[Dm]How easy is it to [Bbmaj7]read this sen[A7]tence?, or “Why I don’t like chords embedded in the same line as the lyrics!”

There is a style of song chart that has the chords embedded in the same line as the lyrics, such as:

[example 1]

[B]lyrics blah blah [D]more lyrics blah
Lyrics blah blah [Am] blah blah blah blah
Some lyrics [C]blah blah more [E]lyrics blah

As I understand it, this is a way of coding that when finished, will produce this:

[example 2]

B                         D
lyrics blah blah more lyrics blah
.                              Am
Lyrics blah blah blah blah blah blah
.                     C                         E
Some lyrics blah blah more lyrics blah

What happens sometimes, is that some people will leave it in its first form [example 1], sometimes to save space on the page or perhaps because they don’t realize there is another way to present a song. This then gets shared, passed around, copied, etc.

The simple problem with this is that it is hard to read while playing – trying to pull the chords out of the lyrics is difficult.

But the real problem with this “music” is that it isn’t musical at all.

Music isn’t a series of instructions. It’s not like assembling a bookshelf.

Music is rhythm. Music is lyrics that can be interpreted and sung in variations over the rhythm.

To teach and share music this way is doing a great disservice, as new learners begin to believe that one must think of music as a series of “things to do” without seeing (or hearing) the big picture.

Even the second way [example 2] of presenting music is misleading, in that you still think of chords occurring at a particular word, instead of in time.

Many students have asked me, “How do I know when to change the chord?” when viewing this sort of chart.

“You don’t, really.” I respond. “You have to know the song already. It’s just a guide.”

(To really know when to change a chord, you need a real chart: one that shows the time signature, measures, and structure of the song.)

I can go on and on about this, and perhaps in the future I shall, but for now I encourage you to stick with the chords OVER the lyric style [example2], as that is a step in the right direction for learning music the musical way!

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12 Responses to “[Dm]How easy is it to [Bbmaj7]read this sen[A7]tence?, or “Why I don’t like chords embedded in the same line as the lyrics!””

  1. frank kelly Says:

    when i first started playing i prefered type 1 as i thought it told me exactly where to change but i soon realised that type 2 is much better and fluid to enable me to “play it my way”

    • Rhan Wilson Says:

      Thank you for your comment. I am glad you have moved on, in regard to these songsheets. By learning a bit more about music and rhythm, you will still know exactly where and when to change chords, only you will know it, rather than simply imitate it. Good luck to you and stay in touch.

  2. Peter Says:

    Rhan, When you wrote that chord position is more a function of rhythm rather than exact placement at a particular lyric – that was a real ah-hah moment for me. Thank you, Thank you! As a beginner who more often than not plays with other beginners I cringe at how often I’ve bent a tune to fit the way it is written and wondered why it just didn’t sound right. We may have been singing it differently than the person who typed it up or we may have been just slavishly playing a typo.
    Thanks for the blog.
    – Peter

    • Rhan Wilson Says:

      Thank you Peter for your comment and observation.

      The idea that first you sing “la la la la” then you change chords, then you sing “la la la”, etc. teaches music the opposite of how it is to be played.
      Because everyone is so eager to sing complete songs, they are missing out on a very important step, and that is to learn the chords and instrumental part first. The best way to do this might be to have a chord chart like jazz players have that show the timing of the chord changes. That way the timing is clearly visible and easy to understand. Then, when that concept is concrete, you add the lyrics to the top of that, like icing on a cake. That icing can be applied in various ways without changing the integrity of the rhythmic “cake” below it.

      I think it’s wonderful to see people jumping right into music: singing and playing with abandon. I now just wish that those who are interested in better understanding what they are doing will take some time to learn about it from the ground up.

      Thanks again,

  3. Bob Says:

    I much prefer example 2 also, but find many “mistakes” in where the chords are shown, even when shown that way (as someone else commented on). I agree that most of these are just passed on copies, but I personally like to take the time to put the chords in the correct positions above the words or spaces where they typically occur.

    • Rhan Wilson Says:

      I couldn’t agree more. Part of the reason for that discrepancy is the use of fonts that are not monotype. Monotype fonts use the same amount of space for each letter. If you took a properly formatted monotype document and changed fonts, (which often happens) then the spacing would most likely also change. Then there is the issue of using tabs instead of spaces to place the chords over the lyrics. Tabs change.

      But I wish to remind everyone reading this, that the whole point of my post was to comment on the fact that there is no exact correct place for a chord over a lyric. It can change. (Okay yes, there are certain songs that are pretty much sung the same way all the time, and therefore we can put that chord in the best place.) But back to teaching about music – if you begin to listen to the rhythm and get used to knowing where chords change without using a word as a reference, then you are truly beginning to understand how music works.

      And that is my goal with this blog I write – I wish to take people back to the beginning and help them understand the big picture.

      And it is you and all other people who comment and discuss these ideas that really help.

      Thank you so much.


      PS – This of course, does not even touch on the fact that many charts online are simply incorrect, period. Difficult chords are often replaced with easy to play, yet incorrect ones. Words are misspelled, and often heard completely wrong.

      I often use online charts to get most of the song typed out to save time, but then I go over it and fix everything. Informing the author has never been successful, so I don’t bother anymore.

      That’s okay – it’s still a help and I appreciate it.

  4. Dave Says:

    I agree entirely and my preference is for example 2 where the chords are over the lyrics. However in your example I am confused as the chords in example 2 are in different positions to example 1.
    Was this in error or were you just showing us that the chords could be re-positioned?

    • Rhan Wilson Says:

      That was an error of sorts, and I have corrected it. Thank you for noticing.
      But as for showing that chords can be repositioned, I would say the opposite: the chords are in specific places along the rhythmic line, whereas the lyrics are more fluid and can be interpreted differently by different singers.
      Thanks again,

  5. Steve Says:

    Quite right of course but if anyone takes the time and effort to work out and post chords and lyrics in any form, one can’t really complain.

    • Rhan Wilson Says:

      I do commend those who take time to work these things out. I have a hunch that the people who share these charts don’t really make them, but rather find them on the internet, already created, and simply pass them on.

      On another note – I also had a hunch that this post of mine might ruffle a few feathers. I mean no harm, but being that this blog site of mine is intended to teach music and to educate, I feel it is my duty to help that process and to utilize my 42 years of studying, playing, and teaching music.

      I have tried to follow these charts while playing with others, and I find them absolutely worthless. Perhaps they are useful played slowly, step by step, analyzing a series of moves, but as a playalong chart – very confusing.

      But again – I do so very much thank you for your participation in this discussion. That’s what we’re here for.

  6. Ron or Sue Says:

    Thank God, These “embedded” chord notes have driven me crazy, and I have only been playing Uke since July. I can’t see the word that is supposed to be sung – I love having the chord OVER the text. Thanks for bringing this to the world, Ron Fikes Palo Alto ………………………………..

    • Rhan Wilson Says:

      Thanks for commenting. I must add that I do commend anyone who takes the time to locate, copy, and put together songbooks for others. That takes initiative. Now, I just want to rid the world of this type of chart. ha ha.

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