How to Quickly Make Lifesaving Charts for Gigs

I’ve long been a fan of reading music off actual real paper but the more I started seeing musicians bring iPads to gigs the more curious I became. Eventually, I joined the dark side and it’s been a revelation.

This post will highlight my method of creating charts quickly and for free (after the initial outlay for notation software). You can keep the music forever in the cloud and never have to worry about losing it or having to write it out again. Dropbox offer a free account and Google Drive give you 20GB of storage for free.

My main worry was whether the iPad would start sending emails mid gig or decide to power down. I then calmed down and realised these things don’t actually happen.

My first gig with this setup was an outdoor event in Athens next to the sea and reading paper charts would have been a disaster in the blustery conditions.

I was converted after that and use my iPad lots now. Not all the time – it’s sometimes still easier to jot out a chart and there are many situations that you will be given physical charts to read.

The worries I had about reliability have – so far – not surfaced but, if you’re really not convinced, it can’t hurt to print the charts out as back up until you’re confident with your setup.

Required Tools

Google Docs, Dropbox  or Google Drive, Guitar Pro 6/Finale  (or your preferred notation software)

and then for gigs…

iPad (you can buy a cheap refurbished one)

iPad holder (also need a mic stand to attach that to or just put the iPad on a music stand. The iPad holder method looks slicker)

forScore – this seems to be the software most pros are using (in London anyway…)

Musical Skills

The ability to improvise over chord symbols. Since we will be reading chord symbols, you need to be able to know what the symbols mean as well as how to construct a bass line from them (*link to 7 arpeggios from C major vid*). I often won’t play the exact bass line if I am only seeing chord symbols. I’ll make something up that fits and that is often fine. If I need to play a specific line that’s where I take a screenshot of the notation and add that (more on this below…).

Why would you need a chart?

  • You have a last minute gig
  • You don’t have time to learn the music inside out
  • You want the flexibility of hundreds of tunes to choose from
  • You can send charts to other members of the band (it’s actually possible for one member of the band to send charts to each iPad-owning band mate from their iPad)

I create two types of charts. One like this for just chords…

Screen Shot 2017-07-19 at 21.34.55

….and one like this for chords plus notes on a stave for specific lines/endings etc. (Check out Serves Me Right To Suffer – great bass playing!). Download the chart and play along…

Screen Shot 2017-07-19 at 21.35.09

Simple Chord Chart

  • Open a new Google Doc.
  • Listen to the song and write out the arrangement.
  • Add any instructions that will help you (like my highlighted green for the chords the second time round).
  • Format the doc till you are happy with the layout.
  • Go to File then Download as PDF and then upload to DropBox or Google Drive.
  • Open ForScore and import the chart from your connected account. 

Chord Chart with Notation

For this I will use Guitar Pro 6 or Finale (use your favourite notation software) to notate any specific lines.

  • Follow the steps above with the following addition…
  • Use your notation software to quickly notate the section(s) you need.
  • Add in screenshots of the notation you require (Shift-Command-4 on a Mac, Snipping Tool on a PC)
  • Play around with sizing until you are happy. I try to minimise page turns and make it easy if I do need to turn.

Once you get this process down it takes no time at all and you build up a library of charts which can then be organised into specific set lists in forScore. I have a ‘Charts’ folder in DropBox with folders for the different bands/artists I may be playing for and that is where I will save my individual chart PDFs.

One of the coolest things about having charts on gigs is that, if you know how to read them properly, you don’t have to spend hours and hours rehearsing or practising the tunes. You just set your charts up and you’re away.

TIP: On the gig make sure you turn your iPad on to Airplane mode and set the screen to not automatically shut off (Settings > General > Auto-Lock. Set Auto-Lock to “Never”. ). Also make sure you have uploaded your charts to Dropbox (or Google Drive) and then from there to forScore ahead of the gig.

I’m interested in whether you read music. Let me know in the comments below if you ever encounter situations where you need to read music.

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