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Is it wrong to use chord sheets at gigs?

Discussion in 'Miscellaneous [BG]' started by MKS, Feb 3, 2003.

  1. Hi.

    I've just joined a new band and we're going to be playing our first gig in about 6 weeks. The songs we are playing are all "standard" tunes (Steely Dan, Sting, Jamiroquai, Hendrix, Van Morrison etc.) but I'm not 100% sure that I can mug up the whole set sufficiently in time. Just how uncool is it to work off chord sheets at gigs versus how uncool is it to screw up the bass line to well known tunes just because you're new? The rest of the band have done this before, so I'm the "new kid".
    My view is that it would be better to have the map and look uncool than not have the map and "take it to the bridge" before anyone else gets there! :) I'm lucky though that the guys in the band are pretty cool and won't think too badly either way...

    Opinions? Advice?

    PS. My usual gig is as a church bass player where we always work off music and I'm now familiar enough with most of the songs to cope without using it.
  2. moley


    Sep 5, 2002
    Hampshire, UK
    I agree. If not having the chart will make you screw up, use the chart. In the meantime, work to memorize the tunes (regardless of whether it's cool to use chart or not, it's good to memorize them IMO) - and if you still need a chart, then use it. If not don't. But don't compromise the playing to look cool.
  3. LoJoe


    Sep 5, 2002
    Concord, NC USA.
    I know exactly where you're coming from. I also play in a church praise band and a rock band. For the praise band, it's normal to use charts because we're doing new stuff every week and sometimes will find out we're doing a particular song 5 minutes before we have to do it. In the rock band, it was a different story. Like you, I was the new guy coming into the established band. Everyone had played the songs so many times they could do them in their sleep. They gave me 4 CDs (73 songs) that they play and told me to "go learn them" :eek: I learned the ones I could quickly. The I-IV-V-I stuff is the easiest, and for the rest, I just brought my notes. Fortunately the first time we played publicly it was in this kind of cabana thing and I was able to conceal my notes behind one of the support posts. As soon as I knew which song we were going to do, if I didn't know it, I would flip to it and use the cheat notes. I was really worried about this with the other band members, but they thought it was very cool that I went through so much trouble to get it right instead of botching things all up trying to look good. Always better to look bad than sound bad!
  4. CS


    Dec 11, 1999
    Mick-I've done scratch band and one-off gigs where time to learn all the songs was tight. What I tend to do as a compromise is to write all the chords on one sheet of A4 paper (maybe two)and place it somewhere unobtrusive like a drummer riser etc. If you just write the verse/chorus once and then a structure it's suprisinging how much info you can get onto 1 sheet of paper.

    Practice working off this cheat sheet-I reckon you'll learn half the songs anyway and need a quick peak.

    BTW I played bass for a band leader/worship leader who never used music. I found out his secret one day. He would spend 5 mins with the music/charts before he went on stage. I could hear him mutter things like C#m in the bridge.

    Hope this helps.
  5. wulf


    Apr 11, 2002
    Oxford, UK
    A lot of it depends on the style of the band - if everyone else is bouncing around, it might look a bit odd if you're hiding behind a music stand.

    One thing to do is work out exactly how much information you need to remember a particular song. Often a riff or two and a couple of chord changes are enough to blag your way through - a three or four page set list might have enough space to do this.

    The other thing is making sure you know which band member takes the lead for various songs - for example, which of the guitarists is playing chords that you can follow, or what have you. The more 'clues' you can set up for yourself, the easier it will be to recall things.

    Above all, lots of practise. Also, as I've got back into more work with bands over the past six months, I've given the tunes I've been learning a lot of time on the CD player at work. Even through it's background to what I'm concentrating on (ie. Talkbass ;) ), it all helps get them in my head - recordings from practises are also useful so that you hear how your group plays them, which may be different to the original recording.

  6. Thanks guys all good advice. I'm thinking of setting up some "cheat sheets" that'll have chord changes and road maps of the various songs (Verse, Chorus, Verse, Chorus, Bridge, Chorus etc...). I was already thinking along the lines of using a little snippet of the main riff or something to jog my memory rather than 8 pages of notation! :)

    The band is much more the strokey-beardy-hmm-nice-riff kind of band than the leap-around-top-of-the-pops kind of band. Fortunately. I can't really get away with that anymore. Except when I play with the youth band at church ;)

    Thanks again!
  7. FunkySpoo

    FunkySpoo Supporting Member

    Feb 6, 2002
    I use charts on the jazz stuff that never seems to sink in. But we also have horns and they always work off their sheet music. So having charts, I think, is no big deal
  8. I saw Gail Ann Dorsey using a music stand on the road with Joan Osbourne (she had just joined on for the tour). That's about as "pro" as you can get.

    She looked VERY cool!
  9. Hmm...looking uncool vs. totally screwing up the song because you don't know it? Seems pretty obvious to me.

    You don't need a music stand though; you can usually just write the chord progressions and structure on an 8.5x11" sheet with a Sharpie and toss it on the floor. Unless you're playing really dark stages, you should be able to read it from the floor. It might not work for really complex music, but it'll be more than sufficient for your average rock song, and it won't look much different than a setlist to anyone but you.

    Good luck with the gig, man, let us know how it goes. Since you still have six weeks to prepare, I have a feeling that unless you have a lot of songs to learn, you'll probably just end up memorizing most of them without even realizing it. :)
  10. Good point. The one thing you want to avoid is being so locked into the chart that you aren't using your ears.

    I've done this. I used to get so caught up in the chart that I wasn't listening to what was going on. If you can "hear" what's next rather than "reading" what's next or even "remembering" what's next then you really know the tune.
  11. wulf


    Apr 11, 2002
    Oxford, UK
    You've also got to be aware of how the other musicians work - if they play each song exactly the same each time, a chart will be useful. If they, um, improvise a lot ( ;) ) then you'll need to have much more minimal notes and very open ears.

    Fortunately, most songs tend to be fairly simple once you get to know them - two or three sections, a riff or two, and know whether you keep it simple or jam around.

  12. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    Yes our horn section - in the big Latin Jazz band always use charts - there are some complex arrangements, but I have memorised nearly all the tunes - but there are a few - like 5 sheets of A4 stuck together (!) where I need to refer to the charts.

    But occasionally the rhythm section says - why not play some tunes without referring to paper at all - but we can't get the horn players to put aside their music for a minute - not even in rehearsal!!

    It's quite common at Jazz gigs to see charts.
  13. just as long as you dont write them on your hand...
  14. If we're learning a new song and we have to play it for something, I usually tape a little sheet of paper that has the chords and the song structure on it, but this doesn't happen very often. The sheet might say...
    etc. and have all the chords for each.
  15. xyllion

    xyllion Commercial User

    Jan 14, 2003
    San Jose, CA, USA
    Owner, Looperlative Audio Products
    Granted that my gigs are usually pretty low key, but what I do is use one of tiny music holders clipped to a microphone stand. The one I have is 6.5" x 9.5". It is large enough to hold index cards and small enough to blend in.
  16. PolkaHero

    PolkaHero Supporting Member

    Jan 5, 2002
    For the style of music that I play, I just write the names of all the songs with the original key and then and key changes that occur within. Otherwise, I memorize the chord changes within sections of the songs.

    Okay, now what is A4 paper? Is this like manuscript paper?:confused:
  17. LM Bass

    LM Bass

    Jul 19, 2002
    Vancouver, BC
    Wow good topic!
    I play from sheet music most of the time now, but there was a time when I was playing lots of "world" music where the other players didn't use charts. So I made a point of learning the tunes the way they did, I didn't bring sheet music, just learned everything by rote. Man, I feel sorry for non-readers, rehearsal takes soooo much longer this way! Though, on the other hand, I still remember a lot of those tunes.

    Anyway, I think if you want to memorize the music at some point, do it NOW. It's so hard to let go of the charts once you start, even with the cheat sheets.
    (My humble opinion only)
  18. wulf


    Apr 11, 2002
    Oxford, UK
    Do you know letter sized paper? A4 is similar to that but a little shorter and a little wider. It's the standard paper size here in the UK and is part of a system that includes A5 (like A4 folded in half) and A3 (like two sheets side by side). The magical thing about it is that each size has exactly the same proportions as the others.

    That's probably as much as you need to know, so now back to your regularly scheduled topic ;-)

  19. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    I generally think that any Jazz tune should fit on one side of a sheet of A4 - any more and it's a "complex arrangement" - 5 sheets is way too complex for me to memorise!! ;)
  20. As a bass player your job, first and foremost, is to make everyone else sound good. If you can't do that without referring to a chord chart, than use a chord chart. The visuals, for you, can always come later.