As someone that grew up in a very ‘classical’ family (meaning my dad was a band director and we had lots of traditional sheet music available to us all the time, piano lessons from an early age and the expectation that we would choose an additional instrument well before entering high school), winning me over to the beauties of a simple lyric sheet with chords took quite a long time. I still believe traditional notation is important and it would be great if everyone learned how to ‘read’ music, as it is such a big part of our lives, but a lyric sheet with chords also has some distinct advantages:
- If you already know a melody, there’s really no point of having it notated if it is already in your brain.
- Lyric/chord sheets are easy to create/edit in a simple word processor or even on a sheet of paper, allowing you to make quick changes to reflect your interpretation of the song.
- May eliminate page turns.
- Simplifying the bare bones ‘lead sheet’ (that has a melody notated in addition to lyrics and chords) may help facilitate memorization for singers who are accompanying themselves (like myself).
On this last point, take a moment to look at a traditional lead sheet of What a Wonderful World from Sheet Music Plus. There are THREE lines of information here:
- The lyrics
- The melody above the lyrics
- The chords above the melody
This is awesome if you don’t know the song, because you can learn a basic sketch of it from this information. However, it is lousy at forming a mental picture of the song in your mind because you’re trying to deal with 3 separate lines of info (trying to read left/right and up/down at the same time). By getting rid of the melody (which hopefully, we already know) and condensing the chords and lyrics of the song to a single line, we make it easier to memorize the chord patterns in the song. For example, as you look at the first lines of each of the verses of this song, the chord pattern and the one place it deviates (an A7* before the third verse) become really obvious and easy to commit to memory:
What A Wonderful World
By George David Weiss and Bob Thiele
I see [D]trees of [F#m]green, [G]red roses [F#m]too
[Em7] I see them [D]bloom for [F#7]me and for [Bm7]you
And I [Bb]think to myself [Em7] what a [A7]wonderful [D]world [Bm7] [Gmaj7] [A7]
I see [D]skies of [F#m]blue and [G]clouds of [F#m]white
[Em7] The bright blessed [D]day, and the [F#7]dark sacred [Bm7]night
And I [Bb]think to myself [Em7] what a [A7]wonderful [D]world [G] [G] [D]
The [A7]colors of the rainbow so [D]pretty in the sky
Are [A7]also on the faces of [D]people going by
I see [Bm7]friends shaking [F#m]hands saying [Bm7]how do you [F#m]do
[Em7]They’re really [F#dim7]saying [Em7]I [F#dim7]love [Em7]you
[A7]I hear [D]babies [F#m]cry, [G] I watch them [F#m]grow
[Em7] They’ll learn much [D]more than [F#7]I’ll ever [Bm7]know
And I [Bb]think to myself [Em7] what a [A7]wonderful [D]world [Fdim 2020] [B7]
Yes I [Em7]think to myself [A7] what a [C#dim7]wonderful [D]world [G6] [Gm6] [D]
In this version, I was also able to quickly fix errors the original transcriber made in both lyrics and chords, change the key, substitute some jazzier chords, and note that an Fdim (without a 7) is fingered 2020 on the ukulele fretboard.
That said, traditional lead sheets and full scores still play an important role in musical learning, so don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.
*Of course, another way of looking at the A7 is that it really belongs to the end of the bridge section, in which case it should be moved to the end of ‘I love you’ in the previous line. If you think of it this way, all three first lines of the verses have an identical pattern.