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February 13, 2017 8:20 PM   Subscribe

I write pop songs with strange voicings: lots of suspended and extended chords, added intervals, etc, as well as open tunings, heavy capo usage, and the like. How do I sensibly transcribe them for other players without driving people crazy?

I have zero musical training whatsoever, but I'm self-taught on a bunch of different instruments. My primary songwriting instrument for the last 20 years has been guitar, and I'll basically do whatever I have to do to get the chords I like out of it. After many years of doing the solo thing, I've now arrived at a point where I have a new band that wants charts.

So I'm doing the dumbed-down version of charting, which is to play the exact chords, as voiced on the guitar, into a keyboard MIDI chord analyzer, and writing out the results. This is producing transcriptions which look like (for one chord progression):

C#Maj7sus4/F# / F# / G#add11 / C#6(no3) / C#7sus4/B

I'm also indicating a capo position and any alternate tunings in the headers.

Now, I know my options are basically to either continue along this path, preserving all the weird beats and ringings and mashings and such that make these chords so pleasurable on the guitar, or to dumb down the chords to their more elemental forms, which will produce "cleaner" charts but won't give the players quite so much harmonic information to work with.

So what would your average, theory-literate musician do in producing charts of this kind?

(Or: Feel free to tell me that my chords are fine and that I'm having amateur theory-phobia for nothing.)

Thanks for any advice/guidance...!
posted by mykescipark to Media & Arts (6 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Your chords are fine! I was coming in to say pretty much do what you are already doing. Even better if you can start to get a grasp on the chord forms you are playing without using the software - being able to scribble out charts on demand is very helpful.
posted by grumpybear69 at 8:51 PM on February 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I've seen weirdo chords like that in tablature and staff guitar music many times. If you have individual notes ringing out from chords, that's gonna be hard to do without tablature or tweaking any staff notation that the analyzer spits out, but for phrasing purposes the judicious use of ties could help make your intent clearer. You can use 'x' notes for the beats and scrapes and what have you.
posted by rhizome at 11:11 PM on February 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

These are real chords, and you don't have to feel bad about presenting them, but it sounds like your chords are interesting enough that it's worth writing out the diagrams of your fingerings as well; you're probably losing a fair bit of useful information by collapsing your voicings into standard chord symbols.
posted by dfan at 6:13 AM on February 14, 2017

Including a chord diagram is very helpful. I'm good enough to be able to take C#Maj7sus4/F# and start with the basic maj7 chord forms and modify as required, but that takes time and I'd rather you present me with the voicings that you've worked out. The chord name is invaluable in improvisation, so keep including that.
posted by disconnect at 6:38 AM on February 14, 2017

Everybody's different, but in my case more valuable than a chart to me would be a demo recording. That way I can hear how the chords function, which extensions are really important, how they fit with the melody, etc. Doesn't have to be the highest quality, as long as the music comes through clearly. Make sure you're tuned to A440 so I don't have to retune to play along at home.

For the charts, yeah, I'd err on the side of leaving the chords as they are for now even if they seem a little complicated. There probably are simpler/better ways to write the chords than what the MIDI analyzer produces, but they may take some theory skills to find. Maybe your bandmates will have some suggestions after they try the charts.

But basically this is a communication issue between musicians that may not share exactly the same language for talking about music, so some patience and understanding and back and forth will probably be required.

Have fun!
posted by floppyroofing at 7:34 AM on February 14, 2017

Response by poster: Thanks everyone! Great answers all.

Everybody's different, but in my case more valuable than a chart to me would be a demo recording.

Oh yeah. They have fully-produced studio demos with all the parts already written and overdubbed (I did say I was a multi-instrumentalist!). They just had some questions about certain chords. The next step will be learning to write sheet music/chord diagrams with capo and tuning indications ... but that's another question for another day!
posted by mykescipark at 9:35 AM on February 14, 2017

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