Internet Charts: a Review

Maybe you’re like me.  I get very busy at church and suddenly find I am up against a rehearsal and I have no chart for a particular song.  Where do I get a chart quickly that I can trust?

Some charts are easy to read and some are harder.  Some charts are completely focused on the guitarist and having bother for the vocalist.  Some charts look like they came right out of a jazz fake book.

The whole process can be very frustrating.

Here are the things I look for in a chart:

  • accuracy in notating a recording I like – stylistically as well as the right chords and notes.  The recordings are huge for non-readers, so teaching music reading is completely dependent on having a chart identical to a source recording.
  • readability – lots of white space, professional print style, clear formatting (repeats, etc.).  If you want professionals to play with you, have music that looks like it was written by a professional.  Even small churches will occasionally have a highly talented musician drop in; you want them to stay.
  • versatility – chords for rhythm with notated hits, lyrics and melody for singers, parts for orchestra written idiomatically.  Don’t make a cellist make up a part from a chord with lyrics chart; that cellist, unless they are really servant minded, will not want to play with you.  Imagine notating on a staff the exact chords you want the guitarists to play.  Not successful.
  • Ease of access – downloadable from anywhere with a minimum of hassle.

I don’t know all of the sources, but here are a few I have tested over the past 10 years, with varying levels of success.

wordmusicnow (Praise Band, SAT and SATB vocal, Core Rhythm, and Orchestral parts; Lyrics/Chords and varying styles of notation) – I am not a fan.  I quit using this after a few years except in a jam.

  • The charts are generally “blended.”  They stick the style in a blender and come out with something barely distinguishable from the original.  This is my biggest pet peeve.  Write a chart that sticks to the original feel or label your website as a place for blended style arrangements. Period.  The fact that they use the term “Praise Band” says it all.  (How do I really feel?)
  • I believe they have improved access to the charts once you purchase them, but they add a lot of hassle.
  • The print style is not easy on the eyes.
  • The formatting is usually ok.
  • The pricing is reasonable and they offer monthly free charts.

Song Select (Lead Sheets and Vocal Sheets; Chords/Lyrics and notated melodies) – I am not really a fan of these either, but there are more positives than with wordmusicnow.

  • Since these charts come with a subscription to CCLI, the price is a different issue.  Every church should be registered with CCLI, so spending a little more money to have access to the charts is a wise thing.
  • The formatting and print style are so-so.  I like the amount of white space, but the charts look like an amateur wrote them.  Their approach to repeats is not always intuitive.
  • I do not always agree with the chord choices, but their melodies, especially with performance tunes such as Sara Groves’ Conversations, can be very accurate.
  • A big advantage of these charts is that you can change the key before you print them out.  VERY helpful.
  • Song Select does not offer anything beyond lyrics, chords, melodies, and vocal harmonies.  Look elsewhere for orchestral, horn and full rhythm parts.

praisecharts (Charts of every kind from vocal to orchestral, loops and click tracks) – I like these guys.  They continually improve their offerings and up their game.

  • Prices are very reasonable and good subscriptions are available.
  • They offer a free chart.
  • The formatting looks very professional.  The downside of the formatting is that it can look a bit busy and be distracting for the eyes.  I also am not a fan of how they collapse the strings into Violin 1 & 2, Viola, and Cello-Bass.  Their collapse of the Flutes/Clarinets/Oboes is meant to be helpful, but I spend a ton of time trying to figure out who I want to play what.
  • They sell their Finale files, which makes it possible to change keys, etc.  Very cool!
  • Their vocal harmonies are pretty good but not always what I would pick.  In general they stick pretty close to the original, which is very good.
  • The horn parts in the Praise Band style are very authentic.
  • The orchestral parts leave something to be desired.  I mentioned the formatting above, but the content is not very challenging in some places and extremely in others.  Usually the primary interest is in the violin parts.  If you have a professional player who shows up and wants to play, make certain they are playing more than footballs.

leadworship (Chords/Lyric charts, Lead Sheets, Rhythm charts, Piano-Vocal charts, How-To videos) – This is Paul Baloche’s personal site and he does a great job. 

  • He offers lots of free charts.
  • The How-To videos are great.
  • He offers occasional parts for cello, etc.
  • Because it is Baloche’s own site, only his music is offered.
  • His formatting is generally good and professional.  The rhythm charts are a little garish with the different colors, but it is easy to track what you are looking for because of the colors.  The repeats and so forth generally make sense, and he has good cues (strings in, etc.).
  • He also offers Live Videos of songs, the stories behind some of the songs, and trax for some of the more popular songs.
  • A cool feature you do not find on the other big sites is charts translated into seven languages other than English.

What sources do you use, and why? 

7 Steps That Can Rescue You and Your Marriage

When it comes to communication, I already have two strikes against me: I’m a guy and an introvert.

Guys are notorious for unclear speech when they do speak, and for not speaking enough. Introverts like to process by themselves and avoid interaction with people.

Do some swift math and you will rightly conclude that communication has been a challenge for me all of my life, and will probably continue that way for the rest of my life.

Here are some of my past pitfalls.

I don’t communicate for fear of hurting myself or my wife. My internal processor determines that my wife will respond a certain way; therefore I do not say certain things to avoid hurting her or myself.

I communicate unclearly for fear of hurting my wife or myself. My internal filters guide me to soften and blur the edges on what I say in order to avoid conflict, which only results in completely obscuring my meaning and intent.

I communicate harshly. This seems like an oxymoron, but because I fear hurting myself and my wife, and because I avoid conflict, when I do get the truth out my words can often be harsh because I am working so hard to communicate what I know needs to be said.

I am unable to verbalize my feelings and thoughts. Because I am filtering everything I say based on the supposed feelings and preferences of my wife I eventually replace my preferences with her perceived preferences.

Confused yet? Have a headache yet? Exactly. Fear of conflict, fear of getting hurt, and fear of hurting your spouse’s feelings (wanting to please) will introduce tension and frustration into your life and marriage. This tension and frustration combined with a complete focus on the happiness of your spouse will quickly blind you to yourself and make the simplest questions (What do you want to eat?) impossible to answer.

Familiar with this scenario?

Left unchecked these issues can ruin your marriage. Address them and you will see your intimacy soar.

Here are several strategies for counteracting these pitfalls.

1. Get help. If you are stuck in the mindless circle of pleasing others, find a counselor or friend who is very good at seeing through your verbal masks and who is able to challenge you. Trust me. You cannot get out of this cycle by yourself.

2. Pray. Like I said, you can’t make a change by yourself. God created you and made you unique. Ask him to reveal to you who you really are and to give you the courage to be that person.

3. Observe yourself. My counselor gave me this valuable assignment at our first session. For a week pay close attention to your moods and feelings and record them in a journal with your opinion on their origins.

4. Be honest with yourself. Admit the truth about what you have observed. You have to tell yourself the truth before you can tell the truth to your spouse.

If you have been hiding behind masks for very long this exposure will be very difficult. You will make a lot of mistakes and will probably need to ask forgiveness from your spouse for foot-in-mouth disease. Just remember that God accepts us just as we are, so we should do the same.

5. Value yourself. Value yourself enough to say and do what you need to say and do in order to be at peace with yourself and God. If you base your words and actions on what your spouse thinks (or what you think they think!!), you are placing the value of yourself below them. You are equals.

For all of you devout Christians out there, “considering others better than yourself,” as Paul puts it, does not mean ignoring what you think and feel at the expense of others. He was talking about humility and deference, something completely different.

6. Set boundaries. Allow the opinions of your spouse to penetrate only so far into your psyche. Far enough for you to consider the validity of what they are saying, but shallow enough that their opinion never comes close to compromising your beliefs about yourself.

7. Love through honesty. The greatest love you can show to your spouse is to be honest with them. In a world where everyone is selling something or pretending to be someone they’re not your spouse needs you to lovingly speak your mind, to be real, to be strong enough to take a little blowback and conflict.

How are you going to love your spouse more today?

What Kind of Music Charts Should I Use?

If you’ve spent any time with worship teams you’ve probably touched on the topic of chord charts and notated music. Musicians take this topic personally, so approach with care!

First of all, I want to clear up one thing: every worship team uses notation. The question is simply what kind of notation. “Notation” is a system of symbols designed to communicate to the musician what to sing or play. Chords over lyrics are notation. Chords over a notated melody line with the lyrics is notation. Exactly written out parts for violin, bass, drums, and so forth is another kind of notation.

If you are rolling your eyes with this “beginner” definition of notation, hang with me a moment. There is a method to my madness.

I compare musical notation with the primary kind of notation every single person on the planet uses: written language. The two are really no different. Authors use a specific collection of words and illustrations to evoke or communicate a truth or a feeling. Composers use a specific collection of symbols and lyrics to communicate truths and feelings through the medium of music.

So how do we choose? What is the deciding factor? Do we let dear Mary who loves playing the autoharp determine what kind of notation we use?  Uh, I don’t think so.  Or you don’t know me very well.

Here are a few things to consider.

Precision. How precisely do you want to communicate? If you are writing picture books you will only be able to reach a certain level of precision, but picture books are not meant to be precise. They are meant to be enablers for beginning readers and open to interpretation. In the same way chords over lyrics provide general direction with large amounts of room for personal interpretation. Chords over lyrics are also an easy step for beginning musicians. If, however, you are trying to specifically craft a musical moment, and especially if you are working with a large group of musicians, precision is going to require a more developed kind of notation.

Time. How much time do you have to prepare the music? If you have a several months to prepare a song and lots of rehearsal time for a rock band, less notation is going to be necessary.

How much time does your team practice each week? Do you even have a mid-week rehearsal? (If you don’t, quit reading this and call one. Now. You will get no where without one! And, no, Sunday morning does not count!)

If you do lots of music, you will need to choose between the following:

  • lots of easy music with simple charts
  • medium difficulty music with moderately complex charts
  • difficult music with complex charts
  • repeat the same tunes over and over and over so that you do not have to learn much new material.

If you have one shot to put something together in rehearsal, the chart needs to contain as much information as possible to assist the musician in preparation.

Ability. If your team is only learning to play their instruments and have no clue what it means to play together (You mean I have to listen to the other musicians?), it will not matter what you put in front of them. They are going to have their hands full starting and stopping together on Sunday, let alone providing interest throughout the song.

The team who is playing together well on standard worship repertoire (Tomlin, Brewster, Hillsong United) is ready to move to another level of notation and to reach another level of excellence in their musicianship.

Motivation. Eventually someone asks, “But why do I need to learn notation? Only the heart of worship matters, and when notated music is in front of me I can’t worship.” The kernel of truth here is that the heart of worship is what matters, but that is where the truth ends.

If your heart is all about worship, consider this. God calls each of us to give our very best to him as a sacrifice, something given not because it is easy but because he is worthy. If you have been at the same level musically for years, either you have reached the ceiling of your talent or you are staying comfortable.

If you have reached the ceiling of your talent, are you holding the team back from moving forward? If so, humbly admit it and decide if you should move on to allow the team to grow.

If you have not reached your ceiling, why are you not growing? This has everything to do with heart. Do not bury your talent. For the senior musician out there, God has no retirement plan. When your life purpose is finished he will take you home. Until then, keep growing.

Commitment. The final hurdle to taking growth steps in music can often be the musician’s level of commitment. Beware: challenging someone on their level of commitment is tantamount to asking them whether they have stepped out on their spouse. This is very personal, and you have to earn the right as a leader to speak about this. You also have to be modeling commitment. Otherwise, forget it.

Ultimately, a musician has to set aside extra time at home if he or she is to grow in their musicianship. If a musician says they want to grow but is unwilling to spend the extra time it takes, one of several things is at work. Either they truly are committed but their family life prevents them from spending more time, or they say they are committed but are change averse and refuse to put in the effort.

Vision. Ultimately, though, the decision comes down to you and the church’s vision. As a friend of mine used to say, does the church have a “minor leagues” or “all-stars” approach to arts? If they want all-stars, everyone on your team is going to have to step up or step down if you want to bring the church’s vision to fruition. If the church is about minor leagues and providing a place for everyone to serve and grow as long as they have a certain threshold of talent, then your approach is going to be completely different.

Conclusion. There is no silver bullet. Every situation is different, but I hope that you have a sense of the bigger picture when you are deciding what kind of notation to use. Don’t choose based on what is comfortable. Personally I will always lead my teams towards notated charts; I will talk about that later. I believe everyone can learn to read music, just like everyone can learn to read more than picture books (and once they do, they are usually glad they did!).

How to Care for Hurting People

When I was going through my divorce my family and others told me, “We don’t know what to say.” Have you ever felt like that?

You walk into the hospital room where a friend of yours is struggling to heal or live, and you’re tongue-tied and nervous. In the midst of a conversation someone tells you their spouse just died unexpectedly in her sleep, or that their spouse walked out on them.

What to do?

Perhaps you respond in one of these ways:

  • Quote an encouraging Scripture verse
  • Wait awkwardly and then try to change the topic to a safer one
  • Avoid further contact with the person because you don’t have time or the emotional bandwidth to “get into it” with them
  • Make jokes to “lighten things up”
  • Attempt to distract the person from their pain and grief in order to cheer them up
  • Give them a helpful book to read
  • Share the latest herbal strategy

I’ve done many if not all of those in my lifetime, and here’s the kicker: they are all appropriate . . . at the right time . . which is usually later.

What not to do:

  • Discuss your sister’s failed fight with cancer and how you are completely over it
  • Second guess the doctor’s diagnosis
  • Tell them that if they have enough faith everything will come out fine

I am not a doctor or a counselor, but here are a few things I have learned from other counselors and pastors, as well as from my own experiences.

1. Eye contact is critical. When they talk, no matter how tough the issue, look them in the eye. This translates into “I am listening” for them, which is most important.

2. Ask “How are you doing?” If they are talking about a friend of theirs, then ask how their friend is doing first, and follow that question by asking how they are doing. By asking these questions you are not signing up to fix their difficulty; you are letting them know you care by letting them share details.

3. Ask “Do you need anything?” Use a “you” question rather than something like “How can I help you,” because the latter obligates you follow through on things which may be completely out of your power to do.  You do not even know what they need yet, and “I” statements will take the focus off of them, where it should be.

4. Ask “Can I pray for you?” 90% of the time the answer will be “Yes.” Then ask God to walk through this difficult time with them, to bring healing in accordance with his will, to give wisdom to the doctors or those in control of the situation, to show his love and comfort to them and their family, and, if appropriate, to show this person how to support their friend/spouse who is hurting.

Time and again these steps have encouraged me and have helped me to encourage others. Anyone can do it, and everyone needs it.

They don’t need your success or horror story; they don’t want your pity; they don’t even really want you. They want your attention.

How are you going to care for a hurting person today?

Excerpts from Flying for the Window

Today, for something a little different, I want to share two poems with you from the collection Flying for the Window, written by Charles Coté.  Charles lives in Rochester, NY, where he practices as a clinical social worker.  This collection is his first published collection, poems about his son Charlie, who died of a malignant melanoma in 2005 at the age of 18, right after graduating from high school and while the front man for a popular Rochester-area band, Fivestar Riot.

More importantly, Charlie, as I call him, is a dear friend and has been my guide and counselor for the past several years through my own challenging times.  Often we talked about poetry, and he coached me on my writing.  Flying for the Window is available on Amazon, or you can find the book on Charles’ blog.  I post these poems with his consent.

Here are two selections.

On the Car Radio

Every song a melody
you didn’t write,
played by those
I didn’t lose.
Take this moment
for instance:
wherever I go,
you aren’t here either.

I love this poem.  From the first reading it’s pungency and brevity hit me like a ton of bricks.  The turn at the end is magnificent.  This poem speaks so well of how I felt about my own loss.

Sitting in His Empty Room

Three years I watched his body
waste away, radiation burning the hair
off half his head until he shaved the rest.
So no one would gawk at the scar and ask
questions, he wore a knitted skull cap
and a drooping smile on the left side
after the surgeon removed his parotid gland.
Still, he lit up the room with that smile, and dark
brown eyes, eyes like no one else in the family.
Picture a high school gym filled with classmates,
a red carpet, his girlfriend holding his right arm,
black velvet crown on his glad head,
a poster child for the happy, raucous
cheers from the crowd.  Later that evening,
a show at Water Street Music Hall, his band
Fivestar Riot opening for Dysplastic Revulsion,
he’s still wearing the same crown, the homecoming
king’s cape, singing Better, his best song.
That was a year before he died.
See me now, sitting at the foot of his bed
the night he left us, asking, Are you scared?
No, he says, the knitted skull cap
tossed on the wheel chair, Just curious
about what’s next.

I am touched by the recollection of a parent, and I think about sitting on my boys’ bed and the kinds of answers they give to my questions – often very unexpected answers, like this one: “No, just curious about what’s next.”

How do these poems speak to you?

How to Be Your Senior Pastor’s Right Hand Leader

I have always wanted to be the hero.  And I love being valued and relied upon by my superiors.  Anyone else like me out there?

I grew up in a pastor’s home, and by the time I got my first full time job as a Director of Worship Ministries I thought I had a lot figured out about supporting and working with a senior pastor.

Immediately after I was hired the pastor announced he was leaving (on good terms) to take a new position.  After three-and-a-half years without a senior pastor our church finally hired a new man to take his place.  I might as well have been hired then; I had not had any real time working for a senior pastor up until that time.

Here is how I thought you supported a senior pastor.

  1. Work hard and produce excellent results.
  2. Always have his back in public.
  3. Always have his back in staff meetings when conflict arose.
  4. Always try to see where he was coming from and adjust accordingly.
  5. Have an opinion when appropriate or in my area of expertise.

I could not have been more wrong.

Did I mention I hated conflict?  Not only did my aversion to conflict show up in how I interacted with my family; my conflict averse nature completely informed how I worked on staff.  I didn’t complain.  The church came first.  I tried my best to please everyone, and especially the senior pastor.

At home my conflict averse nature contributed to the breakdown of my marriage, but that is another story.  At church I only succeeded in getting stressed and unintentionally sidelined.  I say unintentionally, because whether or not you are sidelined in your job or your family or anywhere else is completely up to you.  Check out my post  5 Fantastic Ways to Get Burned in Ministry.  I did this “research” during my time at this church we are discussing now.

Here are my thoughts now on working for a senior pastor.

1.  Work hard and produce the best results within your ability and resources.  Your definition of excellence completely determines how healthy your work life will be.  If excellent = absolute best that is earthly possible, you are in for trouble and burn out.  Burnt out leaders are no good to senior pastors.  If excellence = your best effort with what and who you have, you will still have great results, and you will show maturity and understanding, which senior pastors value greatly.

2.  Have the back of every staff member in public.  Your loyalty is not to the senior pastor but to the team.  The senior pastor is the leader of the team and will ultimately guide the team’s direction, but the senior pastor is going to be looking for team players who know how to work together and support each other.

3.  Have an opinion.  That’s right, speak up.  Even the most sensitive senior pastor will welcome your input if you respect his position, and he will not mind if you completely disagree with him.  A senior pastor wants a leader who will push back.  Air your concerns and questions right away; most pastors will appreciate your straightforwardness.

4.  Get on board.  Once the senior pastor has guided the team to a final decision, make certain you can fully articulate the vision and then get on board.  

5.  If you have a concern, deal with it immediately.  Do not wait.  Do not pass Go.  Go straight to the senior pastor (remember Matthew 15?) and discuss the issue.  And this is usually not in a staff meeting.  Your senior pastor has enough headaches with people in the congregation who are holding grudges; don’t be one of them.

If you cannot do these things, you should consider leaving.  Yes, it’s that simple.

After Christ, your calling is to assist the senior pastor in fulfilling the mission Christ has given your specific church; that’s all.  You are a humble servant leader who is privileged by Christ’s favor and grace to be serving in a church and leading people in worship.

So what have you learned about being valuable to senior pastors?

How to Recover from a Public Mistake

If you have a pulse, you have made a mistake.  Period.  Some of us have made much more public ones than others, but we have all made mistakes.  It’s called sin and the fallen nature of humankind.  And I’m right there with everyone else.

Rarely do we have good examples of famous people who know how to recover well and how to model a repentant heart.  Today I simply want to direct you to Donald Miller’s blog.  He is author of Blue Like Jazz, and he is currently on a tour with the producer of a film based on the book.  Recently he responded poorly to a question he was asked about the Christian film industry, and here is his apology.

Have a read and see what you learn from him.

What to Do When You Put Your Foot in Your Mouth

How do you recover from your mistakes?