Do You Use Charts? Or All Memory?

KevinD

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In my youth for rock/pop stuff I never needed any kind of chart. I had a good memory for things like tempos, song form, breaks etc. and never needed anything to refer to BUT... like a lot of folks who were born say, roughly during the original TV Runs of Gilligan's Island, I Dream of Jeannie, Green Acres etc... who are now getting to a "certain age" ... I now need to chart stuff like that out.

Sometimes I will do a rough, but useful sketch like Lazmo does above, maybe in some cases I can simply note things like tempo and breaks or certain figures right on the set list (I write big in Sharpie) OR sometimes, like a recent project I did, I have to chart out everything on staff paper. like a "real" drum chart. I usually get to the point where I can play them without the chart...which is my preference

I guess it all depends on the situation.
 

paul

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It varies. In a small group, whether jazz or rock, I memorize. Sometimes I'll be handed a chart, but usually I just ask what the feel is and go from there. When I had a church gig I worked off lyric sheets with my own notes where needed. Too much trouble to learn a song we'd play once and then put away for several months.

In the big band it's all charts. We have a monthly gig at a large restaurant and play an entirely new show every month (except for our theme song), and some of the arrangements are quite long and complicated. That said, after 20 years there are some songs I can easily play from memory. My reading skills deteriorated somewhat over the last 18 months, but are coming back, slowly. I'm a fair sight reader on a good day, much better the second time through.

Being able to read music has been a big advantage, especially over the last two decades. It's helped me get work with a wide variety of bands (I've played with 10 different big bands over the years, for example), and that variety I think has made me a better musician.
 

sternerp

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First off, I admire those that can sight read.
I can read and decipher drum parts, but not at the speed it takes to play it unrehearsed.
It’s a skill I do marvel at.
With that said,
I recently seen a video of Steely Dan that had been shot within the last year.
The stage was covered in greats such as Paul Schaffer and Steve Gadd.
They were playing AJA!
And ALL OF THEM, we’re using sheet music, even turning pages or having them turned, to play all these iconic parts that I would have thought all would have committed to memory decades ago.
While still impressive,
It somehow took something out of it for me. I felt like I was watching an author read their own book and stumble over their own words.
My only takeaway from the video was that it made me sad that these monumental players needed to read the sheets to play this masterpiece many of them helped create.
Knowing what a perfectionist Donald Fagan is, and how many years ago Aja was originally recorded, I’d give them a pass on the charts.
 

flatwins

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In cover bands, I just learnt the songs...

When I was house drumming for a mates open-mic, we just winged it.

But in our original band (various line ups) I always counted each song in to a metronome... 1+2+1234.
So, I had some very basic charts with the entire setlist and each songs tempo, quarter or eighth note info, intro info, any hits, outro info, or anything that was pertinent. After a few line ups and many gigs, I only needed to get the tempo to key it into the metronome... but initially the charts/notes helped a lot. And as above, I used Live BPM to monitor how we were tracking tempo-wise.

FYI ... I've attached one... they started off more detailed, but got more condensed over time.

View attachment 518055
These look similar to the notes or “cheat sheets” as I calm them. In my cover band I print the lyrics and highlight sections where I need to do something other than the norm. For the acoustic guitar jazz group I play in I make some really strange cheat sheets that few would be able to decipher.
 

Tornado

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I have a gig tomorrow with a guitarist I know, and a bass player I don't know. I'm not going to even get a set list. 3 hours of classic rock that I should be at least vaguely familiar with because there is a classic rock radio station in town. Songs will be played as they are called. If worse comes to worst, I'm going to hit on 2 & 4 and not do anything stupid.
 
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HoorayGuy

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For me, learning by ear I can memorize quicker. If I use charts, I kinda become a slave to it and takes longer to memorize.
 

notINtheband

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I have a gig tomorrow with a guitarist I know, and a bass player I don't know. I'm not going to even get a set list. 3 hours of classic rock that I should be at least vaguely familiar with because there is a classic rock radio station in town. Songs will be played as they are called. It worse comes to worse, I'm going to hit on 2 & 4 and not do anything stupid.
Recently played a gig with a last minute hired bassist.
He was rock solid on any commonly known standard.
When it came to the half-dozen or so originals, he had simply jotted down the chord changes in a notebook and played those songs looking at his notes.
It was effective, and frankly I don’t know any other way to do it, but tough to watch from behind the kit as the energy always went from high during familiar songs, to labored due to unfamiliar musician, who really did a fine job.
It was better than cancelling the gig and I doubt many in attendance paid much attention. But it does illustrate the effect of a tight band when everyone is on the same page vs just a delivery of the music.
 

Cauldronics

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All memory but I want it get into charts. I have seen how they work and it’d probably keep me on track and more consistent with what I play each time in each song.

I’ll try to dig up a good video I found on using drum charts and post it.
 

mebeatee

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An original band's music should be well enough arranged and rehearsed so no charts would be needed. You should be able to sit at your kit and play through a whole set of ditties by yourself with no accompaniment and nail everything. I've done this recording as well a couple of times....play from memory and the rest track to what I did....

I also work for a number of choirs and vocal groups. Recently I did two different shows...one with a vocal trio and another with various vocal groups and a couple of solo singers. Because the piano player comes up from the city, we managed to rehearse with all the groups in one day.....7 1/2 hours of reh and we played through 56 toons....all over the map. The piano player is an astounding reader and had charts for everything....provided by the music director(s). No music or charts for me....I write down the name of the toon, bpm, feel and genre along with any bits like double up outro et al, and then wing it. The "band" is just myself and the pianist and sometimes one of the singers will play guitar or piano. The trio group all play percussion as well and in those cases I follow them. One absolutely has to be able to cover many genres/styles of music, know song structure and how to serve and support the music. My role in these situations is to be almost invisible....but if the drums were taken away they would be missed.
I've been working for the choirs and singers for going on 20 yrs so I know the repertoire/styles and know what to expect.....and pretty well everything is done with brushes on a minimal kit....bd,snare, hats, two rides as these are very quiet gigs. This is why it is beneficial for me to "wing it" and to dummy down drum parts. The piano player and I have been doing this for quite a number of years and have amazing telepathy and communication, and for him he quite enjoys having a drummer who isn't tied to a piece of paper given the situation.
bt
 

Houndog

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In cover bands, I just learnt the songs...

When I was house drumming for a mates open-mic, we just winged it.

But in our original band (various line ups) I always counted each song in to a metronome... 1+2+1234.
So, I had some very basic charts with the entire setlist and each songs tempo, quarter or eighth note info, intro info, any hits, outro info, or anything that was pertinent. After a few line ups and many gigs, I only needed to get the tempo to key it into the metronome... but initially the charts/notes helped a lot. And as above, I used Live BPM to monitor how we were tracking tempo-wise.

FYI ... I've attached one... they started off more detailed, but got more condensed over time.

View attachment 518055
That’s a violent set of songs …..
 

BennyK

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If my band mates are glued to their music stands then I'll adapt by paying stricter attention to the page . If I'm not confident in remembering a piece correctly , the chart is a valuable resource .

My reading skills are mediocre at best but I'm glad I never became overly dependent on them . I use red green and yellow highlighters the same way I recognize traffic lights . I also highlight lyrics that indicate special figures, stops,etc.
 

Deafmoon

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First off, I admire those that can sight read.
I can read and decipher drum parts, but not at the speed it takes to play it unrehearsed.
It’s a skill I do marvel at.
With that said,
I recently seen a video of Steely Dan that had been shot within the last year.
The stage was covered in greats such as Paul Schaffer and Steve Gadd.
They were playing AJA!
And ALL OF THEM, we’re using sheet music, even turning pages or having them turned, to play all these iconic parts that I would have thought all would have committed to memory decades ago.
While still impressive,
It somehow took something out of it for me. I felt like I was watching an author read their own book and stumble over their own words.
My only takeaway from the video was that it made me sad that these monumental players needed to read the sheets to play this masterpiece many of them helped create.
If you are reading the landscape of the tune which most charts are, it’s not the same as reading phrases or every note written. Very few people write like that anyway. And in phrasing with written notes, you generally are cautiously sight reading until you apply it to memory. The Black Page by Zappa is like this. All Frank really wanted to see and hear a bit of, in those auditions was a drummers approach to reading what he phrased. If Frank sensed you had it memorized, he pulled it from the stand and would stick something completely different up there. If you said let me take it home to work on, you were gone. I have heard stories of guys he made almost cry.
 

dcrigger

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It somehow took something out of it for me. I felt like I was watching an author read their own book and stumble over their own words.
But for me, the big question is... did you actually hear them stumble??? Or do you just believe that playing music while reading must always be somehow.... less. Less in quality. Less in conviction. Less than when played from memory.

I mean if you really believe that to be true - I doubt anything I can write will dissuade you much.

All I can speak from is how it's been for me and what I've observed of others....

Though I've read throughout my entire playing life - I, like anyone who's played a bazillion hours of weddings, club gigs, cocktail hours, etc., I've probably performed more while not reading than reading. I would think way more.

But - again for me - during the lion's share of my most memorable, most defining performances, there was a chart on the stand next to me. For many of them, I was sort of "reference reading", using the chart as a reminder, a safety net to insure a slip of memory couldn't get me off track. But for some, I was indeed flat out reading - not sight-reading, but very actively reading music for a performance or recording of great importance (to me, my client, etc) with material that either too new or too minimally rehearsed for me to commit to memory.

Which for me, is never a goal in itself. Why? Because I've never found I play any better with music I've totally committed versus music I am only "reference reading". Like many readers, it is a skill developed in youth - and unless the material is entirely new and challenging takes up literally none of my headroom. And what little it dies it take, it more than makes up for in confidence and actual consistency.

Now that's me. Other readers I've observed approach it similarly. While others differently. Burt Bacharach, who wrote all of the songs and the arrangements we were playing - never felt comfortably performing without the music in front of him on the piano. Some stuff he looked at. Other times he might go two or three songs before flipping them over to see the nest arrangement. Why would he do that? Well, safety net. I would think often to make sure he was going to play in the right key - he had played these songs in many different arrangements with many different singers over the years. He probably felt better checking when he felt the need than launch into a song in the wrong key. FYI over 30 years, the number of times I witnessed him making such a mistake wouldn't take one hand to count.

Yet on the other hand - the main keyboard player on that show always tried to put the chart away ASAP - he also never made mistakes.

Point is - you do what works best. And whether you're reading or not simply doesn't figure into it.

It's like the common wisdom with actors and cue cards - needing to use cue cards is believed to be a failing similar to what you seem to be implying.... that a performance from cue cards must be somehow... less. And then there's Marlon Brando - one of our greatest screen actors - which neither of us have ever seen utter a line not delivered while reading a cue card.

So yes - from a showbiz perspective, reading onstage can seem distracting. But musically that is all utter nonsense as I tried to explain above.

My only takeaway from the video was that it made me sad that these monumental players needed to read the sheets to play this masterpiece many of them helped create.
I hope the above helps explain why there's no reason to feel that way.

And some further perspective, keep in mind that this one song was only one of the masterpieces they were involved with. And at the time, they created those masterpieces - they were masterpieces. They were living yet another day of doing their best to play the new music put in front of them. I don't think many people realize just how much new music players like this are confronted with yearly - or that doing what they do requires every bit as much energy and artistic focus for each of the songs.... not just the ones that later are recognized as masterpieces.

Unless they actually tour playing these masterpieces - it wouldn't be surprising that many of them hadn't even thought about playing "Aja" in years, if not decades.

Anyway - at the end of the day IMO - it just boils down to why would you attempt to play a complicated 6-7 song from memory if there is a chart available to help you be sure to be able to play it perfectly without mistake?
 

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charts until i memorize the tunes. i LOVE practicing them, so it doesnt take long. But when i have 60 tunes for one band, i need charts for a while.
 

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But for me, the big question is... did you actually hear them stumble???
There may or may not have been dropped notes, but I certainly wasn’t referring to that. Gadd and Fagan dropping notes all day is still magic.
And while i don’t necessarily disagree with any of your points, there is still a level of magic lost (for me) watching musicians read notes from a page and process on the spot.
I wish I had a valid reasoning for it. I don’t. Were I listening to a performance and unaware whether the musicians were sight reading or not, I doubt my ears could tell.
But my eyes color the presentation.
Here is the very video I referenced. Each can judge for themselves how it makes them feel. I envy those that can pay the music stands and sheet music no mind.
 

paul

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My reading skills are mediocre at best but I'm glad I never became overly dependent on them . I use red green and yellow highlighters the same way I recognize traffic lights . I also highlight lyrics that indicate special figures, stops,etc.
When you do what you describe, you're creating your own charts, just using different notation.
 

Fat Drummer

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Interesting question VB, and a lot of good replys. Like many others, I do a little of everything.

As I get older I don't have the memory I once had but I still am learning maybe 8 to 10 songs weekly for different shows so a quick chart is often a must. I might just jot out the form with the tempo and opening first few bars and any figures I need to play but I often have something to my side or on the floor.

I figure if I know the tempo, how it starts and the first few bars... I just hope the memory will kick in by the time the abbreviated chart runs out!!
 

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I play in a 50's and 60's (era tribute) band and we do not rehearse. When a new song is introduced, I find it on line , listen to it, and write a chart. 9 out of 10 times I will never need to read it again but the exercise of writing it is sufficient. I do this even if I think I know the song cold, (or knew it 60 years ago), as I often find little things I can play that I never noticed before.

They say that the listener always hears the record but I believe that adding subtleties makes a difference and the audience notices that something is special, even if they can't put their finger on it.

So, for myself doing my present gig, I write charts but end up playing from memory.
 

halldorl

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Anyway - at the end of the day IMO - it just boils down to why would you attempt to play a complicated 6-7 song from memory if there is a chart available to help you be sure to be able to play it perfectly without mistake?
I read and it’s the best tool ever. However I do try to learn the songs since when I have them internalised I am more free to express myself and I simply play better.

Seeing/hearing bands or orchestras play with or without sheet music is different. I’ve seen big bands play every note perfectly, reading, but there was less energy, power. It made the music less impressive. Perfectly played, great musicians, not a mistake, great music but that little extra that made the sparks fly and musicians tapping in to the danger zone was missing, making the performance unmemorable. I’ve seen it countless times, even with world famous musicians.

I see it at my music school with ensembles . When students are reading and then are told to learn the song by heart for the next rehearsel it kicks their performance to the next level. They know the song better and play with greater conviction.

But, then there are those exceptions where musicians can read AND make the sparks fly. Wish I was one of those.
 

dcrigger

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There may or may not have been dropped notes, but I certainly wasn’t referring to that. Gadd and Fagan dropping notes all day is still magic.
And while i don’t necessarily disagree with any of your points, there is still a level of magic lost (for me) watching musicians read notes from a page and process on the spot.
I wish I had a valid reasoning for it. I don’t. Were I listening to a performance and unaware whether the musicians were sight reading or not, I doubt my ears could tell.
But my eyes color the presentation.
Here is the very video I referenced. Each can judge for themselves how it makes them feel. I envy those that can pay the music stands and sheet music no mind.
I totally hear everything you are saying... and my response... and I'm really making no value judgements towards anyone individually and am going to also try not sound like another old guy ranting about the good old days... and I get I may fail at that last point...Anyway...

Times have changed obviously - and the way the average American lover of music gets exposed to music has changed greatly (I can only speak of the US as that's what I experienced). And interestingly (I peek at your profile) there is only a 12 year difference in our age. But I think things changed quite a bit even in those 12 years.

Many say our prime musical tastes are formed in our teens - for women between 11-14 and men between 13-16 - let's split the difference and look at age 14. For me that would've been 1968 - for you, I believe 1980...

In a nutshell, in the years leading up to me beginning 14 and even for a few years after - seeing people read music on television was an every day experience... Sure rock bands and small jazz combos played without music... but to the greatest degree solo pop artists were backed in performance by musicians that were reading and being given cues from a conductor (or lead player - notice Will Lee adopting that role in this Aja performance - Fagen was giving no cues... if Will hadn't of, that performance would been a train wreak - not in the hard section, but in the easy ones, with those long sustained chords that when???).

So sure the Vanilla Fudge used no music stands - but Sinatra was always surrounded by an orchestra... reading. Simply put... large ensembles were everywhere... big bands, big bands plus strings... But maybe as a kid, we might choose to be more solely focused on rock....

Doesn't matter - because we saw it anyway... when I was 14, we were still living nationally with THREE channels. And we had variety shows... from the time I was born until 1971, The Ed Sullivan show was on every Sunday night - and for huge chunks of America, watching it was together as a family was a staple of every Sunday night - much like watching the Wizard Of Oz when it was on once a year.

After The Beatles debut appearance in 64, the Sullivan show had become "the place" for much of America to get it's first look at rock's newest and hippest, but also saw the best of Broadway, the best of Vegas, the in Comedy, the best in Jazz... Jan '68 had a show with the Vanilla Fudge and also the Duke Ellington Orchestra, Or the show with Sly and there Family Stone & Dionne Warwick or Janis Joplin and country guitarist Chet Atkins.

The show's menu covered all bases - and much of the time, you never knew was going to on - or when they would be on - Ed was no dummy. You had to tune in to see who was actually going to be on and watch pretty much the whole thing in order to catch your favorite. And in the process - Grandma got a taste of what you liked - and you got a taste of what Grandma liked.

And that was not the only show like that - it was just the gold standard.

And by the mid-70's they were nearly all gone.

And then live music itself started going away on TV as well -

I mean throughout the 70's - The Midnight Special and Rock Concert was presenting weekly live music - plus one musical guest a week on SNL - then by 80 or so the first two were gone. As we saw the emergence of the "music video"... which started as a performance thing. Then turned into the sort of pseudo dramatic performance interlaced with a mock performance aspect - that seem to go out of it's way to remove any of the actual trappings of real musical performance - for the sake of a cooler looking set. Basically anything to not exhibit musicians actually being musicians.

What I've long called "poser videos"...an art form I always thought was doomed to eventual failure... which we are now seeing. As a marketing tool for celebrity - I get it. As a marketing tool to sell actual artist? Well obviously that was the point... selling celebrity was to be the product. But for me the rub was always this - you take someone that can do something that few people in the world can do - something people are actually interested in. And then you continually present them Not Doing That Thing. You have them clearly playing dress up and miming to their record.... but can't the bulk of your audience do that... dress up and mime to your record?

Which is one part of how the music powers that be lost their control over all of this... but I seriously seriously digress?

In 1968 - when I was 14 - I saw lots of concerts but mainly I remember two...I saw Hendrix live at the Hollywood Bowl, mind blowing. And I saw the Don Ellis Band live at Disneyland, equally mind blowing (and I say that as one of the greatest Hendrix fans that walks this earth). During the next few years, I saw Blood Sweat & Tears tear it up (no charts on stage) and I saw Zappa's Grand Wazoo band (again at the Bowl - and with music stands galore). Mahavishnu, the Stan Kenton Orchestra, Return to Forever, Buddy Rich's band, Chicago, ELP, Tower of Power, Elvis right at the beginning Vegas (incredible), and on and on... some reading, some not.

And it made no difference to me in the audience - I believe because I grew up with it.

Just different visions of it - I love seeing the chords, the amps and all of the trappings of the process of playing - always have - others think it takes away from "the show". Not many - there is no better show IMO.
 


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