One area of debate among worship team members and leaders is: Which system of musical communication is most effective? Leaders tend to stay within their own comfort zones, and usually supply the team with their preferred system. The three most common are: chord-over-word style sheets, charts and the Nashville Number System.
Frankly, I use each of these methods at certain times, and I especially make use of the Nashville Number System while writing, figuring out chords to a new song, or creating an arrangement. But I prefer to use charts, either created myself in Finale®, or from resources like Praise Charts.
Below is a quick description, along with pros and cons, of each method. I’m sure that proponents of any particular system will want to staunchly defend its use. I understand. Musicians are passionate, and the debate over written forms of music continues to stir up heated conversation!
This system is the most common among guitar-based worship teams. With the words written out and chords situated directly above, each player can easily reference a song’s structure with little difficulty. It’s easy for someone with limited musical training to create their own arrangements and use this system.
Easy to read and write (no music reading skills necessary).
Most songs can be typed or written out in their entirety on a single sheet of paper.
The song’s layout (roadmap) can be written in shorthand at the top of the page.
A good, quick reference guide to the song during performance.
Doesn’t accurately include time durations between chord changes.
Doesn’t offer intricate details of musical rhythm, dynamic expression, written melodies or specific instrumental cues.
Chords must be rewritten if a key change is necessary.
Not an effective detailed representation of a song, especially when cataloging and creating a formal library of worship music.
As charts and lead sheets utilize formal musical notation, they take some skill to read and compose. By nature, this system proves to be the most comprehensive of all for use of its specific musical information.
It’s up to the writer of each chart to determine just how much “detail” is necessary for a song. For practical means, the arranger may want to limit information in order to cut down on page turns. Typically, a lead sheet will include the melody and lyrics of a song, but sometimes a basic chord chart is all that is necessary to document chord changes with rhythms and durations, the roadmap and notes to indicate dynamics and expression. I prefer to limit a chart to two pages, if possible.