The Prodigal Altar Boy

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The Prodigal Altar Boy Blog: Mommy, where do chord charts come from?

Mommy, where do chord charts come from?

As the pressure of the Christmas season bears down on us, I want to give a special shout out to all the Worship Leaders out there.  Here’s a familiar scenario:  someone from our worship team comes up to you and says, “There’s this song we absolutely have to do.  I’ll send you the YouTube link.”  On the outside, you keep a straight face, but for me, on the inside, I’m panicking.  

The panic is induced by the mistaken assumption that a video is all worship leaders need to crank out that song on stage.  I might be the exception, but even with a suite of tools to help, requests like this trigger my fight or flight response.  

Variation of the scenario:  Someone, either from church leadership or worship team leadership takes on such a request and tells you, “I’ll find you a chart on the web.”  One of the triumvirate I serve with was a little miffed when I said, “All charts on the internet are wrong.”  I stand by my statement.
The underlying problem is 99% (no, wait, 105%) of people making song requests can’t imagine what it takes to produce accurate chord charts.  It’s like sausage, everybody loves it, but no one wants to know how it’s made.  Here’s a peek behind the curtain in the process of turning a request into a performance.

YouTube links are a great starting point for figuring out a song, as well as a reference for the singers.  The problem is the videos are somewhat unwieldy for practicing with.  When someone sends me a video link for a song, the first thing I do is use a tool called Song Surgeon to strip the audio off the video and convert it to an mp3.  The mp3 is more compact (smaller file size) and is usable across a variety of playback platforms.
Getting the most out of mp3’s for practice requires a platform that allows

  • ·         The ability to set start and end points to start and stop the song

  • ·         The ability to set start and end points to loop certain parts of the song

  • ·         The ability to slow the song down without changing pitch (instrumentalists)

  • ·         The ability to shift the pitch of the song (singers) without slowing down the music

There is software that does all of this (Song Surgeon) as well as hardware (TASCAM GT-R1) that also does those tasks.  I own both because Song Surgeon is great for stripping audio from videos, but the GT-R1 has the added ability to record using onboard microphones, line in or ¼” guitar/bass jack.  I use it to record rehearsals and then send the recordings to the team so they can practice.  In a pinch, I can run an 1/8” cable from my phone to the TASCAM and record audio from a video right into the unit.

Every chart on the internet is wrong.  Still sticking to that.  The overarching problem with using charts from the internet is usually when you’re searching for a chart, you’re usually in a hurry and wading through all the ads and clickbait adds to your impatience and usually forces you to go with the first (free) chart you can find.  Your problem is compounded by the fact that while there are many sites with chord charts, many of the charts for a particular song will all be the same, with the same inaccuracies.  

Logic would dictate that if you pay for a chart, the odds are it would be more accurate.  Logic is wrong.  I currently subscribe to a service I won’t name.  That said, when that subscription runs out, I won’t renew.  I found a song on the site and after downloading and printing out the chart, I noticed the person who produced the chart caveated the chart with a note stating, “I know this chart is wrong, but this is what I use.”  I contacted the service and pointed out the note.  Their solution was to remove the note, but not change the chart.  I PAID for that. 

So, suffice it to say that any chart from the internet will need some work before it’s ready for prime time.  Among the common tasks needed:

  • ·         Adjusting font size so it is readable from the music stand.  You can have the most accurate chart in the world, but if it looks more like the fine print from your last car loan, it’s useless.

  • ·         Capo markings.  As a guitar player, I don’t use a capo at all.  I usually have to consult a capo user to tell me what key a capoed song is in, and then transpose accordingly.  For bass players, the capo notation is useless. 

  • ·         Key.  Is the key in the same key the recording you’re using to practice?  Is it in a key the singers can sing in?  More importantly, is it in a key the congregation can sing in?

  • ·         Musical sense.  Does the chart make sense musically?  Unless there’s a weird modulation, you’re not going to see F# in a song in the key of C.  (yes, I know, inverted chords might have notes outside the key if the bass note is a passing tone)

  • ·         Is it accurate?  When playing the chart along with the recording, does it sound like recording? 

Music Academy ( has a chord chart format they call “Super Chord Charts” that is well laid out and sets the standard for chard charts that are accurate, easy to read and follow.  A quick look at those charts give you an idea what a good chord chart should look like.

So, after converting the video to an mp3, figuring out the key of the mp3, finding (or altering) a chord chart to match the key and then making sure that chart is accurate, it’s time to get that chart out to the team.  Before uploading a chart, or when sharing charts via email, I always convert the chart to a PDF.  Word documents are nice, but the PDF is bulletproof for sharing.

The proof of any chord chart is whether the team can play it.  Sometimes it’s only when we get to rehearsal and recognize musical speed bumps in a chart.  Sometimes is as simple as deleting a chord that isn’t played in the mp3, or simplifying the introduction to the verse or chorus progression.  Regardless, the work isn’t done.  However the worship team decides to alter a chart, it’s a good idea to document that change for the next time you play the song.  Everyone always thinks they’ll remember, but that rarely happens.  Fortunately for our team, there’s usually someone who brings their old chart and has to remind everyone else.

We always want to do new songs, and it really helps if people requesting new songs help their worship team out by making it easy for us to do the songs you want to hear.  If anything, appreciate the time and effort that goes into the process.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

6 January 2015 Prodigal Altar Boy Blog - Cue the Second Act

One prediction:  “2015 is going to be BIG”

There, I said it.  Before I make my case for a HUGE 2015, let’s lay out what happened in 2014:

Jan 2014 – “The Trouble with TQ” finishes post-production.  Made contact with members of TQ’s family, sent out sneak preview DVD’s.  Sneak preview DVD’s sell out.  Initial contact with ETHOS to develop “Now Is The Time” slide deck.  Planning for Naro Premiere.

Feb 2014 – ETHOS work continues.  Naro negotiations ongoing. (Thanks Dennis!) Work on new DVD cover begins with Roberta Hoffman. 

Mar 2014 – Battinto Batts on board for Naro Premiere publicity. Gary Ruegsegger contacted for interview.  ETHOS work on “Now Is The Time” slide deck complete.  Initial contact for color correction consultant.

Apr 2014 – “You Cannot Imprison The Word of The Lord” book work starts.  Advisory Board member Mark Molloy purchases block of promotional tickets for the Naro Premiere.  Naro Premiere postcards go out.  Initial contact with Sammie Logan on having Basilica Gospel Choir at Premiere.  New DVD cover work continues.  Film banners arrive. DVD cover and book finalized.  Color correction finished.  New DVD submitted for duplication.  Amsterdam International Film Festival awards Van Gogh award to “The Trouble with TQ” for “World Cinema – Best First Time Director”

May 2014 – Naro Premiere of “The Trouble with TQ” sells out.  

June 2014 – Naro invites “The Trouble with TQ” to return in September of 2014.  ONE11 Gallery invites “Visualizing a Visionary” art exhibit for a gallery showing in August of 2014.

July 2014 – Appearance on Barbara Hamm-Lee’s WHRO Radio Show "Another View" to promote the upcoming art exhibit at ONE11 Gallery.  “Continuing The Conversation” Teleconference.  “New Parables” concept developed.

August 2014 – “Visualizing a Visionary” opens at ONE11 Art Gallery.  “The Trouble with TQ” Official selection at the Capital Cities Black Film Festival in Austin, Texas.  Planning for Baltimore Premiere begins.

September 2014 -  “Visualizing a Visionary” closes at ONE11 Art Gallery.  “The Trouble with TQ” returns to the historic Naro Cinema. 

October 2014 – “The Trouble with TQ” Premieres at the Creative Alliance in Baltimore.

November 2014 – Second “Continuing the Conversation” teleconference.  Meeting with Creative Alliance director for return of “The Trouble with TQ.”

December 2014 – Producer Calvin Thomas, Jr. retires from Federal Service.  Time for the Second Act!

So, there it is.  I reiterate my promise 2015 will be BIG!  The gift of a Second Act means I can devote more time to the things I did on the margins of my “day job.”  Here is a short list of where that time will go in 2015:

·         Establishing “The New Parables,” which will be the umbrella project to house the film (“The Trouble with TQ”), all three books, the art exhibit and motivational speaking.  The idea is to package all of that into a resource congregations can use to use TQ’s examples to adapt liturgy according to the Principle of Adaptation.  We will keep touring the film, and consolidate the film with the books, artwork and motivational speaking.  A final piece of this package will be a video tool that will allow users to view TQ interview footage that did not make it into the film.  In addition to viewing the footage, users will be able to perform keyword searches of the footage to see what TQ had to say about particular topics.

·         I’ve been asked to assist with guiding Worship Arts at Grace City.  The Worship Team there is in the middle of a transition and I will lend a hand in some of the administrative tasks as well as stepping up in what I do on the Praise Team.  I started bass lessons in September so we can deepen the talent pool for the team.

·         Beyond Body Opus Blog – Dan Duchaine’s revolutionary 1997 book was a breakthrough piece for bodybuilders.  In this blog I will share my experience with this diet and show how a non-bodybuilder used it to transform his body.  Rather than give advice, this blog is all about observations and experience.  The one thing many people missed in Dan’s book was his insistence people make decisions for themselves and use their experiences to guide those decisions.  This blog is designed to help people make those decisions.
·         The Next Project – A common question I get is “What’s next?”  Frankly, I don’t know.  I have some ideas, and now I have to time to give those ideas some serious thought.  I don’t want to let the cat out of the bag right now, but I will say both projects are based on subjects in the Hampton Roads area.  Stay tuned.

Thank you all for the support you’ve shown over this past year.  I hope what I’ve accomplished with that support in 2014 has earned your trust to stick with me in 2015. I promise it will be a wild ride.