for part 2 – “Number Charts: crash course”.