How to Chart Songs So You Don’t Need The Charts

No matter what instrument you play, learning songs can be intimidating. Booking a gig with a lot of new material can be challenging to say the least. It can also leave you doubting your skills, memory, and chosen profession or hobby. For me, the biggest worry isn’t if I can play the music; it’s whether I can remember it. And, if I know I will be in a space where having charts on stage is frowned upon (which is almost 100% of the time), I get really anxious really fast. It’s even worse, of course, if I am booked as musical director. Even though I have proven to myself many times that I can remember the music, I am still a very visual person and feel way more comfortable with something I can glance at if I have a brain fart or brief moment of panic.

For that reason, I always chart the songs I have to play or MD. Even if I won’t have them on stage with me. That way I know that if all else fails, I can visualize my scribbles and get back on track. I can also see the chart in my head when I’m listening to the music in the car or on a walk. Plus, I don’t ever have to figure it out a second time. If there is a gap between my practice sessions, I can just read it down without fumbling through it.

There are probably a few of you out there thinking A) Ummm, can’t you just look up the chord changes online? or 2) Dude, I’m not educated enough or experienced enough to make my own, customized charts…well, here are my thoughts:

A) Yes, but those should just be used for reference as they are messy, may have information you don’t need to mess with, and may be wrong to varying degrees. They also don’t give you the connection to actually writing it out which helps the brain retain information. 2) Yes you are.

The beauty of it is, you don’t have to read notation or be super deep into Nashville Numbers to write out something you can follow. After all, it’s just for you; no one else has to understand it at all. You only need something that is easy for you to read and, if you’re like me, visualize while practicing away from your instrument.

Your chart needs to possess three characteristics:

  1. Clear and easy to read – clean lay out, written out repeated segments (when space allows), section indicators (V, C, B, and so on). **Also, the fewer the pages the better. Page turns never don’t suck.**
  2. Chord/note progressions (obvi).
  3. Cues – in/out points, hits, rhythmic cues, unison licks, etc.

The problem is, you can’t just grab a pencil and paper and start sloppin’ and moppin’ notes and bar lines on the page without having a ton of eraser marks, scribbles, and random marks that do more cluttering than guiding. It also won’t help you remember any of it (after all, the goal most of the time is to not actually need the chart come performance time). Plus, it’s not super efficient and, let’s face it, we need to get this done so we can start practicing.

Well, I gotchoo, boo. Here’s the technique I use to make charts clean yet informative while embedding it into my not-so-gifted dome. If it works for me, maybe it can work for you.

It’s a hybrid between active listening (when you listen to a song and make mental notes of structure, instrumental ins and outs, loud and soft parts, etc), structural analysis and melodic dictation techniques I learned in college. I have modified them to make them more powerful at the molecular level.

I call it a tally sheet or pre-charting and this is how you do it –

  • Grab a blank page, a pencil or pen, and find a quiet place (if possible). You will totally need a device with you to listen to the song so grab one of them, too.
  • Write the name of the song at the top – You will end up with a column of tally marks directly under the title so plan accordingly.
  • Under the title and a little to the left, write a designation for the first section of the song (for example, “I” for intro, “V” for verse, and so on)
  • Hit play on the song and make a tally mark for each measure until you hit the end of the section. Then, re-listen to the section and make marks for anything you need to remember (for instance, an arrow pointing to the tally mark where you come in) These marks can be anything you deem appropriate and feel free to write out a legend beside the group of tally marks.
  • Continue the previous step until you have made it all the way through the song. Good news is, as you practice this, you’ll get faster and faster until you can do it without pausing or re-listening.

When you make it to the end of the song, go through and make notes of anything else you want to include in your chart. I use this space to work out any tricky rhythms or quickly jot down a run that I need to hit verbatim. At this point, you should have a pretty solid vision of what you need on the chart.

Now it’s time to write out the chart.

Start with the title at the top of the page and somewhere next to that write the original key. From there, treat it like you are writing paragraphs in English class – start on the left side of the page with a section designator (“I” for Intro, for example) then draw out the bar lines for that section as evenly spaced as possible and take into consideration that you want them to line up all the way down the page. **Eight measures per line/row usually works pretty well for pop/rock/country/etc.** This gives your brain a pattern and makes it easier for your eyes to follow. Do that again for each section leaving space in between the rows (systems, if you want to get technical) for any cues you need to add from your pre-chart. Try not to use repeats (though I get lazy and do it more than I should). Writing them out instead insures you don’t miss a jump back to another section, second ending, or the like. Remember, the idea is if you have to use it on stage, you can get all the info you need with a quick glance. So clear communication is key. Whether you use chord symbols or numbers, used widely recognized symbols or make up your own, as long as you remember what the short hand means, the system can be whatever works for you.

Below is an example of the tally sheet and resulting chart.

Example tally sheet or "pre chart" for noting song structure and key parts to notate.
Example Song Tally Sheet
Example song chart using information from tally sheet or "Pre Chart"
Example chart from tally sheet

Social Recap, 1/23/22

What’s up, fam? It was a pretty active and diversified week. Some writing, reworking gear, and boring MD stuff from the week before. Let’s take a look!

It took a few hours but getting this reworked has been super helpful. It may not look like much but being able to carry that rack into an outdoors spot, or a studio with all my samples has really made my life easier.

Next, some footage from an outdoor writing session ( I found the perfect audio for it). Some of what I ended up writing that day will be released in the next month or so.

This one was actually a picture from a week earlier as I prepped for a performance. I was handling playback (the tracks that the band uses to enhance the performance. Mostly textural stuff), music directing, and playing bass. So, there was a lot to cover.

It was a somewhat rare public gig at one of our favorite spots. Here’s a couple bonus pics that haven’t made it to social media yet –

Clearly, it was on Friday, the 13th 🙂

See you soon!

Jericho (Freedom Worship)

What’s up, fam?!

I’m so happy to drop in and FINALLY (only because I’m a slacker and didn’t post about it) tell you about the track I got to work on with the incredibly talented group of people over at Freedom Worship. Back in May, my good buddy over at Starscream Studio tossed me this track to play bass on and, already having worked with the Freedom peeps in the past, I quickly obliged.

Now, interesting story is that I had recently built a portable rack setup for recording, composing, and mixing on the road so I got to put this to use in…well, a natural location. More specifically, the woods in the foothills of the North GA mountains. Take a peek –

The song, which actually released back in August, is called Jericho. You can find it on Spotify and Apple Music. Definitely give their accounts a follow because they are going to be pushing out a lot more music in the upcoming weeks and months. Check them out on the socials, too – Instagram, TikTok.

Here’s my celebratory IG reel with some pics from the release party.

Also, don’t forget to hit up my guys over at Starscream. If you need live or studio engineering, recording, or anything else, they are the ones to call.

New Song by The Carolina Stomp!

Hey fam!

It’s so great to be back together, am I right?! If you recall, back in August, I let you guys know about a single called These Hills from my group, The Carolina Stomp. If you don’t, the group is an Americana/alt country/roots rock band lead by my man, Clint Singleton and myself.

Back in February, we went up to North Carolina for a weekend and turned a rented house into a studio. We had a blasty-blast and made it out with a lot of new music. The first of those songs has just been released and we are so excited about it. Check it out below and, if you like what you hear, look us up/follow us on your favorite listening platform (like Apple Music or Spotify). Also, check us out on Instagram and Facebook.

Remote Services Like Never Before!

Hey fam!!

I hope this post finds you well, rested, and prosperous.

Over the last year or so, I, like many in my field, have been doing more and more remote session work. And, I have been really blown away by the fact that the demand for such as maintained even as the world opened back up. Honestly, it’s allowed me to make ends meet without taking so many out-of-the-house gigs. I’m still out of the house a couple times a week for work (live sound, performance, etc) but any day I don’t have to waste “work” time in Atlanta traffic is a good day.

So, I’ve decided to expand a little bit and am happy to announce that you can now find my services on a few really great platforms. There are so many sites that let people connect to freelancers like myself so it took me some time to narrow it down to the ones I trusted and wanted to work with. After research and fiddling around on their platforms, I’ve grown to trust Upwork, SoundBetter, and Fiverr. Not only for a connection point but for payment processing and overall business approach.

So if you need electric or upright bass, mixing, editing, or even composing, you can contact me directly or through any of these platfoms.




Thanks so much!

The Carolina Stomp (and Our New Single!)

You know, sometimes you are lucky enough to find a friend who you just click with on a special level. Someone who pushes you in ways no one else does. Sometimes you get even luckier and get to make music with that person. For several years now, such has been the case with me. The result is a group called The Carolina Stomp (Facebook, Instagram).

Back in 2015, we released an EP (Apple Music, Spotify) and, over the last year or so, we’ve been back in the shed. Writing new songs, releasing one (These Hills), and working on a whole batch of others to release in the near future. We work together a lot but it’s kind of rare we get to sit in the same recording space together. After writing and recording These Hills remotely, We decided we needed to basically use that as a demo and take some time to both be in the same room at the same time working on the same song. So that’s what we did. The results, at least as I see it, were pretty great.

So here it is! Check out this lyric video and then swing over to any of these platforms and follow, add, buy, whatever you prefer. You can also help make creating more music a little easier with a small tip!

ATL Party Bands


I am so happy to finally tell you this…

A few months ago, a good friend shot me a text and asked if I would be interested in working with his family of party/corporate bands. A couple convos later and I happily joined the team as music director.

The friend? His name is Adam Johnson and he is one of the hardest working, most driven cats I know. He hosts a podcast called Cover Band Confidential (IG FB), Owns and operates ATL Party Bands, sings and plays guitar (like a boss) for those bands, owns a tech and personal branding consulting firm (IG, FB), and does all of that while being a dad and husband. FREAKING CRAZY.

I had Adam play and sing a good bit in environments that I directed over and I sub-contracted a few times with his 80’s tribute band Members Only and the 90’s version of that, Can’t Hardly Wait (along with others, both under the ATL Party Bands umbrella-ella-ella).

The gig? Involves a lot of nerd stuff. Transitioning the band over to Ableton (for tracks playback), some audio system tweaking (mostly to accommodate the new playback setup), performing with the groups, and, of course, all the (not so) glamorous MD stuff. This is literally everything I love about my world and it has already been a lot of fun.

(You can read the official announcement post here)

So there you have it! When public shows are a thing again, come out and hear one of these incredible bands. If you need a band for a private event, look around the ATL Party Bands website and find the perfect fit.

Stay awesome, peeps!

New Album!!

Fam, fam, fam!

It is so good to finally be writing this post announcing the March 2, 2021 release of my new album, Music for Study and Meditation. I’ll have more info for you in the coming weeks but check out this teaser and be sure follow me on social media. I’ll be posting preorder/add info there.

Two New Playlists on YouTube!


As I mentioned in the last post, I’ve been working on a lot of things over the last few months and I am super pumped to have some of that work hitting the world via YouTube.

There are TWO new playlists on my channel – one is for the Music for Study and Meditation project I started a few months back and the other is Ableton Live Tips that has some quick tips for speeding up workflow.

New content (music as well as behind the scenes and tutorials) hits the channel every Monday so hop over and subscribe. And, be sure to tell anyone you think would enjoy it.

The Music for Study and Meditation will be available on streaming platforms in the near future.

Thanks for reading this! I hope you enjoy the music below and have a fantastic holiday season!



I hope you are all having a fantastic start to your fall! I know it’s hard to keep things positive right now, but you got this! You’re freaking awesome.

As for me, I’m happier than a puppy with…never mind. The pandemic has been crazy for everyone. And, almost all of my live event work – as you can imagine – has turned into studio, video, and podcast work. I’ve been on both sides of the camera (hint hint at an upcoming YouTube series) and both sides of the mic and I gotta say, I have really enjoyed it.

I’ve also been playing and writing a lot. I’m about two-thirds of the way through the writing process for an album of meditation/study music and have been writing and recording with an old friend for a project we hope to release soon.

Short of the long, I’ve packed in a lot of music over the last couple months. Like aging wine, soon enough these projects will be ready to jump off their respective shelves and slap you in the face with awesome.

If you haven’t already, head on over to Insta and Twitter and hit those follow buttons! See you there!