It's going to happen to you. Count on it.
You're going to walk into a situation with some folks that you probably have never played with before. They're going to play a song for you, and then they'll want to do a run-through right away.
It could be a gig, a recording session, a simple rehearsal. The song may be a finished recording by a band you've never heard of before, or it may be a rough demo of "the next big hit" by some girl with pink hair and a belly-button ring, recorded on her mother's boom box (since she can't afford Garage band).
What do you do? Memorize the song in a couple listens?
Or maybe you "luck out" and someone gives you a chart for the song. It's this piece of paper with these weird boxes on it; looks like something out of a Cohen Brothers' movie.
Congratulations! You've just graduated to the world of the professional musician: you have entered the world of song charting. Some people call this song "lifting", but it's the same thing: putting the structure of the song - and maybe even some of the notes! - down on paper so you can get through it without being hoisted out onto the street.
There are as many different types of charts as there are songs. It can be something as simple as a couple words in the margins of a chord chart or lead sheet, to a full-blown, note-for-note transcription of the piece.
And if you're lucky, there may even be some direction for the drummer hidden in there somewhere!
I'm going to go into some of the basics here. There isn't enough space to flesh out every little detail. Besides, you will eventually develop your own charting method.
First things first, though. If you know nothing about reading music, you'll want to visit (or re-visit) my Reading Music page to brush up.
The first four exercises are my charting of a fairly current song called "Accidently In Love" by Counting Crows. I'd love to put the audio file here for you to use as a reference, but those pesky music industry lawyers would sue my pants off for copyright infringement. I'm sure you can find the song on your own!
Here's the first chart. As you can see, it's very basic. What I've done here is essentially give myself a basic overview of the song's structure, plus a quick musical notation of some of the important rhythmic elements that are essential to playing the song correctly.
The first thing you want to do in charting is note the tempo of the song, and what meter it's in. For this song, the quarter note gets 137 beats per minute, and the song is in 4/4. So, if I'm playing this song in a band, and I'm using a metronome or a click, the BPM is goes in the machine.
The first line has the Stinger. This is a series of unison hits by the whole band that gets things rolling. One of my problems as a musician is that if I'm really nervous, I have a tendency to forget how a song starts! This notation is essential for songs that the band starts together, or songs that I start by myself. If it's some guitar-thing, and I don't have to come in until the second verse, I'm not going to sweat it (except the Tempo, which I still have to provide).
So, this song starts with the me counting 1, 2, 3, and the band does eighth-note hits on 3&, 4, and 4&.
And then we're in.
There's a seven-bar Intro, followed by a repeat of the Stinger hits. It seems these hits are part of the theme of the song!
And then the song moves on. You can read the rest of it yourself; see how it's done. Notice I put in those little boxes how many bars each segment is, and I added weird rhythmic hits and stingers that the song needs. Also, I wrote out the ending.
Also notice that this is in an outline format. I've done some indenting of certain lines to help the eye identify each section as it moves down the page.
What you won't see here is any indication of what rhythm the drummer is actually playing in any given section of the song. For example, what's the rhythm for the Verses? Or the Chorus? Or the Bridge?
This chart assumes you are already familiar with what you will be playing, and all you're looking for here is something to jog your mind during a session or a gig.
This chart looks different than the first one, but it's basically the same thing. The main difference here is that we're starting to look at the song more like a traditional piece of music than an outline. Each of the sections follows the other in a score-like fashion. I added the beginning Stinger and end hits, but - like the first chart - this one assumes I know the rhythms of the songs.
This chart is a bit harder to follow. If you're used to reading scores it's OK, but if you've only dealt with outlines you may get lost.
Now we'll take this chart to the next level. This follows more on the style of Exercise #2. It's more detailed, giving us the actual rhythms of each part of the song (notice, for instance, the rhythm in the Bridge 1 section is quite different than anything else in the song).
Let's pull this apart.
See the tempo markings? And the time signature? These will be in every chart you do.
Look at the first three measures. You'll see the same Stinger you saw in the first exercise in measure 1. Measure two is the rhythm of the Intro section notated out. What you're looking at is the kick in the bottom line and the snare in the top line. Hi-hats are generally not notated because they are assumed to be an ostinato - riding quarter-notes or eighth-notes. If the hats were doing something different, we'd show them (see the last measure on line 3).
Measure 3 is crucial here. You're going to see this alot in this chart. This is a single-measure repeat of the previous measure. The number 6 over the top of this measure means that it gets repeated 6 times.
The final measure of the top line is a reappearance of the Stinger rhythm.
Now, notice the little number in the circle underneath the first measure of the next line. You may not be able to see it clearly, but it's a 10. These numbers, spread out throughout the chart, are the actual measure numbers. If you count the measures in the first line you will find 9 measures (including the 6 that are just repeats). So, that makes the first measure of the second line measure 10.
This is very important, because you will need to have a reference to the measure numbers to work out the song in rehearsals. For instance, say the band leader wants to go over something in a particular section. Which is easier: "That second measure after the diatonic guitar scale right before the part where the bass player drops out"? Or, "Measure 35"?
Learn to navigate these types of charts by their measure numbers.
[Also, you'll notice that the Intro section is 8 bars (the Stinger doesn't count) ; the Verse sections are 16 bars; the Chorus is 8 bars. This is very common in song structure: 8 tends to be a universal number. Get used to this - that way, when you come across a Verse or Chorus that's in, say, 7 bars, you'll can flag this in your mind to ask someone later if this is intentional or a mistake.]
We're still on line 2. Verse 1 is 16 bars: the first bar you see is the rhythm, followed by a 15-bar repeat sign. Got it?
Now look at the Chorus that follows it. Notice how 1. we have a different rhythm, and 2. it takes two measures to notate this rhythm. This is not that uncommon. We want to notate that this rhythm repeats itself once. How do we do this? We use the two-measure repeat. That's what the last two measures of line 2 represent. The vertical line through the repeat sign means you repeat the preceeding two measures; the number 2 over the repeat means you repeat the preceeding two measures twice.
Notice on line 7, third measure in, the word (Fill). This tells me that I can play whatever fill I want in this space. Sometimes fills are written out if they are an integral part of the song.
This is the type of chart you would write out if you are working on a new song for the first time. Or if you are working on an original song and the bandleader has a drum part he wants you to play.
This chart is the same as Exercise 3, but it's written out with no repeat measures, and printed with Finale's Printmusic notation software. This is actually what I wrote out first when I was charting the song. Finale offers a piece of software called Notepad, which is free.
Note the measure numbers at the beginning of every line. Also notice that the hi-hats are notated only in the last measure here. There are about four pages to this...,
This chart is from a broadway musical. It's the "trap" score, for the drumset.
There are three things I want you to see here:
Notice also the accent marks over some of the notes. Remember what that means?
Also, see the little tee-pee-shaped marks over the notes in measure 172? These marks mean you play the notes strongly - it's like an accent, only firmer, slightly more legato. I think this line is from the horn section or something, to show the drummer that he's playing the notes along with the melody instrument.
Here's something you'll see a lot, particularly if you play in churches or guitar bands. This is a guitar chart, or a lead sheet. Since this is a copyrighted song, and I can't afford to buy the rights for this exercise, I have blurred out all the "copyrighted stuff". You can get the idea of the charting, though, from what remains.
See that line along the bottom? That's the song map (some people call it the format). It's similar to the first chart we saw in its intent. I is Intro, V1 is Verse 1, C is Chorus, V2 is Verse 2, BB is Bridge. The I at the end means that the Intro is repeated as the song closer.
The Turnaround is more commonly called the Bridge.
Also, note my personal notes in the margins: Heavy Rock; the three dots under that means "approximately", so we have approximately 60 bpm; I Start; and the music notation of the Stinger I play to kick off the song.
OK, so we've used all the forms of charts I've shown you here. You've rehearsed the song until you can't stand it anymore (that will happen!). You're ready to hit the road.
Unless you're in the Grateful Dead, you'll probably have a setlist. This exercise is the setlist from a country band I was in. The show never changed from night-to-night.
See the tempos to the left of each song?
The little arrows mean that we flow from one song to the next without stopping to banter with the audience. T just leans "talk". Banter. It's usually not the drummer's job!
See the music notations after some of the songs? Remember earlier I said I tend to forget the way a song begins if I'm under stress? These are my notes for songs I start.
I wrestled with this Lesson a bit, because it's not your typical drum lesson: Paradiddles here, Flams there. But this is one of the most important skills you can learn as a musician. Pulling a song apart like this - writing it down in detail - will help you understand song form and structure: how Intros, Verses, Choruses, Bridges, etc. all fit in to make a piece of music complete.
And once you have this information, your job as a drummer - your job as the backbone of the band - is easier. You know where you're going and how you get there.
As always, let me know how you've done!