Chord charts... do you name all the tricksy chords when you write a song?

Chord charts... do you name all the tricksy chords when you write a song?

I was chuckling away at Something to put a smile on your dial and got to thinking about how very casual I am about chord names when I write a song. Someone asked to cover one of my songs recently and could they please possibly have a chord chart… oopsy daisy… I think I’d written down A D E :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:

I like to use all sorts of extra notes in my chords but I simply can’t be bothered to work out what they are, I just remember them. It means I can be near-impossible to collaborate with. Years ago when I worked with session musicians, I had to be quite self-disciplined but now I am very lazy with it.

All you song-writers out there… how much detail do you write down about chords when you are writing/recording a song??

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I think I’m much like you in that I don’t really bother knowing the exact name of the chord I’m playing. As long as I know which note is the root note of the chord, I don’t feel the need to know the name of the chord. My visual memory and my “ear” never forgets what I’m playing. It’s important to remember that chords and notes have names for them that were created by mere mortals, just as our parents created names for us when we were born. You can know and understand chords and notes perfectly and intuitively even if you don’t know their “manufactured, given” names, just as you could any living being without knowing the label that we put on it/ them.

For collaborations with other musicians it is good to speak the same musical language though. Knowing theory and chords could be an advantage for long distance/ virtual collaborations…BUT, we have live video streaming now days, so even that isn’t a necessity.

I envision chords as certain shapes, textures and colours. It’s hard to explain, but I would bet that most, if not all of us see/ imagine chords, notes and music in the same way or very similarly.


Yeah, me too. It’s a bit of a mongrel when you have to come back and replay a part for some reason. I have a little app called “All Chords” that you put the guitar notes/strings/fret position into, and it spits out the name(s) you can use for the chords. You can do that in reverse too, so it’s a handy thing to have.

I’m sure any schooled musician would agree that, when it comes to more esoteric harmonies, chord naming is a very murky science at the best of times.


Mmm yep I tend to do that too… words are often my starting point and they have colours then that all connects with melody and chords and their hues.

funny… I’d never thought before but I have a terrible careless memory for most things but I can virtually always remember my music and how it slips and slides. It is an intuitive thing… whereas chords and their names and numbers seem to exist in a totally different reality.

I did study musical theory but I loathed it. I even took it to university level but dropped it from total distaste. Ideally working with others is an ‘organic’ sort of process but it does require more discipline than working solo.

Yeah I’ve tried that with cubase. It’s kinda fascinating to see the programme write out the musical score but… the chords it deciphers from my stuff are incredibly obscure…

hah… go figure!


I know a decent amount of theory but I try to throw it out the window when I’m creating music. I figure my “ear” will tell me if something is right or wrong. To me, relying on theory to create music is similar to relying on roads and highways to arrive at a destination. With roads and highways you are limited to the places you can travel. That route leaves too many undiscovered possibilities and it’s a rigid route. I kind of view music theory in a similar way. It’s very confining if we have to always obey the rules of theory…(Hmm, I just realized how strange it is that they call it “theory” while most people view it as fact or truth)…The great thing about music is that you don’t need to stay on the roadways to arrive at a beautiful, interesting or inspiring destination. Imagination trumps theory every time. Imagination can take us in any direction. It’s limitless. I cringe when I see people getting too caught up in theory, at the expense of imagination. I have a bit of a distaste for theory also…although I realize I do unconsciously use it a fair bit.


I came at theory late. Most people learn theory first, and then learn how to play. I learned how to play fairly intuitively and then started to deconstruct what I was doing and break it down into theory much later in life.

I was the same as you when I was young - totally intuitive. Learning theory seemed like an unnecessary roadblock to playing, which I could do very easily by ear. I’ve gradually come to appreciate it later in life in terms of expressing musical ideas and exploring relationships between concepts and ideas.

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It depends on the music and who else is involved. I gave Chordwainer a chord chart for our ‘Postponed’ collab but he didn’t need it. The lyric sheet was more important the way I mumble on demos :laughing:

I have gone so far as to write out a score for stuff if the player is a reader but it just depends on what somebody wants to work with. Some people actually draw pictures :crazy_face:

There’s an app called Uberchord for iphone that’s supposed to be pretty useful but I’ve never tried it.

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Pretty much zero. If anyone wants to learn the track I give them a recording. I’m no great musician but I can learn a track from listening to it so I figure most other people can too. It’s understandable if someone comes back and says (for example) ‘what’s that wacky thing you’re doing at the start of each verse?’ then I can explain it to them, but then again it’s likely to be something over and above basic chords anyway.


I’m terrible at naming chords - I’m like a lot of you, my fingers will move around a little on a keyboard or guitar so I end up playing these really nice and exotic chords with no clue of what I’m doing. So whether its an Amaj chord, or an Amaj sus2 13th aug 23rd I would not be able to say it out loud. But, I am extremely lucky to play a midi guitar through Logic, which literally names the chord as I play it. Can’t tell you how clever I sound being able to name a exotic chord I’ve just played as I play it!


Do tell more!

Same here. My songwriting often starts with some freewheeling around the guitar, something between a riff and a chord sequence I guess, often by sliding chord shapes for a limited number of strings up and down untill I find something I like. I know which key I’m playing in so I have a rough idea of the chords being a II, IV, V or whatever and I can hear the difference between major and minor, fith, seventh etc. So I roughly know what I’m doing. Trouble is, my memory is not what it once was and if I haven’t played a song for some years I sometimes forget the riffs/ chords of some songs. Not the songs I wrote when I was 18 or 20, but those I wrote when I was 40, 50 or 60. So I do write stuff down. I used to use the old method of drawing 6 strings and 5 or six frets and dots for the chord shapes. But tabs are a much more effective system. I don’t have to work them out in detail, just enough to jog my (finger) memory, and the rest will follow.


Yeah, I have this really cool setup. Years ago (after kids arrived) I had to get rid of my amps, so I played everything through pedals and headphones. When I moved back to Holland I treated myself to a Boss GP10. I used to own a Line 6 Variax guitar years ago - which I loved to death. But the damn thing had it’s own power supply and and adapter and whatnot, so I was in the market for a guitar modelling pedal. The GP10 uses Boss’s GTK pickup, which is marvel of modern technology. Normally the GTK pickups are used to give you those Holdsworth type MIDI sounds, but the GP10 really was marketed as a guitar modeller. And that it is and then some.

I basically run that into Logic as an Audio input, but use the pedal to model a Strat, Tele, Acoustic, Les Paul or Rickenbacker. But as a side effect, even though I’m running it as an audio input into Logic, the MIDI signal is still detected by Logic. Logic has a really cool feature where it not only shows you a MIDI input, but detects the chord being played and then displays it live in the HUD. So when I’m playing guitar, it constantly shows me the chords I’m playing. So cool!


I’ve actually seen one of those GTK pickups in action, and it was pretty impressive sounding. Great to have the midi output as an added bonus. These days, you can do a similar thing with Melodyne’s DNA polyphonic pitch detection.

Late to the thread but I’ll chime in :slight_smile:

When writing, the chord charts and notation to me, might serve one or both of 2 purposes:

  1. So I can remember what I played
  2. So that I can communicate what I played to someone else, minimizing the effort they have to exert to understand and interpret it.

In either case, the clearer it is to begin with, the easier it becomes to manage a process later on.

When learning someone else music that may or may not have chords, I have a handy software program called ‘transcribe’. You highlight the chord in question, it analyzes any pitches on the spectrum, shows you the pitches, then displays all interpretations of the chord it sees. Pretty cool…

Some people just have amazing ears at pitch detection. I’m pretty good at this, but I’m not amazing. If the purpose is to learn and interpret a song (in order to play it), and this saves me time to swipe and highlight a particular chord, I use it purely for efficiency purposes. In this example, its obvious that that is an A/C# chord, but for less obvious chords, spelling, and labels, it’s a godsend sometimes!


Great thread!

I’m like most of you, I don’t really think about what chord it is I’m in except in the most basic way of what key I’m in, mostly. I don’t get super adventurous very often, so most of my changes are unsurprising and fairly standard, with some variations added for, well, variety. I’d hazard a guess that many of those of us who learned to play on guitar rather than piano may be less involved in deep chording (although of course there are guitarists who do). Hell, it’s possible to learn to play songs on a guitar without even knowing what the notes are, but that’s much less likely on piano.

I also totally flamed out in music theory when I started so called “community college” as a music major, having planned all my life to be a classical guitarist. Absolutely hated it because I just did not get it. I still don’t understand the circle of fifths, I’m ashamed to say. As I’ve recounted in detail before, that was the year (1980) I was in an earth science course and loving it when Mt. St. Helens erupted, and that was the thing that made me change my plan from music to science (a poorly informed decision and I struggled early on). That turned out clearly to be the right choice! :wink:


You have no idea just how impressive the GTK is. When it send purely MIDI information, it does a 99.9% great job of tracking every note and bend that is played on the guitar. Picture me, with a cheesy sax preset bending notes. Yeah - I’ve done that in the past…

But in guitar modelling model I would defy anybody to spot that I was playing through real pickups, or the modelled version through the GTK. It’s actually that good. On the downside, I bought the internal GTK pickup that means you have to route wires through the guitar, install the pickup and then install that god awful GTK socket on your guitar. The alternative is to have the clip on version, which non-damaging, really takes up some real estate on the body of the guitar.

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When you don’t need to collaborate with someone who needs a chord chart, I don’t see much benefit in doing it. I have tried writing down a chord chart for one of my songs, but it didn’t help me much. Like some of you, I have taught myself music (by ear) so it is easier for me to find chords by listening than reading.

However, I started learning music theory 3 years ago (and actually stopped 1 year ago) and I used what I learned when we had to play covers with my band. I was making the chord charts and came up with a basic system: a table in which 1 cell = 1 bar. The funny thing is that it was actually more helpful with the song structure than the chords themselves, since all of us knew them by heart by the time we played the song. It looks like this:


O clearly it has been SUCH a long time since I looked at theory… I have simply no idea what an E13 chord would be… or the F#m6B or the Dtriangle.
Would love someone to explain in a not-too-complicated way…

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You’d think a guy with “Chord” in his name could do that, but I can’t. So here you go, from the great American philosopher Yogi Berra:

Interviewer: Can you explain jazz?

Yogi: I can’t, but I will. 90% of all jazz is half improvisation. The other half is the part people play while others are playing something they never played with anyone who played that part. So if you play the wrong part, it’s right. If you play the right part, it might be right if you play it wrong enough. But if you play it too right, it’s wrong.

Interviewer: I don’t understand.

Yogi: Anyone who understands jazz knows that you can’t understand it. It’s too complicated. That’s what’s so simple about it.

Interviewer: Do you understand it?

Yogi: No. That’s why I can explain it. If I understood it, I wouldn’t know anything about it.

Interviewer: Are there any great jazz players alive today?

Yogi: No. All the great jazz players alive today are dead. Except for the ones that are still alive. But so many of them are dead, that the ones that are still alive are dying to be like the ones that are dead. Some would kill for it.

Interviewer: What is syncopation?

Yogi: That’s when the note that you should hear now happens either before or after you hear it. In jazz, you don’t hear notes when they happen because that would be some other type of music. Other types of music can be jazz, but only if they’re the same as something different from those other kinds.

Interviewer: Now I really don’t understand.

Yogi: I haven’t taught you enough for you to not understand jazz that well.


O sometimes you are just sooo silly!

Fabulous… now I want to start a new thread about ‘What is Jazz?’

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